January 5, 2010

Is the NBA rigged?

I got Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball for Christmas. If you read the countless footnotes, it has lots of interesting stuff: who's gay, which superstars were on cocaine in the 1970s-80s (although which weren't probably would have been a more concise list), and how Simmons' American-Born All-Time All White team (starters: Bill Walton, Larry Bird, Rick Barry, Jerry West, and John Stockton), chosen at Malcolm Gladwell's request, would do against his All-Time All Black team (starters Bill Russell, Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson):
The blacks might be too loaded: I can't imagine Kobe-Oscar-Kareem coming off the bench. ... Check out the Whites again. Barry is the only prick on the team. Their passing skills would have been off the charts. ... For a 7 game series, the blacks would be a -400 favorite because of the hypercompetitive Russell-Jordan-Magic trio. But you know what? I'd bet on the whites at +350 if only because of the odds. You don't know how much this kills Jabaal Abdul-Simmons [his name for his black alter ego]. Footnote 86 on p. 537

I suspect Simmons' Boston Celtics bias is getting the better of him here: his [American] All-Time All-White team has six Celtics out of ten players: Bird, Walton (1986 Celtics), John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Kevin McHale, and Bob Cousy. (Pete Maravich was the 10th man.) Much of Simmons' enthusiasm for his All White team comes from the "unstopability" of his second string center, McHale, who only twice started over 70 games in a season (while Walton never started more than 65). His white big men were exquisite, but exquisite doesn't last long in the NBA. Plus, the only white guy in history who would have had a chance at keeping Jordan from scoring at will was the young Bobby Jones.

Simmons also picks out an All Foreigner team with starters Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and Drazen Petrovic. I think the really interesting figure there is Arvydas Sabonis, the 7'-3" Lithuanian who didn't get to the NBA until he was 30, but who in winning the 1988 Olympic gold medal looked like Bill Walton, if only Walton were bigger and had a deadly outside jumper.

But, on p. 345, slightly less than halfway through this immense book, Simmons writes in Footnote 98, in reference to a bad call in favor of the New York Knicks in the 1994 playoffs:
98. A shady call and more evidence that the NBA was determined to get New York in the '94 Finals. Let's just say that from 1993 to 2006, the NBA may have dabbled in pro wrestling tactics a little. I tried to sweep it under the rug in this book because that's what people do when they're in love with someone: they lie for them. And I love the NBA.

That's not much, but at least that's more than Bill James put into his 1000-page Baseball Historical Abstract of 2001 about steroids.

How plausible is Simmons' implication? Imprisoned NBA ref Tim Donaghy claims he made a bundle off betting using his knowledge of other ref's biases and David Stern's directives. (He claims he didn't fix games he bet on himself, but that sounds dubious.)

On the other hand, considering that San Antonio, a minor league TV market, has won four NBA titles over the last dozen years, it can't be completely rigged.

What else can be rigged besides refereeing? Trades? The Los Angeles Lakers always seem to come up with crucial players out of trades (while the Los Angeles Clippers never do).

How does the NBA compare for honesty to the NFL, MLB, and the NHL?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

81 comments:

Anonymous said...

What about Maravich?

Steve Sailer said...

Maravich is on the bench for Simmons.

Anonymous said...

Is his All-White team just native-born American Whites?

I would imagine including European Whites would change the hypothetical significantly.

Pareene said...

What's the chance that white, emasculated, obese, jock-sniffing, black male worshipping, corn syrup swilling, and corn starch gorging sports fans will finally turn the TV off, get up from the couch, and wake up? When will they finally realize that guys like David Stern have rigged things a lot more consequential than the NBA?

Anonymous said...

A few seasons ago there was a jackass movement to get a marginal player, Rory Fitzpatrick, voted into the NHL All-Star game via fan voting. It looked like he had enough votes to make it but the league ended up announcing someone else won the last spot. Some seamheads ran the numbers and there appears to be little doubt to them that the NHL jigged the numbers in the end. A small scam, to be sure, but if they'd lie about something that trivial, you wonder what other kinds of shenanigans there are going on. Slate, rather anomalously for a homosexual publication, did an in-depth analysis:

The NHL's All-Star voting disaster: a Slate investigation.

http://www.slate.com/id/2157741/

Speaking of whom (not who), Homo Larry:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yuypb-L4jx0

rightsaidfred said...

It is harder to rig team sports than individual competitions. Television and instant replay have further eroded the fixer's ability.

Edicts from the central office sway the game in certain directions: keeping umpires with a big strike zone favors pitchers. Michael Jordan benefited in an era when rules and policies favored the aggrandizement of superstars. Wilt Chamberlain, on the other hand, competed in a regime much more geared to tamping down the superstar and equalizing the field.

Kyle Eliason said...

James' Baseball Abstract was first published in 1986. The boom in home runs hadn't quite started yet (link). The spike in 1987 is generally attributed to Rawlings moving their baseball manufacturing from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and the tighter wound balls that resulted.

Dan said...

What are the odds the Patrick Ewing WOULD be drafted first by the Knicks and Lebron James WOULD be drafted first by the Cavs?

The good player moves by the Lakers and recently by the Celtics can be credited to good management who was willing and ready to pounce when a good deal came their way. But the luck of the lottery ball yielding the "best" result for the NBA marketing chiefs in at least two cases makes one wonder.

Dahinda said...

