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Throughout the NBA playoffs, most recently the finals, the spotlight has been put on the referees and the way that they have treated star players on the court.
Though fans are currently focused on basketball, namely players like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (who can seemingly get to the free throw line any time they choose to flail their arms or legs), the truth is that this phenomenon seems to be consistent across all sports.
The fact is that many officials will give the benefit of the doubt to the best veteran players. Whether this is a conscious action is another story.
When it comes to the NBA, some people are beginning to think that the league is altogether “fixed” in order to give an edge to some of the superstars. So many times when Dwyane Wade makes a strong move toward the basket, it seems that the referees have made the decision to call the foul before the actual outcome of the play. It seems that the powers at be are doing whatever they can to make these players get their rings.
Another key example of this can be seen week after week in the NFL. Premier quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady can barely be touched at all without a roughing the passer flag coming out. However, do we see those same flags come out when young players like Colt McCoy take a big hit? I don’t think so.
In baseball, a popular hitter like Derek Jeter might get an edge on a close pitch if he is facing a rookie pitcher. Why? Maybe it just so happens to work out that way, but all probability points to the fact that players like Jeter not only know many of the umpires personally, but have a solid reputation across the league.
Of course fans want to see their stars do well and obtain gargantuan statistics, it’s just good for the leagues. That being said, are they being babied so much so that they are beginning to pick-up on it themselves?
For example, in crunch time of a basketball game, what is to stop LeBron from driving right into the chest of the opposing team’s big man, knowing that all game he has gotten his way with the referees? If he can wave his arms around after he throws the ball up and get to the free throw line regardless of contact, why wouldn’t he do that if it will help his team win? This is the mentality that has been so unfortunately spread among some of the league’s elite.
In other generations, there was too much pride for any of this to go on. Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon did everything they could to make the ball go through the hoop every time they attacked the rim. Simply knowing that they could probably get to the free throw line wasn’t good enough when they believed they could score every time they shot the ball. If they missed and got the call, so be it, but that surely wasn’t the goal. Some players have lost that edge these days.
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was fired from the league and faced criminal charges for fixing professional basketball games, has become somewhat of a whistle-blower as of late, claiming that the NBA is indeed fixed for superstar players to get their way. After some of the recent NBA Finals games he has posted YouTube videos with commentary regarding the unjust calls that are given to LeBron James, but not other players. Although he may not the the most honest person, he is an inside source, and that should send a meaningful message.
The “flopping” problem has gotten so bad that some fans and analysts have called for fines of players for intentionally trying to deceive referees to gain an edge (an idea that I most definitely can get on board with).
Is it the referees fault for being biased towards certain players? Is it the players fault for knowing they can work the referees to gain advantage? Is it the leagues fault for letting this all go too far?
I honestly believe it is a balance of all of these things. Some athletes need to get the mentality back that they can do anything, and not settle for being able to work the refs for a win. Nobody wants to see a pair of unwarranted free throws decide the NBA Finals. Nobody wants a bad roughing the passer penalty to give a free first down and change the course of an NFL playoff game.
I can only hope as a fan of the games, that the leagues and their respective officials will get together and right the wrongs that are plaguing our favorite sports. This is a problem that can and should be fixed very soon.