Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy or controversy? From alleged racism, to cheating, to rigging games (we are looking at you Patriots), conspiracies are one of the main reasons we pay attention to sports. The drama and the deceit keep us peeled to the television and headlines. Their owner said what? He slept with who? Who had a fight in practice?
Today, we will dive into the NBA specifically, and the controversies and conspiracies that surround every team. There have been plenty of conspiracy theories measured up by fans about the NBA but every team has a skeleton in their closet, whether it be some massive scheme at work or a controversy that was indeed brought to light.
Some theories about the NBA that have surfaced include David Stern rigging the 1985 lottery so the big market Knicks could draft Patrick Ewing, or the 2002 playoff series between the Lakers and Kings being fixed so that the NBA would get maximum profit from a seven-game series.
While not all the theories you read here will be true, they sure provide NBA fans with entertainment and water cooler gossip. Put on your tin foil hats and buckle up for the ride.
Note: All conspiracies and controversies come credit from Reddit user u/caramelwaffles
30. Atlanta Hawks – Front Office Racism
In 2014, a string of racist emails was uncovered from the Atlanta Hawks front office, causing owner Bruce Levenson and GM Danny Ferry to become unemployed. The first email occurred in August of 2012, when Levenson sent a message to other Hawks executives complaining of low attendance due to an “overwhelming black audience,” that may have “scared away the whites.” He also stated that there aren’t enough wealthy black fans to build a strong base of season ticket holders. He even made mention that the Kiss Cam was “too black.”
Then, in 2014, GM Ferry said, in a conference call about potential free agent signings, that forward Luol Deng, “had some African in him,” in a negative context. Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence and Levenson sold his majority stake in the team. Check out more on this story.
29. Boston Celtics – 2009 First Round Playoff Controversy
In the 2009 first round versus the Bulls, the Celtics appeared to have had the game rigged in their favor after multiple dirty plays. In Game 5, Celtics guard Rajon Rondo made hard contact with the face of Bulls’ center Brad Miller, with just 2 seconds left in overtime with the Celtics leading by two. Earlier in Game 5, Rondo tripped Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, forcing Hinrich to get stitches. The hit on Miller left him with a bloodied mouth, but because the foul was ruled a personal foul, Miller had to shoot the free throws. If he didn’t, he would not have been allowed to return and the Celtics would pick the replacement shooter. Had the foul been ruled a flagrant, the Bulls would have been able to pick the replacement shooter. Miller would miss the first free throw, and then had to miss the second on purpose to give Bulls a chance to tie the game, but the free throw did not hit the rim.
28. Brooklyn Nets – Real Estate Scam
How the hell are you supposed to get 22-acres in the middle of an urban area to build a new arena? Eminent domain! For those of you that don’t know what eminent domain is (like myself), it is the right of the government to seize property for public use. To build the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the government seized the site and put it up for bid at the suggestion of developer, Bruce Ratner. The property never went up for auction though and Ratner was given the bid, even though he was underbid by the Extell Corporation, by over $100 million. It was clear that the state of New York was in cohoots with Ratner. To help out with the public fallout, Brooklyn got Jay-Z on board to boost their minority image. Talk about a scandal! Read more about the scandal here.
27. Charlotte Hornets – NBA relocates 2017 All-Star Game
The transgender bathroom law made headlines throughout the USA in 2016. In North Carolina, the law prohibited people to use the bathroom that matched their gender identity, and people had to use the bathroom that matched with their biological sex. People across America were furious and so was the NBA! Adam Silver decided it was best to pull out of Charlotte due to this unpopular law.
The NBA has always held a more liberal view of politics, as the majority of their players are minorities. Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets were extremely disappointed in the NBA’s decision, but understood the need to withdraw due to the political climate. Charlotte took a huge hit economically but will most likely host the All-Star game in 2019. This is just another instance of sports and politics intersecting.
