Thursday, July 26, 2007

Can the NBA survive the crooked referee?

David Stern called him a "rogue, isolated criminal". He's been tarred, feathered, crucified, and pretty much gibbeted in the media. Never has one man set the perception of honesty and league integrity back so far. But can the NBA recover? Or is the carnage inflicted by Tim Donaghy so vast that the league will lose credibility and relevancy among its fans?

If any can professional sports organization can survive an attack on its basic covenant with the fans, it is the NBA. The league has perhaps the largest footprint of any sports organization in the world. More so than baseball players or football players, NBA stars are bigger than life. They aspire to be global icons. They have become global icons. Do you think the millions of fans Yao Ming has brought to the game will stop watching because of one referee? The NBA has made itself such a global entity, no one man, short of David Stern himself, can destroy it. Fan overlap will ensure its continued success.

My guess is that few fans will be completely turned off to the NBA because of the Tim Donaghy scandal. Those who weren't fans because of poor officiating and pandering to stars will be more solidified in their view points, but those who are fans will continue to pass through the gates. Even the sometimes fan, who only attends when a favorite player is in town or when their favorite television show is airing a re-run, will not turn away from the NBA because of one bad referee. They will come to see the show. A spectacle of athletic achievement performed by some the greatest athletes in the world. While they care about the score, they will not focus on it as the die-hard fan does. The die-hard fan who will stay a fan through thick and thin.

The NBA will be fine. If the gambling scandal involved a few players, or all the referees, then I would be worried. But until then, all David Stern has to ensure is that the actions of his "rogue" referee stay isolated.

See my take on the scandal of steroids in professional wrestling here.

See my take on the scandal of steroids in baseball here.

Tomorrow: why the charges against Michael Vick won't effect the NFL and the sport whose scandal strikes the deepest.

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