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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ramble On ... Bill Dwyre on Sports in the Year 2008

Bill Dwyre, one of my all-time favorites, does it again. In fact, I don't think there has been a better sports column written this year. Read on:

What's lost in a post-Donaghy sports world

Sports officiating's biggest problem isn't the refs, or even Tim Donaghy. It's the world of instant expectations that has blown the call.
June 21, 2008

Here's a book title you won't be seeing soon: The Joy of Being a Referee.

These are not salad days for those who blow whistles, drop flags or wear chest protectors. Same for those policing other sports, even those sitting in tall chairs and getting suntans at tennis matches.

It isn't just the Tim Donaghy saga.

Yes, he poisoned the pool and got us all thinking about the fragile line we walk by trusting the people in charge of our games. And yes, what he did, and his subsequent finger-pointing at others in the NBA, has punctured the core of officiating, no matter the sport.

Donaghy's legacy includes new shorthand for officiating malfeasance. We hear "Game 6, Lakers-Kings," and we know the subject. We don't even know if it is true, or Donaghy's wimpy attempt to look better in the face of his own sins by sniveling about how he wasn't the only one.

The problem is, we don't seem to be willing to wait for proof of guilt or innocence these days. Our world moves too fast. We hear it, text-message our assumptions and move quickly to the next arena of instant gratification.

Which may be more the problem, or reason for the current low-status of officiating, than even the despicable Donaghy.

We want it quick and clear. Decisive and over. Something doesn't look right? No matter. We have cameras, computers. Take a look. Get it right. Move along.

It is no longer of interest for us to watch John McEnroe approach the chair umpire after a questionable tennis line call and label the poor guy "The pits of the Earth." That was entertainment. It wasn't nice, it wasn't great sportsmanship, but it sure was McEnroe. And when it was over, the official always won.

Today, nobody argues with anybody in tennis. A camera with nice graphics shows us exactly where the ball bounced, we nod and the game goes on. Even the player who just lost match point accepts it as gospel. Interestingly, if you watch closely and talk to officials on the lines, you will conclude that even the almighty Hawk-Eye is wrong once in awhile.

We care only that it is neat and clean and fits perfectly into our current video game mind-set. Quick, visual and over.

The retaining of the "human element" in sports officiating has long ago lost its appeal. The games, especially on the pro level, aren't so much fun anymore as they are life and death.

If you watched the recent Lakers-Celtics series -- there are rumors that seven people in Greenland were the only ones who didn't -- then you saw the nightly ecstasy of creating agony for the referees. Sure, they are now all blood brothers of Donaghy, whether they like it or not, but never have so few taken so much abuse from so many. At last count, by gauging their reaction and that of the fans, no player from either team committed a foul. Ever. Not once.

The truth be known, the men who had the most to gain or lose, coaches Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers, kept their poise better than anybody else in the buildings. The players? Never have so many suffered so much injustice at the hands of so few. At one point, there was genuine concern that Sasha Vujacic might blow his hair net.

Interestingly, one of the mandates in the NBA the last few years, to the point where referees were calling trigger-quick technicals in exhibition games, was for players and coaches to stop showing up the officials after calls. No throwing up hands in anguish, no yelling at them, getting in their face, stomping off in disgust.

That disappeared in the playoffs, where every foul call triggered Hamlet. If players could play as well as they can act, the basketball would be unbelievable. If the NBA is looking for a new slogan for next season, how about this: Shut Up and Play.

Still, don't expect the NBA to go to much instant replay other than what it has now for shots at the buzzer, etc., because, if every foul were scrutinized, each game would last 20 hours.

But baseball, where some of the games seem to last that long, is apparently leaning toward more Kodak moments, starting Aug. 1. It would be limited at first to checking on home runs -- fair or foul, etc. But once you sign onto a computer, it never quite lets you sign off. Coming soon: John Hirschbeck with a BlackBerry under his chest protector.

