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An NBA conspiracy theory? Yep, it's that time of year

As another Finals comes to a close, a sect of fans once again airs its theories -- regardless of what the facts may say

POSTED: Jun 20, 2016 12:57 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst


It would take a multi-faceted effort to pull any off the theories some have posited about Finals games or the NBA.

Why, Ayesha. Why?

Why couldn't Ayesha Curry just say "the refs sucked tonight," and been done with it?

Her tweet after Game 6, after her husband, Stephen Curry -- the two-time league MVP -- fouled out in Cleveland against the Cavaliers put a famous name and face to the murky world of NBA Conspiracy Twitter. That she quickly deleted the tweet saying the game was rigged and apologized, citing numerous stresses -- her father had had trouble getting into Quicken Loans Arena before Game 6; officials said he bore a resemblance to a con man who has talked his way into games several times over the years -- didn't matter. Those who see gray in the shadows everywhere found a new champion.

GameTime: Stephen Curry Fouls Out

The GameTime crew talk Stephen Curry fouling out of Game 6, followed by his ejection.

Break out the tinfoil.

If it's June, it's the annual airing of grievances by fans (he notes, again, that that is short for "fanatic") who forward the view that their team was done in by nefarious means, by a secret cabal that puts its thumb on the scale to ensure that a big-market team or a superstar player or a historic franchise or some combination of them wins when it shouldn't.

The conspirators always involve the NBA Commissioner, the referees, the Illuminati, assorted underworld figures, singer/songwriter Irving Cohen and -- only once -- Miss Piggy. The parties all want all series to go seven games, because the longer the series goes, goes the argument, the more money the league makes.

Except, that argument is completely false.

No matter how many times one says this, those who see hidden faces and voices controlling their lives, rather than taking stock of themselves, don't listen. The money that ABC, ESPN and Turner (my bosses) paid to the NBA was paid out when the new television contracts were signed last year. The league already has the money. It does not get another farthing if any series goes four, five, six or seven games.

But conspiracies don't require facts. Indeed, the appearance of facts only proves how vast the conspiracy really is!

Every couple of years, it's necessary to revisit the reasons why constantly calling games whose results you don't like "rigged" is so corrosive, to everyone. It's not funny, it's not new and it's not interesting. It also isn't right. The league did not suspend Draymond Green for one game after he hit LeBron James in the groin in the waning stages of Game 4 after the Cavaliers petitioned the NBA and demanded a two-game suspension, a league source said Sunday.

Game Time: Reactions to Green's Suspension

Steve Kerr, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and LeBron James react to Dramond Green's Game 5 suspension.

That isn't possible, because Commissioner Adam Silver instituted a new rule -- quietly -- last season that changed the league's existing policy. Now, if one team complains to the league about a foul call, or series of calls (teams often send in links to refs' calls during games with which they disagree), or the results of a game, the other team involved must be informed about the complaints. It's kind of like the discovery phase before a trial; you have to know everything the other side has as evidence. The Warriors were not informed about Cleveland's petition because there wasn't one.

And Green was suspended for Game 5 against the Cavs because he had been warned, quite specifically, not to hit any more opponents in the groin after he kicked Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams there during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, and only received a fine from the league.

Once again, there isn't a case to be made for league-controlled playoff conspiracies, for several reasons:

It requires the abandonment of logic

This is why I hate dealing with drunks and any other chemically-enhanced people. They say, 'what's your name?' You say, 'David.' They say, 'what do you mean by that?' And things deteriorate from there.

The notion that games are fixed and/or rigged at this level means ignoring a series of facts that make the idea impossible: a) a lot of people would have to be involved for it to work; b) it has to work despite the talents and efforts of everyone who isn't in on it, and would be working honestly to achieve the opposite result; c) this all has to happen without anyone finding out about it; d) which assumes that everyone involved is so well-compensated that they'd never look to cash in by selling their info/story to TMZ or someone else who'd pay, e) the lie has to last forever and everyone involved has to take it to their grave; f) the fixers would have to never be greedy [if you're paying a ref, say, $100,000 to fix a game, what's to keep him from asking for $250,000 later? You're all the way in. You have to pay him to keep him quiet], g) changes of heart and pure blind stupid luck.

