All major sports leagues are bound to face the criticisms pertaining to the integrity of their sport. Even the likes of the NHL, who seem cleaner than any other league, face the wrath of the fans with Gary Bettman getting booed out of whichever building he happens to find himself in. It’s really just human nature to hate those in charge.
When looking back at history, the NBA seems to be involved in more controversy than any other of the big North American leagues. The drama dates back to 1985 when conspiracy theorists claimed the first ever NBA Draft was rigged and the allegations have continued to stockpile throughout the years. What most of these conspiracy theories have in common is one simple thing, dollar bills. These situations show the NBA allegedly favoring big market teams, which leads to added revenues and increased ratings. According to skeptics, the NBA has done so by rigging games, drafts and various other aspects of the game, including the actual ball they play with. Yes, conspiracy theorists even think the ball was rigged.
Let us dive right into the wacky world of conspiracy theories with these 15 examples of it taking place in the NBA. Join the conversation on Facebook and let us know which theory you believe might actually be true!
15 The 2016 NBA Finals
We kick this article off with the most recent controversy to take place in the NBA, which took place during the 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. With the series 3-1 for Golden State, Warriors star player Draymond Green was suspended for Game Five. The decision made by Adam Silver raised a lot of eyebrows and many believed he was suspended to help the Cavs get back into the series. This was because Green did not get suspended in the prior series against Oklahoma City for acts that were deemed to be way worse than his low blow shot in the finals of Game Four.
NBA legend Reggie Miller added to the controversy, claiming the NBA would not have suspended Green had the series been two games apiece. According to conspiracy theories, the suspension was done to extend the series which would lead to increased ratings, and higher revenues from merchandise and ticket sales.
14 The New Game Ball
Something as simple as a ball change caused quite the controversy in the NBA back in the 2006-07 season. Former commissioner David Stern announced the new ball had microfibers that provided better grip. Players were instantly enraged as they weren't consulted on the change beforehand.
Ultimately, the idea was a disaster and conspiracy theorists believe the NBA made the ball purposely to increase scoring. Steve Nash criticized the ball for bouncing awkwardly and causing way too many turnovers because of its slippery texture. That was proven to be true as turnovers increased, while point totals also went up.
The NBA Players Association would end up stepping in and the ball quickly became extinct. The lesson learned from this? Ask the players who use the ball for their consent before making it official!
13 2012 Draft Lottery
As you’ll see in this article, draft conspiracies continue to come up time and time again. According to skeptics, the NBA constantly rigs NBA Drafts to help themselves.
The 2012 Draft was yet another example of that coming to fruition. That draft class only featured one franchise altering player and that was Anthony Davis. Every GM in the league would have loved to have the big man on their team and he dominated the hype of the entire draft day. Once the lottery winner was revealed, eyebrows were once again raised, as the New Orleans Hornets won the first selection despite having a 13.7% chance at the pick. What really drew conspiracy theorists was the fact that the Hornets were owned by the NBA. Seems a little odd, wouldn’t you say? Conspiracy theorists believe the move was purposely done by the NBA to not only help the city and because they owned the team, but to create another dominant franchise.
12 Stern’s San Antonio Hate
Whether the major sport leagues want to admit it or not, it’s common knowledge that the leagues love to have the popular teams at the very top of the association because of added revenues and increased ratings. The San Antonio Spurs are a curious case, as they've dominated the league, but featured less entertaining players who weren't true mega stars like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. This caused ratings to decrease and, according to conspiracy theorists, a hated for the franchise by the league’s former commissioner.
The situation escalated during a primetime game which took place in November of 2012 between the Spurs and Heat. The game was hyped by the NBA, but the luster was taken away when coach Gregg Popovich decided to rest four of his big players because of an awful schedule that featured four games in five nights. The NBA felt no sympathy for the team and instead chose to fine the coach $250,000 for the move. To make matters even more laughable, the Spurs led the entire game and only lost the lead in the final minute. Diminished product or not, the entire ordeal was quite laughable and very questionable.