Commissioner Bud Selig, from the pre-iPod generation, loved the human element of umpiring, but he'll be toast now if he stays that course.

For a while, life will go on in the usual ways. Olympic boxing judges will cheat. Figure skating judges will be homers. Hockey linesmen will train for their real job by working off-season as bar bouncers. And our image of NFL officials will be of men with heads under camera hoods.

There is, of course, golf, where players call violations on themselves, but even that is less redeeming than it once was, because cameras are everywhere, making sure.

Eventually, it will come to this.

A father will take a cellphone picture of his Little League son or daughter, being called out at home plate on a close call. He will sue, using his picture as evidence, win $2 million because of pain and suffering and get the 16-year-old umpire fired. His picture will, indeed, show that his child was safe at home.

We will read the story and ponder the phrase "careful what we wish for."

Bill Dwyre can be reached at


Rudy, Rudy...

The Trail Blazers will be pretty tough with Rudy Fernandez and 2009 Rookie of the year-to-be Greg Oden joining a lineup of budding stars. In case you didn't see the AP report last weekend:

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Guard Rudy Fernandez said that he plans to leave his Spanish ACB League team to join the Portland Trail Blazers.

Fernandez made the announcement at a news conference in Spain. The Trail Blazers can not comment, because of league rules, until he signs with the team on July 1.

"It has not been easy for me to take this decision, but it is the moment to face new challenges," Fernandez said. "Now, I have the chance to fulfill a dream and become part of the NBA."

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard averaged 21.2 points, 4.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds for DKV Joventut Badalona this past season.

The 24th overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns, he was acquired by Portland for cash considerations.


This item ran in Marc Spears' Boston Globe notes along with NBA Finals coverage on Friday:

A Maine attraction?

The NBA Development League recently announced the Celtics will keep the Utah Flash as their affiliate next season. Boston, however, has been interested in getting a much closer affiliate, perhaps in Portland, Maine.

Portland is hoping to field an NBDL expansion team by the 2009-10 season. Ex-Celtics assistant coach Jon Jennings, who would be a co-owner in Portland, is hoping to hear good news soon. Helping Portland's cause is the fact the franchise's lead investor is Bill Ryan, chairman of TD Banknorth Garden, and ex-Celtics coach and star K.C. Jones is a consultant.

"We're still negotiating with the NBA," Jennings said. "Things look very good purchasing the team, but it's still not a done deal. We've gone pretty far in satisfying everything the NBA requires. Hopefully, in the near future, we'll get some good news from the NBA.

"They are really impressed with Portland and we have a great ownership group and the arena and so forth.

"We'll see what happens with Portland," Ainge said. "We're jumping the gun. We'll see how it goes."

Said Jennings, "We feel it's the perfect scenario . . . It would help the Celtics grow their brand in Northern New England."

In the meantime, Ainge expressed satisfaction with being affiliated with the Flash. "We'll go back to Utah [for 2008-09]," he said. "We like our relationship."

"It's an honor to be associated with a team playing in the NBA Finals," said Flash GM David Fredman. "The fact that they sent two players to develop, I thought the relationship went well and both sides were happy. It makes sense that they want something geographically closer. I understand that."

Celtics rookie Gabe Pruitt and rookie forward Brandon Wallace, who was cut Dec. 13, played for the Flash this season. "You don't know how much you helped a player like that until later on," Fredman said. "But I still think Gabe has a chance to be a good NBA player."


I've written it before and I will write it again.

See this quote from a 2007 story on the NBA and TV:

"The Internet changed everything in the mid-1990s," says the NBA's Lyons. "Fans that weren't able to watch full games could enjoy up-to-the-second reporting, click on box scores instantly and download highlights on That's certainly helped fans follow the game.

"No matter what time you start a game, you're always going to inconvenience someone, somewhere. But the issue is, with TiVo and digital recording, how can fans get the best access to games? You look at almost every step of technology along the way -- whether it was flying tapes across the ocean to Italy in the 80s to satellite delivery and digital technology today -- the NBA has been at the forefront."