Now: could one or two of those things happen? Sure. Could they all happen at the same time? Not unless you believe your life and what happens in it is completely out of your control.

It demeans the performance of great players

What LeBron James did in the last three games of The Finals was otherworldly. He was as good as anyone who's ever played in a Finals game, and I've seen almost all of them in person over the last 30 years. And to say that he had nothing to do with the Cavs winning those games, that the outcome was somehow predetermined, is an insult to the work he and his teammates did in winning the series.

LeBron Wins MVP

Adam Silver presents the Finals MVP Trophy to LeBron James.

It would mean that the NBA is both omnipotent and stupid

How can a league with so much supposed power to affect the outcome of Finals/playoff games through its referees or other means be so bad at affecting the outcome of Finals/playoff games?

Among the things the NBA has not accomplished during this era of felonies:

* No seventh game for Michael Jordan and the Bulls. This was, by far, the most popular and ratings-driving team in league history. Chicago and Jordan were in the four highest-rated Finals in history (1998 against Utah, 1993 against Phoenix, 1997 against Utah, 1996 against Seattle) and six of the top nine. Jordan drew in casual fans as well as hardcore hoopheads, and the Bulls were a compelling storyline throughout their six-championship era. Yet they never played a Game 7 in six Finals appearances. You would think a league so adept at making one team win over the other would know how to manipulate one lousy game to ensure a ratings-grabbing season finale with its marquee player.

The 1998 Finals

The final shot Michael Jordan took in a Chicago Bulls uniform was perhaps his most memorable moment.

* No matchup of LeBron and Kobe Bryant in the Finals. This was all the rage around 2008; the league's going to make sure the Cavs and Lakers play each other in The Finals. Yet two of the league's three most popular players in the post-Jordan era (Allen Iverson being the third) never hooked up in the championship series.

* No Lottery victories for New York (2015) or Los Angeles (2015, 2016), the league's two largest TV markets. Surely, a league that perfected the frozen envelope/bent corner in 1985 to deliver Patrick Ewing to the Knicks has learned over the last 30 years how to fix a Lottery through much less detectable methods, and would have handed Karl-Anthony Towns to one of its historically important franchises rather than the Minnesota Timberwolves (not that there's anything wrong with the Timberwolves). But not only have the Knicks not gotten the first pick in the 13 times they've been in the Lottery since '85, they haven't come close to getting the first pick. They've only been fourth once, and that was last year -- in a year when they would have been second had the pre-Lottery positions held up.

* No elimination of the Spurs, the team that has produced some of the worst TV ratings in history in The Finals, yet has won five championships since 1999 and appeared in six Finals series. How in the name of Arthur C. Nielsen could the networks and the league allow this scourge to stand?

It can lead us down some dark alleys

Social media isn't all bad. It can help bring people together in times of tragedy or hardship; it can provide help to solve problems in minutes or seconds instead of days or weeks; it can just make people feel less lonely. But the corrosive effect that negative tweets and other social media produce threatens to overwhelm the good works. It often produces a mob mentality online. It's one thing when one or two yahoos says you look fat in that dress, or you only got that job because you're black; it's much scarier when it comes at you from dozens of different directions. It's hard to say it's just a few people, even though it is just a few people. It feels like lots more.

Now, before you say "Lakers-Sacramento, Game 6, 2002": I have said since that day that that game is the one game in all the years I've covered the league whose results I can't explain. I cannot explain why the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter. That that game's officiating has been scrutinized dispassionately and found to be bad, but not criminal, will not matter to those who believe otherwise. I've said that if anyone has any genuine concrete evidence, other than former referee Tim Donaghy's word that the game was fixed (he did not work that game), I'll be the first to write about it.

There is none.

