Seeing as how I missed the 2nd half of the Celtics win tonight (to see the late showing of The Bucket List—excellent by the way), I won’t comment about it until I see the Comcast replay showing tomorrow. Instead, allow me to weigh in on do-overs.
The league issued a ruling today stating that the outcome of the December 19 OT game between the Hawks and Heat (a 117-111 Atlanta victory) will not stand due to an incorrectly charged 6th foul to Shaquille O’Neal with 51.9 seconds remaining in the game and the Hawks up 112-111. Instead, the game’s final 51.9 seconds will be replayed (with the score 114-111 because Al Horford made both resulting free throws on Shaq’s “foul out”) and the new outcome honored. [For full stories click here (ESPN), here (NBA.com), or here (USA Today)]
What’s most interesting to me about this situation is not the ruling to replay the effected portion of the game—although that too raises some issues—but the NBA’s rationale for the replay:
“Because of this conduct by Atlanta’s personnel, Miami suffered a clear competitive disadvantage, as O’Neal — the Heat’s second-leading scorer and rebounder that night — was removed from a one-point game with only 51.9 seconds remaining.”
This quote (from the NBA’s released official comment addressing the situation) implies that if the foul had been committed by another Heat member, perhaps the league would not have made the same decision. What if it had been Chris Quinn fouling out? He had played 40 minutes (4th on the team), scored 12 points (4th on the team), and dished out 7 assists (2nd on the team), but I would be willing to put money on the fact that Stern and the rest of the decision-making execs would not make the same allowance for an incorrect Chris Quinn removal.
Is this just another example of star treatment in a league that is notorious for it? Or is Stern still removing egg from the NBA’s face after this past summer’s Tim Donaghy scandal?
Whatever the reason, I’m not sure replaying the final 51.9 seconds is the correct move. Much will have transpired by the time March 8 comes about. The two teams will have different mindsets than they did on December 19, due mainly to the close proximity of the re-play to the playoffs. The teams’ respective momentums will be different, the personnel will most likely be different (due to the nature of NBA seasons in regard to player injuries and trades), and it is entirely plausible that Miami could have a new coach by then.
More importantly, what if Shaquille O’Neal isn’t well enough to play? It’s not as if the Big Aristotle is the Big Infallible this year: there’s already talk of him being urged by some to sit out the rest of this “lost” (I don’t see it as lost yet but many have labeled it so) season so as to fully recover and make a strong push during the final two years of his contract. If the main reason for the do-over isn’t even able to play, what then? A postponed do-over? A double do-over?
Sports are animate objects. Each game has its own identity and personality. Deciding that making up a portion of a game three months after it originally occurred is ludicrous. The only fair way to rectify the situation (if the league is bent on atoning for the inadvertent mistakes made by the Hawks’ staff) is to simply play the entire game over. With that decision, the NBA would be making the statement that improper handling of the game occurred, and improper handling of games will not be tolerated, nor will the games’ outcomes count. There would be no mention of specific players, instead just the admittance that the game was mismanaged and the outcome was subsequently unfair.
Justifying the replay on an individual player basis is far too unprofessional for an organization as large and esteemed as the NBA to allow. Especially when the player the allowance is being made for just happens to be one of the league’s most marketable.
The NBA did well to react quickly and take steps toward righting a wrong. Unfortunately, they didn’t walk quite far enough.