Ralph Nader rocketed back into the spotlight Wednesday after disgraced ex-NBA ref Tim Donaghy alleged that Game 6 of the 2002 Lakers-Kings series was rigged—a charge Nader (and, well, just about everyone with a pair of eyes ) has been making since it happened. Now, with his umpteenth presidential campaign gearing up, Nader has managed to turn his moment of vindication into a media tour. He announced via press release that “even when it comes to the NBA playoffs, Ralph was right.” He spoke to ESPN about his crusade to reform sports officiating. He even found time to share some thoughts with Trailhead.
Nader slamming the NBA sounds much like Nader slamming any malfeasant company: It’s a “corporate dictatorship” that cares more about the bottom line than its consumers—or in this case, fans. The problem, he explains, is “there’s no process to explain to the fans when the line has been crossed.” Players can be fined for objecting to a ref’s call. Coaches and owners get penalties, too. “If you have pattern of behavior not inscribed by law,” he says, “it becomes insidious, there’s no way out.”
Nader has a solution. He’s urging the NBA to create an independent panel that would review referee selections. Company men would be sussed out; fans would feel reassured. But should the NBA really have the government meddling in its officiating? Nader says it’s all about the consumer: “Without the fans, there wouldn’t be an operation.” Likewise, he recommends that the nondisparagement clause—the NBA rule that prohibits players from complaining about a call—should only apply during the season, not the finals.
The timing for Nader couldn’t be better. A recent survey showed the independent presidential candidate polling at a not-inconsiderable 6 percent. It looks as if he’ll be on the ballot in Colorado, and he has applied to appear on the ballots of at least three other states as well.
Nader doesn’t expect to make sports officiating a big part of his platform—at least no more than any other local issue. But it’s certainly higher on his priority list than on his opponents’. “They’d never get involved in a local sports issue,” he says. “That’s considered a total loser. Hillary was for the Yankees and the Cubs, right?”
Meanwhile, Nader is pushing to be included in this year’s debates, particularly the summer town halls being negotiated by Obama and McCain, as well as debates hosted by Google. He dismisses concerns that he’d be a spoiler for the Dems: “I’m concerned about the votes I lose to them,” he says. “If I have an equal right to run for election, there’s no concern. None of us are spoilers or all of us are spoilers.”
And this year, Democrats can’t blame Nader alone for upsetting the two-party system. Bob Barr is running on the Libertarian Party ticket, which could presumably suck away GOP voters. Nader points to a double standard: “How can liberals say Nader shouldn’t run without saying Bob Barr shouldn’t?”