Big night for conspiracy theorists.
First New Orleans — which until very recently was owned by the NBA — won the lottery, giving hope to a struggling franchise and new owner.
Then Miami defeated the Celtics in a classic overtime battle that was — depending on your geographical location, favorite color, political leaning, view on The Decision, upbringing, accent and tan — a well-called game that rewarded the aggressors or a disgrace to the game of basketball that was likely rigged by the former owners of the Hornets.
No sports league brings out the conspiracy theories like the NBA. People picture David Stern perched in his New York office, manipulating men and lotteries, officials and executives.
Being that Tim Donaghy did once earn a paycheck from the league, it’s not surprising people always look at NBA games with suspicion. But Donaghy is truly just one minor part of the NBA Conspiracy Theory Game, which at various times involves every team in the league being victimized — or rewarded — by the machinations of Stern and his cadre of evil henchmen.
Of course the Heat shot 47 free throws compared to Boston’s 29 attempts Wednesday night. Stern and the league are desperate for the tandem of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to win a title so they’ll make sure the referees do everything in their power to guarantee that outcome. Anyone who had any interest in disputing that claim probably went silent three seconds after ESPN showed a replay of Wade raking the brilliant Rajon Rondo over the face as if he was George the Animal Steele drilling Randy Savage while the ref looks the other way. Wade’s hack was a horrific missed call, a true game-changer, as the Celtics could have taken the lead but instead fell behind on Miami’s next trip up the court.
The West is rigged too. You know this, right? You don’t? Spend some time on NBA messageboards. Ignore the shoddy spelling and read the rants. The NBA, in a desperate attempt to push a team that plays the game “the right way”, wants the Spurs to win. That’s why they have a 2-0 lead and why they have so few fouls called on them.
Make sense? No? No. And that’s the problem with the conspiracy theories. As I wrote, every team’s fans are convinced the NBA hates their franchise and will go out of its way to ensure its demise. Celtics fans are convinced the NBA wants the Heat to win. Heat fans believe their squad of go-getters has overcome the NBA’s hatred to win the first two games and is simply waiting for the league to enact its revenge in Boston. Thunder fans think the Spurs are the NBA’s darlings, and no fanbase has a persecution complex like San Antonio’s, who fully believe – no, they know – that the NBA will do everything in its power to keep the small-market, boring team out of the Finals. Yes, the Spurs won four titles and that seems to undermine the idea that the NBA hates the franchise. Yes, the Spurs twice won the lottery and landed two of the best big men in NBA history. But don’t you see, that’s all part of the convoluted plot and is actually just proof of how good the Spurs are – they overcame the rigged system.
It’s difficult to keep track of and you really do need a big whiteboard or some types of charts and graphs.
The NBA hates the Timberwolves and that’s why they’ve never won the lottery and that’s why they punished the franchise so harshly for the Joe Smith deal. It has something to do with David Stern still being bitter about spending a January in the state in 1978.
The NBA hates the Jazz because the league doesn’t like the Mormon religion or the location of the franchise and will never, ever let Utah defeat the Lakers in a playoff series, even though they did just that in 1997 and 1998.
The NBA hates Phoenix and that’s why the league handed out harsh punishments in 2007 against the Spurs (Spurs fans will never believe this to be true). And, yes, Donaghy did games in this series so…actually.
The NBA hates Dallas because of Mark Cuban and that’s why the 2006 Finals were rigged and it’s why the Mavericks will never win an NBA title. Well, in theory.
The NBA hates Portland because David Stern is anti-Microsoft so he doesn’t like Paul Allen and also has a double-agent in the franchise — a GM Whisperer, if you will –who talks the team’s execs into drafting tall, fragile men instead of once-in-a-generation perimeter players.
The NBA hates the 76ers because David Stern was a firm believer in British rule and still resents Philadelphia’s role in that little uprising in the 1700s.
It goes on.
How far does it go? The NBA is out to get the Lakers. Doesn’t want them winning titles. This is a real argument on Lakers boards. Every other team scoffs at this, as do their fans. They’ll point out things like the franchise’s 16 NBA titles, 11 since moving to LA. They’ll say the Lakers are the league’s glamorous franchise and play in front of all the pretty people so why would the NBA possibly rig things against them? They’ll say the Lakers go to the Finals basically every other year so how well is the league doing in rigging the West against them? And then they’ll bring up Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, a game that lives in infamy for its lopsided officiating, the game that actually got Ralph Nader to take off his seatbelt and run in front of a camera and demand an investigation. To which some Lakers fans say: So?
It goes something like this: Since Kobe’s…troubles, in Colorado in 2003, the NBA has attempted to keep him from being the most recognized face in the league. They can’t have an accused rapist receiving accolades. Want more proof? Check out the 2004 NBA Finals, when the Pistons had a parade to the free throw line while Kobe suffered the fate of so many visitors to Detroit and suffered muggings on a nightly basis. Or Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals, when Leon Powe shot more free throws than the entire Lakers team. Or, finally, go back to December 2011, when the Lakers landed Chris Paul in a trade that was actually fair – they would have given up Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. It would have been another franchise-changer, a move that would have ushered in the eventual post-Kobe era. Instead, the owners of the Hornets – the NBA – nixed the deal.
I’m not a conspiracy believer, at any level, even if JFK is one of my favorite movies. No, I do not believe the league is out to get the Lakers. The officiating was bad in 2004 and in that Game 2, but bad officiating happens. And yes the Paul thing was strange, bizarre, and ridiculous but I don’t think it was part of some vast conspiracy to hold the franchise down.
And bad officiating is what is involved in so many of these situations. Sometimes it’s not even bad officiating, it’s simply one fan base perceiving the calls to be lopsided. But there are bad refs at every level. Go to a fourth-grade game and you’ll see a dad from the home team making terrible traveling calls. Go to a high school game and you’ll see your English teacher making bizarre calls on hand-checking. Check out a college game and you’ll see Ted Valentine running around at 108 years of age. And at pro games? You’ll see some bad calls. It’s not surprising, since basketball, especially at the NBA level, is so difficult to officiate. What’s a block and what’ s a charge? When do you let players push in the post and when do you call it? How much contact is allowed above the three-point line? Superstars do get the benefit.
But does that add up to conspiracies? To rigged games?
The NBA can’t really blame anyone but itself for this perception. Tim Donaghy did do horrible things. The league does offer strange explanations for strange calls. Weird things do happen off the court. Dwayne Wade did shoot countless free throws in the 2006 Finals. And it is a problem for the NBA. It is an issue if your hardcore fans believe these things, much less casual observers. Credibility erodes, professional wrestling comparisons emerge. Although at this point, if the league can survive the Donaghy scandal — a real scandal — pretty much unscathed, it’s doubtful fake conspiracy ideas can do any real harm, no matter how prevalent.
No, I don’t believe it’s rigged. But it’s hard to convince those who see with their eyes what they know in their heart to be true: The NBA wants their team to lose.