Last week consumer advocate and 2000 Green Party presidential
candidate Ralph Nader sent a letter to NBA commissioner David
Stern protesting what he saw as Lakers-friendly refereeing in
Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. In the fourth quarter
L.A. took 27 foul shots to the Kings' nine.
SI: Where were you watching Game 6?
Nader: In my office in D.C., and it produced such distaste that I
hardly watched Game 7.
SI: Were you rooting for the Kings?
Nader: I'm neither a Kings fan nor a Lakers fan--I root for the
Wizards--but [the poor officiating] was blatant. And it reflected
a series of themes: You give penalties to the lower players, keep
the stars in the game, overlook traveling, just on and on.
SI: Are you implying the NBA tried to engineer the results ?
Nader: The referees know where their bread's buttered, and they
know that a Game 7 will increase revenues for the league.
SI: How does this relate to your career in consumer advocacy?
Nader: Fans are consumers. As taxpayers they often have to pay
for the stadium; then they're heavily overcharged. Soon, if
you're not rich, you won't be able to take the family to a game.
Ticket prices, parking prices--everything is delivered as a
SI: Have you seen examples of diminishing fan trust in sports
other than basketball?
Nader: Basketball is the most subjective in terms of referees.
The NBA is the perfect tyranny. The players and coaches can be
wronged by the officials, and they have to shut up or get fined.
Translate that into the political arena, and you'd call it a
SI: How big a problem is this relative to other issues of
Nader: Obviously you don't lose your pension as you did with the
Enron scandal, but it's not trivial. People tend to transfer
trust from one area to another.
SI: What if David Stern and the NBA ignore you?
Nader: If they don't have a third-party review and admit it was a
bad night for the referees, many fans will wonder whether there
was a fix. They're risking the expansion of this belief that
there was some sort of hanky-panky if they don't clear the air
and document it as a night of pure incompetence.
SI: Are you a big sports fan?
Nader: I grew up in Connecticut, so I'm a Yankees fan from a long
time ago. My interest in basketball is more recent.
SI: Have you watched any of the Finals?
Nader: No, I've lost my taste for it. Given what you read these
days about Enron, Arthur Andersen, breach of trust, greed,
gouging and self-dealing, fans are entitled in moments of
recreation to expect their games to be decided purely on the
merits. Sacramento was defeated by Shaq, Kobe and three referees,
a five-man team that's hard to beat. --Jamal Greene
COLOR PHOTO: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS POINTED CRITICISM Nader believes the refs' treatment of the Kings (below) warrants inquiry.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [See caption above]