Of all professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has the sketchiest history. Rumors have swirled about fixed games, biased referees and perhaps even biased commissioners. The NBA is like Cutter’s famous line from the movie The Prestige. (Yes, I just compared professional basketball to a movie about magicians.) Cutter said, “Now you’re looking for the secret, but you won’t find it of course, because you’re not really looking. You don’t really want it to work out. You want to be fooled.”
Here are the moments in NBA history, where America wanted to be fooled, where the NBA may have transgressed into staged sporting events.
7. 2006 NBA Finals
Suspicion peaked at the end of the series when Dwayne Wade shot 20 free throws in each of the final two games of the series. His 97 total free throws in the six game series set a post-merger NBA Finals record. Wade recognized the favorable calls and took advantage by regularly driving to the basket. Marc Cuban wasn’t thrilled about the series – to say the least – but he likely took satisfaction by getting revenge in the 2011 Finals and depriving the Heat’s big 3 of their first Championship.
6. Jordan’s last shot as a Bull in 1998 Finals
It was a foul. On Jordan. No argument.
No matter how perfect or poetic it was that MJ’s final shot with the Bulls won a championship, MJ definitely gave Bryon Russell a nice little push on the butt.
5. If you can’t make it, flop it
The Heat had just lost the 2011 series to the Mavs, as mentioned, and they were determined to win in 2012. So they started flopping.
The 2012 Knicks-Heat first-round playoff series was so bad that it was likely the reason the NBA rules changed its rules on flopping. At the end of the first half in Game 1, the free throw ratio was 28-5. Bill Simmons tweeted that he doesn’t “watch rigged games.” The Heat could have won this series on talent alone. They didn’t need help from the NBA. Still, Lebron got a bit theatrical. Of course, twitter had something to say about it. “And the Oscar goes to” was trending.
4. Dirtbag Tim Donaghy
His indictment tarnished Basketball’s reputation like Ray Lewis tarnished the Ravens’. But don’t worry, we’re back to loving the NBA Playoffs and Ray Lewis is on ESPN. Funny how that works. (For those who don’t know, Donaghy admitted influencing the outcomes of games according to gambling lines.)
Atop Donaghy’s shinning moments was his officiating job of Game 3 in the 2007 western conference finals. He suspended Suns forward Amare Stoudemire for stepping off the bench during a scuffle. Stoudemire didn’t push or shove anyone. He didn’t mouth off. He just took one step off the bench. Donaghy also made a patented midcourt, two-seconds-late call for a play under the basket. There was a referee under the basket who did not blow his whistle.
3. The Phantom Foul
There have been a lot of these. But this one earned its name. Down two points in Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals, Lakers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shot his iconic skyhook but missed. Bill Laimbeer had defended Abdul-Jabbars undefendable shot and the Pistons won! NOT. The referees called a foul on Laimbeer and Abdul-Jabber went to the line and scored both his free throws. It may have been the most influential botched call in NBA history, and it seemed to be affected by a bias toward the lovable Abdul Jabbar and against the deplorable Laimbeer.
2. You bent the card!
It’s no coincidence Knicks GM had the Patrick Ewing Knicks jersey premade for the 1985 NBA Lottery. It wasn’t like today’s draft where they can easily put the jersey together. This lottery almost certainly, without doubt (maybe) was fixed… right?
David Stern picks a particular envelope and then sets it aside saying, “The logo in this envelope will get the first pick” but in his head’s probably saying, “Knicks just got the pick.” Then he grabs another card, which turns out to be the Pacers’ and reads it that one. Why would he pick a card, then set it aside? Because he knew what was in it and wanted to ensure the fix didn’t fail. It was, no doubt, one of the most questionable moments in NBA history where things seemed too perfect.
1. Game 6, 2002 western conference finals Kings vs. Fakers
The Lakers have been involved in too many questionable games and series. There was the comeback in Game 7 of the 2000 western conference finals. Having the number three play on this list doesn’t help their cause either. Some even think there was foul play involved in the 2010 series.
But dirtbag Tim Donaghy has confirmed that this game was rigged, so I guess we can trust him. Up 3-2 going into Game 6, this was the Kings series to win. The Lakers had knocked the Kings out of the playoffs the previous two years, but this year the Kings roster was deeper and more talented. The Kings held the Lakers without a field goal from 6:51 to :52 in the fourth quarter, but only because the Lakers amassed 27 fourth quarter free throws. Kobe Bryant got away with nearly Mike Bibby’s nose, which of course went uncalled, and the Lakers won game 7 and got their threepeat.