As mslivkoff pointed out in the sidebar and reader Kirk let us know by e-mail, Deadspin has publish excerpts from Tim Donaghy's upcoming book, one of which mentions Portland's 2000 Conference Finals loss to the Lakers.
The quote in question comes in the section regarding Dick Bavetta. It reads:
The 2002 series certainly wasn't the first or last time Bavetta weighed in on an important game. He also worked Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and the Trail Blazers. The Lakers were down by 13 at the start of the fourth quarter when Bavetta went to work. The Lakers outscored Portland 31-13 in the fourth quarter and went on to win the game and the series. It certainly didn't hurt the Lakers that they got to shoot 37 free throws compared to a paltry 16 for the Trail Blazers.
The context is an overall discussion of Bavetta as the league's go-to guy when they wanted a certain team to have the advantage. The primary, and far more detailed, example was his handling of the 2002 Conference Finals in which Sacramento famously got jobbed against those same Lakers. The delivery of information was supposedly subtle, as the league would make known via officiating recaps which made or missed calls it didn't like, casting disproportionate displeasure upon calls against its favored team without ever mentioning the favor explicitly.
Obviously this will cause an uproar in some places, as perhaps it should. Whatever anger I feel is tempered by a couple of issues:
- I don't trust Tim Donaghy as far as I could throw him if he were tied to a hippo.
- I believe the Blazers could have and should have kept that game out of the officials' reach. If the fix really was in, how did the officials let such a big lead build in the first place?
- Providing there were shenangians, the offense against Sacramento was far, far greater. Even Donaghy describes Portland's situation as "it certainly didn't hurt". He characterizes the Lakers-Kings Game 6 as pretty much the worst-officiated game ever. I'm more angry for the Kings than for us...and I've never stopped being angry for them. This doesn't change or augment that.
- Everybody who wasn't inebriated, stupid, or an L.A. fan knew darn well that Shaq and company got advantages consistently during that era. It's a little like Donaghy coming out with a book saying Native Americans might have been slightly disadvantaged by American expansionism. You don't say.
I do believe if the league really did influence games that this is exactly the method they'd use and I've stated that for years. I do believe David Stern's office has a fond eye for ratings and that most people associated with the league know it, including the refs. It wouldn't surprise me to know that some refs played games with their authority as described elsewhere in the excerpts. I also don't doubt that people have been screwed through the years. That said, I still believe this is overcomable and I believe it's incumbent upon true championship teams to do so. I just have a hard time swallowing anything Donaghy says whole, especially since the major points are so in line with what passionate fans (and yes, conspiracy theorists) have wanted to believe for decades. The quotes we're reading are of the sort that anybody familiar with the situation could have written blind. Maybe there's more mitigation in the book itself, but it feels a little too pat to be wholly convincing. And isn't it just a wee bit convenient that all of these accusations against other refs distract from the fact that you were actively fixing games...that you bet on...consistently. Like most things Donaghy says, it feels like a pinch of truth seasoned liberally with fear and dumped into a large vat of self-serving broth.