Is NBA officiating a conspiracy?

NBA attendance may be up 1 percent over last season, but it seems that many fans are becoming disenchanted with the sport. Aside from the fact that ticket prices are inflated and some of the players are racking up more felonies than points, officiating has never been more uneven.

An elbow in the face doesn’t constitute a foul, but only seconds later a tap on the back draws a whistle. In the recent final minutes of game three in the L.A. vs. Minnesota series, TV commentators remarked that the officiating seemed to be going very obviously in the Laker direction. The game eventually went into overtime, and the Timberwolves barely pulled out a win.

This wasn’t the first time referees have been accused of favoring the Lakers. Last year, Ralph Nader was prompted to send a letter to the NBA after game six of the Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Kings, which the Lakers won 106-102. In the letter, he prompted commissioner David Stern to launch an investigation into the “notorious” officiating that he felt had decided the game.

“At a time when the public’s confidence is shaken by headlines reporting the breach of trust of corporate executives, it is important during the public’s relaxation time, for there to be a maintained sense of impartial professionalism in commercial sports performance,” Nader said.

Nader hasn’t been alone in his criticism. USA Today’s David DuPree, who has been covering the sport for more than 30 years, said the officiating in that game six was the worst he had ever seen. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who admittedly has his own interests in mind, has accrued more than $1 million in fines from the NBA as a result of his public rants on the subject.

“The fact of the matter is the NBA is more about power than it is about getting the best possible product or even protecting its players,” Cuban told ESPN, alluding to the fact that a final series featuring a big-market team like the Lakers will bring in higher network ratings and revenues than one featuring a small-market franchise.

It has not been proven that the referees are somehow part of a mass-marketing conspiracy. What is probably more likely is that officials are simply having a harder time keeping tabs on athletes that are arguably playing a faster, more intense form of basketball than ever before.

Without the aid of instant replays, referees are bound to make some critical mistakes.

Meanwhile, fans remain frustrated that players seem to be breaking the rules on and off the court without penalty.