At crunch time, refs again swallow whistles COLLEGE BASKETBALL

April 07, 1993|By Will McDonough | Will McDonough,Boston Globe

Some are saying it was too bad such a great NCAA basketball tournament and final game had to end with Chris Webber making a mental error that cost Michigan a chance to win in New Orleans Monday night.

Not me. I'm not saying that at all.

The worst thing that could have happened was if Webber had come down the floor and thrown up a three-pointer that beat North Carolina at the buzzer.

That would have been tragic on one hand, but commonplace for basketball on the other.

Basketball is a super game, but it will never be what it should be because too many referees are stiffs.

Seconds before the Webber faux pas, he made two moves that the officials, for whatever reason, chose to ignore. First, according to observers, he tried to call a Commentary

timeout immediately after rebounding the missed Carolina foul shot. The officials didn't want to see it. They wanted no part of it, knowing it would cost Michigan the game. All of a sudden they decided not to officiate the game, but to negotiate it.

Webber, apparently confused at this point, then traveled. He walked with the ball. Violation, baby. No-brainer. Again, the officials looked the other way. Again, not officiating but simply negotiating.

What they were doing by looking the other way was setting up North Carolina to be shafted. Fortunately, Webber wouldn't let them.

More than any other game, basketball seems to be the one in which officials take gas down the stretch. How about Reggie Lewis of the Celtics last year against Cleveland in the playoffs? He went up at the buzzer at the end of regulation to win the game with a jumper and got fouled. No question. No call. Overtime. Cleveland wins, and goes on to win the series in seven.

More than 30 years ago, I watched in disbelief while covering the final game of the NBA championship series in Boston when Sid Borgia, then the chief of officials, went out of his way to try to tuck it to the Celtics.

It was the seventh game in 1962. Boston Garden. Lakers and Celtics tied with less than 20 seconds left. The Celtics inbound the ball, but instead of running the clock down a little, Frank Ramsey quickly goes up for a foul line jumper with 10 seconds to play. Rudy LaRusso, the Lakers defender, lunges at Ramsey, knocking him to the floor. The shot hits the upper right side of the backboard. No call. The Lakers rebound and get a chance to win the game but justice is done when Frank Selvy misses a short, wide-open jumper, sending the game into overtime, where the Celtics triumphed.

One of the best I ever saw came in an Eastern final game against the 76ers and Wilt Chamberlain. Larry Siegfried had a wide-open jumper at the foul line and up-faked as Wilt came roaring out to block the shot. But Siegfried didn't shoot. He faked Wilt out of his goatee and Wilt landed on Siegfried, making him a human pancake. There was a call, though. Jump ball. Unbelievable, baby.

But that's basketball, the game that, in crunch time, gets negotiated rather than officiated too many times.

Red Auerbach was asked just last Friday who he thinks will win the NBA championship this year.

"Depends," he said. "Depends on the way the games are officiated. If they let all the rough stuff go, then the rough teams like the Knicks and Detroit will win the games. If they call the rough stuff, then they won't."

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