With not nearly enough time spent in Lithuania, BallinEurope doesn’t wish to make any generalizations regarding the national character vis-à-vis tendency to conspiracy theory. Having been based in Central Eastern Europe for plus-10 years now, however, BiE knows how it goes, with “it” here representing “management of professional sport clubs well above and beyond normal, decent parameters of corruption.”

How does it go? It goes like this and this and this and this and just about all of this and of course this – and that’s just Greece and Turkey; don’t get BiE started on Vladimir Romanov.

Certain high-level executive types, along with the occasional marquee name player, apparently throw a collective middle finger gesture to the fans, even throwing a, let’s say, colorful discombobulation of the truth or two to the masses once in a while – just to keep things interesting, one guesses. And because they can.

In America, multibillionaires essentially blackmail local taxpayers for further millions to keep the local franchise in town with a shiny new privately-owned stadium; here, some owners and/or club presidents would kill a club as easily as a single player’s career for, well, you figure it out.

A distinctive cynicism from unnecessary politicization of basketball is produced in Continental fans (BiE includes himself in this class at this point); caught in the line of fiery sarcasm and bitter rage kept barely in check are referees, players, federation officials, coaches. “Anybody can be bought,” they we think in times of their our despondent lows.

No wonder the Lithuanian journos at halftime of the Spain-Lithuania match in EuroBasket 2011 Group A play, with the home side down a crazy 62-36, were putting their team’s woes as due to hangovers at best, payoffs at worst. One bit of dialogue ran thusly:

BiE: Ah, come on. Look, i’ve lived in Hungary for more than 10 years. I know how it works, but come on! How much would it take to pay the Lithuanian team to not only lose a game to Spain at home, but to lose in a blowout?

Lithuanian journalist: (shrugs)

BiE: Really? Come on, man…

Et cetera. BiE just thought Spain was firing on all cylinders, doing everything perfectly short of losing some individual positioning battles with Jonas Valanciunas, but what do i know? BiE’s not quite hardened enough yet, it seems…

This rant was merely the backdrop to present an interesting conversation i had with BallinEurope correspondent code-named Y, chatting during halftime of the Lithuania-Germany match. Y. presented an all-too plausible scenario regarding France’s 96-69 rolling over for Spain yesterday.

And this is how it started:

Y.: FRA are suckers
Y.: i hope they lose in quarterfinal
BiE: Gee, they might.
BiE: Damn, what a statement game.
Y.: i mean
Y.: and it’s just strange

That should have been my cue that Y. was way ahead of BiE. A familiar trembling sensation ran through me as BiE knew that cherished beliefs were to be swept aside and illusions dissed.

Y.: they trade Slovenia or *Finland* in the quarterfinal for *Greece*
Y.: just to miss LTU/MKD in probable semifinal

At first, BiE didn’t let the implications of the statement sink in, going on instead to kick around predictions for the next round; we’re both assuming Russia stops the FYR Macedonia machine. For the final four,

Y.: i would pick
Y.: then
Y.: ESP SRB for final
BiE: Wow, going against your boys?
Y.: well
Y.: we’ll see
BiE: You know, Serbian hasn’t looked really awesome yet … and Lietuva has at times.
Y.: ESP is very very good
Y.: SRB has a better road for the final
Y.: they don’t play LTU or ESP

BiE was thinking at time, “I might trade out Greece for France in that final four.”

BiE: Do they really think France can beat Greece like that?
Y.: i hope they don’t
Y.: they don’t deserve to
Y.: btw
Y.: can you imagine
Y.: they would get LTU which i think they don’t want to
BiE: O, so Lithuania does have to meet Spain again?
Y.: in the semifinals
Y.: that’s why people say
Y.: FRA dropped the game
Y.: to play whoever else

Pragmatically speaking, Les Bleus had nothing to prove against Spain – yet. But of course, there was one key question.

BiE: Why would they not want Finland?

Hmmm … not having to go through Lithuania would probably assist any team in the knockout round, wouldn’t it? Heck, in another society, these move might get lauds to Vincent Collect and the Team France brain trust for possibly getting Les Bleus to the podium. But, wait, as they say, there’s more!

BiE: so France gambles that they can beat Greece and then win the next.
Y.: i guess
Y.: i don’t know
Y.: what would you say
Y.: ?
Y.: Parker, Noah will have *five* rest days now
BiE: So if France won, they’d’ve had Lithuania in the next round?
Y.: yep
Y.: isn’t it a bit too much
Y.: ?
BiE: compelling conspiracy theory there.
BiE: I may write this up.

And so it was … because the world needs to know. After all, how hard is it to imagine a costly club built to win this tournament would perform the equivalent of poor NBA teams tanking down the stretch for more pingpong balls in the lottery: It’s a short-term risk for a long-term gain.

Now tell BiE true: Did France give this game early for an easier path to the semifinals? Could it be, despite rhetoric practiced by players and coaches worldwide, that they don’t “take these games one at a time”? And was it a clever tactical maneuver or a chicken move worthy of derision? BiE guesses he knows how the Team Greece supporters feel about this…

And as for Lithuania veteran Sarunas Jasikevicius, who prayed through FIBA.com with “Dear God, please let us meet [Spain] again one more time,” well, you can thank France for the assist in fulfilling your quest.


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