Perception becomes reality with the NBA

Dwyane Wade, seen here not even bothering to take a realistic shot because he knows he's going to get bailed out.

A recent USA Today poll asking if the NBA draft lottery had been fixed found that 82% of responders either felt it was for certain (54%) or that it could have been (28%). It's an alarming statistic that reflects the obvious distrust in David Stern, who happened to be in charge of the team that just won the overall No. 1 pick -- the same franchise that was headed to years of ineptitude, years where Stern would be viewed as the primary offender thanks to his universally-panned veto of the Chris Paul trade.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Yes, there is an obvious conflict of interest with the New Orleans Hornets that lends itself to conspiracy talk. However, no basketball conspiracy could thrive unless people felt the games themselves were being manipulated, and this is where the NBA has a nearly catastrophic flaw. What happened in Game 2 of the Heat-Celtics series was far more egregious and has way more to do with people doubting the sincerity of the NBA than the Hornets landing Anthony Davis. The Heat went to the line so many times on so many questionable calls, much as they did in the 2006 NBA finals against Dallas, that it's only natural for a casual fan to come away thinking the games are either rigged or positioned to be rigged.

This is because so many of the fouls on the Celtics simply weren't fouls. The same way that the NFL is legislating away defense so scores can get higher, the NBA has neutered defenses to the point that a defender literally can't stand his ground without being called for a foul. And without the benefit of hand-checking, there's no practical way anymore to guard a Dwyane Wade or Manu Ginobili as they charge into the lane.

Wade in particular has become the master of the transition foul, borrowing traits from the great Reggie Miller. No one in the NBA better exploits the ridiculous preferential treatment that's been granted to offensive players over the last few years. When an offensive player moves into a defensive player, and the defensive player's feet are moving, it's technically a blocking foul -- even though the defender should have the right to stand his ground. And so whenever Wade gets in the lane, he charges into the defender, flails his arms and legs to create contact, and then throws the ball at the rim at the off chance it could go in. The only way for a defender to play him is to either be perfectly still -- which has its obvious flaws -- or to simply get out of the way. It's more or less impossible to challenge someone like Wade when he makes up his mind that he wants to drive. Hell, Wade even karate-kicked Kevin Garnett at one point, and still managed to get a foul on Garnett.

Is the NBA rigged? No. The funny thing with conspiracy theorists is that they never consider the impractical logistics of conspiracies. The same people who think George W. Bush masterminded 9/11 simultaneously acknowledge him to be completely inept at doing anything, which is a paradox few of them ever address. Likewise, those who think the NBA is biased need to consider that since Michael Jordan retired, the San Antonio Spurs have won four titles and the New York Knicks have become a laughingstock. If the NBA is run behind a secret curtain, they're the worst manipulators in conspiratorial history.

Still, that doesn't change the fact that there's an enormous flaw regarding the favoritism to offensive players. It makes people think there's a favoritism to star players, and then a favoritism to certain teams, maybe big market teams. These conspiracies would just die if it seemed like the officiating was on the up and up, but the Heat took 18 more free-throws in Game 2 despite shooting ten more three's and pulling down the same number of rebounds. So long as D-Wade can kick Kevin Garnett in the nuts and manage to draw a foul, there'd be conspiracy theories even if the Hornets hadn't won the lottery. The fact that they did is just icing on the cake.

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