There’s a lot of articles out there “debunking” popular NBA conspiracy theories. Some people believe David Stern was totally above board throughout his entire tenure. That he and his henchmen would never do anything shady.
Well, those people are idiots. Stern’s got more skeletons in the closet than the L.A. County Coroner. According to our sources, these three “conspiracies” are, for the most part, 100% true.
No 3: Michael Jordan Gambling Suspension
Anybody who knows Michael Jordan knows he would wager on a middle school soccer game if given decent odds. But most don’t know that in 1992, after winning his second title, Jordan was called to testify in the criminal trial of drug dealer James Bouler, who possessed a personal check from MJ for $57,000. His Airness first testified that the money was a business loan, but later admitted that he lost the cash to Bouler in a weekend of boozing and gambling.
More damning was the anecdote in San Diego businessman Richard Esquinas’ book Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction…My Cry For Help that claimed he won $900,000 off Jordan in a weekend of golf betting. Immediately after the Bulls won their third consecutive championship, the NBA began its investigation of MJ, and four months later, he abruptly retired from basketball.
In the press conference announcing his retirement, when asked whether he’d ever return, Jordan said, “Five years down the road, if the urge comes back, if the Bulls will have me, if David Stern will have me back in the league, I may come back.”
If David Stern will have me back in the league? WTF?
Nobody’s ever gone digging into the theory that Jordan (who also was allegedly betting on NBA games) agreed to a discreet deal with Stern to save his reputation and help the league avoid a massive scandal, but the idea that the game’s most tenacious competitor would retire in his prime after three straight titles has never made sense. Look at the sequence of events, Jordan’s word choice at the presser, and really dive into that era of Jordan’s life and his air of invincibility — you’ll walk away feeling like the “Jordan Gambling Suspension” is far more likely than a long lost desire to play baseball.
No 2: Draft Fixes
LeBron to Cleveland, Windy City native Derrick Rose to the Bulls when Chicago only had a 1.7% chance of the No. 1 pick, John Wall to the Wizards? The NBA’s been littered with draft fixing conspiracies over the past 30 years, and David Stern did himself zero favors when Jim Rome broached the subject and the commissioner responded like a petulant child hiding something from his mommy.
We can’t be sure about all of the draft fixing conspiracies over the years, but the Patrick Ewing 1985 NBA Draft (Stern’s first as commish, above) remains the one that I’m convinced happened. Stan Kasten, who was the Hawks GM in 1985, recalled sitting with a high-ranking team executive before the draft who told him, “He’s going to the Knicks. It’s all arranged.”
It was the first televised draft in league history, and the Indiana media quickly noted that the Knicks envelope had a bent corner. Others allege the New York envelope was put in a freezer before taping to make it easy for Stern to know which envelope to choose. The most damning detail? The “unbiased” firm selected to control the envelopes was Ernst & Whinney, the auditing company for Gulf & Western. Who’s Gulf & Western? The company that just happened to own the Knicks.
At the time, the NBA needed the Knicks to get Ewing. They were struggling, mightily, for relevance and ratings. Stern did what he had to do, and would do it again in a heartbeat.
1. Referees Manipulating Games
It was 2007 when a Gambino wiretap gave the NBA its biggest scandal ever: Tim Donaghy.
David Stern’s always been a brilliant manipulator of the media, but brushing the Donaghy scandal under the rug was true public relations mastery. Ever read Donaghy’s book where he alleges NBA “company men” Dick Bavetta and Bob Delaney fixed Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals to screw the Kings and hand the Lakers a Game 7? Of course you didn’t. The NBA nixed Donaghy’s deal with Triumph Books and Timmy’s words were confined to a small-time, ultimately corrupt publisher (the disgraced ref later sued, and won a $1.2 million settlement, of which he’ll never see a cent).
The media never gave the public insight into Donaghy’s allegations because basketball writers couldn’t risk killing the Golden Goose. Printing a story that said, “hey, I watched Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, and there was definitely something fishy going on,” is a great way to get your press pass revoked and make your job disappear.
Donaghy’s allegations were never taken seriously, but if you listen to what he says about the league, and watch the tape, it becomes clear: NBA conspiracies aren’t “conspiracies” after all.