Conspiracy theories surrounding David Stern rigging the league to favor outcomes for big market teams and players like LA/Kobe, Miami/Lebron, the 90's Bulls/MJ, etc. have been a part of the background noise in NBA talk for decades. As a resident of Washington D.C. and a fan of the Wizards, I've never really had reason to do anything but chuckle and eventually scoff at anyone trying to sell me on any of this being true. The Wizards play the Lakers two times a year, each being an awesome chance for me to simply see how we fare against The Mamba, unlike fans of better teams in the West that consistently play LAL and are in the hunt for making the playoffs. Depressing stories that challenge the integrity of our games such as PEDs and cheating scandals have plagued almost all American sports in recent history...but not our beloved NBA too, right? Regrettably, I’m starting to think twice.
The 2012-2013 NBA season has arguably been one of the most exciting ones in NBA history. As a fan, there’s not been any lack of excitement throughout the year to say the least. Aside from stories like the Miami 27 game winning streak and whether or not Derrick Rose will return and transform the Bulls in the playoffs, the disappointing performance by the Lakers and whether or not they’ll make the playoffs has seemed to lay claim to a spot on the SportsCenter ticker all year - even more so recently as the season winds down. The thought of the great Kobe Bryant and the ridiculous ensemble Mitch Kupchak put together not even making the playoffs has been a reason for NBA fans across the country to tune into games like a Tuesday night matchup between LAL and NO. While there are many reasons for the lack of Laker success (injuries, the D’Antoni system, …injuries), the fact remains that there’s a very real chance they might not make the playoffs this year. David Stern realizing this (to quote Stephen A. Smith) blasphemous scenario reminds me of Kevin Durant and Dwayne Wade waking up in the middle of the night in their new Gatorade commercial.
Everyone knows that superstars in the NBA are favored by referees – I’m not sure if it’s a respect thing by the refs, or if they’re intimidated by player greatness or what – but we call these ‘celeb calls.’ It’s not fair, but it simply makes financial sense to protect superstars like Kobe and LeBron more so than a Wesley Matthews or Trevor Ariza. But as I watched the Lakers play New Orleans last night, I couldn’t believe the blatant no-calls and calls, all in the 4th quarter of a close game, in favor of LA – an entire team, not just a player! Some calls could be harshly argued to be refs swallowing their whistles, but when Anthony Davis goes up for a key layup and clearly gets bumped in the air by Dwight Howard and gets no call, and Pau Gasol is awarded two shots on a slight bump on a drive from the wing in the next immediate play – I started to ask what the hell is going on? After remembering the no-call on Kobe fouling Ricky Rubio on a potential game-tying 3 pointer (to which the NBA formally apologized), I started searching around on the internet and came across this:
Lakers 2013 Playoffs Conspiracy (via Nathaniel Bennett)
People, including me, say that it’s the greatness of players like MJ and Kobe that gets wins – not referees, which is true. But it’s undeniable that a few calls in close games in the 4th quarter (almost all in the video were) can drastically change a game’s outcome or at the least, its momentum. Especially now in a stretch where the Lakers must win almost every game to make the playoff cut, the referee bias towards an entire team is so far out in the open that it’s simply disgraceful. I want to see the Lakers and Playoff Kobe as much as Laker fans do, but David Stern – are you kidding me? Currently:
LAL #1 in the league FTA: 27.8/game
LAL #29 in the league PF: 17.9/game
LAL #1 in the league Opponent PF: 23.0/game
"Coincidence is the word we use when we can’t see the levers and pulleys," (Emma Bull). Back in 2007 with the Tim Donaghy scandal, we caught a glimpse of some of these levers. "Sacramento had the best team in the league," former NBA referee Tim Donaghy wrote in an email interview about the series [talking about the WCF Kings vs. Lakers]. "But the referees/league didn’t allow the better team to win." Donaghy stated the NBA handed down modified protocols for dealing with close game situations with teams like LA and Kobe, which is why he placed bets on those teams. Donaghy told federal agents that to increase television ratings and ticket sales, "top executives of the NBA sought to manipulate games using referees." (US v. Tim Donaghy). David Stern denied everything, and in retrospect we should even give David Stern credit for coming out of it virtually unscathed. But looking at this stretch of blown calls all in favor of the biggest market team in the NBA and one of the biggest superstars of all time, how can you logically attribute them to just ‘being a part of the game’ or ‘going both ways?’
I’m sure things like this have happened for other players and teams in the past too, but for the first time I’m witnessing the league consistently letting it all hang out with no shame at all. The Lakers have four games left on their schedule, and I encourage fellow fans to pay the conspiracy rumors some attention if the games are close in the 4th. A part of me wants to root for Utah simply to root against Stern, but I do hope Kobe comes through on his guarantee – just w/o help from the league.