Saturday, June 14, 2008

I just wrote this to ESPN's ombudsman.

I've been a big fan of ESPN's ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber, for some time. Her criticisms of ESPN--and her compliments of it--are reasoned, careful, and on the money.

I therefore hope she reads this letter I just wrote to her. And if she doesn't...well, I hope you'll read it.


Ms. Schreiber,

I'm writing about ESPN's coverage of Tim Donaghy and recent allegations of game-fixing in the NBA. I'm bothered by the way that ESPN has helped intensify the story.

"Like it or not, the public perception is that there's a problem," ESPN will report, "so the league needs to do something to change that perception."

I would argue that ESPN and other sports media are helping to create that perception--and therefore the problem.

I've heard Mike and Mike and Colin Cowherd address conspiracy theories on the radio. I've seen Bob Ley devote a good chunk of his Outside the Lines show to this unbacked allegation. I've read Marc Stein saying that "it's getting harder to find folks who don't believe" in a conspiracy. I've read J.J. Adande saying that "the most-discussed game to come out of these 2008 Finals is Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals." (Apparently Adande has been watching and listening to ESPN and reading like I have.)

The problem is that, while ESPN seldom points out how baseless and unbacked Donaghy's accusations are, they're still dusting off tapes of the 2002 playoff game, thereby advancing the possibility that the outcome was rigged. Then, since fans will talk about these incendiary accusations at the water cooler, ESPN can justify writing a second story about how much fans are talking about "the officiating problem." The problem, of course, is that ESPN has played a leading role in encouraging those negative perceptions of officiating by advancing Donaghy's accusations as as anything other than unproven.

They've even added the incendiary "-gate" suffix to sex up the story a bit: "Refgate."

It feels to me that, even if ESPN didn't light the match, they've fed the flames of the inferno they now are reporting on. It's not dissimilar from your excellent description of the breathless coverage of another -gate: Spygate. There's no evidence of wrongdoing...merely one man's allegation. Nevertheless, every branch of ESPN has gone bonkers reporting about negative perceptions that they themselves have helped to create. If anyone has said "Wait a minute. Donaghy is asking us to believe that David Stern would give up his cushy lifestyle and risk the entire future of the league just to get to a game 7 in one series," or shown how Donaghy's story has the officials involved risking their reputations and their six-figure incomes at literally no gain to themselves--well, if anyone pointed this out, it was drowned out by the passionate shouts of "Refgate!"

When ESPN overreports on unbacked allegations, then reports on how the public has a perception that there's an officiating problem, then ESPN has helped to create the perception problem they're reporting on. As a high school official, that perception eventually trickles down to me, so I have a pretty severe problem with ESPN's choices.

I hope I'm not alone in noticing this problem: I hope you do as well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The inside story of the 2002 NBA CONSPIRACY!!!!!

Many of my fellow officials view Tim Donaghy's recent accusations that playoff games in 2002 and 2005 were rigged by officials at the behest of the NBA to be a try-something, try-anything fiction thrown out by a man trying to reduce a potentially long prison sentence. I'll admit it certainly looks like that.

But it turns out it's all true.

I have obtained a copy of the actual conversation between David Stern and the men Donaghy's lawyers call "Referee A" and "Referee F." It was taped on a minicassette player hidden in a $5.00 bottle of water at a suite in the Downtown L.A. Hilton on May 30, 2002.

The tape was delivered here to Illegal Screen Headquarters due to my massive reach in the officiating news community. Incredibly, the conversation proves that every single improbable line of thought actually happened.

The transcript follows.

STERN: Thanks, fellas, for coming here. Sorry I'm late. I was exfoliating.

OFFICIAL A: I so understand.

OFFICIAL F: You look lovely.

STERN: Thanks, F.

OFFICIAL F: Why are you calling me "F"?

STERN: It's a future codename.

OFFICIAL F: Okay, Zsa Zsa.

STERN: Anyway, you probably know why you're here. I want to encourage each of you to do absolutely everything you can to get the Kings to lose tomorrow. Leave no stone unturned, no Kings foul uncalled, no King unfouled. It's hugely important for us to have the Lakers win tomorrow.