26. Chicago Bulls – 2008 Draft Lottery Controversy
With a 1.7% chance to get the first overall pick, Chicago got it! Blasphemy! Conspiracy theorists connected the dots and realized something wasn’t right. Apparently, the Bulls, being one of the most popular teams in the 90s with Jordan, was suffering financially. They were in need of a star and found one in Derrick Rose. But why Rose? He was a hometown kid who could bring Chicago back to prominence. Even though there are cameras in the room when the lottery takes place, you can’t help but question that this thing is rigged. The NBA is a multi-billion dollar industry and will most likely do anything that will make them more money. Too bad Rose never remained healthy and in 2017, the Bulls still seem to be a laughing stock in the east.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers – Dan Gilbert’s Letter to LeBron
“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.” No, the caps lock didn’t get stuck. Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, actually wrote this in a letter to Cleveland fans after LeBron left to go to the Miami Heat. There was so much hatred in this letter. It reminded me of a middle school girl that just got dumped by her boyfriend after two weeks of dating. One of the more epic lines in the letter is “You have given so much and deserve so much more.” God, this screams crazy ex-GF. Luckily, James rejoined the Cavs and brought them a NBA Championship. But it must have been damn awkward for LeBron after Gilbert bitterly poured his heart out. Read the entire letter here.
24. Dallas Mavericks – DeAndre Jordan Snubs Cuban
In 2015, L.A. Clippers center, DeAndre Jordan, verbally committed to joining the Dallas Mavericks in free agency. The Clippers, on the other hand, wanted to keep Jordan, and barricaded him in his house. Chris Paul, Doc Rivers and company convinced DeAndre to stay in California, but according to ESPN Analyst Chris Broussard, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wasn’t having it. He tweeted…
“CORRECTION: Sources: Cuban beside himself. Driving around downtown HOUSTON begging (thru texts) Jordan’s family 4 address to DeAndre’s home.”
Broussard retracted his statement later and apologized to Cuban. But the outspoken owner didn’t accept the apology and had some harsh words for the ESPN Analyst, “You mean Chris Broussard? Yeah, he’s an idiot. I take that back. My sources say he’s an idiot.” Touche Cuban, Touche!
23. Denver Nuggets – Abdul-Rauf Protests The National Anthem
In 1996, Denver Nuggets point guard, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, declined to participate in the National Anthem. He was protesting the treatment of both black and Muslim people in America. The NBA then suspended him for one game, and when Abdul-Rauf returned, he began praying during the pregame Anthem. His career was never the same, as teams did not want to take on the burden of his political criticism. Sequentially, he lost out on millions of dollars, and actually had his house burned down. But he said it was all worth it.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick made a similar stand, and Abdul-Rauf, now living in Atlanta, supported him “1000%.” Abdul-Rauf on Kaepernick: “It’s good to continue to draw people’s attention to what’s going on whether you’re an athlete, a politician, or a garbage man. These discussions are necessary,” he said. “Sometimes it takes people of that stature, athletes and entertainers, because the youth are drawn to them, [more than] teachers and professors, unfortunately.”
22. Detroit Pistons – Malice At The Palace
If you are a hardcore wrestling fan, this fight is the closest the NBA will ever come to the WWE. Who could forget this 2004 brawl? To break it down for those of you who were living under a rock at the time, with 45 seconds left in the game, and the Pacers leading the Pistons 97-82, Ron Artest fouled Ben Wallace hard down low. Wallace then retaliated and shoved Artest backwards. Teammates stepped in and calmed Artest (and Stephen Jackson) down, and Artest ended up laying down on the scorer’s table to gather himself.
One idiot fan decided to throw a cup of soda onto Artest, and an all out brawl broke out. Artest and Jackson rushed into the stands, pummelling the alleged delinquent fan (they had the wrong guy) and went crazy on everyone! Artest was suspended for a year and was never the same, but damn, he definitely has a future in wrestling.
21. Golden State Warriors – Systemic Dirty Plays
Despite the success of the Warriors of the past few years, they have been criticized for an obscene amount of dirty plays. One recurring play is Draymond Green’s foot flailing into the groin area of any opposing player. While he has defended himself saying that it was a natural motion, I’m sure OKC center Steven Adams will completely disagree. There doesn’t seem to be anything natural about that.
