- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

Conspiracy theorists of the NBA long have connected the referee-inspired favoritism of the home team to the series-prolonging machinations of David Stern and his minions in Manhattan.

This fanciful exercise grants the losing team a bit of absolution and alerts the next officiating crew of the series to be on its best behavior.

Antonio Davis, sentenced to an early shower in Game3 after momentarily losing his mind, trotted out the tired theory in the pages of the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday.

“I guess they were only doing what they were told to do,” he said.

The implication is that Bennett Salvatore, Tony Brothers and Tom Washington received orders from the league office in a conference call before the game. Their mission was to pick the Wizards off the canvas and restore life to a series that does not resonate beyond the two cities.

If the league’s powers that be were that manipulative, they certainly would not have permitted the rich television market of the Washington region to go eight years between playoff berths.

And they certainly would not have permitted Jerry Krause to break up the Bulls following the 1998 championship season.

The frustration of Davis was reasonable enough. No one was pleased with the intemperate whistles of Salvatore, Brothers and Washington. But their upside-down view of the proceedings cut both ways.

The Wizards undoubtedly would have been the ones speaking in dark tones if the outcome had not gone their way. They, too, were victims of a plethora of bad calls.

The pull-up jumper of Gilbert Arenas that was waved off just before halftime was one of those visually impaired numbers. The call was so bad — given the clutching of Jannero Pargo — that Salvatore saw fit to dispense a makeup call a moment later.

Two bad calls did not make a right, however.

Arenas should have been granted a trip to the free throw line and a chance to put the Wizards up by five points at halftime. Instead, it was a two-point game at halftime, and the most telling foul development up to that point involved Larry Hughes being limited to 15 minutes in the first half.

It also should be noted that the Bulls had 22 free throw attempts to the 21 of the Wizards in the first 24 minutes, which hardly smacked of the three referees attempting to spare the hosts a 3-0 deficit.

Referees are no different from anyone else. They want to be liked. The weaker referees of the NBA are especially vulnerable to the exhortations of the home crowd.

This is not to suggest that referees consciously make calls that appeal to the home crowd.

The process is more subtle than that.

Etan Thomas exploded past Tyson Chandler at one point in the first half en route to finishing an easy field goal attempt. What made it so easy was Chandler being on the floor after trying to draw a player-control foul from Thomas.

Chandler did not get that whistle in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood. The suspicion is he would have received that whistle in United Center.

That is merely one of the tiny differences between playing at home and on the road.

The home team often receives the benefit of the subjective from the referees, which is no small element, because so much of the action is open to interpretation.

You see a mugging. Someone else sees incidental contact.

The supporters of the Bulls know this drill all too well from the days of the Zen master.

One of his postseason hobbies in the championship seasons of the Bulls was to toy with the heads of the referees through the media, which was amusing, considering Michael Jordan was allowed to play in a no-touch-or-else bubble.

There was no conspiracy in Game3.

It was merely the third instance in the series of an inexperienced postseason team being unable to cope with the vagaries of the road.

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