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Has the NBA Emerged Atop the Officiating Scandal?

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That's the question that coursed its way through my ever-thick head on Sunday morning when, while perusing HoopsHype, I came across some news story about a former FBI agent believing Tim Donaghy told the truth - and realized I didn't care.

It's not that I didn't care for specifically for the agent's opinion.  It's that the whole of the Dongahy saga just doesn't seem to compel me anymore at this point.  And I'm not sure I'm alone in that persuasion.

A summer ago, it seemed like I was writing about this guy every other day.  In fact, there was even a piece devoted to how there wasn't much the NBA could do about the situation except to try its best to ride it out.

By and large, that's exactly what David Stern and his crew have been doing for the last year and change.  Now, a year later, in the doggiest of the dog day periods of the NBA off-season (August: where Earl Boykins possibly going to Israel is news happens), despite the issues of Donaghy's sentencing and the revelations about Scott Foster coming out this off-season, the attention and reverence being paid the Donaghy story seems modest at best.

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If that is continues to be the case, then the presumption here will be that, at least for the time being, the Association has for all intents and purposes emerged victorious over what was once thought to be a league-threatening scandal.

We've gone through a full season since the Donaghy revelations came out, and taking some time to reflect on my mentality as a fan this season in light of the issues from last summer has shown one key truth thus far: Not much has changed, at least in this head.

I still watched professional basketball this season.   Still bought merchandise of my favorite team.  Still lost sleep thinking about deeper philosophical questions along the lines of "Does Scalabrine really have that much intangible value?"  Still got angry at the referees when things weren't going my team's way; still told fans of other teams to calm down and stop crying foul when the referees committed the same non-crimes against their teams that I took to be an affront to mine.  From what I have unscientifically gleaned through talking to fans, reading message boards and forums and noting the lack of media coverage about trends otherwise, it appears that this wasn't a behavioral pattern unique to me.

Maybe I paid a bit more attention to the referees and got on them a little bit more this spring than I did a year ago, but here's guessing that had something to do with the fact that my beloved team was playing for a championship rather than sitting at home with 24 wins.  Which means that rather than the officials, it was I who wasn't the most unbiased observer.  But I digress.

Of greater significance is that, like most fans I know, I continued wondering from time to time about just how much the NBA wanted to see certain teams succeed and about whether there could be any truth to theories of conspiracy both among the officials, in the league offices or both.  But above all, no matter our thoughts on that matter, it seemed that a vast portion of true NBA fans went nowhere this season.  That's a victory for the NBA, and a huge one at that.

We've seen the NBA lose some popularity at times over the last decade because of the absence of Michael Jordan, because of the belief that the college game is of higher quality and that the players care more, because of the perceptions of some that today's generation of professional stars isn't likable enough.  But what we didn't see (at least as far as I can tell) was fans flocking away during the 2007-08 season due to questions about the integrity of the game and it's officials.  In fact, more people were watching than in recent years.

It's that first year that is almost invariably the toughest after a morality-threatening scandal such as the one the NBA faced last summer.  It survived that first year with relative ease (Stern asserted Donaghy to be "one bad apple," vowed to strengthen the security system, appointed a few folks to some new positions and wasn't necessarily believed by everybody in the process), and questions about newly damaging allegations haven't come with anywhere near the force that last year's did.

So for the time being, it seems pretty difficult to call the league's ride-it-out-and-move-forward anything but a success.

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