Is the NBA Rigged?

The Warriors just did what no one thought they could do, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder and move on to the NBA Finals.Coming fresh off a 73 win season, they overcame adversity in the form of injury to star Steph Curry, then went from favorites to underdogs as they lost 3 of the first 4. Then Klay set records and Curry danced as they did the seemingly impossible. However, amidst poor refereeing and questionable decisions from the league office throughout the playoffs. The question has been raised: Is the NBA rigged?

How many times have you seen it? A last-second buzzer beater from the golden boy to knock off his hated rival and live forever in basketball glory. Every time it happens, the world becomes entranced by the play for weeks while saying something along the lines of, “Hollywood couldn’t write a better ending!” to their friends every time they’re reminded of that one magic moment.

But what if Hollywood could write a better ending? What if Hollywood did, in fact, write that ending? What if it wasn’t Hollywood at all, but the National Basketball Association itself? What if the NBA is rigged?

It’s a discussion that’s lasted a little over 30 years, since the infamous 1985 Draft Lottery, and has gone through it’s fair share of ups and downs. From the draft, to the outcome of games, everything in an about the NBA has been speculated. It is a buisness, and buisness’ have one goal – to make money. So who could blame the NBA for wanting to make more? Let’s start this discussion where everything else in the league starts – the draft.

The Draft

All talk of conspiracy in the NBA started circa 1985. There was a clear prize to be won in Georgetown center Patrick Ewing – and everyone wanted him. Back in the 80’s a dominant big man was all you needed to be in contention. Add some quick guards and shooter and you were ready to take a shot at the trophy. Seven teams had an equal chance at the first pick. Small market teams like Indiana and Seattle for the most part. And then you had New York, the mecca of basketball. With the NBA’s TV deal coming to end they needed something to spark ratings. Ewing in a Knicks jersey? That’s ratings through the roof.

There’s been debate over how it was done. Was the corner of the Knicks envelope bent? Maybe it was frozen. Either way, many are convinced David Stern knew long before lottery night that Patrick Ewing was going to end up as a New York Knick. Now it would be one thing if it was an isolated incident. Yet we’ve seen a similar story unfold quite a few times.

2003, the year of LeBron James. Nothing more  needs to be said about him. He’s the Chosen One. A native of Akron, Ohio right outside of Cleveland, the lowliest sports city in the world. If only King James could be brought to his hometown and deliver them the glory they long awaited for! Well it happened. Cleveland gets the first pick and they take none other than LeBron James. What a perfect story.

Or how about 2008, year of Derrick Rose. Growing up in the city of Chicago and making it out through basketball. The Bulls needed a return to basketball dominance after MJ left, and their millions of fans were waiting for a superstar who could take them there. Who better than the Chicago native himself. The ping pong balls just so happened to go Chi-Town’s way and D-Rose was a Bull.

In a supposedly “random” process, it’s amazing how the story always seems to play out for the favorites. The big market teams will get their stars when they need them (see LA: D’Angelo Russell, 2016 #2 pick), and the superstars will go to their hometown. If a classic team like Philly can’t get it right the first time, they’ll get a few more cracks at it. That’s all well and good, but the players have to actually play the game. It’s not won on paper….right?

The Refs

Before anyone starts to argue about how refs are human and make mistakes let me make this clear. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s the consistency of the “mistakes” and when they happen that can lead to a pretty clear pattern. In most cases, that pattern involves the NBA determining their outcome to make more money. When asked about whether or not the refs had anything to do with the results of the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, Ray Allen made his opinion pretty clear.

“I think there’s no question about that. The league, as a marketing machine, the bottom line is about making money. It [benefits] 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.”

The 2002 Western Conference Finals will live in infamy because of the referees. The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, led by global icons Kobe and Shaq, took on the small town Sacramento Kings, a more complete team whose number one player, Chris Webber, is to this day best known for his college career. Fast forward to Game 6 and the Kings are leading 3-2, one game away from the NBA Finals. Then the refs stepped in.

This game was so obviously predetermined. Former NBA ref Tim Donaghy said,

As soon as the referees for the game were chosen, the rest of us [other NBA refs] knew immediately there would be a Game 7.”  Asked to elaborate, Donaghy wrote me that “Bavetta would always say he was the NBA’s ‘go to guy’ and he would always help make the series go another game … he said [this] to me before the game in L.A.”

Let’s just take a look at the numbers. Cold hard facts. There were 27 free throw attempts in the quarter for the Lakers, against nine for the Kings. L.A. converted only five field goals for the entire quarter. There were three phantom fouls on Kings big man Lawrence Funderburke in just six minutes. The Lakers shot 40 free throws in the game, as compared to just 25 free throws for the Kings. To put that into perspective, the Kings shot two less free throws in the entire game than the Lakers shot in the 4th quarter alone.

If you want to see for yourself you can do so right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTU94XgLsTw

A former referee, Tim Donaghy, admitted the game was fixed,

Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series. However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew referees A and F to be ‘company men,’ always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA’s interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6. Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees’ favoring of Team 6 led to that team’s victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series.”

Donaghy’s rep explained further about the conspiracy in the league by saying,

“League officials would tell referees that they should withhold calling technical fouls on certain star players because doing so would hurt ticket sales and television ratings,” the letter adds. “As an example, Tim explained how there were times when a referee supervisor would tell referees that NBA Executive X did not want them to call technical fouls on star players or remove them from the game. In January 2000, Referee D went against these instructions and elected a star player in the first quarter of the game. Referee D later was privately reprimanded by the league for that ejection.”

You’ve probably heard Donaghy’s name before. That’s because he was convicted of fixing games for two years as he bet on games he was reffing. That’s been proven in the court of law. Two years of rigged games. It’s hard to believe that’s a one time incident.

The NBA will go to drastic measures to cover this up too. When Jeff Van Gundy called out the NBA for targeting Yao Ming, he was fined $100,000. He then said,

I said what I said. I believe what I believe and I’ve seen what I’ve seen. They’ve got to do what they think is right,” Van Gundy said. “I would watch all of [Yao’s] 20 fouls with anyone. And I would have no problems making my case that he’s not refereed appropriately. I stand by that.”

Look, we all know that NBA refs aren’t perfect, no one is. Stars will get the calls and things like traveling violations will go unnoticed here and there. But if you look hard enough, the truth begins to present itself. As sad as it is to say, maybe it’s not magic. Maybe it’s not pure luck that we always seem to get a storybook ending. It’s not scripted front to back. Every play isn’t written out before the game like a movie. But time and time again, the NBA seems to always get their money. And maybe that’s not a coincidence at all. Maybe it’s time for us all to admit to ourselves, regardless of whether or not we want to…
The NBA is rigged.

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2 thoughts on “Is the NBA Rigged?

  1. I had a teacher back in the 1980’s who would correctly predict the outcomes of NBA games with amazing accuracy. When I asked him how he did it, he would say, “the NBA is fixed”. The thought that the NBA might be fixed has been with me ever since. This article is well written and thought out. I also hope it’s not true, but I fear it is.

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