For years, gossip, conjecture, and conspiracy theories have made its rounds in the lottery process, many times crying foul play for picks that just seemed too fishy to be true. While it may be preposterous to propose that there is essentially anything suspicious going on in the NBA pecking order, it doesn’t mean that a closer look shouldn’t be the order of the day. At least, let’s humor the people who don’t believe in the conspiracy theories.
The lottery system was introduced to the NBA in 1985. Quickly after, notions of conspiracy followed. In fact, the year when Patrick Ewing, fresh from Georgetown University was the first lottery pick for the New York Knicks using an envelope system, it caused outrage in the league. Fans who detested the Knicks felt that it smelt of foul play. Many accused David Stern and the NBA accountant of fixing that lottery draft to make sure that that the struggling team in the largest market got the best player added to their franchise. During Patrick Ewing’s lottery pick, the card pulled from the spinning glass bowl was subject to debate. Some think that the corner of that envelope was bent to clue in the draft official which envelope to pick.
Since then, the draft has been the foundation of conspiracy allegations in the NBA. The New Orleans Hornets were owned by the NBA in 2012. Tom Benson became the new owner for the team prior to the draft lottery. During the lottery draw, the team was able to land Anthony Davis as the no.1 pick for the franchise. People began taking to the Internet to voice their suspicion about the legitimacy of the draw, crying foul play and signifying that David Stern must have promised the team’s owner the first pick before he purchased the team. We probably won’t ever know the truth. Let’s look at some of the other conspiracy theories that are suspect.
10 Kevin Durant to the Seattle SuperSonics, 2007
Kevin Durant takes the number 10 spot here because he was just no.2 pick in 2007 draft. In his case, conspiracy theorists suggest that Kevin Durant was handed to the Sonics behind Greg Oden, who turned out to be a huge bust. At that time, Seattle was trying to find an arena deal so that they could improve the attendance at basketball games. This was possibly an attempt by David Stern to keep basketball in Seattle. Prior to the 2008-09 season, the Sonics were eventually purchased by Clay Bennett who moved the team saying they could not reach an arena deal with the city.
There are two ways of looking at this; Durant’s arrival in Seattle could possibly have been a desperate effort to seal the arena deal, but it just didn’t happen. Or, it could've been a ploy to give Bennett a young star to bring with the franchise for what seemed to be an inevitable move to Oklahoma City once Bennett purchased them.
9 Shaquille O'Neal to the Orlando Magic, 1992
In 1989-90, the Orlando Magic became an expansion franchise. In their first three seasons, the team didn’t make the playoffs, while their in-state neighbours the Miami Heat had already made the post season, despite beginning play just a year earlier than Orlando. For this reason, conspiracy theorists think that it is just too much of a coincidence that the Orlando Magic was able to steal the top pick during the 1992 NBA lottery, which got them the big Shaq attack.
During O’Neal’s rookie season, he wasn’t able to help his team to the playoffs, but in 1995, he did help the team to go to the NBA finals with his deadly mix of agility and power moves. Some believe that Stern deliberately made sure that the expansion franchise didn’t fail and have to move to another city.
8 Greg Oden to the Portland Trail Blazers, 2007
Welcome back to the list, 2007.
This seemed to be deja vu to what transpired in the 1984 draft when Sam Bowie was picked just before Michael Jordan. With this past experience, many believe that Portland got a handout in Greg Oden who was picked over Durant. Additionally, Portland’s fans had watched how their team had missed the NBA playoffs for four consecutive years, the longest deficiency experienced by the franchise. Maybe David Stern was trying to give Portland a surprise. Well if it was, it seems like a good thing Stern wasn't a GM in the league.
7 No.1 Pick to the Orlando Magic, 1993
We come back to the Orlando Magic. Shaq's rookie season proved to be a huge step forward for the Magic, who enjoyed their first .500 season, finishing 41-41, just missing out on the playoffs. It was obvious that Shaquille O’Neal was going to be big in the NBA.
A certain obstacle was hindering other teams from winning was a certain team in midst of a three-peat. With no serious threat to the Chicago Bulls, many think that David Stern was more interested in creating the next big thing – a rivalry like the Lakers and Celtics of the previous decade. Long story short, the Magic ended up with the no.1 overall pick despite minuscule odds in the lottery.
