As Damir has pointed out in the sidebar, the news is breaking all over that recently-unsealed court documents quote disgraced referee Tim Donaghy alleging playoff games were purposely influenced by NBA refs. The two series at issue appear to be the 2005 Houston-Dallas series where Jeff Van Gundy pitched a fit on behalf of Yao Ming and the infamous 2002 L*kers-Kings Western Conference Finals. Obviously these accusations have been alleged for years. Oddly enough, this doesn't really help Donaghy's case. The NBA has tried to portray him as a disgruntled former employee willing to say anything in order to make things easier on himself...in essence that his credibility now is no greater than it was when he was officiating (which obviously wasn't very great). That certainly merits consideration, especially considering his testimony was given in an attempt to reduce his own punishment. If you were going to bring what you hoped were damning allegations the exact place you'd start would be these series. Any one of us could have alleged the same. If these two series were fixed they obviously weren't the first and only ones. Where are the patterns that show that kind of organized corruption? We need more than just this to make a conclusive judgment.
On the other hand were these allegations ever proven (which would be a difficult task unless somebody were stupid enough to put instructions on paper or send them via e-mail) this would obviously be the most damning fix in American professional sports history. Heretofore scandals have involved only a couple players on scattered teams in indiviudal games. They put a blight on their sports but it was like a wart on an otherwise good finger. This kind of scandal would be like a cancer, permeating the entire body. Every playoff result in the modern era would come into question. You couldn't trust results from a single game.
Providing the NBA survived that kind of jolt without losing the majority of its fan base, a couple of remedies would be instantly needed. First of all David Stern would have to resign immediately. It's possible he and the direct perpetrators could be facing racketeering charges for this kind of thing, but even if no convictions came, his entire era would be disgraced. Second, the league would have to go beyond mere transparency in its officiating. They'd have to put a constant spotlight on the refs, their calls, their reviews, punishments and suspensions, and pretty much everything else they did. They'd have to take steps we've never seen in professional sports before in order to convince people of their legitimacy. Even then it might not be enough.
For that reason, I'm hoping Donaghy is a loose cannon and none of this is true. As much as the aching fan in me would like some confirmation that the L*kers and other big-market teams really were favored back in the 90's when the Blazers were threatening, the cost of that being true and provable would probably be too high.
Even if nothing else comes of this--even if it's completely false--it's indictment enough that a guy can make these accusations without causing most folks to blink an eye. Ideally you'd want the American public to say, "No way! I can't believe that!" Instead I'd bet most of us wouldn't take much convincing. For all that David Stern has done for the league, that is an inescapable legacy of his tenure, and it's a damning one that's not mentioned nearly enough. The NBA is concerned about its image problem with baggy clothes and gold chains. That pales in comparison to this issue and the persistent hits the league has taken over the years over its officiating and perceived favoritism. One way or another, it's time for a new era in this league if they ever expect the sport to catch on fully again. The NBA needs to wake up. Even if Tim Donaghy is fabricating this story completely (the best possible outcome for the league) the fact that the story is there to be believably fabricated shows that something is wrong.