For years conspiracy theorists have insisted that NBA commissioner David Stern rigged the 1985 Draft Lottery to ensure that the New York Knicks received the top pick, enabling them to draft Georgetown superstar Patrick Ewing. Some say he froze the Knicks’ envelope, others maintain that the edge of the envelope was bent. Either way, the story of Stern magically picking the Knicks envelope over all others has become a sort of urban legend. As a sign of its cultural significance, there’s even a YouTube s video documenting the event. It’s just one of many conspiracy theories that have floated around the NBA in recent years. From the story that Stern forced Michael Jordan to retire for 18 months because of his gambling problems, to the widely held belief that NBA referees suspiciously alter the outcomes of big games, the league has often been subtly surrounded by a cloud of controversy.
While the conspiracy theories are fun to throw around, none of them ever actually led to any real problems for the NBA. However the NBA does have a problem right now, a big one. With the recent elimination of Phoenix and Golden State from the playoffs, and stars like Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, Tracy McGrady, and Kobe Bryant already on vacation, the playoffs lack a stunning amount of excitement and star power. The Utah-San Antonio match-up might be a dream for basketball purists, but it’s virtually unwatchable for casual fans. Sadly, the situation doesn’t get much better in the Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit is about as boring a basketball team as there’s ever been, and the only reason anyone would want to watch Cleveland is to see if notorious nail-biter LeBron James can ever come up big in the clutch. When you look at the teams on the floor, it’s easy to see why ABC feels compelled to show footage of Eva Longoria every ten minutes.
Which brings us back to commissioner Stern. If he’s not actually pulling strings behind the curtains to influence outcomes, maybe its time he started doing so. Instead of suspending stars like Amare Stoudemire, its time for the NBA to take a closer look at dirty players like Bruce Bowen who are diminishing the on-court product. Stern also needs to make sure that his officials swallow their whistles on occasion, and let the players on the floor actually decide the outcome. The Heat were partially undone by the fact that Shaq couldn’t keep himself out of foul trouble, a problem that haunted Amare Stoudemire and the Golden State Warriors as well. I know this might seem like a crazy idea to the suits that run the NBA, but the outcomes of games and the playoff series should never be decided by those pudgy little guys with whistles.
Anything and everything must be done to insure that NBA fans aren’t subjected to another plodding San Antonio-Detroit Finals matchup. Just thinking about those games makes me want to channel my inner Doctor Cox and rattle off a list of things I would rather see happen than Spurs-Pistons: a nuclear war, a sequel to “Hope Floats”, Hugh Jackman winning an Oscar… I’ll stop there because hopefully you understand by now. In order to save the league he gets paid to run, it’s time for the commissioner to go back to his bag of tricks. The NBA playoffs are in dire need of a shot of adrenaline, so don’t be surprised if tomorrow night’s Oden/Durant draft lottery mysteriously ends in controversy.