- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tim Donaghy was supposed to be the person who confirmed all the conspiracy theories that envelop the NBA.

The crooked referee was supposed to expose the truth behind the Patrick Ewing lottery and Michael Jordan’s first retirement. He was supposed to provide sustenance to every coach and player who ever has questioned the quality of the officiating after a tough loss. He was supposed to reveal how the Lakers traded $24 worth of beads and trinkets to the Grizzlies and wound up with Pau Gasol.

And all these revelations were supposed to turn off the fan base and compromise the financial foundation of the NBA.

It was destined to be the season of Donaghy, with his name evoked each time there was an improbable outcome.

But it did not go down in this manner. It did not happen.

Donaghy has not even been a footnote to the season. Odd as it may be on some level, the NBA is in the throes of a post-Donaghy revival.

Everywhere NBA commissioner David Stern goes, he happily notes the increase in attendance, television ratings and merchandise sales this season. He happily discusses how interest in the NBA is ever-growing overseas.

Stern has built a global empire, and the empire is impervious to something as trivial as an ex-referee shaving points.

The NBA may be no more than the third-most popular team sport in America, but it is the one American league that has found broad support on six of the seven continents, the wasteland of Antarctica excluded.

That is the reality, which is distinct from the reality that was envisioned after the Donaghy scandal surfaced last summer.

Apocalyptic commentators read the tea leaves then and saw all kinds of fallout. The sanctity of the game was now in doubt. How could fans believe in the integrity of the games? It would take the NBA years to recover from the Donaghy scandal.

In actuality, Stern and the NBA brushed off Donaghy as if he were a speck of dust.

We should not be surprised. This is how it always goes down after a game is rocked by scandal.

The sky-is-falling crowd said baseball was bound to be hurt by the BALCO scandal. As it turned out, the self-appointed guardians of the game were more indignant about the steroid-induced home run era than the fans.

The Tour de France retains its grip on Europeans and a segment of America, regardless of how many dopers are exposed each year.

No one questions the increasing number of 350-pound linemen in the NFL, as if this disposition just happens through a combination of genetics, intense weight training and high protein intake.

Interest in the Olympics never wanes, no matter how many athletes are caught with synthetic drugs coursing through their bodies.

Interest in the NCAA basketball tournament never suffers, no matter how many recruiting scandals are uncovered, no matter how many programs mock the academic branch of their institutions.

Fans long ago came to terms with the seedy element of our games.

They long ago learned to accept that what they see in competition might not have been achieved through natural means.

They long ago recognized that those who protest the loudest are sometimes the guiltiest, whether Marion Jones or Rafael Palmeiro.

In a way, fans are as willing as athletes to compromise their principles in pursuit of victory.

If Roger Clemens announced today that he was coming out of retirement, the fans of the team looking to sign him would be mostly supportive, their skepticism stoked more by his age and cost than his name surfacing in the Mitchell Report.

When Barry Bonds was chasing Hank Aaron’s career home run record, flash cameras would pop all around the stadium whenever he was in the batter’s box.

Fans wanted this tiny piece of baseball history, even if it came with an unofficial asterisk.

Fans merely ask to be entertained first, as the post-Donaghy NBA shows anew.

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