May 29, 2009

No Conspiracy Here!

The age-old story of playoff fandom revolves around bellyaching about the officials. The NBA, more than any other professional sport, has been littered with "conspiracy theories," theories propagated by the fans of losing teams from smaller markets. These theories have been fueled by the reigning supremacy of large-market franchises from Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles. To small-market fans, how else would large-market teams from a salary cap sport sustain success while small-market teams have remained on the greatness-doormat roller coaster? The theories were further validated by the Donaghy scandal and the microscope placed on officials in recent years.

As a Laker fan, maybe I'm naive or biased. After all, the Lakers seem to be the center of most of these theories. In fact, I don't recall a big Lakers win that wasn't tainted by cries of conspiracy or biased officiating in the fan universe. Nevertheless, I'm downright annoyed by NBA fans and their conspiracy theories.

Without a doubt, NBA execs would love to see a Lebron-Kobe Finals matchup. Ratings would soar, and revenues would follow suit. Pitting the two best (and most marketable) players in a head-to-head matchup on the biggest stage would be fail-proof from a business standpoint. Everyone from Shanghai to Chattanooga would be tuning in to that matchup, and the NBA undoubtedly understands this. However, has anyone considered the possibility that the teams with the two best players in the universe have the best chance of winning?

If the outcomes of NBA games were truly influenced by Monty McCutcheon, Joey Crawford, and Dick Bavetta (as instructed by David Stern), the NBA would be more concerned with extending series. I'd think the best way to maximize revenue (and overall viewership) would be to add games. The NBA figured this out a long time ago when the season was extended to 82 games. So why, from this perspective, would the NBA and its officials allow the Cavaliers to breeze through first- and second-round sweeps? Why would the refs allow Kobe & Company to deliver a knock-out punch in Denver (even after all of George Karl's whining) and thereby eliminate a game seven in L.A.? Either the NBA is run by idiotic businessmen, or there is no conspiracy theory this season. I choose to believe the latter.

The Lakers came out and dominated Game Six. Needless to say, Officials are virtually incapable of directing a 27-point blowout, but let me list some of the facts. The Lakers shot 57% from the floor, 56% from three, and 100% from the line in game six. The Nuggets? 44%, 42%, and 80%, respectively. Absent shrinkening the circumference of the Nuggets' rims, the referees couldn't be blamed for these discrepancies. Maybe they affected the game through their whistles? I think not. Free throw attempts: Nuggets - 25, Lakers - 24.

Nugget fans, coaches, and players were enraged by the "horrendous" officiating in game five. Watching the game (even as a Laker fan), I thought these claims were unfounded and borderline paranoid. Just to do my due dilligence, I checked the box score on this one as well. The Lakers shot 49% in that game compared to the Nuggets' 39%. At a critical juncture in the second half, the Nuggets missed something like 16 of 17 shots. Again, the officials probably weren't to blame for that collapse. The Lakers shot 35 free throws to the Nuggets' 30. Not a huge discrepancy. Despite these tangible facts, the fans were still in an uproar and conspiracy theories were flowing.

Maybe kissing up to the refs would've been a better approach

If the Cavs make the NBA Finals, it won't be because the NBA "played God." It will be because the Magic (and every other team in the NBA for that matter) cannot defend Lebron James with any success. It will be because the Cavs put together an improbable comeback and put behind them three heartbreaking losses that could've gone either way. It will be because we have all witnessed the (soon-to-be) best player of this generation single-handedly leading an undermanned group of role players to an NBA Finals. It will not be because the NBA has subscribed to the doctrine of predestination and monkeyed with the outcome of games in order to boost ratings.

So let's all sit back and enjoy the greatness of Kobe & Lebron. Let's all enjoy the greatness of the 2009 NBA playoffs and the historically unparalleled skill level of today's players. Let's take the outcome of games at face value. After all, in the vast majority of cases, the best team wins.

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