Friday, November 23, 2007

NBA: either incompetent or corrupt, pick one

I'm watching the Mavericks-Pacers game, and Devin goes on a one on one breakaway layup, and he's knows he's going to be fouled hard by the only Pacer who can possibly stop him: Mike Dunleavy, Jr. Devin takes his two steps, then starts into the air while securely holding the ball in both hands, only he never gets off the ground, because Dunleavy grabs his arm securely, preventing lift off. Devin could've slung the ball wildly into the air, then thrown his hands wildly into the air, but he didn't, b/c Dunleavy threw him offbalance, and Devin needed to save himself from crashing to the floor, and, besides, its a freaking one on one breakaway layup, and every referee from Jr. High to the NBA will call what was a very, very obvious shooting foul by Dunleavy. Every referee, except:

Bennett Salvatore.

Bennett called a non-shooting foul ~ Mavs ball on the side. Avery Johnson went nuts, determinedly breaking away from three different attempts to hold him back, and chasing Salvatore 2/3 of the way onto and across the basketball court, in order to shake his Avery finger in Salvatore's face. Avery = ejected.

Avery, about to fight through the third serious attempt to restrain him - this time the attempt of Devin Harris. As when he played in the league: Avery will not be denied. He is even going around Devin to the left. As a player: Avery never could go right; yet no one could prevent him from going left. You can see Avery's target in the background: Bennett Salvatore.

Bad referee calls happen a zillion times a year: so what? Yet, this was different. This was a completely indefensible call. This was a call NOBODY makes. EVER. Bennett seemingly went out of his way to find a refereeing method of punishing the Dallas Mavericks - and he did it late in a game the Mavericks were seemingly coming from behind to win. It was deja vu - reminding of my post about Salvatore personally defeating the Mavs in Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals(though the Mavs should've been able to overcome both the Miami Heat and Bennett Salvatore, yet did not). So, I looked up the post, reread it, and it has stood the test of time extremely well. Being a tinkerer, I even added 50 new words. I've copied the post below, in it's entirety.

But, first: according to Mark Cuban - and no one has ever disagreed - Bennett Salvatore is consistently ranked as one of the worst referees in the NBA. In fact, the crew of Bennett, Violet Palmer, and Tom Washington is widely recognized as the absolute worst crew in the league. Their grip on a game is alway tenuous. Soooo: WHAT was Bennett Salvatore doing refereeing Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Bill Simmons has a theory about the league office sending weaker refs to playoff games in which the home team needs to win in order to extend the series:

In the playoffs ... the league displayed a nasty "habit" (note: I'm using quotation marks because you could never prove anything more than a series of coincidences) of assigning better referees if they needed road teams to prevail (like a marquee team trailing 2-1 and playing Game 4 on the road) and weaker referees if they needed home teams to prevail (because weak referees are more likely to have their calls prejudiced by a raucous home crowd). This "habit" was miraculously cured this past spring, one year after the fallout of the 2006 Finals.
So when news of the Donaghy scandal broke, everyone's reaction was the same: "Which one?"

That's why I had one group of friends frantically organizing a "Who was the crooked ref?" office pool on Friday morning instead of wondering, "How could this happen?"

In Dallas-Ft. Worth, a decent number of normally lucid media persons believe Bennett Salvatore refused to let Mark Cuban's team win Game 5 of the 2006 Finals. They believe it was personal. As I discuss below: I think that theory is very possibly true - though I don't lose any sleep over it, as I cannot know if it is actually true.

However: what does it say about David Stern's NBA that a tremendous number of fans and media have no problem believing Salvatore put the fix in during Game 5 of 2006? I am lucid, and clear-headed, and I've not one problem believing he might've done so.

If you take a close look at Game 5 in 2006: it's harder to make a case that Salvatore did not fix the game; and it's easier to make a case that he fixed it. A review of every call in the game by found that Salvatore made 10 controversial calls(read: horrifyingly bad calls), and 8 of those 10 went in the Heat's favor. How do you read that? Series of fluke calls? Or statistically aberrant evidence of either 1) a weak, insecure ref making calls to appease a home crowd, or 2) a Salvatore grudge in action against Cuban, or 3) a little of both?

Can't decide? Consider: it doesn't take much to swing a close game. One call, in the right situation, can sometimes do it. Therefore, consider the circumstance of the deciding play of the game, as described in my post:


Bennett Salvatore prevented the Mavs being in a commanding position - from which they would've enjoyed strong odds of winning the NBA Championship. It's nauseating to reflect that NBA referees never want to "decide the game" on a last second shot, and that their code is to blow a last second whistle only if the offensive player draws very obvious and obstructive contact.

