The NBA has set up the guidelines for the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat to replay the last 51.9 seconds of their Dec. 19 game Saturday night. The guidelines are: Do whatever you want.
The Hawks won that game 117-111, putting it away after Heat center Shaquille O'Neal fouled out with 51 seconds left in overtime and the Hawks up by one. An item in the notes at the end of the Associated Press story on the game read, "The first postgame statistics showed O'Neal with only five fouls, prompting [Heat coach Pat] Riley to suggest he would protest the game. A review of the play-by-play sheet showed one of O'Neal’s fouls was credited to [Udonis] Haslem, and the error was corrected."
Except it wasn't. Riley did protest the game, and it turned out that the stat sheet was right. The mistake had been made when the scoring table credited a Haslem foul in the fourth quarter to O'Neal.
Commissioner David Stern fined the Hawks $50,000 -- about the price of a postgame spread -- for letting the error happen and ordered the game replayed from the point of the mistake. Al Horford made two free throws after O'Neal's foul, giving Atlanta a 114-111 lead, so the Heat will inbound the ball under their own basket from there. Cool thing to look at for the next few days on NBA.com: An 11-week-old box score hung up at "0:51 1st OT," with the Hawks leading 114-111.
So the great news for the Heat is that O'Neal can come back into the game. The problem is the Heat traded Shaq to the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 6. That's where the NBA's do-whatever edict comes in.
The league office announced Monday that the teams can use players acquired since the game in question to replace those who have been sent away. So Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks, who were traded for O'Neal, can play for the Heat. The Hawks can play their new point guard, Mike Bibby, picked up in a trade Feb. 16.
What's the point of this exercise? The problem the NBA is trying to solve is that the Heat unfairly had to play the last 51.9 seconds without Shaquille O'Neal. So it orders a do-over -- so the Heat can play the last 51.9 seconds without Shaquille O'Neal. What?
This just seems like one of those situations where the best course of action would have been to apologize to the Heat, fine the Hawks and move on. Treat a mistake at the scoring table the same as you would a blown call by a referee. Them's the breaks. Try to prevent it from happening again, but human error is part of the deal.
That's not how the NBA sees it, and now unfortunately the league has set a bad precedent. Major League Baseball announced Monday that it's ordering Game 6 of the 1985 World Series replayed from the point of umpire Don Denkinger's blown call at first base on Jorge Orta's grounder in the ninth inning. The Series will revert to the St. Louis Cardinals leading the Kansas City Royals 3-2, and the Cards up 1-0 with one out in the bottom of the ninth of Game 6.
Since every player on both teams has retired, MLB said the Royals and Cardinals could use whatever players they want to fill out the rosters. They'll replay the rest of the ninth inning before the regularly scheduled Royals-Cardinals game in Kansas City on June 28, and if the Royals win, Game 7 would take place before the next day's game.
The commissioner's office also announced that since the original Game 7 from 1985 had been scrubbed from the books, Joaquin Andujar, who was thrown out of that game for charging at Denkinger, would no longer be suspended for the first 10 games of the 1986 season. So that's nice.
"We have a second chance now," said Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who was 3 when the disputed game was played. "We just have to make the most of it."
Even more exciting, the NFL has announced that the 1925 Pottsville Maroons will play the Chicago Cardinals to finally settle that season's league championship, with either team able to use whatever players it wants.
This column is even benefiting from the new, casual view of history. Thanks to a disputed copy edit, I've been granted the right to republish my 2002 baseball predictions, including the Cardinals winning the World Series over the Seattle Mariners. Since circumstances have changed, I'll be able to substitute the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants. That'll look a lot better in the archives.
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