Players Who Cheat and the Announcers Who Love Them
NBA analyst Danny Ainge declares his love for players
who deceive officials; no fine or suspension under consideration
at this time.
In the first half of the January 29 National Basketball Association game
between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks, broadcast
nationally on cable station WTBS, Clippers center Michael Olowokandi
called for the ball as he planted his feet about 10 feet from the
basket. He had a mismatch, as relatively short Steve Nash tried to
defend. Just before Olowokandi received the entry pass, Nash hit the
floor and Olowokandi was whistled for an offensive foul for pushing off.
WTBS analyst Danny Ainge had a good look at the play and took issue with
the ref. "Now that's a terrible call right there," he said. "Nash
grabbed a hold of Olowokandi's shirt and Olowokandi was just trying to
get position and he gets called for the offensive foul." Ainge chuckled
as he spoke the last few words.
After a commercial break, play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan said to
Ainge, "You talk about great matchups and craftiness. What about Steve
Nash inside, playing defense?" As we watched a replay of Olowokandi's
foul, Ainge commented:
"Yeah, that's a play out of John Stockton's book right there. You see
him grab a hold of Olowokandi's jersey and his arm. Tried to pull him
down. The officials fell for it. Nash just fell to the ground and, uh,
got away with one right there. That is so frustrating to the big
players. But that's why you love Nash: He gets under your skin."
That's why you love Albert Belle: He corked his bat. That's why you
love Gaylord Perry: He greased the ball. That's why you love Rosie
Ruiz: She took the shortcut.
That's why you love every athlete who attempts to win by deceiving
officials whose duty is to ensure the integrity of the competition.
Although I think Nash fell down on purpose, I'm not certain. If Nash
did, I don't love him (even though I love his overall game, flopping
excepted). Until he apologizes, I don't even like him.
Ainge, on the other hand, not only is certain Nash cheated, he told
viewers he loves Nash BECAUSE he cheats!
Ainge's verbal construction -- "But that's why you love Nash" --
suggests he's speaking for everyone. Sorry, Danny. You're not. Most
NBA players hate guys who deliberately fall down. They hated you. They
hated Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer. They hated Doug Collins. They
hate the fact that Collins (NBC's lead analyst prior to his return to
coaching) and you have had a national-television platform to brainwash
their sons and daughters into believing that deceiving the officials is
just one more skill to master. They want their sons and daughters
learning to pass, shoot and box out, not how to "sell a call" to the
ref. They don't want you encouraging their kids to cheat.
A short while after the Olowokandi call, Darius Miles was whistled for
an offensive foul as he sprinted to the hoop. Nash, running in the same
direction, had created contact by veering in front of Miles, at which
point Miles either pushed him or Nash was able to make incidental
contact that he himself initiated look like a push. Ainge was convinced
it was the latter. "I don't think Darius Miles is that strong," he
said. "Again I think: great acting job by Nash."
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban regularly questions the competence of NBA
officiating. It's time he raised a question about his players and
coaches. Not about their competence, but their integrity.
NBA refs have a very difficult job. Every night they must make
instantaneous judgments on plays that, even after several slow-motion
replays, look like they could go either way. Their difficult job could
be made a bit easier if they knew that Mark Cuban's players and coaches
-- and their opponents -- know the difference between right and wrong
and believe in the former. A ref's job is impossible when he or she
must stop and think, Was that a shove or a flop? A split-second is not
enough time to peer into a player's soul.
Cheating has no place in the game. The sooner the NBA imposes an
appropriate penalty, the sooner this stuff will cease.
For a first offense, I propose that refs hit the suspected player with a
technical. For a second offense -- and it could be later in that game
or next month -- a player will be suspended without pay for 10 games.
Each incident will be investigated by the league to determine if the
player's coaching staff teaches, encourages or condones cheating. If a
member of the staff is found guilty, he and the head coach will be
suspended for 82 games.
NBA Commissioner David Stern doesn't seem to understand the difference
between legitimate and illegitimate acting. Here it is:
The legit stuff is directed at one's foe: Jason Kidd looking left and
dishing right; Gary Payton playing possum, then pouncing on a lazy
inbounds pass; Michael Jordan loping along, then turning on the jets;
Allen Iverson setting up some sap for the crossover. In those
instances, the player's eyes and body language aim to fool the hapless
foe, not the refs. The illegitimate stuff aims to deceive the refs, the
upholders of the game's integrity.
Stern has no trouble discerning and disciplining off-court cheating.
When he caught the Timberwolves deceiving NBA financial officials in an
effort to circumvent salary-cap restrictions, he fined them $3.5
million, stripped the team of five first-round draft choices and barred
the owner from NBA arenas for a year. The other owners got the
message. If Stern metes out equally stern justice to on-court cheats,
he'll deter any current or future NBA player contemplating a career in
The Clippers-Mavericks contest was a meaningless regular-season game,
and the good guys won. But if the upcoming playoffs are like those of
years past, the turning point in at least a few critical games will come
when a flopper forces a key foe into foul trouble and onto the bench.
Danny Ainge may love that stuff, but a league that cares about its
integrity and the message it delivers to youngsters will act now so it
never happens again.
Dennis Hans is an occasional college professor, a
rec-league legend and an unlicensed shooting guru. His
essays on pro basketball have appeared online at the
Sporting News, Slate, InsideHoops.com and The Black
World Today (tbwt.com). His writings on other topics
have run in the New York Times, Washington Post and
Miami Herald. He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.