There are only suppositions, theories and beliefs. Which are fine to hold, but are not proof.


Hello. It's me. I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet

to go over ... everything. From RV Oliver III:

I don't believe the NBA per say is rigged. But, I can't say that I don't believe officials gather before the game and decide how they want to officiate the game (and that it isn't based off of previous games). But, who is to say that's so wrong?

You're absolutely correct, RV. Officials most certainly discuss their upcoming game before the opening tip, when they meet together in the morning, and in the refs' locker before tipoff. They talk about each team and what they like to do, and thus what to look for. Take Golden State. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are constantly moving without the ball, from one side of the floor to the other; good refs would then be looking to see if the opposing guards or whoever switches on them is grabbing or impeding their movement. The refs would go over those tendencies beforehand. But they'd also talk about watching to see if Andrew Bogut is setting illegal screens at the elbow or the wings to free up a Splash Brother. By contrast, a Kings game would likely feature a lot of paint touches for DeMarcus Cousins; the refs would talk beforehand about looking for lower body contact by defenders, and/or making sure Boogie doesn't drop a shoulder into the defender prematurely. Now, there is a potential problem: you don't want the refs anticipating calls by letting actions in previous games color what they see. That's the fine line that refs have to walk every game; be ready, but let the game you're watching tell you what to call. Do they make mistakes and blow calls, up to and including in The Finals? Of course they do. But a mistake in The Finals, or a bad night officiating, is not prima facie evidence that "the fix" is in. It means refs are human and they mess things up on occasion.

AKA LeBron Ain't (Bleep), Vol. XIV. From Jeffrey Gebeau:

I have enjoyed some of your work in the past, but your commentary on Wade is so wrong that you're into the territory where you really need to publish a correction. Write as many LBJ apologist pieces as you like (yes, that's what it was -- own it), but don't denigrate a fellow all-time-great to prop him up (especially the one that to this point James hasn't proven that he can win titles without).

During James' first season in Miami, the 2011 campaign, Wade was fourth in the league in scoring at 25.5 ppg (James was second at 26.7 ppg). In the playoffs, Wade actually outscored James 24.5 ppg to 23.7 ppg.

2011 Mavericks

Watch the Dallas Mavericks' win their first NBA championship.

I'll return to that postseason in a moment, but, first, it doesn't take too much critical thinking to deduce that the pair were the two best players in the league that season. Prior to playing together, both routinely clocked in at 27-30 ppg and about 7 apg. What do you think would have happened if they had stayed apart?

It was LeBron's failure in The 2011 Finals that cost Wade a second Finals MVP, which would have cemented his legacy and probably made him less likely to be subjected to snide (and grossly inaccurate) asides from myopic media members (like yours). Then after 2011, Wade alone made the decision to step back, not because he was "on the back nine of his career," but because he realized after The Finals that James couldn't function as a co-leader. Wade had been both the star and a supporting player in his basketball lifetime, while James had always been leading man. In other words, Wade chose to defer because James can't follow not because he couldn't lead.

Wade explained all this at the time, but I'm not surprised you missed it (you all never pay attention to him anyway). Anyway, despite stepping back, Wade averaged 22 pts and 5 apg (if that's "charitably, the back nine of his career," then, tell me, how good was his front nine?), although by the end of the season he did sustain knee injuries that would mark the close of his prime.

2012 NBA Finals

In impressive fashion, the Miami Heat defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder and win the 2012 NBA Finals giving Finals MVP LeBron James his first ring.

I could continue, but I hope you recognize at this point how egregious your error was. There's a lot that could be said about how sadly typical it is of the coverage Wade has received throughout his career, and how that has resulted in conceivably the worst systematic underrating of a superstar in sports history. (Want to argue my point? I have numbers).

But, at this point, you have the chance to show your substance as an analyst and admit that you got this one badly wrong (because I've rendered your argument beyond salvage). Ideally, you will man up in print but, to show yourself to be a journalist of some mettle, you will at least acknowledge this with a mea culpa.