The latest incident occurred in the 2017 playoffs, when Warriors center, Zaza Pachulia, closed out on Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard, putting his foot out and causing Kawhi to hurt his ankle, which he already had issues with earlier in the season. You can tell that Zaza knew exactly what he was doing. Even though there is no written rule, the play was universally criticized throughout the league, causing Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to condemn the Warriors.
20. Houston Rockets – Calvin Murphy Arrested
A sad mix of controversy and conspiracy. The Hall of Fame guard, Calvin Murphy, excelled with the Rockets early in his career. Overall, he had almost 18,000 points, over 4,400 assists, and 1,165 steals. Since he was such a staple of Houston, Murphy continued to work in with the Houston organization calling games. Being so popular, Murphy got his fair share of women, fathering 14 children with 9 different women. But in 2004, Murphy was indicted for allegedly molesting five of his children.
The Rockets organization did not want anything do with Murphy and let him go. Murphy was eventually acquitted but many believe with such crazy allegations, that there must be some truth to his daughter’s claims. A sad story, but such a big controversy!
19. Indiana Pacers – Paul George Endorses Domestic Violence
In 2014, the Ray Rice elevator incident was one the top stories in sports news. For those unfamiliar, former NFL RB, Ray Rice, sucker punched his fiancee in an elevator and knocked her out cold. All of this was captured on tape and he was suspended from the NFL. The Pacers superstar, Paul George, came out publicly with a few tweets, endorsing Ray Rice.
He said, “Keep it 100 lets act on this police violence like we actin on this Ray Rice case! Stay strong homie !” and “I don’t condone hittin women or think it’s coo BUT if SHE ain’t trippin then I ain’t trippin.. Lets keep it movin lol let that man play!”
Whether George was being immature or naive, the media clearly had a field day with his comments. Larry Bird and the Indiana front office had to put out an official statement on George’s comments. He later apologized and deleted the tweets, but in today’s internet age, his words live on.
18. Los Angeles Clippers – Donald Sterling Fallout
More racist front office comments! Donald Sterling was owner of the LA Clippers, but slipped up when he was recorded saying racist remarks to his mistress V. Stiviano. In regards to an Instagram post that Stiviano posted, Sterling said “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”, and, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want”, but “the little I ask you is … not to bring them to my games.” Just an old, rich, racist white dude.
In the summer of 2014, between media coverage and litigation, the NBA seemed like it made the right decision and Sterling was forced to sell the Clippers, and subsequently banned from the NBA for life.
17. Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe Hotel Case
Who couldn’t forget this famous case that just suddenly disappeared in July 2003? A 19-year old hotel employee in Edwards, Colorado accused Bryant of sexual assault on July 1, 2003, one night before his knee surgery. Bryant admitted to having extramarital relations with the employee but vehemently denied any accusations of assault. Eventually the case was dropped since the accuser refused to testify, no charges were pressed. But she soon filed a civil suit against Kobe and settled out of court. In the following months, the hotel “remodeled” and supposedly got rid of some of the furniture in the room Kobe was staying in.
Kobe’s wife was also seen with some brand new, $4 million jewelry, assumed to be an apology gift. While it all seems fishy and the accuser most likely got paid off, it was definitely a huge controversy!
16. Mempis Grizzlies – Matt Barnes vs. Derek Fisher
It made all the headlines in 2015. Matt Barnes, the Grizzlies forward, “beat the sh**” out of then Knicks coach, Derek Fisher, for sleeping with his ex-wife and Basketball Wives Star, Gloria Govan. The story has it that Barnes’ twin sons, who were six years old, called him and let him know that Fisher was at their L.A. home. He then drove 95 miles from the Grizzlies training camp in California to find Govan, Fisher, and about 10 other people around a bonfire in the back yard. Barnes proceeded to beat up Fisher, stating in a later text message, ““I kicked his a** from the back yard to the front room, and spit in her face.” Luckily, no one was seriously hurt and Fisher did not press charges. It’s even more disturbing that Fisher and Barnes were once teammates in L.A. while Barnes was still married. Scandal!
