NBA fans, players cheated

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

One of these days the NBA will realize its officiating and the standard it enforces must be changed.

One of these days commissioner David Stern has to come clean and admit his league has done its fans a disservice.

Casual observers and even the most ardent of hoops fans wonder why home court is such an advantage, especially in this spring's post-season when road teams have had a difficult time posting wins.

In a nutshell, the answer lies with the officials.

When a star player in a star-driven league whines about non-calls in one game, he invariably gets the benefit of a doubt in the ensuing tip.

When a coach of Phil Jackson's stature complains about a discrepancy in fouls, officials are less inclined to whistle a Lakers player for an infraction.

In Tuesday's Game 3 win, the host Lakers attempted 12 more free throws than the Celtics and made 20 of the game's first 24 trips to the foul line.

On the same day, former referee Tim Donaghy, who is awaiting sentencing on his guilty plea to felony charges of taking cash payoffs from gamblers and betting on games himself, claimed in court papers that NBA referees manipulated a post-season game in 2002 to favour the Lakers in their series against the Sacramento Kings.

In addition, Donaghy claimed an anonymous owner, believed to be Dallas' Mark Cuban, influenced a referee supervisor to be more stringent in calling illegal screens by Houston's Yao Ming in a 2005 series.

Scot Pollard was a member of the '02 Kings, who lost the decisive Game 7 at home, mind you.

These days he's with Boston and waded into the Donaghy debate.

"If it was proven that it was ... that would hurt,'' he told reporters in Los Angeles. "That would hurt the league, it would hurt my feelings, it would hurt everybody.

"That's ugly. I don't want it to be found out that that was true. I would much rather live with human error than human interference."

How anyone can prove Donaghy's assertion would be difficult.

How anyone can explain why a favourable ruling goes in favour of certain players and teams is the stuff of conspiracy theorists.

What we do know is that back in the early days of the Raptors, two timekeepers were fired following a bitter loss to the visiting Portland Trail Blazers at the SkyDome.

With Portland trailing and having possession late in the game, it was understood the clock would start a tad early to benefit the Raptors.

It wasn't.

Conversely, it was understood the clock would be delayed ever so slightly if the roles were reversed and the home team had the ball and trailing.

Late-game clock situations are now in the hands of the officials, but even they have shown a tendency to screw up.

Somehow and hopefully sooner rather than later, the NBA has to dispel this perception of a home bias.

It can begin by admitting that a problem exists and that all options must be explored.

Video review has been discussed, but it's unclear how instant replay could address the perception issue.

There has been talk of hiring officials independent of the NBA, but given how hands-on and controlling the league can be, it has been met with opposition.

But we know this much: No longer is it good enough to dismiss something as an isolated incident or in the case of Donaghy as a "rogue ref.''

Dick Bavetta brings passion and experience to the floor each time he officiates a game, but the guy is known as Dick the Knick around the league because of a perception that he favours New York.

Joey Crawford is another experienced official who is among the best, at least based on the standards established by the league.

In San Antonio, Crawford's name is essentially mud in the wake of calls he has made that went against the home-town Spurs.

Another highly regarded official, Danny Crawford, no relation, has the same reputation in Dallas.

It's tough enough to officiate games and make split-second judgment calls that are purely subjective, figuring out what constitutes a charge or a block, but it's open season on NBA officials.

And Donaghy has opened up the dreaded Pandora's box -- again.

The NBA must close it and it can begin the process by opening up its eyes.


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