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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

In with the new

New tag line for the blog: "The sport of politics, the politics of sports." (See up top.) I figured the old "Politics, the economy and sports" was dull and outdated, since I haven't discussed the poor economy in a while. This signals a bit of an effort on my part to do some more more focused writing on the intersection of sports and politics, but don't expect this page to become an organized read any time soon.

Others seem to be undergoing more momentous life changes these days. Eric of The Hamster, a blog I enjoyed quite a bit, is shutting down his site because he's graduating college. He will, however, be blogging for Air America's The Al Franken Show, which I might start listening to since it now has a DC affiliate up and running.

Meanwhile, Bill Simmons had a baby recently (more accurately, his wife did, I think...). This explains why we've not been treated to a rant from Simmons about the Celtics' untimely demise as of yet.

That's all for the week from me, since I'll be traveling the next few days. Back Saturday with something from the sports-politics nexus as now indicated above. I leave you with a moment of Zen.

UPDATE: Not wanting to bump this from the top, I have a few more (4:40pm) notes:

John Ruiz has un-retired from boxing a week after retiring. It's not unheard of for a boxer to come back multiple times so long as the money's right, but this has to be some sort of a record.

I would've linked the Globe story but I see the Globe, whose registration I complained about here, has now gotten to the point where you can't read an article without registering. Henceforth I resolve to heavily excerpt Globe articles in my blog posts so that readers can avoid registering as I now have (as a self-employed member of the tourism industry with the wrong birth year!).

Anyway, the Jeff Van Gundy stink continues to stink on with NBA officialdom, so I thought I'd note an anecdote from Peter May's Sunday Globe column:

In the fall of 1976, when Tom Heinsohn was taking his defending NBA champion Boston Celtics on an exhibition trip, he happened to run into veteran referee Earl Strom at an airport. The two started talking and, according to Heinsohn, the conversation went something like this:

Strom: "You know, Tommy, there was a reason I didn't work after the first couple games of the NBA Finals last spring."

Heinsohn: "I noticed. What happened?"

Strom: "I was suspended."

Heinsohn: "You were what?"

Strom: "After the first two games [both won by Boston, and one of them refereed by Strom], the Suns put up a big fuss about all the calls that went Boston's way. So I was suspended for the rest of the series."

In the first two games of those Finals, the Celtics attempted 58 free throws to the Suns' 44. In Game 3, won by Phoenix, the Suns took 37 free throws while Boston put up 42.

Heinsohn relayed that story to both colleague Bob Ryan and myself this past week in the wake of the $100,000 fine levied by commissioner David Stern against Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy. As Heinsohn told me, "I thought it was all paranoia. When he told me, I just said, 'You're kidding me.' He was absolutely one of the best referees in the game at the time. So anyone who doesn't believe that this can happen . . . "

May then goes on to discuss the two most questionably officiated playoff games in recent memory:

June 5, 1993: Suns-Sonics Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in Phoenix. Everyone wanted a Phoenix-Chicago Final for obvious reasons: A Charles Barkley-Michael Jordan matchup. In the series' first six games, Phoenix shot 15 more free throws than Seattle, a testament to the Suns' scrambling, clawing style of play. Game 7 was a lot different: According to a wire report, it was "a record free throw bonanza" for the Suns. The Suns attempted 64 free throws in the game, making 57 (still an NBA playoff record). Seattle shot 36 free throws -- only 10 more than Phoenix had in the third quarter alone. The big complaint afterward: The game was not refereed the same way the first six games were refereed, which penalized the Sonics. The headline on columnist Art Thiel's piece the next day in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer raised the issue: "Was the Fix In?" The Suns won, 123-110, but lost to the Bulls in six games.

May 31, 2002: Kings-Lakers Game 6 of the Western Conference finals in Los Angeles: I was there for this one and I agree wholeheartedly with Michael Wilbon's assessment of the game. "If you care about basketball," Wilbon wrote in the Washington Post, "Game 6 was a rip-off. The Kings and Lakers didn't decide this series would be extended. Three referees did." The Lakers averaged 22 free throws over the first five games and trailed in the series, 3-2. Another Kings win meant a Sacramento-New Jersey match in the Finals. Need I say more? So, in Game 6, the Lakers attempted 40 free throws, nearly double the average. They had 27 in the fourth quarter alone to nine for the Kings. Two Kings centers, Vlade Divac and Scot Pollard, fouled out on very debatable calls while Kobe Bryant drew blood from Mike Bibby on an elbow and no call was made. Said Divac after the 106-102 loss, "Why don't they just tell us in advance so we'll know to stay in Sacramento?" The Lakers went on to win Game 7 in Arco Arena and then swept the Nets in the NBA Finals.

For what it's worth, there you go. Good luck to the NBA officials--probably among the least popular groups of people in pro sports--who are pushing to get Van Gundy canned. Granted, NBA refs have a hard job, but they could do it a lot better too.