I made money during the Michael Jordan era by betting against Chicago in the championship until the last two games then I would bet on Chicago. To me it seemed like the championship series were dragged out to get the most drama out of it. Also just because San Antonio is a small market does not mean the team doesn't have fans elsewhere. In football, I know just as many Dallas Cowboy, Green Bay Packer, and NE Patriots fans in Chicago as I do Bears fans.

Anonymous said...

You could probably establish this statistically.

For example: see to what extent the referee is a predictor of the outcome, if you can get that metadata on each game.

Questions to answer:

* Is a given referee biased against a particular team or player, in that they call more fouls against them (or on the other side) than all referees?


* The binary victory response is predicted by a number of variables, including shooting percentage, shots on goal, steals, rebounds, etc. To what extent does the "number of fouls called" variable impact this regression? To what extent did this increase or decrease in the 1994 finals, and was the alteration in this column dispositive (i.e. outcome determining)?

Anonymous said...

Pareene,

Well said! You forgot to mention that they also need to:

Turn their hats around
Pull up their pants
Lose the earring
Quit getting (and remove) tattoos
Sell the Harley....

And be MEN.

OneSTDV said...

As for conspiracy theories, Simmons has for years half-jokingly advocated the idea that David Stern suspended Jordan for gambling when he went on his baseball hiatus.

Somewhat related: I love Simmons Reggie Celevand All-Stars (white guys with black sounding names). Simmons can unforuantely be quite leftist sometimes, as evidenced by his connection to Gladwell. Last week, his article contained a review of Invictus with the predictable fawning over Mandela. Nonetheless, he's still one of the favorite writers. Incredibly funny.

JW Ogden said...

Bill Russel only 6'10 skinny and not a good shooter may not make the NBA if you brought him forward at 22 years old to today.

Anonymous said...

The NBA in the David Stern era is just completely fraudulent.

[And these days, NCAA hoops are not all that far behind.]


What else can be rigged besides refereeing? Trades?

Ahem...

.

Aaron said...

You mean he doesn't talk about the bent envelope that sent Ewing to the Knicks in 1985? I'd think that would be exhibit A in any discussion of pro-NYC NBA rigging.

David said...

Pareen, the potatoes feel Stern is one of them (just richer) and that they are thus in control and never were anything else. And once Hussein's one term is done, they feel they will simply put Palin in office and some more beer in the fridge and all will be cool again. Until their boys are killed in Yemen. Then they'll simply sing a Lee Greenwood song at a July Fourth assembly and everyone there will have a good cry. The average sports fan likes to play with conspiracy theories a little, but at the end of the day, he's on the couch watching the game...eyes glued to the flickering box.

John Seiler said...

I'm not much of a basketball fan, but living out here in Southern California for 22 years, it's clear the Clippers are just one of those perenially bad teams, like the Detroit Lions under Bill Ford or the Kansas City A's of the 1950s and 60s. Even Charley Finley couldn't win with the A's until he moved them to Oakland.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, considering that San Antonio, a minor league TV market, has won four NBA titles over the last dozen years, it can't be completely rigged.


GAME TWO: Bruce Bowen Knees Steve Nash

GAME THREE: Did Tim Donaghy and crew fixed game 3 of Suns-Spurs?

GAME FOUR: Robert Horry checks Steve Nash HARD


And you wonder why basketball fans hate David Stern's NBA [and the San Antonio Spurs].

Anonymous said...

Donaghy's claims are BS
The Vegas sportsbooks are run by quants. If there was a consistent bias against specific players or teams, the books would begin to notice and adjust their spreads accordingly. I follow the lines and they are adjusted if the books realize that a team is doing better or worse than experts expected. I have a spreadsheet that contains spreads on all of the NBA games this year and can back my claims up with numbers. The adjustment of lines on four teams illustrate this point - San Antonio (Ok against average or medicore teams, worse than expected especially against elite teams), Oklahoma City (very good at home, bad on the road against elite teams), Houston (injuries to their two stars but perform very well at home and better than expected on the road), Cleveland (performed worse than expected at beginning of season, playing as well as expected currently).

If Donaghy was able to correctly choose the spread on 70-80% of the games, then there was straight fixing going on. I dont believe him.

burger flipper said...

Tim Donaghy is almost certainly lying about the basis of his success being an understanding of refs' tendencies and not knowledge of fixes.

In his book he claims one ref (I think Bavetta) is well known for keeping games close. If one team pulls ahead, he calls fouls on them.

Yet an analysis of his games reveals nothing of the sort. He presided over a slightly above average number of blow outs and the point differentials in his games are almost exactly the league average. (Sorry, I don't have the pointer on this)

If Donaghy truly had the 75-80% success rate he claims (and the FBI seems to back this claim) it almost certainly is not from a knowledge or ref's tendencies, it is from knowledge that they were going to skew games (more likely for their own betting than for the league.)

Lost Pilgrim said...

I am not sure if the NBA is rigged. Of course there are billions of dollars in endorsements involved and there are few institutions that can withstand that kind of payola corruption.

I would not be surprised if the NBA were rigged. Billions of dollars in advertising. Hundreds of billions in illegal gambling. Pro sports players are not known for their high moral standards and I would be surprised if the reffing was that much different.

There could be another factor at work here as well. In a study of old fencing matches I found that the masters often got 'honor touches'. As in many sports, those with a solid reputation and the respect of the officials often got 'touches' on their opponents when it was a toss up. I saw Jordan trip once during a play off (nobody within six feet of him) and they called it a foul. Of course, Michael Jordan was not a mere mortal and incapable of simply tripping. It had to be the closest opposing team members fault.

Anonymous said...

