Ted Green: NBA's response to Pietrus' cheap shot on Pau Gasol proves my theory
I'm not Oliver Stone, but this blog post -- about money, potential lost revenue, peculiar refereeing, an odd decision by the league office announced today and the NBA Finals -- does require an upfront disclaimer:
This isn't journalism in the conventional sense or in its purest form. It's a conspiracy theory, flat out.
And here's your warning label.
There is no evidence whatsoever beyond an unbalanced box score to give it more than a blogger's credibility. But unfounded or not, at least I'm going to get to the heart of what any reasonable fan or observer has to be thinking right now, and that is:
If both teams are playing hard and tough and physical, and there's plenty of banging and bumping and grabbing and holding and pushing and shoving going on all over the court in Orlando, with fouls happening all over the place, how in the name of Bennett Salvatore could the Magic shoot 16 free throws in the fourth quarter to exactly none, zero, for the Lakers?
You wouldn't think a disparity that egregiously noticeable could even be possible. So if that is the NBA trying to orchestrate the end result, with some Machiavellian master puppeteer pulling the strings behind an invisible curtain, they're sure not very subtle about it.
And if the NBA doesn't want to see the series extended back for at least a sixth game in L.A. -- and I certainly believe they do in order to maximize the little ratings and revenue train they're riding right now with America's highest-rated TV programs each night the Finals is played -- then why in the name of Stu Jackson didn't they suspend Mickael Pietrus for Game 5 for what was obviously a suspendable Flagrant 2?
Remember, to cite one obvious example, Lamar Odom was suspended during the regular season for leaving the area of the Lakers bench and TALKING to Brandon Roy!
Pietrus punching Pau Gasol in his lower back and kidneys with two clenched fists while Gasol is vulnerable in the air dunking the basketball was definitely NOT an attempt to make a basketball play. It was a blatantly unsportsmanlike meltdown moment easily meeting the standards of a one-game suspension, and so the Magic swing-man should have been suspended today, end of story.
Instead, the league let Pietrus off the hook, saying "no further action" was necessary.
So now, whatdya know? The Magic's most productive bench performer, a guy playing starter's minutes, gets to play in Game 5, giving them a better chance to win.
Pietrus and the Magic are just lucky, I guess.
Look, no one is ever going to be able to definitively prove, meeting the standards of justice expected in an American courtroom, that NBA refs, in conspiratorial cahoots with the suits who pay them, try to manipulate game outcomes. Or, phrasing it more politely with a smidge more political correctness, that the officials willfully give one team or another every break so they at least have every chance to win ... and, oh yes, that's right, extend the series.
I mean, c'mon! Even if we've been suspicious of this for like, forever, the NBA isn't wrestling, is it? Who wants to believe that?
Still, this is fact, not conspiracy: The league and the network it's in business with stand to lose tens of millions of dollars, maybe more, if the Finals never make it out of central Florida, which they probably won't if they're officiated evenly. And you've heard the joke, now we're talking about some serious money.
Consequently, even the most earnest denials from the Knish Commish are not going to convince me that the Lakers weren't playing eight against five in Game 4 and won, anyway, in spite of the best efforts of Salvatore's crew. Today, the curious Pietrus decision only ups the suspicion ante.
You'll know I'm right if they furlough Tim Donaghy from the slammer on Sunday to have him work Game 5.
And finally this: As much as I respect and admire the wondrous, even freakish athletic genius of these genetically gifted NBA ballers, where amazing happens, I now officially hate watching NBA games with the same paranoia about the refs that I experience vis a vis performance enhancers every time I go to Dodger Stadium.
-- Ted Green
Green formerly covered the Lakers for the L.A. Times. He is currently Senior Sports Producer for KTLA Prime News.
Photo: Lakers center Pau Gasol is slammed in the back by Magic defender Mickael Pietrus as he dunks the ball late in overtime in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. A scuffle ensued as Pietrus was given a flagrant foul. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times