Wednesday, May 31, 2006


According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word xenophobia means, “Hatred of strangers or foreigners, or that which is foreign.” Does that bring to mind anything in particular? How about an ongoing sporting event that is being televised by ABC, ESPN, and TNT? In case you are still in the dark, I am speaking of the NBA Playoffs.

Now, obviously, I am having a little fun here with a tool I like to call “exaggeration,” but I can’t help but feel like a common thread in this year’s postseason has been the fact that foreign players are getting absolutely hosed by NBA referees.

I touched on this in a recent post (and in the ensuing comments), but officiating in the NBA is a very difficult task. The players are big and athletic and the game is played at such a high speed that it is almost impossible to keep track of everything happening on the court. That said, the refs are having a rough postseason. There have been some blatant missed calls in crucial moments, some terribly one-sided games, and a bizarre propensity to keep home teams close on the scoreboard (by calling ludicrous off-the-ball fouls) when they come out playing like crap in the first quarter.

To put it bluntly, nobody is happy with the officiating. Every time someone lost in the Dallas-San Antonio series, the officials were blamed for the outcome. The Pistons are collectively acting as if the entire sport is rigged against them. On almost any play, you can expect someone to complain, and on pretty much every third play, the complaining party has a seemingly valid point. All of that said, nobody seems to be getting it as bad or as consistently as the contingent of foreign stars.

Here are some names of international players who have had important roles in the 2006 Postseason (Tim Duncan doesn’t count – after all, he played on the U.S. team in the 2004 Olympics): Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker, Vladimir Radmonovich, Pau Gasol, Desagna Diop, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Nenad Krstic, Andrew Bogut, and Andres Nocioni.

While some of these guys were in and out of the playoffs so quickly (Gasol comes to mind) that they don’t really factor in, other names on the list read like a who’s who of bad call victims.

Ilgauskas and Varejao rarely seemed to draw a favorable whistle against the Pistons (with the exception of Varejao’s offensive goaltending that was allowed). Diop was being whistled for fouls against Tim Duncan while he was still in his hotel room. Parker and Ginobili didn’t get nearly the usual amount of love they’ve come to expect from the refs. Nash was railroaded in that infamous Game Four against the Lakers when he the officials didn’t give him a timeout (or a foul). In fact, other than Diaw, nobody on this list has had much luck getting beneficial calls at all.

The king of this cast of characters is Dirk Nowitzki. He’s been so good in the postseason that you can make a case that he’s the best player in the NBA right now, yet he gets very few “superstar calls.” Not only that, he doesn’t even get all that many of the regular calls. Other than the cheap foul he picked up on Bruce Bowen in Game Four of the Mavs-Spurs series, I can’t recall Nowitzki getting the benefit of the doubt on a close call. Tonight in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals, the ongoing slight reached epic proportions. Nowitzki drove the lane and got hacked … no call. He posted up and got mugged … no call. He gets bumped in transition … he gets called for the foul. It was amazing. There were at least three instances in which Dirk took the ball to the basket – as everyone has implored him to do – absorbed a tremendous amount of contact and got nothing for this troubles. It was reminiscent of Chris Webber’s days with the Kings, when critics would lambaste him for not attacking the rim, yet every time he did, the refs looked the other way while defenders reigned blows down upon his head. I don’t blame Dirk for wanting to take jumpers, just like I didn’t blame Webber then. If you can’t get the calls, why subject yourself to the fouls?

I’m obviously kidding about the refs having it out for foreign players. It is just ironic that in a postseason full of bad officiating, the international stars seem to be bearing the brunt of it. Hopefully this odd coincidence will end and Dirk will start getting the calls he deserves, before he decides to brandish that enormous mouthpiece of his as a weapon, ala Udonis Haslem.

I should also point out that it wasn’t the officiating that cost Dirk and the Mavs in Game Four. The Suns simply found their rhythm and outplayed Dallas to even the series. They got a boost from Bell (although I don’t believe he was entirely responsible for the Suns’ turnaround, as the TNT gang would have you believe), a stellar performance from Barbosa (again, I disagree with the Inside the NBA guys, because I don’t think Barbosa has to come off the bench to play well – just track down a tape of Game Six, Lakers-Suns, if you don’t believe me), and some timely threes. Plus, Phoenix benefited from a woeful performance by the Mavs.

All of that said, a case can be made that the international players that have served to boost the NBA’s global popularity and that have helped raise the level of play so much are now getting the short end of the stick in the all-important game of “who gets the calls?” that has so much bearing on the outcome of NBA Playoff games.

Any conspiracy theorists out there want to take up this cause?

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