15. Miami Heat – 2006 NBA Finals
Rigged, I tell you! They were rigged! According to this conspiracy, the NBA wanted Miami to win the 2006 NBA Finals the entire time and did whatever they could to help make that happen. Dwyane Wade shot almost 100 free throws in 6 games! That is an obscene amount of fouls for anyone to get, even Wade, who makes his living driving to the hole. The refs were known to have a bad attitude towards Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, as he had criticized them in the past. Cuban even went to an ex-FBI agent afterwards for advice.
The agent, Warren Flagg, said “Cuban asked me what he should do. I told him, ‘Sue and you’ll win your case,’ but he knew he’d be killing the Golden Goose.” Read the details and make up your mind for yourself.
14. Milwaukee Bucks – 2001 Eastern Conference Finals
Another rigged series conspiracy that have had Bucks fans livid since 2001. Apparently, David Stern and the NBA did not want a “small market” team like the Milwaukee Bucks to face off against the popular, Kobe and Shaq Lakers, in the 2001 Finals. Therefore, according to the theory, the NBA refs made calls go in favor of the Philadelphia 76ers, allowing them to overtake the Bucks in the 2001 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Even Ray Allen and coach George Karl came out and said the series was rigged, which resulted in them getting fined by the NBA.
But if we take a look at the numbers, they did have a good point. The 76ers finished with advantages of 186-120 in free throws, 12-3 in technicals and 5-0 in flagrant fouls. Not to mention close calls in games 1 and 4, which Philadelphia won on no-call fouls and a rare lane violation. Now this may be too good to be true, but as an NBA fan, you should read more for yourself.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves – Illegal Joe Smith Signing
Let’s just say the Timerwolves are not good at illegal signings of players. Before the 1999 lockout-shortened season, the Timberwolves signed the former first overall pick, Joe Smith, to a one-year, $1.75 million deal. Now he had not been playing up to his college hype, but that price was well below his market value. It turns out, Minnesota was planning (and eventually did) to sign Smith to three, one-year contracts, in order to obtain his Bird rights, which essentially meant that after three years with a team, they could exceed the salary cap and give Smith a max deal.
This is highly illegal in the NBA’s eyes and they were fined several million dollars and had to forfeit their next five years of first-round picks. The Wolves are still feeling the effects today, as they have not made the playoffs since the Garnett era, but with a busy 2017 offseason, maybe the Smith curse can finally be lifted.
12. New Orleans Pelicans – Picking Davis In The 2012 Draft
Leave it to David Stern to get the number one pick for his own team. That’s right, with the sale of the Pelicans (then Hornets) in limbo, the NBA owned the New Orleans franchise. So what better selling point than choosing the top pick in the draft, even though the Bobcats had the worst record in the NBA the previous year? The NBA supposedly rigged the lottery to persuade Tom Benson to buy the team. Doesn’t seem too crazy, right? At the time, Adrian Wojnarowski who was working for Yahoo! Sports, summed it up perfectly.
“The reaction of several league executives was part disgust, part resignation on Wednesday night. So many had predicted this happening, so many suspected that somehow, someway, the Hornets would walk away with Davis. That’s the worst part for the NBA; these aren’t the railings from the guy sitting at the corner tavern, but the belief of those working within the machinery that something undue happened here, that they suspect it happens all the time under Stern.”
11. New York Knicks – 1985 Frozen Envelope
Now to the granddaddy of NBA lottery riggings; the Knicks getting to pick Patrick Ewing in the 1985 draft. New York was in need of a big man, and being a large market for the NBA, David Stern needed them to be relevant. Luckily, a “once in a decade” talent, Patrick Ewing, was coming out Georgetown. Legend has it that the envelope that held the Knicks pick in the lottery was altered, allowing the commissioner to give them the first overall selection. Some say dry-ice was used to change the temperature (hence the “Frozen Letter”) and others say that the corner of the envelope was creased. Some hardcore conspiracy theorists even say the NBA used X-Ray glasses! Watch the video from the 1985 Draft Lottery and decide for yourself.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder – Goodbye Seattle, Hello Oklahoma!
