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Published: Monday, 8/6/2007

Bent hoops

FOR many Americans, professional sports is the stream of nearly pure pleasure that flows around and over the jagged rocks that comprise much of daily life and its sometimes distressing news.

It is what you turn on for distraction at the end of a trying day. Scores - wins or even losses - are what you look for in the newspaper first thing in the morning for an antidote to the ever-present stories of war, disasters, indignities rendered to us by federal, state, or local governments, and the usual round of murders, robberies, and accidents.

Thus, when something bad happens in sports - particularly a piece of corruption, since some kind of fairness is supposed to be the essence of sports - it is a bit like when one finds a corner of green mold in an otherwise tasty loaf of bread. It spoils the loaf. It may not be able to be cut out. It may require that the loaf be thrown away entirely.

That is the case with the current report that a National Basketball Association referee may have been miscalling NBA games to produce outcomes that helped him win his own bets on the contests. The report indicates that others may have been involved as well, thus potentially producing a very crooked season, or seasons.

Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick and his possible involvement in dogfighting is bad enough, although that apparently involves him personally, not football directly. European cycling is rotten to the core with doping, but most Americans think the Tour de France might be a road and could care less.

But many Americans follow NBA basketball, between football season and March madness college basketball, during the early baseball season, and through the playoffs. It turns out that if we wanted competition, we might have done better to watch World Wrestling Entertainment than supposedly serious NBA games.

The measures the NBA now takes to clean itself up may help, if it can shake itself out of denial, but the damage will have been considerable. That is too bad for the honest players, coaches, and referees, as well as for the disappointed fans.

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