Um, you were saying, Geoffrey?

But forget that James now has as many rings as Wade, and has led his Cavs to the championship. Let's look at your argument. What you've "proven" is you can cherry pick stats. I am not anti-Wade; I just stated an opinion, based on facts.

2013 NBA Finals

Watch as the Miami Heat battle through an intense NBA season to win back-to-back championships.

In Wade's first seven (pre-LeBron) years with the Heat, he averaged 25.4 points per game -- including the 2008-09 season, when he led the league in scoring at 30.2 per game. And, he averaged 9.2 free throws per game in those seven years. Getting to the free throw line was one of the central parts to Wade's game, which relied then on his strong drives to the basket and ability to absorb contact while getting his shot off. Wade did indeed have a very good year in 2010-11 -- which, conveniently, is the only season of the four seasons he and James played together that you wrote about. And he was very good the first five games of The 2011 Finals against Dallas, averaging 28.4 points per game.

But in the last game -- which Miami lost, at home -- Wade shot 6-for-16 and scored 17 points. I'm not saying D-Wade cost them the series with one bad game, but to say Miami lost to Dallas due to "LeBron's failure" is ridiculous. He certainly wasn't great in that series. But he averaged 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the series, and shot 48 percent from the floor. Again: not great, but hardly a "failure."

And after that season, Wade's scoring numbers went, slowly but steadily, down: 25.5 points in 2011-12, 22.1 in 2012-13 and 21.2 in 2013-14, the last season he and James played together. His free throw attempts have also gone down -- over the last six seasons, he's averaged 6.3 attempts per game, down almost three per game compared with his first seven seasons. And he's been slowed by injuries, most notably to his left knee, which required surgery in 2012, and in which he's battled tendinitis since having his meniscus removed while at Marquette in 2002.

2014 NBA Finals

Relive the best moments of the 2014 NBA Finals Game 5 through the lens of the phantom cam!

The injuries left Wade, by 2013-14, unable to play in back to back games, as the Heat managed his minutes. And in The 2014 Finals, he averaged just 15 points per game and shot 43.8 percent in the series against the Spurs. He's still been a very good player for most of these last six seasons, because he stays in great shape and he's smart and tough. But he's not as explosive as he used to be, and not as potent a scorer.

Your assertion that he decided to "take a step back" because James had to lead is not correct. He took a step back because he wasn't physically as capable of dominating games any more, and the Heat did better with the ball in James's hands, with Wade and Chris Bosh playing off of James as he drew double teams. That was the whole point of James coming down there; as he entered his 30s, Wade needed help. In other words, Wade was on the back nine of his career, which is what I wrote (other than the word "charitably," which may have been what triggered all of this from you). Feel free to disagree.

Return of the Sidewinder! From John Ferensen:

Any thoughts on Kevin Calabro finally getting back in the booth for a full 82-game schedule? Also, if the Trail Blazers could somehow steal Marques Johnson away from Milwaukee, the dream of the '90s really would be alive in Portland, right?

First, it's never a good day in our business when someone gets fired, so I was sorry to hear the Blazers were replacing their longtime local TV guys, Mike Rice and Mike Barrett, along with radio analyst Antonio Harvey. But I am delighted that Kevin, who was the Sonics' play-by-play guy for more than 20 years on radio and TV, is back with a team after spending the last few years working for ESPN Radio. He's one of my all-time favorite announcers; I so loved listening to his calls during the Gary Payton-Shawn Kemp years in Seattle. The Blazers made an outstanding hire.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and a new nurse's station that has WD40 in stock to If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!


(last week's averages in parentheses)

1) LeBron James (36.3 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 9.7 apg, .506 FG, .731 FT): An incredible three games by a great player, who now has to be considered one of the greatest in league history, on the short, short list of the all-time best.

GameTime: LeBron Joins The Crew

LeBron James joins the GameTime crew to talk about Game 7 and what it is like for him and his teammates to be bringing back a championship to Cleveland.