OFFICIAL A: I don't know about this, Commish...

OFFICIAL F: Yeah! I can't let that happen.

OFFICIAL A: Seriously. I spent years as a state trooper, risking my life to clean up New Jersey from mob influence. I gave up three years of my life to get some horrible, dangerous people off the street to help out the regular guys they extorted, threatened, and killed. Nothing pisses me off more than something crooked. How can you think I'll be on board?

OFFICIAL F: Yeah. Screw you, commish. I busted my ass in junior high ball, high school ball, got lucky and got noticed for college and D-I ball, and hauled myself around podunk towns doing CBA ball on a crappy per-diem hoping I'd get noticed. I did, and here I am at the top of my profession--all because I got a hard-earned reputation for being fair. And as a ref, my reputation is all I've got.

STERN: But wait. This is important.

OFFICIAL A: Important enough for us to piss away our consciences and reputations?

STERN: Yeah.

OFFICIAL F: What's at stake?

STERN: We have to have a game 7 back in Sacramento.

OFFICIAL A: Oh. Well, that makes it all better then. Count me in. I'm happy to give up everything I stand for for that.

OFFICIAL F: Wait, Mr. Stern--I mean Zsa Zsa. I'm not so sure.

STERN: No! It's hugely important to our bottom lines for there to be a Game 7. I know we've had massive, unprecedented international expansion. This summer, we'll get that tall Chinese fella here and make money like there's no tomorrow. We've never been more popular. Truffle?


STERN: Never mind. Fish wrapped in hundred-dollar bill?

OFFICIAL F: That's unsanitary.

STERN: Whatever. But my point is, we really need this series--all series, in fact--to go to a Game Seven. And we'll do whatever it takes to make that happen. Plus, I want to get my hair done in Sacramento. I can't find anyone good in New York or L.A..

OFFICIAL A: But commish, no other series this whole playoffs have gone to seven games.

OFFICIAL F: Yeah, and last year less than half did.

STERN: Really? Geez. I haven't been watching much basketball. I'm hooked on The Osbournes. Well, we'll start now. Besides, I only want large-market teams in the finals. Every year! That's why I've rigged the league to favor large markets.

OFFICIAL A: Like New Jersey? They look like they're about to go.

STERN: New-wha?

OFFICIAL F: Or Utah, twice? Or Portland? Indiana? San Antonio? Orlando? One of them has been in the Finals 7 of the last 10 years.

STERN: What are you, a damn almanac? Look. Indiana is the captial of basketball. Utah needs something to do. San Antonio has that big fella. Orlando had that other big guy. And Portland...well, I love New England. So they're all big markets, at least in my heart. So I made exceptions. For all of them.

OFFICIAL A: That makes sense. I'm totally sold on your plan! Okay, I understand how desperate the NBA is for a Game 7, and I get our inherent bias towards large-market teams, as well as the exceptions we let slide through nearly every year, including this one. So I'm willing to abandon everything I've ever known to do what you want.

OFFICIAL F: I'm not so sure, sir. What about the risks?

STERN: Risks?

OFFICIAL F: Risks. We're a multi-billion dollar business. You're filthy rich, and while I'm not making Commish money, I'm making six figures to chase these guys around...and the first number is not a one. I'm not sure I want to lose that. Plus, we can go to the slammer. Right, A?

OFFICIAL A: Damn right. Racketeering, fraud, all that.

OFFICIAL F: Yeah. And I don't think I'd do well in prison.

STERN: I probably would do great.

OFFICIAL F: Um...yeah. Still, I understand how important it is to throw all this away and risk our lives, livelihoods, the trust of millions of people, and the entire league, just so everyone can go back to Sacramento for one more game after tonight. Believe me, that's absolutely crystal clear, but I want to be assured that we won't be caught.

STERN: Of course! It will be a secret.

OFFICIAL A: You mean just us three, plus our partner tomorrow night?

