There have been conspiracy theories regarding the NBA for many, many years. Michael Jordan was actually serving a two year gambling suspension, crooked refereeing in numerous big games (2002 Lakers/Kings Game 6, 2006 Mavs/Heat, and 2011 Celtics/Heat, etc.), and Tim Donaghy's claims are just a few. But the most time-honored NBA conspiracy is the notion that Ernst Stern Blofeld and the NBA fix the draft lottery like it's a Russian presidential election. (Mikhail Prokhorov endorses that joke on two fronts now.)
It's rather easy to picture Stern in his office stroking his white cat and pulling all the strings on what happens in the league, and given the secrecy of the lottery, it's all too easy to put together. This goes all the way back to the first draft lottery in 1985 when Patrick Ewing went to the New York Knicks and continues to today, the day after the league-owned New Orleans Hornets won the lottery and the right to select Kentucky's Anthony Davis.
Is the NBA fixed? It's highly unlikely. There are even articles from media members in the room when the ping pong balls are spit out. But that's not the point. The point is that an incredible 57% of people in a USA Today poll believe the lottery was fixed. Only 17% said no while 27% replied "Don't know, but I could believe it."
Let that sink in, 83% of people believe the draft lottery is fixed or may be fixed.
(That doesn't even begin to scrape the surface of officiating conspiracy theories and another bad call going against the Celtics last night in favor of the ratings grabbing Miami Heat. Bill Simmons is a Celtics homer, but he did write the book of basketball. You can write off his rants as a bitter fan, but when he starts tweeting things like this and doing the math on LeBron's insanely low foul totals, it's going to bring more people over to conspiracy theories.
Having perhaps the highest profile NBA author/fan doing this on his Twitter page is terrible for the league.)
But that's not all, you have Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, one of the most respected NBA writers in the country, getting quotes from team executives and writing about their questions regarding the lottery:
"It's such a joke that the league made the new owners be at the lottery for the show," one high-ranking team executive told Yahoo! Sports. "The league still owns the Hornets. Ask their front office if new owners can make a trade right now. They can't. This is a joke."
The reaction of several league executives was part disgust, part resignation on Wednesday night. So many had predicted this happening, so many suspected that somehow, someway, the Hornets would walk away with Davis. That's the worst part for the NBA; these aren't the railings from the guy sitting at the corner tavern, but the belief of those working within the machinery that something undue happened here, that they suspect it happens all the time under Stern.
After all, if David Stern can cancel a trade by the league-owned Hornets with the Lakers due to "basketball reasons" he can surely rig a few ping pong balls to bounce the right way with the same logic. The Hornets need a star player to rebuild the team around under new owner Tom Benson and Anthony Davis is just the piece needed to secure the commitment to the franchise and the city. And, just by happenstance, the ping pong balls fell their way last night.
Now, the NBA could fix this ginormous image problem and televise the actual draft lottery live, but instead they choose to have Stern's deputy unveil the picks out of sealed envelopes... because nothing says transparency like a stack of sealed envelopes. They choose to do and say nothing about their chronic refeering problem and questions about legitimacy. Instead of being proactive to show the world their league isn't as staged as professional wrestling, Stern and the NBA higher ups retreat into their lair and imagine nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark.
For the NBA, perception is reality. And, the growing perception of the league is that it is fixed, perhaps moreso now than ever.