The Lakers and Celtics, the two pro basketball franchises with the richest histories and also key rivals for decades, together are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987. League executives — with TV ratings not only expected to rebound from last year’s all-time low, but possibly approach the all-time high from Michael Jordan’s final championship with the Bulls in 1998 — couldn’t be happier.
NBA conspiracy theorists, meanwhile couldn’t be angrier. In part thanks to greater access to video replays and more commentary, this segment of the sports-following population is growing rapidly. And to these fans a Boston-LA Finals is simply another piece of evidence that — from commissioner David Stern to various referees, from the draft lottery process to handshake suspensions — the league not only wants certain outcomes also makes underhanded decisions to ensure them.
Are these legitimate assertions? Or are they emotional claims initiated by passionate fans and columnists looking for someone or something to blame for their teams’ failures? Recent interviews with several current and former players, coaches and front-office personnel, revealed a unanimous opinion that conspiracy theories are folly. However, even loosely hinting at chicanery during the Stern regime has proven to be costly. So, is it possible then that they simply didn’t want to speak out? Or is it a conspiracy?
Here’s a breakdown of four of the more notorious conspiracy theories in recent NBA history:
1985 draft lottery
What: The initial lottery was fixed to guarantee that the New York Knicks would win the right to select first in the 1985 draft and take franchise center Patrick Ewing.
Why: To help the Knicks, one of league’s most popular teams and the one that plays in the largest market, return to prominence after missing the playoffs five of the previous nine seasons.
How: With the envelopes containing each of the seven lottery teams placed in a drum, Stern reached into the drum and pulled out each of the envelopes to represent draft positions one through seven. Two theories exist here. First, the envelope containing the Knicks logo had a bent corner, making it easy for Stern to identify (see this clip, 5:28-5:30) by sight. Second, the envelope containing the Knicks logo had been frozen prior to being placed in the drum, also making it easy for Stern to identify by touch.
Case for: The outcome certainly worked for the NBA and the Knicks as Ewing played 15 seasons in New York, the NBA’s marquee franchise. With Ewing the Knicks would reach the Finals twice and have several highly publicized postseason showdowns with Jordan and the Bulls.
Case against: Representatives from an independent accounting firm and NBA security also handled the envelopes. Also, this lottery was weighted equally; each team had a one in seven chance. The Knicks didn’t exactly need a miracle to win.
Also on this story
Bottom line: We’ll never know for sure what goes on behind the scenes at the draft lottery, which has changed formats several times throughout the years. For various reasons, the league has said it will never show the process live. Alas, the door is open for critics every time the lottery doesn’t follow to form. And the critics have had plenty to howl about, including Orlando’s 1-in-66 long shot win in 1993, and Chicago’s win this year, despite just a 1.7 percent chance of doing so), and the opportunity to select projected No. 1 pick Derrick Rose, who just happens to be from Chicago.
PBT: Have the Grizzlies figured out San Antonio, or will tonight's Game 3 yield another win for the Spurs?
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DPS: Is it really all about the rings?
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