Mark Cuban hired ex-FBI agent to review NBA referees after losing 2006 Finals
John Canzano of the Portland Oregonian has been doing some great work writing a five-part series on NBA referees. In part five of the series published last Friday, he looked into the lack of public accountability for the league’s referees.
In his story, Canzano brought up the controversial ending of Game 5 in the Clippers-Thunder series that saw several calls go against the Clippers, helping Oklahoma City pull off a win. He interviewed former coach/current broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy, who insists there is a human bias from referees against certain coaches and players. And then he brought up Mark Cuban, which is where the real meat came in.
Everyone knows that Cuban has had a long-standing problem with the league’s officials. He’s been fined $1.665 million for multiple offenses. He’s hired his own team of officials to review game tapes and send it to the league office to point out where their calls are wrong. And after his Dallas Mavericks lost the NBA Finals in 2006 to the Miami Heat — a series in which Dwyane Wade shot 97 free throws and the Heat took almost a third more than Dallas — Cuban hired a retired FBI agent to look into the league/referees.
According to Canzano, Cuban hired Warren Flagg, who currently runs an investigation and security firm, to investigate the league because he was considering a lawsuit. Flagg says he told Cuban that the Mavs owner could sue the league and that he would win the case. Cuban elected not to, realizing it was probably best for business to leave things alone.
“They wanted this thing to be closed,” Flagg said, “and their story was that Tim was the only bad apple. I’ve never seen a cooperating witness so hammered and badgered. It was because the NBA was running the thing.
“I would like to see if (the NBA) did what it did a few years earlier when the refs were picked up for selling their first-class airline tickets. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. I’ll bet they did. In that case, they (turned the officials against each other using the threat of termination). They said, ‘If you want to work, tell us what happened.’ If that Donaghy internal investigation ever gets leaked, it’s going to be like the performance-enhancing drug investigation in baseball.”
Can you imagine that? The NBA covering something up that would have been as explosive as the Mitchell Report. He’s probably right, too. The league likes to keep everything quiet and confidential. They don’t like anyone questioning the referees. They like to control the message and don’t want anyone speaking negatively about them. If a coach or player complains about officiating, the league fines the person. Seems more like a dictatorship than world of fairness.
The NBA has rebounded from the Tim Dongahy scandal and managed to instill the faith of the fans in their product. Most fans believe the outcome of games is determined by the players on the court, not other factors such as calls by the referees. But there’s no doubt that referees can heavily influence games by calling fouls on one team’s star players and not the other’s, and by calling fouls and putting one team at the free throw line more than the other. The league also controls because they have the power to suspend players, such as Zach Randolph in Game 7 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series.
I have no doubt that the league is covering up a lot of bad stuff when it comes to the Donaghy investigation. Unlike baseball, though, the officiating problem is unlikely to be exposed.