There has always been a group of people who believe in conspiracy theories, and there are some that believe the NBA is rigged in different ways. The typical conspiracy theories that we know of are: The Earth is flat, we never really landed on the moon, and a conspiracy or two has been floated around as to how things occurred when John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. These conspiracies are a little more widespread than the one of the NBA being fixed and rigged, but there are plenty of events in NBA history that present a compelling case for the argument of the league being fixed.
The argument for the NBA being rigged is typically made after an NBA Draft Lottery, NBA draft, a trade, and the main argument games being fixed. The NBA Draft Lottery is the easiest to rig, and rigging the lottery can be done out of the public view. The lottery directly effects what happens in an NBA draft. Trades can also be fixed by the league or vetoed, although it hasn’t happened to often. The main argument is games being fixed, and this can be done primarily through bad officiating that is easily detected by fans.
Here are 15 times the NBA seemed fixed:
15. The Bent Envelope at the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery
The NBA lottery was much different in its first year than it is today. In 1985 all lottery teams had the same odds of getting the number one selection, and this system was put in place to stop the wide spread practice of tanking around the NBA. Even with the new lottery in place teams still tanked. Lottery night came, and the Golden State Warriors were the worst team in the NBA in 1985 and were hopeful they would get the first selection in the draft. All the lottery teams coveted Patrick Ewing of Georgetown.
Ewing was the most dynamic center to come out of the college ranks since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The conspiracy theory here is that the NBA wanted Ewing to land in a big market. David Stern the NBA Commissioner was a native New Yorker and he allegedly bent the Knicks envelope so that he would know which envelope to choose, and this assured Ewing would go to the Knicks.
14. 1988 NBA finals: The Detroit Pistons cheated out of a championship
The Detroit Pistons were known around the NBA landscape as the bad boys, and their brand of basketball was physical and blue collar. The theory here is that the NBA thought it would be best for the highly star powered Los Angeles Lakers to be the face of the league still in 1988. The Pistons led the championship series 3 games to 2, and Isiah Thomas was putting on a show in Game 6. The Lakers led at halftime but Thomas scored 25 points in the third quarter despite severely spraining his ankle in that same quarter. With 14 seconds left and the Pistons up by one, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was fouled by Bill Laimbeer on a play where Laimbeer did not appear to even touch Jabbar. The Lakers tied the series and eventually won the championship, and many feel the Pistons were robbed of a title because of a horrendous call in Game 6.
13. Orlando Magic Somehow Win The 1993 Lottery
The Orlando Magic had just won the draft lottery in 1992, and as a result drafted Shaquille O’Neal with the first pick in the 1992 NBA draft. O’Neal helped the Magic greatly improve just barely missing out on the playoffs in the 1992-93 NBA season. The Magic were an expansion team founded in 1989, and the expansion teams of the late ’80s were struggling early on in the NBA.
The league saw a team in the Orlando Magic who could be competitive soon, and were perhaps a player away. With a slim 1.5% of winning the 1993 draft lottery the Magic won it, and selected Chris Webber first overall who they later traded away for Penny Hardaway. The Magic two years later would be competing in the NBA Finals led by their young superstars in Shaq and Hardaway.
12. The Bogus Hue Hollins call in the 1994 Eastern Conferance Semi Final
The Chicago Bulls were going through a season full of acclamation. This was due to the Bulls being without superstar Michael Jordan, and the team’s fate now rested on the shoulders of Scottie Pippen. Pippen led the Bulls to a great 1993-94 NBA season by leading the team to 50 plus wins and a match up with the New York Knicks in the second round of the playoffs. Even without Jordan, the Bulls seemed destined to make it back to the NBA finals. The New Yorks Knicks were about to lose Game 5 against the Bulls, and the loss seemed imminent when Hubert Davis clanked a shot off the rim with two seconds left.