Pareene? Why no more Middletown Girl? (It's okay, I'm also a name-changer.)

albertosaurus said...

Like so many issues in life there is a movie that illustrates your point. Consider Gladiator.

When the gladiators are about to face the chariots in the Coliseum, Russel Crowe makes a little speech about teamwork. That's a very white thing for him to do.

The last great mostly white basketball team was the Boston Celtics in the late fifties. They ran plays. Or to cite another movie - Gene Hackman in Hoosiers.

I could invent a sport that favored whites but currently basketball rules favor blacks. Team work just isn't as interesting to watch as individual achievement - see any Sylvester Stalone movie.

Anonymous said...

In answer to your question, I'd suggest that people go back and watch the 1998 NBA Finals.

Not only did Utah (the league's smallest market; though one could ask how and why they made two Finals if that was an issue, I think it's fair to say that the NBA didn't mind having the Washington Generals out there as long as Jordan, AKA basketball Jesus, always overcame) seem to have ridiculous calls and no-calls go against them in the last few minutes of every game (except game 3, which was an historic blowout) but, for those who could read defensive spacing, there's no doubt that Chicago instituted an egregiously blatant zone defense.

Now, in the 90s the NBA standard for zone defense was simple: it was illegal.

Yet the Bulls ran it throughout and were never whistled for it (outside the obligatory 1-2 times per game, if that).

Utah's system was predicated on the assumption that passing lanes would be there that, simply, weren't against Chicago's defensive scheme (if I remember, it appeared to be a transmogrified 2-3).

Their turnover rate was atrociously out of character in that series, and the ability to take away spacing for Utah's shooters left their offense a mess, with only Malone having respectable numbers for the series.

Another prime example would be the 2002 WCF, which even prompted outcry from Ralph Nader on behalf of ripped off consumers.

That series was a prime example of the NBA, at the very least, extending a series through bad officiating.

Game 6 should be legendary for its one-sided refereeing. Something tells me this game won't be appearing on any classic sports compilations.

As far as the NBA in the Nash era (no player better exemplifies what Stern has manipulated), it seems they learned their lesson from the cult of personality of the Jordan period: instead of having an implacable, unbeatable and, most of all, untouchable star of stars, have maybe 5-10 players put on this plateau by forcing in rule changes that favor David over Goliath.

How was this done? Take away any notion of physical defense, i.e. the new hand-checking rules.

Mix that with uptempo play as opposed to the "boring" grind it out style of the 90s, and this is how a 30 year old midlevel All-Star becomes a two-time MVP in a transformation more ridiculous than Barry Bonds' career trajectory.

In the 90s there was ONE team that had to win while the Chosen One was at his peak. Today I'd say the NBA probably has something similar to a Hollywood casting list.

Spread it around a bit and, even while being omnipresent, it becomes less obvious.

The rule book changes themselves point to what was going on with Michael, giving us a league that actively promotes soft play and superstar calls.

But more than that, we can see the Stern's hand in the way true big men are almost extinct, and nearly every game now looks bizarrely and depressingly like a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Jordan's legacy.

Anonymous said...

Is Wilt Chamberlain on the black team? He's arguably the greatest athlete/physical specimen to play center in the NBA: A legit barefoot 7'1" (not a 7'1" in his basketball shoes like O'Neal) that filled out to a lean 310 lbs. (he was about 275 when he began his career) who had speed (47 flat 400m in high school), hops (6'10" high jump using the barrel roll), and strength (he use to do high rep sets of bicep curls using 110 lb. dumbells despite having a terrible leverage disadvantage due to his long arms). I'd take him before O'Neal, Abdul Jabar, Robinson, Olojawan, or Russel any day.

jody said...

yes, some NBA playoff games were fixed. i don't know if they still are fixed after the referee arrest though. the league is hyper-sensitive to even the appearance of worked playoff games.

you know, when i started to watch seriously, i had other people tell me that they were losing interest because they thought some of the playoff games were fixed. i dismissed this idea out of hand.

until i had been watching for 10 years. then it was obvious.

the NBA is also the most difficult sport to officiate, so you have to give the referee some allowances for mistakes.

the NHL is probably handled the best, followed by the NFL. they both get the calls correct most of the time, then go back and use video to make sure they got it right. occassionally an NFL official gets a call wrong, and by rule, they cannot go back and make the correct call. once the call happens, it happened and that's it.

MLB is somewhere in the middle.

high level soccer, anywhere, is by far the worst. the players are weak wimps, and the game moves at high speed, so without video, it's hard to tell when they flopped and when they actually got hit. the players almost never actually take a direct, deliberate foul anyway, yet they fall over a dozen times a game.

basketball players and soccer players flop all the time, ice hockey players rarely.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, considering that San Antonio, a minor league TV market, has won four NBA titles over the last dozen years, it can't be completely rigged.

If games have been levered (and hundreds of them surely have been) for purely economic reasons, it's with longer-term "international" considerations in mind. The Duncan/Ginobili/Parker Spurs were the world's team (until the world saw them play and turned away), and Stern is recklessly obsessed with globalizing the NBA, at ridiculous expense, including the alienation of its American fans.

If Stern were Economic Man, there'd be no WNBA. Yet there is. The league is made in his self-image, not to maximize profit.

His personal pettiness seems to have been the controlling factor in the riggings of the '00s. For example, no matter how good the Kings or Mavericks were (and they fielded the best and/or second-best teams for most of the decade), they weren't going to win any titles, because Stern was disgusted by their owners' new-big-money vulgarity.

