Donaghy claims force media to rethink scope of '02 Western finals
LOS ANGELES -- If the headlines after Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals were any indication, no one should really be surprised by Tim Donaghy's claim that the Lakers' 106-102 win over the Kings was fixed.
"Officiating In West Finals More Out of Whack Than Bibby's Nose," read the Arizona Republic headline over a column by Paula Bovin, who wrote, "The officiating has been downright offensive, so inconsistent that talk of bad calls has dominated discussion instead of strategy and matchups. Are you listening, David Stern? We haven't seen this much unpopular whistle-blowing since Jeffrey Wigand took on the tobacco industry."
"Ugh, What's That Smell? It's the Officiating," read the Philadelphia Enquirer over a column by Stephen A. Smith, who devoted much of a 1,040-word piece to a possible conspiracy theory, going so far in 2002 as to point to the ratings Game 7 would generate.
"If there was ever a time for conspiracy theories to be given new life, that time is now," he wrote. Later adding, "it's difficult to ignore the Kings' claim that NBC does not want [the Lakers] in the finals. Because of this, many things will be said if the Kings fall [in Game 7]. NBC will be a culprit, as will the NBA. Both will be accused of going Hollywood, which is hard to argue with right now."
"Talk About Foul! Game 6 Was A Real Stinker," was the headline in the Washington Post for a column Michael Wilbon wrote about the officiating. While prefacing that "Hardly ever in 12 years of writing commentary have I devoted an entire column to the issue of refereeing," Wilbon went on to devote an 1,147-word column on just that, arguing that "to ignore the role officiating played in Game 6 of the NBA's showcase playoff series would essentially be to ignore the primary story line in the Lakers' 106-102 victory."
"If you care about basketball, Friday night's Game 6 of the Western Conference finals was a rip-off," he wrote. "The Kings and Lakers didn't decide this series would be extended until Sunday; three referees did. Statistical evidence is usually circumstantial, but consider this anyway: the Lakers had shot an average of 22 foul shots through the first five games of this series, but on Friday night here at home they shot 27 -- in the fourth quarter."
One of the more poignant headlines came from the Los Angeles Daily News which wrote, "Officially, Series Run By (Striped) Suits," over a witty column by Kevin Modesti, who wrote, "In this wonderfully exciting, relentlessly intense, impossibly close Lakers-Sacramento Kings series, there is only one thing for fans to complain about. The players keep getting in the way of our enjoyment of the referees."
"Who do these players think they are? Do they actually think fans buy tickets to go and watch Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Chris Webber play basketball at its best? Don't they realize people flock to arenas to watch guys named Dick Bavetta, Bennett Salvatore and Eddie F. Rush try to keep those big guys in line by enforcing their interpretation of the basketball rule book?"
Modesti, now the sports editor of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, which oversees nine newspapers, including the Daily News in Southern California, looked back at the way he and the Daily News covered the game after Donaghy's allegations came to light in his blog, "From The Sports Desk," where he interacts with readers on how the newspaper is covering the big stories of the day.