Seconds after the miss a whistle blew. Scottie Pippen, in Hue Hollins’ eyes, fouled Davis but in everyone else’s eyes contested the shot cleanly and the Knicks stole Game 5 and eventually won the series.
11. ‘The Shot’ In 1998
Michael Jordan was on a mission to win his sixth ring, but late in Game 6 the Utah Jazz looked poised to push the series to a seventh game. Michael Jordan scored a layup with 40 seconds remaining to cut the lead to one for the Jazz. The Jazz then put the ball in the hands of their best player in Karl Malone, but Malone was stripped of the ball by Jordan. The stomachs of the Jazz fans were beginning to turn throughout the arena. Jordan dribbled to his right then crossed over to his left, and also gave defender Byron Russell a slight shove to get an open look. With five seconds remaining Jordan’s iconic jumper went through the net. The Bulls were once again champions, but they could have had to go back to Chicago for a Game 7 instead of a parade if an offensive foul was properly called.
10. Knicks 4 point play in the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals
Here we have another case of the NBA favoring the big market team over the small market team. The New York Knicks were on a miracle run through the playoffs as the eighth seed, and had made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals to face off with the rival Indiana Pacers. The series was tied at one game apiece coming into Game 3. Game 3 was the ultimate swing game, and after Game 3 most people knew the Knicks were probably going to represent the east in the NBA finals.
With the clock ticking down in the fourth quarter the Knicks were down by three. In the final seconds Larry Johnson launched a three pointer that was highly contested. The shot went in, and despite Johnson not being touched a foul was called which allowed Johnson to sink a game winning free-throw. Hmmm…
9. 2002 Western Conference Finals Game 6: The Elbow
The Sacramento Kings were in the driver’s seat to knocking off a young exciting Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, but the referees decided to take matters into their own hands. With the Lakers being down at the start of the 4th quarter they got back into the game. They didn’t come back because of all the shots they were knocking down though, and instead it was the 27 free throws that the officials gifted the Lakers in the 4th quarter that decided the game.
No call was more egregious than a foul call made on Mike Bibby. Bibby was clearly elbowed in the face by Kobe Bryant, but that did not stop Bryant from getting a foul call on Bibby and knocking down two free throws to win the game for the Lakers.
8. The Questionable Calls of the 2006 NBA finals
The 2006 Finals have often times been called out as an example that the NBA fixes games and series to get the results that it knows will generate the most revenue. The theory here is that the league realized it had a young rising superstar in Dwyane Wade, and they saw an opportunity to elevate Wade even more through this finals series. In the final four games of the series Wade shot an average of 18 free throws per game. The Heat would win the final four games of the series, but the free throw attempts between the two teams were enormously in favor of the Heat. Late in the series clinching Game 6 Wade drove to the basket elbowing Dirk Nowitzki in the face on his way to the basket. The officials awarded Wade free throws instead of an offensive foul, and the Heat went on to win their fourth straight game to win the title.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers Get 1st Pick In 2011 With Little To No Chance
The Cleveland Cavaliers were a mess and it was all due to their best player in franchise history leaving the team for Miami in the summer of 2010. The Cavaliers were a little lucky to have two chances at hitting the lottery, but the first round pick that they had acquired from the Clippers had just a 2.8% chance of converting into the number one pick after the Clippers finished with the eighth worst record in basketball.
The prevailing theory here is that the NBA saw a fan base that was turned off from basketball after LeBron’s decision. To reinvigorate the fans the NBA knew that Cleveland had to have success on NBA draft lottery night, and it all started when the Cavs heard they had gotten the fourth pick with their own selection. Then the Clippers pick became the first pick in the draft against all odds, and the NBA had again made basketball relevant in the state of Ohio.
6. Chris Paul Trade To The Lakers Nixed
There was once a time when NBA fans were all convinced that Chris Paul was heading to the Los Angeles Lakers. It had become obvious that Paul’s patience had run thin in New Orleans, and he was ready to join a team that was in a large market. At the time the league had owned the New Orleans Hornets. Hornets general manager Dell Demps had a deal in place which involved: Paul to the Lakers; Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets; and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and a first-round draft pick (from Houston via New York) to the Hornets.
