One bad apple spoils NBA bunch

JORDAN HEATH-RAWLINGS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

Are you familiar with the saying, "it takes one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch"?

If NBA commissioner David Stern isn't, he's about to get a brutal tutorial.

In a press conference earlier this week to address charges of point-shaving levelled against referee Tim Donaghy, Stern repeated several times that the Donaghy charges were a case of "a rogue, isolated criminal" and he believed no other officials were a part of the investigation.

Even if they aren't -- and there are rumours Donaghy may provide evidence to the contrary -- the batch is already spoiled.

Not only will NBA fans cringe at every questionable foul called against their teams next season, gamblers will wonder about point spreads and NBA fantasy players will have to re-examine the players they're going to select in their drafts.

Because if you believe basketball games will be called the same way this coming season as they have been in the past, you are hopelessly naive.

It is human nature to change your reactions under intense scrutiny. It will be impossible, even for veteran refs, to call games as tightly as they have in the past.

We can use NHL referees as an example. Gambling has never been an issue with NHL refs, but several times the league has announced a crackdown on obstruction. When a new edict goes into effect, the referees tend to take it seriously and call games the way they have been instructed -- until the late stages of the third period, when every call can swing the outcome. In those situations, refs swallow their whistles, wanting to let the players decide the result.

The nature of the NBA has always been the exact opposite. With fouls there to be called on nearly every play, basketball refs have tended to let things go early in the game -- when a basket or two won't make much different -- and tighten up the calls in the fourth quarter, knowing that otherwise, star players would be mugged.

Now though, it may be a different story. Every ref tempted to whistle a foul in the final minutes of a close game will be wondering if fans and the league will be looking closely at the call. This is precisely why fantasy players may want to be careful which players they rank highest on their draft lists.

Guards like Dwayne Wade and Allen Iverson, who make a living by careening recklessly into the lane and waiting for a whistle may no longer get the benefit of the doubt.

With the weight of a scandal on their shoulders, NBA refs may decide to take a page from their NHL counterparts and "let the players settle it."

It might be one way to let fans know that Donaghy was indeed the only bad apple in their midst. However, it might also affect the outcome of a game (and the point spread, and the fantasy pools) in an entirely different way.

In that case, Stern will become all-too-familiar with another old saying: "You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't."


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