The following is an article I wrote for MVN Lakers during the 2008 NBA Finals. It is reproduced here in full since, as I no longer write for MVN, the article has been removed from their archives.
For the first 12 hours following Game 2 of the 2008 Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, I existed in a perpetual and unwavering state of outrage.
Monday morning, I received a less-than-pleasant reality check from Hardwood Paroxysm’s Matt Moore, who, in none-too-gentle fashion, spit my own words back at me. He reminded me that I have consistently refused to blame officiating for the loss of a game — much less an entire series — regardless of who the losers were, or even whether or not the series involved the Lakers.
It has always been my position that free throw disparity is often well explained — the primary factors, of course, being the pace at which a team plays, how many shots they take in the paint (versus the number of 3-pointers they attempt), and whether either team went to the line a lot at the end of the game as a result of “garbage time” intentional fouling. Any of those factors, and often more than one, can contribute to an imbalance in foul shooting.
More important than any of that, however, is something that I believe very firmly: Championship teams overcome adversity. That includes, at times, poor officiating.
This is what I said during and after the Lakers-Jazz series, when Jazz fans and Lakers haters decried uneven free throw shooting. No doubt, a large number of Lakers fans have said the same thing, both in that series and throughout the years, whenever opposing fans, “haters,” and conspiracy theorists have suggested that the Lakers had won illegitimately.
As I have insisted countless times before, consistency is key.
Consistency demands that Lakers fans apply the same reasons for disparate foul shooting, and the same challenge to overcome it rather than complaining about it, when the Lakers lose as they do when they win. The same concepts apply when circumstances favor the Lakers’ opponents as they do when they favor the Lakers.
And so, as Matt insisted, I must recognize that though the officiating in Game 2 was horrific — and it was — it was not the reason for the Lakers’ loss. They lost because Phil Jackson committed a number of coaching errors. They lost because the bench that was so strong throughout the season, and throughout the first three rounds of the Playoffs, has completely disappeared. They lost because they rebounded poorly.
Most significantly, they lost because they failed to overcome adversity. They allowed poor officiating to take them out of their game, rather than playing through it and overcoming it.
Consistency demands that I recognize the real reasons for which the Lakers lost — the reasons for which they failed to overcome adversity, which all teams with championship aspirations must do.
Lakers fans, consistency demands the same admission of you. Given the time to work through my own outrage, I’m here now to challenge you, once again, to be the bigger people. Let go the delusions and recognize that the Lakers lost because they played poorly, and not because of the officiating.
And the rest of you? You’re not off the hook, either.
It’s time to put the bitterness, cynicism, and conspiracy theories that echo throughout the blogosphere and the league’s fanbases to rest, once and for all.
Consistency demands it.
After Game 2, with Lakers fans rising up in a protest, Celtics’ blog Red’s Army had the following to say:
The fact is that there is some sense to this line of reasoning. In fact, it is one that I have used before, on numerous occasions. It would be disingenuous of me to ignore it now that it works against the Lakers.
Nonetheless, I find it convenient that it is only when the Lakers are on the losing end of this argument that it is made, when in all other circumstances the only thing anyone cares about is free throw disparity — particularly when that disparity favors the Lakers.
If you want to make that argument, that’s fine. But it is one that must be made across the board, not just when it works against the Lakers.
In the Lakers-Jazz series, the Jazz averaged 4.67 more fouls per game than did the Lakers. Since the point has been made above that a single-digits difference of seven fouls in one game is not significant, it should follow that the foul margin in the Western Conference Semi-Finals was also not significant.
After Game 2, those who responded to angry Lakers fans were quick to point out that the Celtics were more aggressive than the Lakers, attacking the basket more and shooting less from the perimeter. The same, of course, was true of the Lakers against Utah.
Can we all agree, then, that there was absolutely no conspiracy, no referee advantage, that favored the Lakers against the Jazz?
Of course, the ultimate example used by the Lakers’ critics to prove the favoritism shown to the Lakers by the referees is the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. It is to the point that it has been years since I have heard anyone explain why they feel as they do about the series. They make reference to that series as though the mere mention of it proves a pro-Lakers conspiracy.
Look at the box scores. Do the math.
In that series, it turns out that the Kings committed 0.67 fewer fouls per game than the Lakers! According to Red’s Army, then, that series was called remarkably evenly.
Over the past two days, bloggers, fans of other teams, Lakers “haters,” and conspiracy theorists have all responded to incensed Lakers fans by pointing out that they have no room to talk, since Lakers opponents, both recently and in the more distant past, have suffered similar experiences. And they are correct.
But if they would compare last night’s game to previous Lakers series, suggesting that the Lakers suffered the same disadvantage on Sunday that their opponents have in the past, then they must apply the same rationale they have used in the past 48 hours to past Lakers games and series about which they have complained.
If they would argue that the officiating was not the reason for which the Lakers lost Game 2, then they must also admit that lopsided officiating was not to blame for past Lakers wins.
My message to the blogosphere, the critics, the cynics, the conspiracy theorists, the fans of other teams, and those that simply hate the Lakers is this:
You have two choices.
Either you complain, protest, and raise hell as passionately and with as much outrage as you did whenever the calls have favored the Lakers (or, more recently, the Spurs) — or you apply the same “yes, but…” and “they only have themselves to blame” attitudes to past Lakers series that you’re taking towards Game 2.
Either (a) poor officiating was directly responsible for past Lakers wins, in which case it was also responsible for the Lakers’ loss on Sunday; or (b) poor officiating was not the reason the Lakers lost Game 2, in which case it was also not responsible for past Lakers wins.
Those are your choices.
Because it is disingenuous to protest with passionate outrage when circumstances favor the Lakers, and then to rationalize when the same circumstances favor their opponents.
Because if you overreact when the Lakers get the calls, and underreact when they suffer from the calls, then you lose all credibility.
And because consistency demands it.
Lakers fans, I hope, will join me in recognizing that they must apply the same rationale to this game that they have to previous Lakers victories — that the Lakers have only themselves to blame.
Now it’s time for the rest of you — since you have predictably downplayed and underreacted to any allegations of lopsided officiating almost unanimously — to do the same, and put the conspiracy theories to rest, once and for all.
We will man up. Will you?