“The integrity of the game is everything.”
You hear that line in sports a lot, especially when bad stuff taints the public perception of athletic competition. Nothing like the whiff of a point-shaving scandal to set off panic buttons. The slightest manipulation of the score can get folks sent to prison. Can you imagine the scandal if games themselves were thrown? Or even if there were suspicion of such a thing?
My goodness, little kids would be crying on street corners, pleading with stars to “say it ain’t so, Joe.” Prosecutors would be racing for the courtroom. Newspapers would be running withering editorials about the failure of a basic social contract.
But what does it mean to throw a game? Is it a conspiracy among players to make sure they lose? Could it be a coach’s decision to play bench-warmers? Might it involve a suggestion from executives or owners that winning isn’t in the team’s best interest?
I ask these questions because I wonder what’s going on with Sacramento Kings. It’s bad enough they have a 27-41 record and have lost eight of 11 games since DeMarcus Cousins was dumped, but is it possible they’re now playing with the hope of losing each game? Even worse, are there forces at work within the team organization to try to make that happen?
I must say I was amazed to see the following observations in Monday’s Sacramento Bee:
Kings’ management has no incentive to win games down the stretch. More losses mean the team has a better chance of keeping its top-10 protected draft pick.
These comments were made in a story by Jason Jones, the Bee reporter assigned to cover the Kings. He was explaining the announcement by Kings coach Dave Joerger to sit out three key players – Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos and Ty Lawson – in a game against the Orlando Magic Monday evening at Golden 1 Center. Orlando is a team about as weak as the Kings, so why would the coach rest three regulars when the odds were good for a win?
Jones notes the lowly Kings have a questionable history of putting victory first.
Setting a not-so-strong lineup with the draft in mind is not new for the Kings. The team held starters out of games late last season to help keep their top-10 protected draft pick.
One of those games was the season finale. The Kings had the opportunity to play the classic “spoiler” role by beating the Houston Rockets and giving Utah a shot at the final West playoff spot. Instead of making an honest effort, the Kings “rested” their three best players. The Rockets’ 35-point victory gave them a playoff spot. Jazz fans were left to ponder the integrity of the pro game.
For better or worse, the Kings managed to snatch a 120-115 victory against Orlando on Monday as well as win against the lowly Phoenix Suns last night. Makes you wonder whether the players have a goal different from that of management.
Basketball fans who value the integrity of the game would do well to go to the NCAA Tournament games on tap at Golden 1 Center tomorrow and Sunday or the upcoming high school championships. All-out effort toward a goal of victory is a virtual certainty at every game.