Penny Hardaway, drafted third in 1993 was eventually traded to the Magic for their no.1 pick, Chris Webber. In 1995 the Magic found themselves in the NBA finals with the Bulls now MJ-less.
While you may scoff at conspiracy theorists, their arguments may have some merit here.
6 John Wall to the Washington Wizards, 2010
Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington Wizards died in late 2010.
Month later, his Wizards were able to win the lottery and earned the right to choose first overall. The rational population might scoff at this, but according to the conspiracy truth-seekers, they don't believe in this being a coincidence. In addition to David Stern’s empathy for Pollin and the attendance of Pollin’s widow at the lottery event, Washington was having a tough year, stemming from a gun incident that involved Javaris Crittenton and Gilbert Arenas.
Many feel that the Wizards obtaining this pick over teams like Minnesota and New Jersey (now Brooklyn) was a way of cutting the Wizards a break.
5 Lebron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 2003
What a wonderful story. The most hyped basketball prodigy in decades is born in a little town called Akron Ohio, not far from the prodigy's local NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While he was preparing for the NBA, the Cavs were trying to find a way to come back from years of futility. Suddenly LeBron James comes along in a year where the Cavs happen to stink and happen to win the draft lottery, for a chance to pick a hometown superstar.
Well, it's a wonderful story, but conspiracy theorists think it's a little too good to be true. They either believe the NBA fixed the lottery or the Cavs organization purposely tanked to give themselves as high a chance as possible to draft the King.
4 Derrick Rose to the Chicago Bulls, 2008
Another struggling franchise getting a future local superstar. Since Michael Jordan's departure from Chicago, the Bulls hadn't come close to obtaining much relevancy. They'd missed the postseason seven times and were far from making the long playoff runs they did in the 90's.
If the Bulls had planned on tanking for Derrick Rose, they didn't do a good job, finishing 11th in the East and 21st overall with a record of 33-49, only leaving them with a 1.7% chance at the no.1 pick. By some miracle the big market Bulls were able to select their hometown kid after winning the lottery despite having about the same chance of winning the lottery as the Brooklyn Nets do of winning the NBA title this year. Hmm...
3 Kyrie Irving to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 2011
In 2011, the Cavaliers got the no.1 pick in the lottery, whom they turned into Kyrie Irving. Many theorists think that this was too convenient. This was less than one year after LeBron James left the Cavs for the Miami Heat. There were so many backlashes from Lebron’s decision that many believed David Stern gave the Cavs this gift to soothe their broken heart and recover from the loss. Cleveland must really be happy now, as they have both. Maybe it was a blessing that LeBron left them for a few years. Tim Farrell, The Star Ledger
2 Anthony Davis to the New Orleans Hornets, 2012
Anthony Davis is proving to be a franchise player just as many suspected back in 2012 after being picked by the New Orleans Hornets, who picked him after winning the lottery, despite them having more wins than Washington and Charlotte. In fact Charlotte won just seven games in the 2011-12 season, 14 less than New Orleans. After the Hornets (now Pelicans) traded Chris Paul to the Lakers (vetoed by the league) and then the Clippers, it became obvious that the NBA didn’t want to have a dwindling franchise on its curriculum vitae.
Davis was seen wearing a Hornets hat even before he was picked by the team. Theorists say he probably knew something no one on the outside knew.
Think about this scenario. If this theory is true, and this was fixed, let's say the lottery goes down legitimately and Charlotte ends up with the no.1 pick. Davis may have actually been a Charlotte Hornet today, rather than a former New Orleans Hornet, now Pelican.
1 Patrick Ewing to the New York Knicks, 1985
Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks earned the top pick in a new 1985 lottery draft system that was riddled with suspicion. Many theorists still feel, to this day, that the lottery draft for Ewing was fixed prior to the envelope pick. This was one way to get Ewing, an excellent college basketball player to ahem.. a New York team that was struggling.
It opened the door for feeding into the largest television market. In the minds of theorists, the envelope was either frozen or creased so that Stern could know which envelope to choose for the Knicks. Even though, Ewing has long since retired from the NBA, this lottery draw has always been a topic of discussion among conspiracy theorists and fans of teams like Indiana or the Clippers are left wondering if that notion is true.