Whoever assigns NBA referees to Finals games is not fussy about appearances.
The referees for Game 6 will be Eddie F. Rush, Bennett Salvatore, and Joey Crawford.
Those last two would make anybody's short list of referees who have been involved in controversy.
Crawford is very highly regarded. But just a year ago, Crawford was suspended indefinitely, reportedly for challenging Tim Duncan to a fight in the middle of a game. A condition of Crawford's reinstatement, according to Commissioner David Stern, was ongoing counseling.
Salvatore has also raised the ire of all kinds of NBA fans, and he explained his side of many controversial calls in a series of posts on TrueHoop.
ESPN's Bill Simmons once named Salvatore the second worst referee in the NBA, and a review of every call of Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals by 82games.com found that of the ten debatable calls Salvatore made in that game, eight favored the Heat -- who ultimately won that game and the championship.
Lately, the NBA's referees have come under all kinds of fire (a former referee saying key games are fixed at the behest of the League, for instance), and you could certainly make the case that it would be a good time to diffuse the situation by assigning the least controversial referees out there.
That's not how the NBA sees it. We have heard recently about referee Dick Bavetta as the subject of alleged FBI inquiries. And in these 2008 NBA Finals, Bavetta, of all people, was assigned to call Game 5.
And now we get lightning rods Bennett Salvatore and Joey Crawford for Game 6. If this game goes smoothly, as did -- for the most part, Game 5 -- this move will look very smart. These are veteran referees, and the NBA is standing by them through some choppy waters. Good for them.
But if the game does not go smoothly, and especially if the Lakers force a lucrative Game 7 on a controversial call or two, then people will question these assignments.