King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Rasheed Wallace says you're crazy if you don't think the refs will hand Game 6 to his Pistons. Is his conspiracy theory crazy? Plus: "Cinderella Man."

By Salon Staff
Published June 3, 2005 7:01PM (EDT)

Rasheed Wallace thinks there's a conspiracy afoot, which puts him squarely in the mainstream of basketball fandom.

"Y'all had to see that shit out there," the Detroit forward told reporters, referring to the officiating in the Pistons' 88-76 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night, which gave Miami a 3-2 series lead.

"I'm going to see out of all y'all who really knows basketball by reading y'all's columns and watching y'all's sports stories tonight and tomorrow. It's too blatant out there."

What's interesting here is that Wallace doesn't necessarily think it's an anti-Pistons conspiracy. He just thinks the NBA is pulling levers to make sure the results on the court are the best possible results for the bottom line.

Wallace has a habit of "guaranteeing" wins here and there in the playoffs, but he didn't have to guarantee a Pistons victory in Game 6. It's a foregone conclusion, you see.

"Do you have a gut feeling at all about Game 6?" he was asked.

"Oh, we're going to win Game 6," he said, nodding his assurance. "They want there to be a Game 7. It's no other series. If y'all can't see that shit, y'all crazy."

I'm crazy.

The one complaint I hear most often about the NBA, even more common than the complaints about thuggishness and the loss of fundamentals, is that the league is one giant conspiracy aimed at getting the most commercially viable teams to advance in each round, preferably in seven-game series. Referees are the instruments of this conspiracy.

How this jibes with the San Antonio Spurs winning two of the last six titles and being the favorite to win a third in seven years is usually explained with a lot of mumbling and subject changing.

I can understand how players and fans can believe in refereeing conspiracies, but I think what's happening is rational people -- and yes I mean to include Rasheed Wallace here -- are trying to impose order on random events, by which I mean the officials' calls.

Of course it looks to Wallace like the calls were going against the Pistons Thursday, and in many ways they were. Shaquille O'Neal, for example, got into quick foul trouble Tuesday night in Detroit without playing much differently from how he played Thursday, when he avoided foul trouble.

But it looked to the Heat like the calls were going against them too. It always does, to every team, and its fans.

I think this perception -- that the officiating is crooked -- is the NBA's biggest public relations problem, not cornrows and tattoos, not 18-year-old rookies, not even player rap sheets. The league will fine Wallace for voicing his theories. It should deal with the problem.

Rationalizing the foul rules would go a long way. The NBA should make them line up a little better with fans' intuitive feelings about what should be a foul. One small example: If you jump into a guy, it should be a foul on you, even if that guy has jumped into the air or is moving laterally.

NBA refs' calls seem random not because the officials are crazy or incompetent or acting on behalf of nefarious string-pullers at NBA headquarters. The calls seem random because the speed of the game, the size of the players and the arbitrariness of the rules combine to make it impossible to call a game in a way that makes sense to anyone watching it.

That's the real conspiracy.

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Crowe saves "Cinderella Man" [PERMALINK]

I liked "Cinderella Man," which opens Friday, better than Salon reviewer Stephanie Zacharek did, which I don't think is saying much. I also liked it a lot better than I liked last year's big boxing movie, "Million Dollar Baby," which isn't saying anything at all.

"Cinderella Man" is a big, schmaltzy, Hollywood underdog flick, boxing division, Depression category.

We need big schmaltzy Hollywood flicks. Without them, the phrase "big schmaltzy Hollywood flicks" would be meaningless. "Cinderella Man" has the requisite big stars and soaring score and stock characters and fabulous costume design, every speck of dirt art-directed to within a millimeter of its poverty-stricken life.

The best thing "Cinderella Man" has going for it is its actors, especially Russell Crowe, who's just a big ol' honkin' movie star and shows why. His James J. Braddock, the titular real-life heavyweight champ, is such a papier-mache saint, so unfailingly good and kind and honest and perfect and tough-but-sensitive, that Crowe performs a minor miracle just by keeping us from laughing at his every move.

Paul Giamatti makes something out of wisecracking manager Joe Gould, a part that could have been more crisply written but also could have led to massive scenery chewing. Renée Zellweger does everything she can in the long-suffering but still sexy -- she can talk like Betty Boop and scrub a mean skillet! -- wife and mother role.

The other cardboard cut-out characters get wheeled in pretty much on schedule. There's an ex-pug priest, for example, and a ruthless, cigar-chomping promoter -- who in real life came to root for Braddock, even standing in his corner and yelling, "Murder the bum!" during the title fight with Max Baer.

And of course there's Baer, a wild, colorful customer who gets reduced here to Arrogant Champ, a less interesting version of Apollo Creed. Max Baer Jr., famous as Jethro on "The Beverly Hillbillies," is right to be miffed at the portrayal of his father.

The fight sequences are pretty bad, as is almost always the case. The two things Hollywood just can't ever make look good are athletic action -- which is understandable because actors tend not to be athletes -- and TV news reports, which is puzzling but off topic.

I've pretty much lost all patience with boxing scenes in which every punch is a whistling roundhouse that either misses wildly or lands right on the button, sending the recipient staggering across the ring or knocking him down with the force of a Mack truck.

So I found the climactic championship fight, which took up more than 20 minutes of screen time, interminable. The guy next to me at the screening didn't, though, and you might not either.

"Cinderella Man" isn't a bad movie by any stretch. Braddock's story is so compelling it would be hard to screw it up, though director Ron Howard and screenwriters Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman give it a good try by introducing a pointless subplot involving a made-up dockworker friend.

This paragraph is a mini-spoiler, but I don't think I'm giving anything vital away by saying this guy was evidently necessary because the real Braddock didn't have any friends who died in picturesque ways and had high-lonesome funerals during his run-up to the championship.

"Cinderella Man" is worth seeing if you like the feel-good, underdog-wins sports flicks and especially for the wondrous Crowe. Other than his performance, it's not worthy of the Academy Award talk that's already started.

Previous column: 49ers' XXX sensitivity training

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