STERN: Don't tell your partner.

OFFICIAL F: Why not?

STERN: Just don't. He's not in on the plan. He's not a "company man."

OFFICIAL A: How do I know we won't tell beyond this room?

STERN: We'll pinkie swear!

ALL TOGETHER: Cross me heart, hope to die, stick a needle in the eye.

STERN: Oh, except one more thing.


STERN: We need to be sure Tim Donaghy knows.

OFFICIAL A: No fair! We pinkie swore!

STERN: No. He just needs to know. So let's tell him.

OFFICIAL F: Okay. I'll call him. He's on his cellphone, probably in Atlantic City.

See how simple it all is?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Game Log 6/7/2008: Easy morning

Two JV girls games. I was disappointed, to be honest--I wanted to work on my positioning as C, so the two-person mechanics were a bit of a let-down. Still, the games gave me a opportunity to work on my other big issues du jour: posture and reducing verbiage. Each games were pretty smooth and pretty quick (20-minute running clock). The second game had a lot of post pushing, and I got a chance to call some off-ball stuff (forearm push in the backs do NOT happen in my games, dammit!). But this one was mostly about me not saying stupid things after blowing my whistle, and I didn't. Hooray me.

Of course, I forgot the posture stuff. I'm pretty sure I was still leaning over and probably squinting. I'll focus on that tomorrow.

Best news of all: I am having literally zero physical aftermath from these games. My feet and knees have recovered, I think. I totally must keep on my feet this summer. It's something I pretty well need to do for my health anyway...the reffing is provides an excuse to do it.

THINGS I DID WELL: Kept an eye on partner to release/get ball, didn't use excess verbiage, had good off-ball calls.

THINGS TO WORK ON: Posture probably wasn't good. Wandered outside my area once to get a double-dribble...why was I watching there?

NEXT UP: Another game, probably JV again, tomorrow.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Camp Log Day Two

Best camp I've ever been to. I only did two halves today. Three were originally scheduled, but I was bumped from the third because they wanted to see another kid get his shot in a varsity game. I take that as a good sign...being told they've "seen enough" after mostly-complimentary input means I'll probably get a decent schedule this year.

The other game was followed by some really intense video breakdown. The clinician stood with the three of us and would regularly pause the tape, saying things like "Okay...Lead needs to think about rotating here. Center could take a step or two onto the floor. Trail has a good angle on post play." It took nearly three times as long to break down the tape as it did to officiate the half! He complimented several of my calls (had a good, tight PC foul in transition that was right). But on tape, I see that my officiating as C was flat-out not good.

I'm not comfortable out on the floor (like I said yesterday), but I need to get off the damn sideline when the play is on the other side of the court. Same as yesterday, I'm not close at all to the play. I've learned just how bad that looks. When I call fouls from there, it flat-out looks bad. Plus, I NEVER MOVE. I look like a potted plant, standing in The Sacred C Spot. (That last part accidentally sounds dirty.) A little movement, especially onto the floor, and I'll take less guff (and likely make better calls to boot).

The second game was challenging--very fast-paced, featuring the same team I had on Friday. The coach who I said was that "not bad" on Friday was bad today--likely because his team lost by 20. Didn't say anything to him, mostly because we only had one half with him. He also knows officials won't approach him as much when he's not talking to us, but sort of bitching in the play-by-play from hell. On top of that distraction, it was a new record for the fastest game I've ever seen.

But in spite of that, my clinician said I was getting better at recognizing rotations and also doing better moving as C. I was able to improve during a difficult game.

So, after six halves of basketball, I have a tangible, accurate list of what to work on:

--Running style. (I will find a personal trainer who's expert at running.)
--Posture. (I will slow down on the spot and make sure I'm up straight.)
--Verbiage on the spot. (I will slow down on the spot.)
--More time in closedown as Lead.
--More C movement.

I normally avoid summer ball, since if I reffed too much, I'd start hating it. But I want to get right back out there to put all of this into action. And there's a good girls' tournament in town next week. I'll be putting in my availability as soon as I post this.

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