Conspiracy theorists love the NBA and for good reason. The structure of the game- fans being so close to the players, the players so public about their grievances, the refs reactions, the quick pace- make it prime for overreaction and skepticism. Hidden subtext about the product, particularly endings, are open for far flung theories that explain why ________ (fill in the blank) is getting shortchanged. In the old days, the answer used to be because the Lakers, Bulls and Knicks made the NBA so much money, everything was skewed in their favor. But because those teams are irrelevant now, it’s the Warriors and LeBron James who always get the benefit of under the table and behind the curtain the fix is in, fulfilling the NBA’s grand plan. In essence, the league has Tom Brady-ed the NBA, giving preferential treatment to the special players and teams.
The answer back to all the conspiracy gurus is the Last Two-Minute Report. The Last Two-Minute Report takes an honest look at what really happened by going over every single frame of the last two minutes and saying what should have been called by referees and defending what was called.The NBA believes (irrationally) that the report creates transparency and erases conspiracy theories. But it does just the opposite. It feeds the theories because there is now confirmation of what we just saw. Who cares that LeBron James was fouled multiple times by Kevin Durant as the LTMR says. Duh. We know. We saw it. Same with LeBron putting his grip to Draymond Green as he was blocking out. We don’t need preaching to the choir. We need the NBA refs to answer why.
It is the why that fans care about. Why did the refs swallow their whistle? Because the Warriors are in the league’s pocket like a shiny new penny and the refs will skew games by any means possible to guarantee the Warriors win, or so the conspiracy mavens shout at the top of their lungs. Or, because it’s LeBron doing LeBron things.
Those at the NBA top have heard the grumblings for decades about all the favoritism, nepotism and corporate interference that have ruined an innocent player or team, and by default, gamblers. Here are a few.
The 2012 Draft Lottery. The Hornets in December of 2011 were in trade talks to part ways with an unhappy Chris Paul. The Lakers and Rockets had a compelling offer. The Lakers were going to send Lamar Odom to New Orleans and Houston was going to send Luis Scola and Kevin Martin. All good players who would have made the Hornets competitive. But David Stern nixed the deal and instead sent Paul to the Clippers for Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and Chris Kaman. With limited talent, the Hornets sucked that year at the very same time they were up for sale. Surprise, surprise they got the number one pick even though they had a 13% chance to win the lottery. With Anthony Davis on the Hornets, the Hornets were sold for top dollar. Happy Ending for the NBA who owned the Hornets. (Except for Lakers fans who still hate Stern)
The Frozen or Bent Envelope. The best player in the country in 1985 was Patrick Ewing. The Knicks were desperate and struggling. The Knicks need a star and guess what happened? They won the lottery. But it was how they won it, according to urban basketball legend, that fueled all the conspiracy talk. Allegedly, the envelope with the Knicks logo was frozen so David Stern would know which envelope to choose. Or it was bent. After that, the NBA went to ping pong balls.
Jeff Van Gundy, Shut Up. When Van Gundy was coach of the Houston Rockets and was frustrated with how Yao Ming was being officiated, he said that he had been told by a NBA source that Yao Ming was purposefully having fouls called on him to appease Mark Cuban who was bullying the league about foul calls. Van Gundy was fined 100 grand. Conspiracy hawks look at his huge fine as the NBA’s way to keep him (and every other coach) from complaining about a system that is rigged.
Michael Jordan Punishment. Michael Jordan’s father was murdered and the stress and strain of having to play without his father cheering him on was a MJ burden. His father always wanted him to play baseball. So Jordan quit the Bulls to play for the White Sox double-A minor league team, the Birmingham Barons. But to many it appeared a little too convenient. At the time that Jordan “retired”, the NBA had begun an investigation into his gambling activities. When he formally “retired”, always cryptic Jordan said he may return, “if David Sterns lets me back in.” Hmm….a punishment, perhaps?
The Refs Screwed the Kings. Disgraced gambling referree Tim Donaghy alluded to malfeasance in a playoff game, repeating what he heard whispered, that the fix was in. It was Game 6 in the WCF, the Lakers and Kings. The Kings had a 3-2 lead in the series and had dominated play. Then in the 4th quarter the Lakers took 27 free throws. They won by 4 points. 16 of their last 18 points came at the line. Not to mention a Kobe Bryant foul that bloodied Mike Bibby’s nose was ignored. Consumer activist/advocate and Bay area resident Ralph Nader was so pissed at the result he called for an investigation. There was none.
Dwyane Wade Free Throws: In game 3 of the NBA Finals, Dwyane Wade was treated like a superstar in just his third year in the league. Wade took 25 free throws, the Heat took nearly 50 in the game. Wade took more free throws than the entire Mavs team. Throughout the game Cuban yelled at David Stern that the game was rigged in favor of the Heat. The NBA was desperate for a good Finals and the Mavs going up 3-0 would further depress viewers.