David Stern stepped in and vetoed the trade, and the main reason the deal was off was so that the league could keep more of a competitive balance. To promote parity the league allowed Paul to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers instead.
5. New Orleans Gets The No.1 Pick In 2012
The New Orleans Hornets had just lost a superstar in Chris Paul, and the league knew that it had interfered in that transaction and had to make it up to the Hornets in some way or fashion. That way was the NBA draft lottery. The Charlotte Bobcats just had a season where they had the worst winning percentage of any team in NBA history, and it seemed they would at least earn the first pick and get Anthony Davis as their franchise savior.
Instead the New Orleans Hornets moved up four spots in the lottery and got the number one pick. The Hornets had a 13% at getting the top pick, and it wasn’t a shock to conspiracy theorists that they landed the pick because it seemed like the league was making up for vetoing the first Chris Paul trade a season earlier.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers Get The First Pick Again In 2014
In 2014, the Milwaukee Bucks had the league’s worst record and the Philadelphia 76ers were in the first year of their drastic tanking strategy that was employed by Sam Hinkie. Surely it would be hard for any team to move past these two struggling franchises, but the league saw an opportunity to again cause controversy. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the draft lottery once again for the third time in five years.
It seemed a bit too perfect for Cleveland and the theory is the NBA seemed to be playing favorites with the city of Cleveland due to the city’s long history of losing in sports, and 2014 presented one of the best draft classes coming out in recent memory.
The Cavaliers got LeBron James back over the summer as well. Then they used their draft pick Andrew Wiggins as ammunition to acquire all star Kevin Love from the Timberwolves, and the Cavs were now a championship contender.
3. 2016 Western Conference Finals Rigged?
Conspiracy theories have always been prevalent in the playoffs of the four major sports leagues in the U.S. Fans sometimes cry foul that a league will extend a series so that they can generate more revenue, and this is done by fixing games potentially. The NBA social media page stirred up some controversy when it revealed on its events page the events taking place May 30 through June 5. They had an event for Game 7 of the Western Conference finals between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder, but they also had an event for Game 1 of the NBA finals. The event for the NBA Finals was between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Golden State Warriors had not even won the Western Conference yet. This led to people thinking the league fixed the Western Conference Finals and helped the 73-win Warriors reach it so they could get more viewers for the NBA Finals.
2. Mutumbo Congratulates Sixers On 1st Pick In 2016
Dikembe Mutumbo is a legendary NBA basketball player who made a legendary mistake hours before the NBA lottery was televised. To be fair the actual lottery happens in a back room hours before it is televised, but still Mutumbo’s actions brought many fans to the conclusion the lottery was rigged. Mutumbo sent out a tweet congratulating the Philadelphia 76ers on getting the first pick in the draft hours before the lottery was going to be televised. The 76ers had the best chance at getting the first pick after finishing with the worst record in the NBA in 2015-16, but it was still strange that Mutumbo sent out a tweet and then apologized for the premature congratulations by retracting his statement. When the 76ers got the first pick in the draft later that night no one was surprised.
1. Draymond Green Suspended In 2016 NBA Finals
The poster boy of the NBA is LeBron James, and things were not looking up for James and the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. Draymond Green was a flagrant foul away from being suspended for a game after kicking his opponents in the Western Conference Finals. The Cavs were heading towards going down three games to one in the best of seven NBA finals, and he had a tall task ahead of him to bring his team back. In Game 4 James baited Draymond Green into a flagrant fouled by pushing him down to the floor and stepping over him. The league suspended Green for his retaliation, but his retaliation wasn’t nearly as bad as the aggressor LeBron James’s actions in this incident. If Green isn’t suspended perhaps the Warriors go on to win Game 5 and the championship instead of blowing a three to one lead.
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