In 2006, Tom Ward, Clayton Bennett, Aubrey McClendon made a deal to buy the Seattle SuperSonics from Starbucks founder, Howard Schultz, for $350 million. Then they bought the team, Bennett, in a letter to Schultz, stated the following:
“It is our desire to have the Sonics and the Storm continue their existence in the Greater Seattle Area, and it is not our intention to move or relocate the teams so long, of course, as we are able to negotiate an attractive successor venue and lease arrangement.”
But when the new arena was set to begin construction, the Washington government refused to put up taxpayer money to help fund it. Hence, Bennett and company moved to OKC and the Thunder were born. Fans were pissed, as some have stated that the owners did not try hard enough to stay in Seattle, and jumped ship too early. Others believe they had the intention of moving since the beginning of the purchase, but needed to leverage Schultz to buy the team by telling him they would stay in Seattle. This all seems more of a reality than a conspiracy!
9. Orlando Magic – Another Draft Lottery Conspiracy
The Magic are at the center of two draft conspiracies in back-to-back years, 1992-1993. In ’92, the Magic were a young expansion team that was destined to fail. Not wanting to them to look like a failure, Stern “awarded” them the first overall pick, with a less than 10% chance, where they went on to take NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal (and story has it they almost didn’t get their pick in time).
On to the 1993 NBA Lottery where again, the Magic got the number one overall pick again! This time, only having a 1 in 66 chance! For you math nerds out there, that is a combined .13% chance that Orlando would get two first overall picks in a row. Clearly, something had to be up. They went on to select Chris Webber, and eventually traded for Penny Hardaway, allowing the Magic to be a powerhouse in the mid 90s.
8. Philadelphia 76ers – Undisclosed Injuries
You need to trust the Process! The 76ers have been rebuilding since GM Sam Hinkie took over in 2013. One of his first orders of business was to trade away their 23-year-old, All-Star point guard, Jrue Holiday. They shipped him off to the New Orleans Pelicans for a slough of picks, but there was only one issue, they didn’t disclose Holiday’s past injuries! Sources say Holiday played with stress fractures in his lower right leg during his final season with the Sixers. However, those injuries weren’t fully disclosed to the Pelicans.
7. Phoenix Suns – Half The Team Were ‘Dealers’
In 1987, three Suns players, James Edwards, Jay Humphries and Grant Gondrezick and two former players, were indicted on charges of cocaine trafficking. Some of the accounts these players were indicted for were conspiracy to possess a narcotic drug, conspiracy to transfer a narcotic drug and conspiracy to transfer or possess marijuana. How did all these players suddenly get caught? Well of course, it was a Narc! Walter Davis was subpoenaed on cocaine charges and was granted immunity for his testimony. The scandal, dubbed “Waltergate” gained national coverage and general manager Jerry Colangelo stated, “We got crucified. We were tried, convicted and hung in 72 hours.”
6. Portland Trail Blazers – Or Should We Say ‘Jail Blazers’?
In the early 2000s, the Trail Blazers made a series of offseason moves to get back to their previous years’ greatness. But, they signed some “vagrants,” leading the team to have a bad reputation. Portland signed free agent Ruben Patterson, who had just pleaded no contest to felony sexual assault and was registered as a sex offender. Wallace, Stoudamire, and Woods were cited for marijuana possession. Woods also pleaded guilty to first-degree animal abuse for staging dog fights in his house. Wallace was suspended seven games for threatening a referee. Zach Randolph sucker punched Patterson in the eye in practice, leaving him injured for the playoffs. Fans retaliated and attendance dropped, causing executive Bob Whitsitt to just leave the team and focus on the Seattle Seahawks! Damn, it was like a prison yard in Portland!