I finally stopped watching the league during the Mavericks/Heat finals. I realized I was only waiting for the fix to come in, betting myself when and how it would go down, and after it happened, I was ashamed of myself.

jody said...

by the way, i can write quite a lot about this stuff. i follow the NBA as closely as simmons. i also deliberately avoided that last NFL thread. i could easily write 4 or 5 quality pages off the top of my head there.

i just don't want to ruin steve's sports threads. i'm sure lots of regulars hate me by now. barging in, acting like a know-it-all, cluttering up threads with long posts. "Oh god, another Jody post. TL/DNR."

anyway, i went to a sports science talk that the carolina panther's strength trainer gave last month. would be interested in discussing some of his findings.

DCThrowback said...

Pareene - thanks for sucking the raw emotion and fun out of the question. Boo.

To the original question, I am no believer in conspiracies and I definitely think that no sport has had the wherewithal all to fix things. But even my beloved NHL has had charges thrown against it: See the 2005 post-lockout lottery for rights to pick first in a draft that the first pick overall pick was going to be Sidney Crosby. (I won't get into my beloved Buffalo Sabres losing in 3OT to the Dallas Stars on a skate in the crease in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup playoffs or our loss in 2000 playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers on a goal that went through a hole in the side of the net). All of those things could've happened honestly. But the appearance of impropriety and the lure of greater commercial dollars will also cause theories of "rig-o-witz" from my friends and I. (Besides, being a Buffalo fan lends one to more paranoia/inferiority than usual.) Recall Gary Bettman, the NHL Commish, came over from the NBA. He worked for David Stern for years (was his 3rd in command).

Being led by such a dynamic "handler" as David Stern leads to the "fixing" charge in the NBA more than in the NFL (Rozelle and Tagliabue - who appeared to really believe in competitive balance - which led the NFL to becoming the greatest sport in the world) or the MLB (Bud Selig, generally seen as imcompentent boob). The NBA also has the the thinnest profit margins for its teams - and reading Simmons columns this year (NBA = No Benjamins Association) indicate that at least 7-8 franchises are in dire straits. Stern has been accused of manipulating the league many times over, from the Knicks getting the "frozen" envelope in the 1985 draft lottery (it's on youtube!) to the Michael Jordan "Take 18 months off because we found out you were in hock to some bad gamblers" story. Simmons touches on all that in the book. But the bottom line is that Stern is the caretaker, owner and lover of the NBA - and, as we've seen with the Gilbert Arenas story (http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=aw-arenaswizards010310&prov=yhoo&type=lgns), someone good needs to "manage" all the "complex personalities" (ahem!) that make it up. Just look back to the NBA lockout when Stern pwned the player's union and got them to accept a salary cap (the stories about players wanting to settle were legendary - as it turned out, many millionaire athletes still lived paycheck to paycheck). Call him the fixer if you will, but in today's professional sports landscape, he's the most powerful commissioner for a pretty good reason - he has to be to keep the NBA running. The NBA doesn't have the popularity of the NFL, the die-hard fandom of the NHL or the tradition and history of MLB in my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...

Some of the calls in the Jazz-Bulls finals looked like something was rigged. Karl Malone got in trouble for saying that.

DCThrowback said...

@burger flipper

Henry Abbott of the ESPN True Hoop blog published all the data you cite. He's spot on. Donaghy's claims don't hold up to scrutiny. (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=4722989).

@lost pilgrim
Gambling would make the sport more honest. In fact, supporting my conjecture that the NBA is living closest on the margins, this story recently came out about David Stern being receptive to opening the NBA up to legalized gambling. Smart move! Gambling and higher ratings have always been tied together. The NFL point spread is discussed by all serious fans and adds to the league popularity despite the league's denial that it doesn't mean anything. Stern is just accepting the obvious. No one has ever accused him of being stupid.
(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/ian_thomsen/12/11/weekly.countdown/index.html)

MQ said...

Russel Crowe makes a little speech about teamwork. That's a very white thing for him to do. The last great mostly white basketball team was the Boston Celtics in the late fifties. They ran plays.

This kind of stuff is a certain indicator of someone who doesn't actually watch the modern NBA, where teamwork is critical. Plays are run, but they are looser because the calibre of athletes would totally destroy the kind of rote, predictable 1950s/old-guys-at-the-YMCA type plays that the racial nostalgists yearn for.

The bottom line is that basketball is a fluid, improvisational sport that does not lend itself to coach-led hierarchical regimentation like American football. It's similar to soccer and rugby in that sense -- you can have strategies and drill your team in specific types of tactics, but the on-field action is so fast and improvisational that the each player needs to react in real time.

In a study of old fencing matches I found that the masters often got 'honor touches'. As in many sports, those with a solid reputation and the respect of the officials often got 'touches' on their opponents when it was a toss up.

this is a huge, huge thing in basketball because the foul calls are so subjective -- there are ten big bodies in a pretty small space and lots of physical contact. It's obvious with Jordan but happens up and down the league -- the respected midrank veteran gets the call agains the rookie. It slides easily into the appearance of a "fix".

I've always thought basketball could be improved by making it four on four. The court dimensions date from a time when people were smaller and slower. Fewer bodies, more open space, fouls would be clearer, quick smaller players could avoid contact more easily.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Not too long ago on ESPN Classic, I watched a Walton vs. Jabbar matchup where Bill Walton absolutely embarrassed Jabbar. I'm pretty sure it was in the 1977 Western Conference Finals, w/ Walton in Portland and Jabbar in LA. At least in the particular game, Walton was far and away better than Jabbar. I can't find the series stats, and the playoff totals here are not terribly useful..

