Here’s an excerpt from Blowing the Whistle, by Tim Donaghy regarding star treatment that makes me cringe:

Relationships between NBA players and referees were generally all over the board — love, hate, and everything in-between. Some players, even very good ones, were targeted by referees and the league because they were too talented for their own good. Raja Bell, formerly of the Phoenix Suns and now a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, was one of those players. A defensive specialist throughout his career, Bell had a reputation for being a “star stopper.” His defensive skills were so razor sharp that he could shut down a superstar, or at least make him work for his points. Kobe Bryant was often frustrated by Bell’s tenacity on defense. Let’s face it, no one completely shuts down a player of Kobe’s caliber, but Bell could frustrate Kobe, take him out of his game, and interrupt his rhythm.

You would think that the NBA would love a guy who plays such great defense. Think again! Star stoppers hurt the promotion of marquee players. Fans don’t pay high prices to see players like Raja Bell — they pay to see superstars like Kobe Bryant score 40 points. Basketball purists like to see good defense, but the NBA wants the big names to score big points.

If a player of Kobe’s stature collides with the likes of Raja Bell, the call will almost always go for Kobe and against Bell. As part of our ongoing training and game preparation, NBA referees regularly receive game-action video tape from the league office. Over the years, I have reviewed many recorded hours of video involving Raja Bell. The footage I analyzed usually illustrated fouls being called against Bell, rarely for him. The message was subtle but clear — call fouls against the star stopper because he’s hurting the game.

Wow, what a joke. This is a big reason why the NBA has gone downhill since the 90’s when the game was about more than just money. Penalizing the likes of Raja Bell and Bruce Bowen for being fantastic defenders is pathetic.

  • The NBA lost me years ago largely because of this and the thug sytle.

    And I suppose I quit following so closely when the T-Wolves traded KG to the Celtics, that hurt from a local fans standpoint.

  • I think the thing we need to think about regardless of whether we’re talking about the NBA, NFL, college, MLB, etc… is all of this is entertainment. First point, how many of us outside of Detroit were intrigued with the NBA Finals when Detroit had their brief run 5 years back? A gritty workhorse team with no stars that played great defense and had capable offensive chemistry. It was boring.

    Same goes for the NFL. The Steelers are not fun to watch. The Rams on the other hand with their high-octane offense that won the Super Bowl was outstanding. In baseball the last thing we want to see is the Tampa Bay Devil-Rays battle it out with the Colorado Rockies.

    I understand there are purists. I too would like to be a purist, but deep down I’m a realist. If Raja Bell were really that great he would have shut Kobe down for the entire series, or at least when it counted in every game. But he didn’t. If the Sacramento Kings were that great when they lost the controversial Game 6 to the Lakers they would not have been in a “controversial Game 6” to begin with. They would have finished them in 4 or 5.

    We want Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, Jeter, Manning, etc… That’s what we pay for and that’s what we want to see. These guys have honed their game and if you’re going to take them down, you’re going to need to complete beat them, and not just handle them one game here and one game there. They’ve deserved lucky-break calls here and there, Raja Bell hasn’t.

  • Peter-
    I’m a realist too. However, you can’t tell me that Raja Bell hasn’t earned a few lucky break calls – he is one of the best defenders the NBA has ever seen. At the very least, he should be given an equal shot at succeeding no matter who he is defending.