And, See this from the Boston Globe earlier this week about the NBA start times:

After NBA highs, a.m. lows
Late-night Celtics games rob devotees of sleep

By Christopher Baxter and Maddie Hanna, Globe Correspondents

Game after game, Celtics fans across Boston face the same, painful decision: basketball or bedtime?

Waiting in line for coveted tickets yesterday morning, George Hutt fondly recalled lazy weekend afternoons at his parents' home in Hingham, watching Celtics playoff games while the sun still glowed through the windows. But games this series have all started well after dusk, and the longtime fan has surrendered to heavy eyelids and the allure of digital recording.

"I hate it," said Hutt, 42, who lives near TD Banknorth Garden. "The only game I watched in its entirety was [Sunday] night, because I thought it was going to be the championship."

Tense midnight moments have quickly turned into sleepy mornings in boardrooms and classrooms across the region, and have left parents, youngsters, and radio talk show callers asking the same simple question: Why? Why do the games have to start at 9 p.m. and end so late, even on Sundays?

The answer, according to the National Basketball Association, is that the late start time allows the most people across the country to watch the games and appears not to deter even those who complain.

"It may be counterintuitive and against conventional wisdom, but there is no indication that the younger audience is impacted by later start times," said NBA spokesman Michael Bass. "And the reality is, if it's past their bedtime, in this day and age, kids in particular are extra tech-savvy and are finding ways to consume the game online through or YouTube."

But marketing specialists warn that the broadcast strategy may backfire, as children struggle to stay awake until the final buzzer.

"From an advertising perspective, from a common sense perspective, what the NBA is doing is clearly excluding a whole generation from being able to watch their games," said Christopher Cakebread, advertising professor at Boston University.

In 1986, the last time the Celtics made the finals, three games, including two on Sundays, were broadcast earlier in the evening, Bass said. There were also two earlier broadcasts during the 1987 championship series, he said, but since then the NBA has been starting games at 9 p.m.

The league is not alone. The NCAA men's basketball tournament and the World Series both start in prime-time spots. Sports are no different from popular television shows, trying to maximize their audience and advertising rates by starting at 8 p.m. or later, Bass said.

Viewership of the finals has varied game to game. Game 5 was watched by more than a million people in the region, according to NielsenTV tracking data.

But Joseph Johnson wasn't one of them. The 11-year-old Celtics fan, in town from Chicago visiting family, said that even the raucous championship atmosphere could not keep him awake.

"I fell asleep in the fourth quarter," he said, as he waited in line at the Garden for Game 6 tickets.

The question remains whether the NBA's plan will engage children who have not yet been captured by the sport, said Cakebread.

"Marketers aren't known for thinking long term," he said. "They're thinking, 'How much interest can I attract to the brand at this moment? We'll worry about 2012 or 2015 later.' "

But with the Celtics on the verge of their first championship in two decades, any disengagement was hard to detect yesterday at the Holland Community Center in Dorchester. Eric Brito, 10, said he watched all of Sunday's game, but felt it in the morning.

"I couldn't wake up, and then I fell off the bed," he said.

Giovany Perez, 8, said his mother made him go to bed Sunday evening, but he sneaked back to watch the game on television with his sister and brother later that night.

Even some parents who have held a hard line throughout the playoffs are begrudgingly making late-hour exceptions for the finals.

"I got little kids, you know, and they want to watch the game," said Doug Coughlin, 40, of Revere, who was wearing Celtics gear in the ticket line yesterday at the Garden.

Even Hutt, nostalgic for a time when sleep and slam dunks didn't conflict, plans to give up a few more hours of shut-eye to see the Celtics play tonight.

And he will actually be in the Garden if it comes to a Game 7. But, he said, "we're rooting for no Game 7."

Christopher Baxter can be reached at Maddie Hanna can be reached at


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