11 The Curious Case of the Vancouver Grizzlies
The Vancouver Grizzlies departure to Memphis was met with a lot of controversy. Many skeptics believe the NBA purposely made the move and that funds were not the problem.
Despite the fact that Michael Heisley intended on keeping the team in Vancouver, the NBA wanted absolutely none of it. According to reports, the NBA was frustrated with the Canadian dollar being so low and not bringing in enough profits. Adding to that, the league believed players did want to live in Canada and that would make the team suffer in the long run.
Ultimately, the sale was made after a huge bidding war between Memphis, Anaheim, New Orleans and other cities. This meant even more dollars for the league. Memphis ended up winning the bid and debuted their team during the 2001-2002 NBA campaign.
10 Jeff Van Gundy Gets Fined For Claiming Conspiracy Against the League
The NBA is very protective of their league’s integrity. Just ask poor Jeff Van Gundy, who was fined $100,000 for accusing the league of purposely rigging a game.
According to the frustrated coach, he told the media that a source within the NBA told him that the league specifically mandated that more fouls were to be called against Yao Ming. Van Gundy stated that this was being done in order to please Mark Cuban, who was complaining about the lack of fouls against his team.
The league wasn't unimpressed and let it be known. According to conspiracy theorists, the NBA gave him such a huge fine to protect their unjust ways to the public. Setting out a huge fine can certainly scare away both players and coaches from speaking their minds.
9 Setting a Fine for Conspiracy Comments
Adding to the ridiculousness of speaking out against the league, the NBA decided to make a formal fine of $25,000 whenever a player or coach mentioned conspiracy against the league. The fine is also put into play if a player insults an official for his decisions on the court.
As you might expect, fans and conspiracy theorists became even more skeptical after this decision was made. For fans, this just proved the NBA had something to hide and was being overly protective by setting a formal fine which seemed a little too large. Conspiracy theorists claim the league wants to completely control the game and its players, while boosting ratings as best they can. While this somewhat makes sense, the league still wants absolutely no heat from its players or coaches.
8 2002 Western Conference Finals: Sacramento Kings Vs Los Angeles Lakers
Particular games have also driven NBA conspiracy theorists wild throughout the years. Game Six of this series in particular was met with a massive amount of controversy. The small town team of Sacramento was up 3-2, with Game Six taking place at the Staples Center. The game turned out to be one of the worst officiated games in NBA history, which led to a Lakers victory. Mike Bibby, the star of the Kings, was brutally fouled by Kobe towards the end of the game and despite a bloody nose, the refs decided to turn the other cheek. In addition, the Lakers received a disturbing amount of free-throws, which included 27 in the fourth quarter.
The speculation of the game being fixed only intensified in 2008 when referee Tim Donaghy admitted the entire game was rigged. The NBA denied the claims and the allegations were later dropped because of insufficient evidence.
7 2001 Eastern Conference Finals: Milwaukee Bucks Vs Philadelphia 76ers
Once again, another small market team was caught in the midst of a controversial series. Because of their lack of star power, the Milwaukee Bucks felt like the officials were against them the entire series. Ray Allen and coach George Karl did not shy away from attacking the league and were fined for doing so.
Allen dropped a memorable quote before Game Six, claiming:
“It behooves everybody for the league to make more money, and the league knows that Philadelphia is going to make more money with L.A. than we would with L.A.”
Following the end of the series, Sports Illustrated added to the tension by claiming the league purposely suspended Scott Williams for an elbow in Game Six as a way to get back at the Bucks for their comments throughout the series. Williams would miss game seven and the Bucks would ultimately fall short of the finals.
6 Rose To The Bulls
Starving for a new franchise player and with the best player in the Draft hailing from Chicago, Bulls fans drooled over the possibility of potentially landing a player like Derrick Rose. With a 1.7% chance of landing the player, the speculation quickly died down as the chances seemed almost impossible at less than two percent.