It looks like the subsequent NBA Finals b/n Portland and Philly had some awesome talent, too.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

I finally stopped watching the league during the Mavericks/Heat finals.

Yep, this was the straw that broke the camel's back for me, too. Now, I just watch the NBA (particularly the playoffs) to have yet another good excuse to sit, drink, bitch, and complain.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember a Lithuanian team full of white guys beating our predominately black olympic team a few years back.

Its not impossible. If zones were allowed by rules, whereby shooting and "running plays" were more emphasized rather than one-on-one ability, you'd probably see more white guys in the NBA who were pure-shooters or screen-functionaries like Kurt Rambis pretty much was.


Football is where most would-be sports fans have alloted their interest these days. Following all three major sports is too much of a time-suck unless one is a dedicated couch potato.

Anonymous said...

Donaghy's claims are BS
The Vegas sportsbooks are run by quants. If there was a consistent bias against specific players or teams, the books would begin to notice and adjust their spreads accordingly.


Didn't we hear the exact same thing about Wall Street and the economy all throughout this past decade before the financial crash?

How Wall St was run by all these rocket scientist quants who were pricing everything into their fancy risk models and that everything was rosy and that there was no funny business and manipulation going on by the higher ups lording over the quant nerds.

How'd that turn out?

Anonymous said...

This kind of stuff is a certain indicator of someone who doesn't actually watch the modern NBA, where teamwork is critical. Plays are run, but they are looser because the calibre of athletes would totally destroy the kind of rote, predictable 1950s/old-guys-at-the-YMCA type plays that the racial nostalgists yearn for.

Even though I prefer watching the more team based play of college ball, I agree that it's less suitable for the NBA. Plays are formalized methods for moving the ball around and getting non or weakly defended shots off. In college you typically have only one or two outstanding athletes that can create non or weakly defended shots off regularly. The rest are skilled and disciplined players who need formal methods to score effectively, especially against a zone defense. Plays are much less suitable for the NBA where each player is a pretty good athlete at minimum and can create their own shots more or less and are very effective at hitting mid-range open shots regularly.

Anonymous said...

In the 60s/70s there were players who would smoke cigarettes during halftime.

Whiskey said...

FWIW, the NFL has TV contracts worth about 4 billion a year. The NBA about 1 billion.

So, the NFL having about 30% White players, and lack of fixing (very hard to do with instant replay, and coaching / player equality), is worth about 3 billion dollars more in TV revenue than the NBA, despite the latter's far more extensive TV schedule and games.

Mr Lomez said...

There's a difference between openly changing the rules in order to maximize fan-interest (profit), and rigging. Rigging implies fraud.

Yes, Stern has pushed for rule changes that promote a certain style of play and player. These changes have ushered in a more "European" style of basketball––i.e, more scoring, less defense––as well as rejuvenate the career of Steve Nash, a charismatic, white, English speaker. For obvious reasons, the success of Nash has been a tremendous boon to the NBA. These changes are blatant, and to some, irksome, but where does the "rigging" fit in?

I count 4 events that MAY have been influenced from above:

Heat/Mavs Final
Kings/Lakers WCF
Gasol to the Lakers
Garnett to the Celtics

What else is there from the last decade? Just curious to know what other people can come up with.

MQ said...

In answer to your question, I'd suggest that people go back and watch the 1998 NBA Finals.

This anonymous post above was excellent, never seen that Finals dissected so well.

The most egregiously awful examples of NBA "rigged" games I can recall, all of which were mentioned above, were the '98 finals, the '02 Kings-Lakers western conference finals, and the '06 finals. Somebody said after that one that he would have shaken hands with Wade, but the refs would call it a foul. Those truly were depressing and turned me off the sport for a bit in each case.

I have to say, the new rules changes highlight the artificiality and delicacy of basketball -- it's just so highly dependent on subtle rules about what kinds of things are permitted. But at the same time I have to say I enjoy watching the game more today, those foul-fests in the late 90s were ugly as sin.

I do hate seeing "superstar" perimeter players deliberately fling themselves into their opponents and get the call. Kobe Bryant gets some of the most egregious favoritism that way. He lobbies the refs relentlessly after every play too.

ashland said...

"Is Wilt Chamberlain on the black team? He's arguably the greatest athlete/physical specimen to play center in the NBA."

Wilt was indeed great but his stats would have been far less impressive had he played the game in the 70s and 80s when there were far more blacks. Wilt played against a lot of slow white teams and thus could score 100 pts a game. If any mediocre black guy played on a Chinese team against other Chinese teams, he would score 100 pts a game too.

Anonymous said...

People like Whiskey make too big a deal about race being the cause of the popularity disparity between the NFL/MLB and the NBA. Pro or College Basketball, even when it was all white (until late 50s), never approached the popularity of those sports. White NBA superstars of that era - Cousy/Mikan, etc, have nowhere the recognition in the popular imagination that people like Mantle, Gehrich, Ruth, Frank Gifford, and Bart Starr possess. It wasn't until the integrated era that basketball became a sport with a national following. Bird was as big a star as he was, because he was a dominant white superstar in the black era.

