A judging controversy has erupted in the NBA in the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers’ win over the New Jersey Nets in Los Angeles Sunday night. The Nets outscored the Lakers 108-102, but the judges awarded the Lakers the win on artistic merit.
While basketball judges never address the public or media about their decisions, observers of the sport speculated that the decision may have been influenced by the presence of Jason Collins in the Nets’ lineup. Collins, who came out as gay before the season, made his Nets debut in the game, becoming the first openly gay athlete in the four major professional sports leagues in the United States.
“For many people, Jason being the first out player to get into a game is a great moment,” said longtime basketball analyst Scott Hamilton, “but the judges are old-school. They’re conservative and they don’t like change. They may be looking at Jason as an outsider they don’t want as part of their club.”
Collins wouldn’t speculate on the effect his sexuality might have had on the judging: “I can’t say why the judges made the decisions they did,” he said. “They can, but they won’t. That’s just the way it goes.”
But Hamilton and his broadcast partner, Sandra Bezic, were both quick to note that there may have been other factors at play.
“The Lakers have a way of connecting emotionally to the audience, making them feel like they’re really part of the performance, that the Nets just don’t have,” Bezic said. “They just play to the crowd so beautifully and bring them along on this wonderful ride. It’s captivating.”
And, Hamilton added, the Lakers put their best fashion foot forward. “As much as we all might hate to admit it, costumes do count. The Lakers have the beautiful white and yellow and purple outfits that are bold and flattering and exciting. The Nets wear black with white trim. It’s a classic look, but really they’re just kind of drab when you get right down to it. The judges notice that.”
Nets rookie coach Jason Kidd said he was angry with the decision, but kept his emotions in check in front of the media. “It looked to me like we won that game,” he said quietly at the postgame press conference. “The judges saw it a different way and we have to live with that, but I think this sport has a lot of work to do. My guys went out there and played better, but they don’t get the win. It’s not right.”
Not surprisingly, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t see it that way. “I thought we were clearly better,” he said. “You heard the crowd. They know.”
“Honestly, casual fans see the Nets scoring more points and losing and they think it’s all fixed,” Hamilton said. “But if you know the sport inside and out, if you really know what you’re looking at, you see things differently. Obviously the Nets scored more points. But that doesn’t mean they should win. That’s basketball. That’s what makes it so great.”