5. Sacramento Kings – 2002 Western Conference Finals
Again, the NBA screws the “small market” franchise in favor of making more money. The series went to seven games and was decided in overtime in the final game. Tim Donaghy, the referee known for betting on his own games, came out in 2008 and stated that Game 6 was definitely rigged by two referees. He stated that these referees were “company men” and an enticing Game 7 would bring a huge amount of money to both franchises. It is widely known that Game 6 is one of the worst officiated games in NBA history. The Lakers were granted 27 free throws in the 4th quarter alone, resulting in a 106-102 victory which extended the series. To this day, there is no definitive evidence of this fix, only hearsay. But again, the video evidence is overwhelming.
4. San Antonio Spurs – No A/C In Texas
Okay, so the Spurs are a pretty upstanding organization. There are not too many conspiracies or controversies to put a finger on, but one far-fetched conspiracy comes to mind; LeBron’s cramp game. In Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals, the Heat were taking on the Spurs, in what would be LeBron’s final season in Miami. The A/C was broken that day in San Antonio, but again both teams had to suffer through it. The Heat were leading in the fourth, poised to take Game 1, when their leader fell to the floor with severe cramps. His intense, physical style of play made the heat even more unbearable. But on the other hand, the Spurs players flourished in the hot arena. Why? Ginobli, Parker, Splitter, and Diaw grew up outside of America, playing in non air-conditioned arenas, and Tim Duncan played in the Caribbean. Even Danny Green was seen in the off-season doing wind sprints in triple-digit temperatures to keep up his conditioning. Now this may all be a coincidence, but again, the Spurs were prepared for everything.
3. Toronto Raptors – Carter Tanks For Trade
Beloved by Toronto Raptors fans, Vince Carter truly let Canada down. During the early stages of his career, the eight-time All-Star put Toronto basketball on the map. He was the high-flying, fast-paced, athletic player that made fans glue their eyes to the television. But all of the sudden, “Air Canada” wanted to fly south. He requested a trade from GM Rob Babcock (and made it public) and basically just quit on his team. Since he was the face of the franchise, everyone could see it. He was embellishing injuries, refusing to dunk, and even telling other teams the plays the Raptors were about to run. Finally, the Raptors had no choice but to trade him to the Nets, where he went back to being the athletic superstar he once was. Not all Raptors fans are bitter, but this is just a sad saga for such a great talent.
2. Utah Jazz – Jordan Poisoned By Jazz Fans
We all know Jordan’s legendary flu game, but his trainer, Tim Grover, claimed Jordan was poisoned. We will let him tell it in his own words (via Henry Abbott ESPN):
“We were in Park City, Utah, up in a hotel. Room service stopped at like nine o’clock. He got hungry and we really couldn’t find any other place to eat. So we said eh, the only thing I can find is a pizza place. So we says all right, order pizza.
We had been there for a while. Everybody knew what hotel. Park City was not many hotels back then. So everyone kind of knew where we were staying.
So we order pizza. Five guys came to deliver this pizza. I take the pizza and I tell them: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this. … I’ve just got a bad feeling about this.”
Out of everybody in the room, [MJ] was the only one who ate. Nobody else had it. And then 2 o’clock in the morning I get a call to my room. Come to the room. He’s curled up in the fetal position. We’re looking at him, finding the team physician at that time.
Immediately I told him it’s food poisoning. Not the flu.”
1. Washington Wizards – 1997 Name Change
Who remembers the Washington Bullets? Those awesome red and white striped jerseys and the times of Elvin Hayes dominating the boards. Those were the days! But in the late 90s, the Washington Bullets didn’t have such a nice ring to it after a string of violence plagued our nation’s capital. In 1997, the team’s owner, Abe Pollin, decided to change Washington’s mascot since “Bullets” was now unfitting. Candidates for a new name were Express, Dragons, Stallions, Sea Dogs (I’m imagining a seal balancing a basketball on its nose) and Wizards.
While Pollin eventually stuck with the Wizards, the African-American community in DC was not happy, since Wizards can also refer to the leader of the notorious white supremacist group. Either way, the name stuck, and the Bullets were no more.
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