To the other anonymous who criticized my statement that lines at sportsbooks are set by quants - your analogy is way off. A better analogy between the NBA and financial markets would be simplified markets where people could buy pieces of unsubsidized mortgages based on the financial profile of those who are obtaining the mortgages. Imagine a market where buyers could choose to purchase a piece of mortgage from (1) Individual A who has a good credit history, stable income versus (2) Individual B who has a poor credit history and a less steady employment history. You dont think that there would be a disparity in how the market priced those instruments.That is the simple kind of choice that sports bettors are offered. There is much less distortion in understanding the outcomes of sporting events.

Anonymous said...

So, the NFL having about 30% White players, and lack of fixing (very hard to do with instant replay, and coaching / player equality), is worth about 3 billion dollars more in TV revenue than the NBA, despite the latter's far more extensive TV schedule and games.

I don't think it's the higher white percentage (mostly linemen and kickers/punters anyway) and "lack of fixing" that explains this. Also, total revenue doesn't tell you that much.

It'd be interesting to think about the "optimal White percentage" for the NBA in terms of maximizing fan interest and revenue. There's no doubt that many White NBA fans do like to see good White players who can compete with and are better than many black players and enjoy rooting for them. Guys like Nash, Nowitzki, etc. But they're not really interested in watching guys like Will Perdue, Bill Wennington, Luc Longley, Ostertag, etc., just because they're White.

An all-White NBA would be for all practical purposes an entirely different sport, and one that the current White NBA fan base wouldn't be terribly interested in following.

I suspect the "optimal White percentage" is higher than what it is now, but not that much more so.

All you probably need is for each franchise to have a couple very good, athletic White players who can compete with or are better than the black players. One starter, and one guy in the rotation coming off the bench and making solid contributions. The White NBA fan base for each franchise wants to see good basketball and to identify with some of the players and live vicariously through them, so this arrangement serves those preferences.

helene edwards said...

Sarunas Marciolonis was twice the player Drazen Petrovic was. By the way, if anyone saw the '91 playoffs between the Bulls and Blazers, Clyde Drexler actually could not even squeeze a shot off against Jordan, let alone make one. This means Barry or West would have been completely blanketed as well, as great as they were.

helene edwards said...

@John Seiler,

what do you mean "even Charley Finley" couldn't win until he moved to Oakland? You mean the baseball in him was somehow hamstrung by the midwestern ambiance? Here's a clue: in the mid-60's, Finley's director of scouting was a guy named Whitey Herzog. Think the A's might have won even if they hadn't moved?

Anonymous said...

First, your All-Black team would murder the All-white team. Stockton couldn't keep Jordon off the boards and Malone would kill Barry on the boards too. Look at the great white power forwards/centers who do you have? McHale, Walton, Sikma, and ??

Black - Kareem, Chamberlin, Malone, Shaquille O'Neill, and the list goes on.

Secondly, the NBA is constantly rule changing and moving behind the scenes to (1) ensure there ENOUGH White stars are the right teams (2) plenty of action and scoring (3) Super-stars are in the right markets.

The 3 point line was a perfect example as was Kareem ending up in LA and Ewing ending up in NYC.

Steve Sailer said...

Right, Simmons' ten man white team couldn't stop Jordan from averaging 40 per game. I'd probably add Bobby Jones to the 12 man team as the white player in history with the best chance of slowing down Jordan.

And, yes, his white big men, Walton and McHale, were extremely fragile. When healthy, they were exquisite, but exquisite doesn't last long in the NBA.

Anonymous said...

I finally stopped watching the league during the Mavericks/Heat finals.

Same here.

Anonymous said...

The last great mostly white basketball team was the Boston Celtics in the late fifties.



The last great mostly white basketball team was the Celtics of the mid-eighties. They could put four or five white guys out there and win against most anyone. It helped that one of them was Larry Bird of course.


Wilt played against a lot of slow white teams and thus could score 100 pts a game.


Wilt scored 100 points in a game exactly once, and it had nothing to do with the speed of his opponents.

i am the walrus said...

I suspect Simmons' Boston Celtics bias is getting the better of him here: his [American] All-Time All-White team has six Celtics out of ten players: Bird, Walton (1986 Celtics), John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Kevin McHale, and Bob Cousy. (Pete Maravich was the 10th man.)

Doesn't that make seven Celtics?

Anonymous said...

I used to be a huge NBA fan back in the eighties. The biggest reason I'm not a fan any more is the officiating. It's almost like watching professional wrestling.

You see some of this in all sports of course, but the NBA seems to be by far the worst.

Anonymous said...

Hedo Türkoğlu is probably one of the ugliest NBA players and people in general I've ever seen in my life.

Anonymous said...

"First, your All-Black team would murder the All-white team."

Probably not, but that is more likely than vice versa...

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the score would be for all black vs all white football teams.

Anonymous said...

More interesting than the somewhat implausible theory that entire NBA is rigged is Simmons' theory that Jordan's first retirement -- to play baseball -- was actually the result of some shady dealings between Jordan and Stern. Stern wanted to suspend Jordan for his gambling activities but knew it would likely have meant the end of the league. So instead, he "convinced" Jordan to "retire" for a couple of years to sort himself out.

Anonymous said...

“Wilt was indeed great but his stats would have been far less impressive had he played the game in the 70s and 80s when there were far more blacks. Wilt played against a lot of slow white teams and thus could score 100 pts a game.”

I guess guys like Russell, Thurmond, Embry, Bellamy, Lanier and the many other black centers Wilt played against will be shocked when they find out you’ve reclassified them as white.

Truth said...

"i'm sure lots of regulars hate me by now. barging in, acting like a know-it-all, cluttering up threads with long posts."

Good man Jody; recognition is the first step to recovery.

