Relax, Nobody is Rigging the NBA

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Conspiracy theorists love to hover around the NBA universe. Getting into the heads of NBA Truthers to find out what they believe is hard (so let’s cover a lot of ground, just to be sure). Regardless, this narrative must stop. Nobody is rigging the NBA. Thinking otherwise dismisses facts standing in the way of any conspiracy.

Relax, Nobody is Rigging the NBA

If you buy into the idea that somebody or something is rigging the NBA, read on and see how you feel at the end. If you’re not the conspiracy type, consider this your guide to taking down whomever you meet who tries to push the nefarious narrative that the NBA is all-powerful on you.

The NBA Draft Lottery

The Draft Lottery is a big point of contention. Truthers say the NBA predetermines the order. This goes back to 1985, when the lottery started. Supposedly, then-commissioner David Stern had prior knowledge regarding which envelope held the New York Knicks pick (known as the “frozen envelope”). As the story goes, the NBA wanted the Knicks to get the first pick to take Patrick Ewing, by virtue of being a big market in need of a superstar.

If the 1985 Draft theories merit any credibility, nobody will know outside of the few guilty parties. If such a gross misconduct of power took place, it was done out of ignorance more than conspiracy. Today, theories concerning the draft are as unfounded as they are ridiculous. When the Lottery airs on television, it’s easy to draw up convoluted narratives why it went the way it did. However, the selection takes place beforehand. The actual process is pretty boring and not fit for air, since the lottery is weighted. (Although the fact that this literally takes place behind closed doors doesn’t do the NBA any favors.)

Moreover, rigging the NBA lottery would prove a fruitless effort. It’s outside of the realm of possibility that the league would or could know who will be drafted where and which players will live up to expectations. It would be patently absurd for the league to risk its integrity for an unknown. As it pertains to this year, it would be easy to say “Of course the awful 76ers get the first pick, the NBA wants that.” But nobody knows how good Ben Simmons will be. What would be the point? In 2013, Steven Adams and Giannis Antetokounmpo went twelfth and fifteenth, respectively. Right now, they’re the best two players from that draft.

The Referees

As far as having any tangible evidence of conspiracy, people generally point to disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Donaghy admitted to – and was charged for – altering games by power of his whistle. It will forever be a black mark on the league. It’s a contemporary Black Sox scandal. Since then, the NBA has put its referees under the microscope more than ever. Donaghy-esque fixing now would be like setting up a meth lab in a public park and expecting not to get caught. It is important to note, too: Donaghy reffed games to cover a certain point spread, not to determine a winner. The subtle difference between the two is a noteworthy distinction, even though his actions were reprehensible either way.

This is not to totally defend NBA refs. At times, they were bad this season. But, one must consider that the NBA is the toughest sport to officiate. Every call is a judgement; a judgement based on another movement. A charge requires internalizing the movement(s) of the ball handler and the defender, determining where contact is made, and when (or if) the defender sets his feet, all in a split second.

There’s so many moving parts that it’s a borderline impossible task. Other sports aren’t as fluid in this regard. In football, an official watches  the line of scrimmage for offsides, watches a lineman’s hands for holding, and so on. The rules are more regimental, making the officials’ job less cumbersome than in the NBA. In basketball, everything matters at all times, anything can happen at any time, and no movement is meaningless. The players furthest from the ball can be as influential as those closest to it. That’s not the case in other sports, at least not to the same extent.

The Playoffs

The most common crazy idea during the playoffs was that the NBA was sending down orders to make series longer. The NBA wants money, more games equals more money. That thinking misses the most basic of facts, though: the NBA and partnering networks negotiate the television deals years ahead of time. The NBA gets the exact same amount of money if every playoff series goes the four-game minimum as it would if every series went the full seven games.

Same goes for the ratings. If nobody was watching, the networks would still owe every single dollar negotiated. Thus, suggesting it all boils down to money is saying that ESPN and TNT are behind this sinister plot. Beyond that, it assumes the NBA would take orders from them, with no additional financial incentive to do so.

Hypothetically, if there were a grain of truth to this, and the networks and/or the NBA were all-powerful, let’s be honest, there were a lot of stinkers this postseason. At some point, quality of play would factor in…you know, if the NBA was controlling games. From a quality perspective, a four-game series of one-possession games would be better than a seven-game series full of blowouts.

Double-digit point differentials decided fifty-three games this postseason. Conversely, in thirty-six, games ended within single-digits. Early-round mismatches aren’t to blame for skewing that number, either. In the Conference Finals and Finals, more game ended with a twenty-plus point spread (nine) than did single digits (six). Which is to say: If the NBA were dictating outcomes, they’re really terrible at it. Which would totally defeat the purpose. Fixed games that make the audience turn the channel at halftime are not games worth fixing.

The Draymond Green Suspension

Further, the suspension of Draymond Green during the Finals was also the center of debate. He wasn’t suspended for the scuffle with LeBron James, specifically. Acting as a habitual line-stepper got Green suspended. Rules were in place long before his suspension. Green received the necessary flagrant fouls to merit suspension. His actions were like a college student failing every test throughout a semester, then blaming his F on the failed final exam instead of the overall ineptitude. Had he kept on the up-and-up throughout, the last act would have been largely a non-factor. The kick that landed in Steven Adams’ inseam during the the Conference Finals could have led to a suspension. Green paid for his recidivism at a time when it mattered most to his team; the league was simply enforcing its own rules.

The Price of it All

At some point, NBA Truthers have to arrive at a river that’s tough to cross: Either rogue referees are exerting maximum power within the limited power they have, or the league as a whole agreed to the script, WWE-style. Rigging the NBA would take an unprecedented level of collusion to undermine the league. If games are part of some larger script, every player, owner, executive, and member of the league office would have to be on board with the plan (which…why?).

If there wasn’t complete cooperation, league officials would stand to face business fraud charges of never-before-seen standing. If people were willing to go as far as to assume David Stern, Adam Silver, and others were willing to risk bankrupting the league and doing jail time for no real reason at all, then those people need to take their business elsewhere. Go find another conspiratorial hobby.

It’s mostly tongue-in-cheek when people speculate about rigging the NBA; something the “NBA Sucks” crowd clings onto in order to fire up their excuse-making machine to justify not watching the NBA. But it isn’t funny anymore. Absurd things repeated often enough can make people believe them (look at the U.S. election). At this point, it becomes hard to decipher how serious NBA Truthers actually are. Some people buy into this stuff. Depending on how much you buy into conspiracy theories (if at all), most of this is probably ridiculous to even bring up. It needs explaining, though, so that the NBA world can, once and for all, move on from this outdated criticism. Nobody is rigging the NBA. Still not convinced? Then you don’t understand the league.


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