LeBron James already has done the NBA a big solid. His Game 5 performance against Detroit shifted the NBA playoff spotlight to Lake Erie; LeBron, and not the missing Phoenix Suns, is the talk of the Finals. Which is a major blessing in the wake of the Phoenix Sun suspensions. And it won't last long unless LeBron can produce again and lift the Clevelands to a big upset of San Antonio. If the Spurs beat the Cavaliers, and they easily will if Game 1's rout is any indication, the NBA will be saddled with its second straight dubious champ. Some would call it tainted; I might go so far as illegitimate. Miami's triumph in the 2007 NBA Finals raised eyebrows in and out of the league. Conspiracy theorists decreed that maverick Mavericks owner Mark Cuban got his comeuppance from commissioner David Stern. Even some reputable people within the league shook their head. NBA officiating mostly rates between superb and fantastic. But in the Dallas-Miami series, the whistle blew every 14 seconds, in favor of Heat phenom Dwyane Wade. Entering those Finals, Wade had averaged 10.7 foul shots per game that season and 8.3 foul shots per game in his playoff career. In those Finals, Wade averaged 16.2 foul shots a game. He was given 25 and 21 foul shots the final two games. I don't believe the NBA rigged the Mavs-Heat series. But people, reasonable people, questioned the one-sided whistles and still are pondering. Now comes these Finals, which will have a questionable champ unless Sir LeBron rallies Cleveland. Would the Spurs have beaten the Suns had Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw not been suspended for a game? We'll never know. Did the NBA follow the letter of the law when Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended after instinctively sprinting onto the court when the Spurs' Robert Horry body blocked their little leader, Steve Nash, into the boards. The NBA did not follow the letter of the law in the same series, when Tim Duncan stepped onto the court after a quick tussle under the basket between Spur Francisco Elson and Sun James Jones. The NBA ruled that Horry-Nash was an altercation, so the leave-the-bench-rule kicked in, and that the Elson-Jones scrum was not. Splitting hairs. Splitting hairs and deciding NBA champs, that's what Stern lieutenant Stu Jackson did. Which likely will leave the NBA with its second straight fishy winner. And that's no small thing. Slopes can be slippery. Believe it or not, professional wrestling was not always the vaudeville show it was today. The wrestling was legit in the 1920s but slowly drifted away from validity. Soon enough, the sport became a human cartoon. Boxing once was America's golden sport. These days, it has very little respectability. Even boxing's most ardent fans don't argue that the sport is on the up and up. Judging is suspect, quality matchups are rare. Truth is, boxing is a fringe sport in the 21st century. Baseball survived the Black Sox betting scandal, but just barely. And the Black Sox did not crystallize via a big bang. Baseball betting had been a problem for more than a decade. Bad seeds like Hal Chase flagrantly soiled the game, and no one did a dang thing. The Black Sox were the result of baseball's inattention. Loss of credibility can happen. The NBA must be diligent. Two straight tainted champions, and the slope gets slippery.Comments
Game 2: Cleveland at San Antonioâ€¢When: 8 p.m. Sunday â€¢Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio â€¢TV: KOCO-5 (Cox 8) â€¢Series: San Antonio leads best-of-seven series 1-0. â€¢On Page 3C: The Hornets held more pre-draft workouts, bringing in Georgia Tech's Thaddeus Young.