After the Dallas Mavericks had just beaten the Miami Heat in Game 6 to capture their first NBA title in franchise history, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was asked why he was uncharacteristically quiet throughout the series.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Cuban scoffed, walking away from the microphone to celebrate with his team.
And Cuban was right, the Mavericks had avenged their 2006 Finals loss to the Heat, and – thanks in part to Cuban biting his tongue, for once – the NBA can continue moving right along without anyone brining up officiating scandals of years past.
But if you want the story behind why Cuban was silent during the series, look no further than Page 82 of former NBA official Tim Donaghy’s book “Personal Foul,” where the disgraced referee wrote candidly about the 2006 Finals where Dallas played “five against eight” and had “an uphill battle” against three biased referees.
Few outside of Dallas (certainly not ABC/ESPN, which has lucrative TV deal with the NBA) brought up the free-throw discrepancy and questionable officiating from five years ago, but the boxscores tell the tale as the Heat went to the line 207 times as opposed to Dallas’ 155 free-throw attempts in the 2006 Finals.
Which begs the question, did dirty officiating cost the Mavericks an opportunity to win their first NBA title five years ago?
I know, it’s conspiracy talk, but it’s a story that needs to be raised … if anything to measure where the NBA’s officiating stands today.
While the disgraced Donaghy did not officiate in the 2006 Finals, he admitted on the Galloway & Company Show in Dec. 2009 that he regularly bet on Mavericks games because of the league’s distaste for Cuban.
And in Game 5, Donaghy said that distaste helped put the Heat on the free-throw line 49 times (they made a Finals-record 32 free throws) in 2006. In his book, Donaghy said, “the referees handed Miami a tremendous advantage by awarding the Heat 49 free throws during the contest, compared to just 25 for Dallas.” The Heat won Game 5 in Dallas, 101-100, thanks to a pair of Dwyane Wade free throws with 1.9 seconds left to send the series back to Miami.
“In the NBA, it’s tough enough for one team’s five players to beat another team’s five,” Donaghy noted in the book. “But when it’s five against eight, and three of the eight are referees, forget about it – you’ve got no shot.”
OK, we’re getting back into conspiracy theories and book sales here, so why would we believe a guy like Donaghy when it comes to what happened behind the scenes in the first meeting between the Mavericks and Heat? Well, I look at Donaghy like I look at Jose Canseco. Yeah, he’s a scumbag, who did some shady stuff during his time in the league, but he’s also become the whistle blower who shed light on the dark side of professional sports. Just like Canseco did with performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, where he’s been correct with a lot of his allegations after the fact. And with the FBI carefully going over many of Donaghy’s allegations since, and no legal action being taken by the NBA against Donaghy and his book, why shouldn’t we believe him?
For those of us who followed the NBA closesly five years ago, we remember just how bad the officiating was.
ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, a Celtics fan who had no rooting interest in the 2006 NBA Finals, went as far as to say “Wade and Miami received some Vince McMahon-level assistance in Games 3 and 4 of the 2006 Finals.”
He even wrote an angry column about the “officiating crisis” that prompted Cuban to post the link on his blog with the note: “I never have to say a word again.”
After Dallas fell apart in the 2006 Finals, Cuban was so upset by the officiating he nearly sold the franchise. So yeah, the officiating had an impact on the Mavericks both during the 2006 Finals and well after it.
Luckily for Dallas fans, Cuban didn’t sell or blow up the team and kept cornerstones like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry on his roster. And luckily for the Mavericks, Cuban kept quiet during this year’s Finals and didn’t let his mouth get in the way of a stellar run by his players.
Because while few in the media pointed it out this time around, there were still connections to that 2006 officiating crew in this series. Joe Crawford, for example, officiated in both the 2006 and 2011 series, but you wouldn’t have known it by ABC/ESPN’s coverage of the Finals.
In fact, nobody brought up the officiating or followed up with Cuban about why he was mum about being silent during these playoffs, which leaves us to speculate or believe a guy like Donaghy – who is either the biggest liar the game has seen or the only one who’s telling the honest truth about NBA officiating in the past.
“I would absolutely confirm that there is obviously relationships that have taken place in the NBA, and there’s negative relationships, and they involve Mark Cuban,” Donaghy told ESPN Radio just a year and a half ago. “I think that when you see this, and he goes up two games to none in the (2006) series, I think the league office, and the way they train their referees to favor teams that are down in playoff series, obviously had a major part in the training and programming those referees to put the Miami Heat in an advantage if they fell in that hole.”
This time around, Cuban and the Mavericks quietly buried the Heat in that hole before Wade, LeBron James or even the officials could dig themselves out … and they’re NBA champions because of it.
Like Cuban said, “It doesn’t matter now.”