"The last great mostly white basketball team was the Boston Celtics in the late fifties"

The Celtics championship team of Bird's 2nd season had, I believe, two blacks, Maxwell and Henderson.

Wooden himself said that Kareem was better than Walton.

Petrovic was a better player than Marciolonis.

And any basketball team with Kobe Magic and Jordan, with Rusell and Malone pulling down what few shots they missed, would be hard pressed to lose to any other basketball team.

Steve Sailer said...

"Wooden himself said that Kareem was better than Walton."

Kareem was better than anybody because he had an unstoppable shot. We tend to forget that because he was kind of boring to watch.

Actually, the only hope Simmons' All White team would have would be that Simmons' Celtic bias would make them play Bill Russell at center instead of a scorer like Kareem or Shaq. The #3 center on the Whites is 6'-9" Dave Cowens, so the black team has a huge advantage at center unless they play Russell, who couldn't shoot and was almost as bad at free throws as Wilt and Shaq.

Steve Sailer said...

Right, Maravich was a Celtic at the tail end of his career.

Steve Sailer said...

Comparing the two teams, it looks like the big white disadvantages are at center and at stopping Jordan. If you threw Bobby Jones, John Havlicek, and Jerry West at Jordan in waves, you might be able to slow him down, but could you do that while also double-teaming Kareem or Shaq?

Basically, the white guy team is totally dependent on developing great team chemistry, which could happen ... if something could be done about Rick Barry's personality.

Anonymous said...

bent envelope?? It was frozen envelope and it's bullsh#t. I don't buy the cospiracy talk.

Anonymous said...

And, yes, his white big men, Walton and McHale, were extremely fragile. When healthy, they were exquisite, but exquisite doesn't last long in the NBA.




Big men don't tend to last long in the NBA, period. Kareem was unusual in this respect.


Jordan was stoppable, as long as the refs were honest. Which they weren't, really, for a stretch in the mid ninties. It's easier to score when you're allowed to travel and palm the ball.

hon of ken said...

"First, your All-Black team would murder the All-white team."

Wasn't there a scene like this AMERICAN HISTORY X?

I think the all-black team would win too, but three things...

1. There is the X factor. Larry Bird wasn't particularly athletic but he was a superb basketball player. He had all the right moves, all the right instincts. So, as long as Larry plays, it may not be a blow-out.

2. The nature of refereeing. If referees are prone to call a lot of fouls, whites may have a slight edge. Black athletes will be less able to out-muscle their way to victory. That's how Duke in 1990(Danny Ferry's last yr)defeated Georgetown with Alonzo Mourning. In that game, Duke scored a ton on penalty shots.

3. The greatness of a team is not only about star players but chemisty. A team with only the best may not be the best. Scottie Pippin was not one of the greatest players of all time, but he was perfectly matched with Michael Jordan. Indeed, if you put only the best together, there may be less teamwork and more hogging the ball to show 'I'm the greatest'. This may explain why the far superior American Olympics 'Dream Teams' don't always blow away all the competition. The Dream Team has the best, but the players don't always work together in the most collaborative manner. Though they win the Gold, they don't beat all the other teams by 30 to 50 pts.

Same goes for bands. Some people click together while other don't. Lennon and McCartney worked together beautifully, or at least their songs complemented each other on Beatles albums.
And Jagger and Richards were also natural parnters. But, imagine Lennon and Richard OR Jagger and McCartney. Great talents but wrong chemistry.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the All-Black vs. All-White matchup, allowing/disallowing zone defense would probably make a big difference, right?

Truth said...

Although if you look at it, none of the 5 blacks are particularly good outside shooters; Magic and Jordan are adequate, Erving, Malone and Russell, bricklayers outside of 1-12 feet.

The white guys have Barry, Bird, West and Stockton who all have three point range. The game would not be as much of a mismatch as I previously thought. I think the blacks would win 60-70% of the time (although the backups might mitigate that somewhat.)

Steve Sailer said...

Right, the 3-point line opens up the game and makes it more like the Olympics, giving the outstanding passers on the white team a chance for open 3-pointers. Most of the whites played before 3 pointers got big, but it's hard to imagine West and Barry wouldn't quickly reach levels of accuracy close to Bird and Stockton.

The 3-point line would mean the black team would probably have to waste a spot on the 12 man roster on somebody like Reggie Miller, who is otherwise pretty useless.

Without the 3 point line, the black team just pounds it inside and probably sweeps a best of seven series.

Anonymous said...

Jordan scored "63 points in Game 2,(85-86 playoff) prompting Bird to call him 'God disguised as Michael Jordan'", yet the Bulls were still swept by the Celtics. Boston went 3-0 again in 86-87 against Jordan and the Bulls. 'God' is unguardable (ok it's not a word) but so what, the Celtics demolished them?

Anonymous said...

I'm on the pro wrestling side. At least they are honest about who they are.

Given the superstar status for foul calls and the absolute lack of calls for travelling and carrying the ball, I gave up on the NBA in the early 90's after being a huge fan. I may go to a game once every three years or so but only for the spectacle andonly if the tickets are free.

Anonymous said...

In re: All-black -vs- All-white.

It all depends on the choice of rules [or, more generally, the presence or absence of rules].

If you use 1950s/1960s/1970s/early-1980s rules, then the Whites would have a very good chance [although stopping Jordan would be problematic].

If you use late-1980s/1990s/2000s thug-ball non-rules, then the whites might very well be slaughtered.