2) Stephen Curry (24 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, .361 FG, .929 FT): Whether or not he was still not right after the first-round knee injury in The Finals, Chef didn't play well in Game 7. Not at all. It wasn't just the missed shots; it was the terrible decisions he made passing, and the reaches and other bad decisions on defense that again led to foul trouble. He may have wanted this a little too much.

3) Kevin Durant: Season complete.

4) Russell Westbrook: Season complete.

5) Kawhi Leonard: Season complete.


1) Sager, at The Finals. Long overdue. It was so great to see Craig get to work Game 6 on Thursday in Cleveland, after so many years. A very nice gesture from ESPN/ABC, and kudos to my Turner folk for helping to make it happen.

Film Room: Craig Sager

The Film Room discusses TNT's Craig Sager stint as a sideline reporter for Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals and why the Cavaliers are having success so far in the game.

2) Praise for the Four-Letter, part II: "O.J.: Made in America," its seven-hour doc on the life and times of O.J. Simpson -- the most famous person in the world ever put on trial for murder -- is astonishing in its breadth and depth. It takes a subject that everyone of a certain age believes has been exhausted, and finds new context and information surrounding the 1994 trial of Simpson for killing his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson Brown, and Ron Goldman, a restaurant waiter who was, tragically, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Director Ezra Edelman makes the trial the horrible nexus of race, class, wealth, celebrity, privilege, and the history of police misconduct in Los Angeles. There are very few who come out looking virtuous, and Simpson is correctly portrayed as an utterly vacuous and vicious person. And it is impossible to conclude anything other than he slaughtered Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

3) Getting the Pelicans' ownership situation settled, at long last, gives New Orleans a chance to really go forward now and make long-term roster decisions on how to best surround superstar Anthony Davis. And that's a good thing. Both the city and the player deserve a real chance to see how far they can go together. (And, the raise in the projected cap for next year from the expected $92 million to $94 million puts another $600,000 or so in Davis's pocket.)

4) If I wasn't at Game 7 yesterday, I would so be doing this with my sleeping children. Oh, and Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.


1) That was a devastated Warriors locker room Sunday night. They will face a lot of tough questions, internally and externally, in the coming days. It will take a very tough team mentally to come back from this. It's possible -- see the 2013-14 Spurs -- but it's going to be very difficult.

Warriors on Series Loss

Steve Kerr, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry address the media following the Game 7 and Finals loss to the Cavaliers.

2) This is a terrific read, but so sad to think about. We all miss Flip, but his family carries a special burden today, the day after Father's Day.

3) Hard to believe it's been 30 years since Len Bias died. Thirty years. He's frozen in time, his potential in front of him. The cruelty of his death still stings.

4) Tough week for the Australian national men's team. First, Andrew Bogut suffers a knee injury in Game 5 of the Finals that not only put him out for that series, but puts his status for playing in the Olympics for his native country in peril. Then, the Jazz announced Saturday that guard Dante Exum will not play for Australia this summer in order to finalize his rehab for the torn ACL he suffered last August.


50 -- Years since a team down 3-1 in The Finals even forced a Game 7, which the Cavs did by routing the Warriors in Games 5 and 6. The last team to get to Game 7 in the Finals after trailing 3-1 was the 1966 Lakers, who forced a Game 7 against Boston -- which they lost. No team trailing 3-1 in The Finals had ever come back to win the series before Cleveland pulled it off Sunday.

714,000 -- Square footage of the Bucks' new arena in downtown Milwaukee, which is scheduled to anchor a sports and entertainment district featuring shops and restaurants as well as what is currently called the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center. The official groundbreaking for the building, set to open for the 2018-19 season, was last Saturday in Milwaukee.

9 Teams -- Brooklyn, New York, Washington, Houston, Dallas, Portland, Miami, Cleveland and Oklahoma City -- without a first-round pick in Thursday's Draft.

MORE MORNING TIP: LeBron delivers Cleveland its championship | Q&A with Karl-Anthony Towns

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.