By some miracle, the team ended up getting the first pick, despite their terrible odds. Fans around the league were upset about the lottery win for the popular Bulls. According to skeptics, the NBA were waiting for the perfect opportunity to plant an All-Star player with the Bulls. Coming from the area and given his franchise leading talents, conspiracy theorists believe the NBA purposely sent the star to The Windy City. Whether you believe it or not, the odds are absolutely extraordinary.
5 2009 Eastern Conference First Round: Chicago Bulls Vs Boston Celtics
The league is thought to prefer certain players/teams and that was alleged to have been the case, based on Rajon Rondo and his participation in the first round of an Eastern Conference matchup against the Bulls. The controversy began in Game Five when Rondo made contact with the face of Brad Miller with two seconds left in the overtime frame. The call was ruled a personal foul and not a fragrant foul, which caused the injured player to have no choice but to shoot the free throw. He’d miss the first shot and that led to a victory from the Celtics.
The controversy persisted once again the next game, with Rondo at the forefront again. He basically bodyslammed Kirk Hinrich into the scorer’s table and received a flagrant foul for his actions. The decision was shocking, considering most players have been ejected for same infractions and received multiple game suspensions. Coincidence or valid conspiracy theory, what do you guys think?
4 2006 NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks Vs Miami Heat
Here we have another conspiracy theory involving a fixed game, with this one coming in Game Five of the 2006 NBA Finals between the Heat and Mavs.
Coming off a terrible NBA Finals with the second lowest ratings in NBA history, the league was focused on redeeming itself with a star-studded final featuring two exciting teams. Although Game Five was a thriller, it was also met with some serious controversy in terms of the way it was called. Dwyane Wade drew several questionable fouls throughout the game and ended Game Five with 25 free throws. The staggering amount equaled to the entire total of the Mavs as a team. The Heat shot close to 50 free throws in the entire game.
Mark Cuban was fined $250,000 by the league for apparently yelling at the commissioner throughout the game. According to witnesses, Cuban was yelling that the league was rigged. He denied the comments, but was fined nonetheless.
3 Purposely Extending Playoff Series
In comparison to other sports leagues, the NBA seems to be most concerned when it comes to ratings and exposing the game on the biggest stages. Just take their Christmas Day games, which draw in huge numbers. The NBA is all about exposure and looks to benefit from it any chance they get.
When it comes to the playoffs, the NBA make it a focal point to draw in money and boost ratings. With that said, several skeptics and conspiracy theorists believe the NBA will purposely extend series to increase revenue while boosting ratings with the extra games. Skeptics believe the officials are very loose when a team is trailing in a series and can be very influential with calls, depending on what the series score is at.
2 TV Networks Control The Outcomes
Continuing with the ratings, skeptics believe the NBA is very influential when it comes to the Networks that expose the game. Networks like NBC Sports, who were previously running NBA Games, showed a bias over the teams they would showcase. Predominantly during the 90s, the Bulls, Lakers and Knicks were constantly the three teams being showcased by the big network, leaving the others in the dark. What made things especially puzzling was the fact that those three teams dominated the NBA Finals scene with a combined 12 Finals appearances between 1990 to 2002.
Large markets create ratings and that’s exactly what the big networks crave. Conspiracy theorists believe the NBA would do everything in their power to have one of those three big teams playing in the finals throughout the 90s. The facts seems to back it up, but it remains unknown whether the television stations really had that much of an effect on what the outcomes were.
1 1985 Draft Lottery
This incident remains the most highly publicized conspiracy theory in NBA history. It took place at the first ever NBA Draft and was centered around the legendary Patrick Ewing, who was sought after by every NBA team. The selection was met with huge controversy, as the old lottery system used envelopes to select the winning team from a random draw. Conspiracy theorists blew up when the last envelope remaining was that of the New York Knicks, a team that always seems to be around controversy. To make matters worse, the envelope seemed to be bent on the edges, which indicated that Stern potentially knew which to leave until the end.
Ewing went on to enjoy a masterful career in New York, but the start of his NBA career was mired in controversy.
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