I doubt very many, if any, NBA officials have it out for Mark Cuban. I've faith in their professionalism. That said, if any referee has it out for Cuban, Bennett Salvatore is a good candidate to be that ref. Salvatore is old school - old old ooooollllldddd school - East Coast, old country, Italian. EVERYTHING about Mark Cuban could easily stick in Bennett Salvatore's craw. Salvatore is a good candidate to have said to himself:

"If I see any sliver of justifiable contact here, I'm making the call. F___ Mark Cuban. It's payback time."

Did Salvatore do that? I've not one single clue, and it's useless to dwell on it. But it is kind of fun to notice it.

All that said, the Mavericks beat themselves, through sloppy offense and defense down the stretch - as well as through Dirk and Josh Howard missing 3 free throws. Bitching about an NBA call is exactly like a batter who bitches about getting bad calls on third strikes: the batter should hit the ball before two strikes are on him. Otherwise, he's setting himself up for bad things to happen. The Mavs set themselves up for bad things to happen. It was the Mavs' own fault they lost the game. They should've had a points cushion at the end.

In Dallas, they are showing the last play over and over on TV. Wade said he got hit twice on the play. He didn't get hit. Here's what actually happened:

1. In a very close play, Wade arguably touched the inbounds pass in the frontcourt, before moving into the backcourt. Personally, I say the tie goes to the catcher. I would not have called a backcourt violation.

2. Wade dribbles right. When Terry attempts to cut him off on the sideline, Wade administers a forearm shiver. Terry trips and goes down, flying out of bounds. As an NBA referee, I would've let this last-second, jostling contact go w/o a call - mostly b/c Terry partially slip/tripped. It's a close judgment, though. Wade's forearm did contribute to Terry's slip/trip, and did free him of Terry's defense, and did give Wade a competitive advantage.

3. Now, with Terry out of bounds, and laying beside the press table, Wade heads up the sideline, towards the baseline. He is doubled by Howard - closest to the baseline, and by Harris - closest to midcourt. At this moment, as Wade advances towards the corner, he is dead. He is pinned by two quick guys. He has zero chance of going around either of Howard or Harris; and can only evade through a risky attempt to dribble/split between them. Howard and Harris both have aggressive hands. Both will go for Wade's dribble if he tries to split them. If Wade attempts a corner jumper, he will be heavily pressed from the front by Howard. Harris will be coming from his side, and will be swiping at his shot from over the top. Wade is just about dead. The Mavericks are about to win.

In response - in cheating, yet brilliant response - Wade reprises Michael Jordan's decisive shove against Bryon Russell of the Utah Jazz - only, instead of shoving Howard, Wade grabs a gigantic fistful of Howard's shorts, and mightily slings Howard - by Howard's own shorts - towards the baseline. It was a mighty sling - but it was fast and smooth. If I was a referee, I likely would've missed it. However, it was definitely a foul, and it extricated Wade from a very difficult spot. If a ref had seen it, it deserved, w/o a doubt, to be called. In a perfectly refereed game, Howard would've been shooting free throws at the other end, with about 4 seconds on the clock.

The shove moved Howard towards the baseline a bit. What the shove really did was enable Wade to perform a world-class change of direction - as if he had been running down the street, then used a telephone pole to shove himself back in the direction he just came from. The change of direction was so severe that Wade actually passed around the mid-court side of Devin Harris - something which would've been impossible - absent using Howard as a human telephone pole. This is how Harris happened to have his left hand on Wade's right hip as Wade drove to the basket. As Wade went around him on his mid-court side, Harris spun clockwise about 250 degrees.

You saw the rest. Salvatore, having noncalled Wade's fouls against Terry and Howard, then called Devin Harris for a foul as Wade moved towards the basket. Harris did reach in, and did foul Wade. Salvatore had the angle to see Harris reach in, yet could not have seen whether Harris got ball or got Wade. Salvatore made the call anyway - and Salvatore got lucky: replays show Harris got Wade, and thus Salvatore's blind guess at the call ended up being correct.

It WAS a heck of an exciting play. World-class athletes on display. As a Mavericks' fan, I know how Utah Jazz fans felt when Michael Jordan committed an offensive foul on his game-winning shot. Byron Russell should've been shooting free throws on the other end. The Jazz were ripped off.

My only consolation is that the loss was the Maverick's own fault. They should've had a points cushion at that juncture.

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