Whites could play basketball when it was a non-contact sport; when it became a contact sport in the late 1980s [thanks to the shenanigans of John Thompson at Georgetown and Chuck Daly at the Pistons, combined with David Stern's nihilistic desire to destroy the sport], whites were quickly overwhelmed by the superior fast-twitch musculature of the blacks.

But whites can still compete at basketball when it is a non-contact sport whose rulebook is enforced, as evidenced by their recent success over blacks in FIBA rules basketball.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the pro wrestling side. At least they are honest about who they are.

Have you been following the career of Brock Lesnar?

Apparently some of these "professional" wrestlers are pretty good athletes [or else UFC is now rigged?].

PS: Does UFC test for steroids?

Anonymous said...

An All-Mestizo team even without stilts would be unstoppable.

alonzo portfolio said...

Can't believe no one's mentioned this but how about the obvious anti-white violence? The reason I dumped the NBA is because it's open season on white players, especially any white who dares to play defense on or rebound against a black. Are you people telling me you haven't noticed how, say, Kenyon Martin or Lamar Odom can slap any white player in the head from behind with impunity? Petrovic, by the way, was one of the early victims, getting slugged by Rod Strickland in the playoffs. It's actually a microcosm of the general exemption for blacks often discussed here in more political contexts.

White Basketball said...

Mainly poor comments about the all-White vs all-Black matchup. All those White MVPs were also unstopable during their primes, so anyone repeating the "who would stop Jordan/Shaq/Wilt" meme needs to think about the converse as well.

And what rules will be used? The "early Shaq" rules, that allowed him to knock over defenders (even Wilt called that out at the time), or the "late Shaq" rules that call him for offensive fouls (more similar to the rules Wilt had to play under)?

The more physical the game got, the more the White team would be advantaged, with their better passing and shooting. Such as in international ball even today: because body contact is not considered a foul, the best way to score is an open jumper.

And how would zone defense be called? That standard has changed radically throughout the decades. Both teams would certainly play man-to-man, but how sagging and help defense would be allowed could and does drastically affect offensive execution, again, calling for better passing and shooting.

Unless the game was rigged in favor of the black superstars (such as we are used to seeing) overall, advantage Whites.

Dutch Boy said...

You want rigging? Let's talk boxing, not bball!

AmericanGoy said...

I suggest we all watch the MLS.

The star team (Beck's, or should I say Donovan's los angeles) was given all kinds of breaks, free passes and referee calls, and they huffed and puffed their way to the final.

Where they fell flat on their face facing the dumbest named football team on the planet, and, uh (sorry), Real Salt Lake (Real is a title bestowed by a Spanish king on a sports team - how an American team from mormonland got that name, and who made that call, is a mystery to me).

CJ42 said...

In every sport, in every game, in history, where a referee was in charge of enforcing rules, great players were given the benefit of the doubt.

Great old story I heard as a kid about hitting great Honus Wagner. Wagner stepped to the plate against a rookie pitcher. Rookie throws three straight borderline pitches, Wagner takes all three for balls and the count is now 3-0; the rookie pitcher complains. Umpire steps out beyond home plate, looks at young pitcher and says, "Young man, when Mr. Wagner swings, you will know you have thrown a strike."

This is universal, don't just tag the NBA with it.

CJ42 said...

As for the black/thing. There were a great many black players who are and were great basketball players in a "less contact" oriented version of the game. There were many skilled ball handling, passing and shooting black players, not everyone was a mindless high flier.

If one were asked to assemble a roster for basketball where the emphasis was making it a non-contact, zone defense, spot up shooting and cutting version of the game, one wouldn't choose an all black roster that resembled Simmons'.

In that version of the game a black team of players like Isiah Thomas, Tiny Archibald, Ray Allen, and Reggie Miller would be the backcourt you would choose.

In a series of games between the best black and white ball players, where the rules were the determining factor in how the rosters were chosen, you would probably never have either group get more than a game or two ahead of the other over 20 games.

All kinds of variables would enter into the equation which would change the results. The three point line is still the great wild card in basketball. It is a great invention if the shot is hard enough, but when it is too easy, as it is in college, it ruins the game and reduces the sport to a jump shooting contest.

The game should always seek to be a blend of the physical and the skilled, the vertical leaping and the quick passing and cutting etc etc.

The ability to defend is another factor. The story about the college all-star team running Jordan and the 92 Dream Team out of the gym for a half before Jordan and Pippen got upset and started playing 92 feet of man to man defense is legend in basketball. The college guys couldn't advance the ball past half court.

The effort that is expended by the modern basketball player on defense is a critical factor in how the game is played now. Defense has evolved in both the way it is coached and played. The ability of modern big guards and small forward players to contest everything (Jerry West never saw a defender like Scottie Pippen) would also have an impact on these hypothetical games.

Anonymous said...

OT: maybe this is why blacks are so good at sport.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/8441813.stm

Anonymous said...

The effort that is expended by the modern basketball player on defense is a critical factor in how the game is played now. Defense has evolved in both the way it is coached and played. The ability of modern big guards and small forward players to contest everything (Jerry West never saw a defender like Scottie Pippen) would also have an impact on these hypothetical games.

Yeah, but the question is whether the "defense" involves nothing more than classical "step-slide, step-slide, step-slide", with a nice little 18" to 36" of air between the defender and the offensive player, or whether the "defense" involves constant contact, with hand checks and elbowing and hip grinds and tripping and jersey-pulling and scratching and clawing and biting [like two little Section 8 Baby-Mamas in a cat fight].

Anonymous said...

Check out the pending Antawn Jamison trade...