Conspiracy theories are all around us in just about every portion of life. For the most part, I tend to not buy into them, and often pay little attention to the bizarre speculations. Do I think the moon landings were just a sinister hoax? No. Do I think someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK? Probably Not. How about 9/11? Was the U.S. Government involved? Not a chance. As interesting as these theories are, many of them lack sufficient proof to back up the frequently wild claims. However when it comes to conspiracy theories in the world of sports (and one sport in particular), my opinion seems to be more vulnerable.
The National Basketball Association has many times been the subject of crazy conspiracy theories. Don’t worry, I’m here to clear the air once and for all. The NBA is fixed. It’s rigged. Pre-determined. Well maybe not completely, but whatever you want to call it, this is one conspiracy theory that has my head all sorts of confused. Let’s divulge into the NBA’s interesting past.
Tim Donaghy was an NBA referee from 1994 to 2007. In 2007, it was reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that Donaghy had been betting on games in which he was officiating. As the story quickly gained media attention, Donaghy’s connection to organized crime and the mob became evident. The NBA desperately pleaded to the public that this was an isolated case, and assured fans that no other officials were involved. Eventually, Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison and three years of “supervised release”. To this day, and more recently in an interview with Colin Cowherd, Donaghy says that 100% of NBA referees gamble. In terms of betting on the NBA, he would not specify, but without a doubt, it has to make you wonder….
So maybe you don’t think that the games themselves are fixed and that NBA refs are running around making thousands of dollars off of their own ticky-tack calls. Personally, that is something that I cannot completely buy into. However, league matters outside of the games certainly seem a little fishy.
First matter of business: The NBA Draft Lottery. What’s more fun than watching ping-pong balls determine the fate of 14 professional basketball teams? Actually a lot of things. I’d much rather watch Charles Barkley fall asleep on air, but I guess that’s just my personal opinion.
Bottom line: I don’t think the ping-pong balls do a damn thing. If anything is predetermined in the world of sports, it’s the NBA Draft Lottery.
Just a few weeks ago, Dikembe Mutombo, currently a “Global Ambassador” for the NBA, prematurely congratulated the Philadelphia 76ers on getting the #1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft Lottery. His congratulatory tweet came out six hours before the NBA Draft Lottery occurred. Although the tweet was taken down within 30 seconds, the internet immediately exploded. Even current players, like 76ers’ forward Joel Embiid, showed their knee-jerk reactions.
Six hours later, the 76ers received the number one pick, and Philadelphia was finally able to see some light at the end of the tunnel after five painful seasons.
The NBA loves using those magical little ping-pong balls to help out teams that have been stuck in the basement. If it will help the league, they’ll get it done.
When the Orlando Magic became a franchise in 1989, their popularity was not something to boast about. People thought of Disney World and the Magic Kingdom when they heard about Orlando, not some crappy new team playing downtown at Amway Arena. Despite solid attendance, the team was struggling mightily during their first couple years. In 1992, the team was awarded the first overall pick and eventually went on to select Shaquille O’Neal. Becoming the league’s most improved team the following season, the Magic managed a record of 41-41, barely squeezing into the draft lottery with the NBA’s 11th worst record. With a 1.5% chance of hitting the jackpot, Orlando magically, pardon the pun (or don’t), somehow came out on top to receive the first overall pick for the second year in a row. Something about those ping-pong balls, huh? I have no doubt David Stern and the rest of the NBA’s elite wanted nothing more than an expansion team success story to highlight the league’s 1993 headlines. Back to back number one picks would surely make Stern’s expansion decision look rather attractive.
How about the 2011 Draft Lottery? Fresh off of losing LeBron James to the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers were stuck in a difficult spot. Only a 2.8% chance to win the first overall pick, with their roster looking decrepit to say the least, the Cavs had little hope for the upcoming season. That 2.8% chance turned out to be all they needed, as Cleveland won the top selection to make things look a little brighter. Nothing like a consolatory #1 pick to make everyone forget about LeBron leaving town.
And we definitely cannot forget the 1985 Draft Lottery. Patrick Ewing, fresh out of Georgetown, is the next superstar getting ready to take over the league. The NBA, desperate for the New York Knicks to find success, would surely love to have him showcase his talents at Madison Square Garden. Many believe the NBA threw the Knicks the biggest bone in professional sports history by rigging the first ever Draft Lottery so New York could select Patrick Ewing. Theories range all over the place on this matter, however my favorite, and probably the most common thought at the time, was the envelope (ping-pong balls hadn’t hit their prime yet) was frozen; that way when David Stern reached in to choose an envelope, he knew the cold one was that of the New York Knicks.
Whether you believe all of this or not, it sure does make you wonder. I don’t think I will ever be able to say that the NBA is totally rigged, but I will say this: the league loves to act in its own self-interest, and my gut tells me that these events above are not just funny coincidences.
Maybe the NBA suspended Draymond Green last night so the Cavs could win? That way the season would continue, and the NBA would push away the offseason for one more day. Who knows? You could twist these theories into any shape you want. Regardless of what you think, the NBA will continue to entertain for years to come. Any organization that has provided us with the likes of Gilbert Arenas and Rasheed Wallace will always have my love. Fixed or not.