The final score of game 2 of the Celtics vs. Heat doesn’t mean as much as this number, 33-18, the number of fouls called on the Celtics compared to the number of fouls called on the Heat. The enduring image of this game will not be a spectacular dunk or a timely three point shot or even a beautiful drive to the hoop. The enduring image of game two – the image I can’t erase from my mind – is Lebron James at the free throw line.
It’s almost surreal, as if Lebron James were some magician who could see that the Celtics wanted the game more and were on their way to a victory, and with the snap of his fingers, just stopped it. It was like time was standing still. But Lebron James is no magician, and it wasn’t he who stopped time over and over. It was the NBA referees.
But don’t talk about the referees; don’t ever talk about the NBA referees. It evokes the same sort of cringes that Harry Potter’s cohorts exude when he utters the name Lord Voldemort. And should you throw caution to wind and bring up the referees, you’ll be branded a conspiracy theorist, or a whiner who can’t deal with having a better team beat your team. If you talk about the referees, you will be discredited. Plain and simple.
But, honestly, I’ve had enough. Lebron James is the best player in the NBA, but he was not last night, and very often the Miami Heat are the best team in the NBA, but they were not last night. The Boston Celtics sat in the visitors locker room after the game probably wondering, ‘if that didn’t work, how can we beat this team?’ The answer is that you can’t. No, scratch that. You won’t be allowed to.This particular Heat team is polarizing in regards to foul calling. They, at the very same time, enforce the NBA’s defense of foul disparity and attack its integrity. The Heat are a very aggressive offensive team, that will, if given the chance, drive to the basket every possession. The league will tell you that is the magic formula to getting foul calls, and they will sit behind that defense stoutly. The Heat are athletic and aggressive and the Celtics are old jump shooters, stop whining. This is the league’s defense, however, last night that argument didn’t work. The Celtics were the aggressor last night. So what gives?
What gives is the NBA’s dirty little secret. Well, it’s not really a secret. It’s actually blatantly obvious. It’s the NBA official’s treatment of “Star Players,” and very few of those stars burn brighter than Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. It’s already ingrained into the fabric of the NBA. Stars get calls; it’s the way it is. The rich get richer the poor get poorer, life goes on, if you don’t like it, tough. We’ve almost gotten to the point where we accept an unfair playing field. Think about that for a minute… We are accepting injustice, and last night we were forced to accept it a lot. For me, too much.
For me, this is where people who are affiliated with the league need to stand up and not be afraid to speak of ‘he who must not be named.’ This game degraded the fabric of competitive sport. It made the NBA product somehow cheaper. It felt dirty watching that game, it still feels dirty.
The sad thing is that the NBA doesn’t care. It was Magic, Bird and Jordan who got them here and they’ll stick behind their stars. What’s a little blood on your hands when you can have Wade and James in the finals. There’s too much money to be had.
But the NBA should consider this.I have a handful of friends that are not NBA fans. They don’t really follow it the way they follow the other sports. When NBA conversation comes up and their attention starts to wander I always ask what it is about the NBA that disinterests them. For years now, the answer has always remained the same. Officiating. Whether they complain that calls are arbitrary or they go as far as saying that the games feel ‘fixed’ they are complaining about the same thing. Last night, I couldn’t argue with them. I feel cheated right now and I guarantee the Celtics do to, and last night didn’t reinforce my position as an NBA fan, it blew the whistle on it.