National Basketball Association criticisms and controversies
The National Basketball Association (NBA) has faced a multitude of criticisms from both sports publications and fans.
Racial and cultural issues
Many have criticized the NBA for embracing hip hop culture. While some observers have argued that this criticism has more to do with race than hip hop itself, it is a fact that the league is very much connected to hip hop culture. Rappers Nelly and Jay-Z had ownership stakes in NBA teams (the Charlotte Hornets and Brooklyn Nets respectively), and many artists have worn NBA throwback jerseys in music videos. In turn, the NBA plays rap and hip-hop in arenas during games. NBA video games NBA 2K and NBA Live use hip-hop in their soundtrack, and ABC/ESPN also use the music during its coverage. Players in the NBA have tried rap or hip hop themselves (Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker, Allen Iverson, Chris Webber, and Ron Artest are some examples) and several also dress and act in ways that are in accordance with the hip hop culture (for example, the tattoos and jewelry worn by several players).
Some have argued that the criticism of the NBA is hypocritical, considering the relative lack of criticism of Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL) or National Football League (NFL) players. Some have also noticed that music genres and sports partnerships are not limited to the NBA, with alternative rock and hard rock being associated with the NHL, and country music being associated with NASCAR.
Accusations of discrimination
In February 2009, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was sued by former longtime Clippers executive Elgin Baylor for employment discrimination on the basis of age and race. The lawsuit alleges Sterling told Baylor that he wanted to fill his team with "poor black boys from the South and a white head coach". The suit alleges that during negotiations for Danny Manning, Sterling said "I'm offering a lot of money for a poor black kid." The suit noted those comments while alleging "the Caucasian head coach was given a four-year, $22-million contract", but Baylor's salary had "been frozen at a comparatively paltry $350,000 since 2003".
Accusation of racism
On April 25, 2014, TMZ Sports released what it said is an April 9, 2014 audio recording of a conversation between Sterling and his mistress, V. Stiviano. According to TMZ, Sterling and Stiviano argued in regards to a photo Stiviano posted on Instagram in which she posed with Magic Johnson. In the audio recording, Sterling allegedly tells Stiviano: "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people." Clippers president Andy Roesen issued a statement the following day, indicating that his organization was unsure if it was a legitimate and unaltered recording, that the sentiments attributed to Sterling did not reflect Sterling's views, and that the woman on the recording was being sued by the Sterling family and had "told Mr. Sterling that she would 'get even' with him". The Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) cancelled its plans for the following month to award Sterling for a second time with its lifetime achievement award. President Barack Obama characterized the recording attributed to Sterling as "incredibly offensive racist statements". Obama then stated, "When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk." On April 29, the NBA, upon confirming the taped conversations, announced that Sterling has been banned for life and fined $2.5 million.
Perhaps mainly because of the above-mentioned criticism, the NBA instituted a dress code in 2005, banning all clothing associated with the hip hop culture. Players were instructed not to wear jewelry, throwback jerseys, headphones, indoor sunglasses and other accessories, and instead were told to wear "business casual" clothing. The dress code, characterized by some as "clearly and unapologetically directed toward suppressing hip-hop culture", was instantly controversial and a topic on many sports radio talk shows for several days. Many players objected, most notably Allen Iverson, who has faced the brunt of most hip hop related NBA criticism.
Baggy shorts, also a symbol of hip hop culture, were banned by the league as well, which instituted a rule on the length of players' shorts while playing. Tights, which players started to wear under their shorts in the 2005–06 season (though not a symbol of hip hop culture) were banned as well. No players were fined for dress code violations during the 2005–06 season. The league has also attempted to severely distance itself from hip hop since the infamous Pacers–Pistons brawl in 2004; in the 2005 NBA All-Star Game, country music stars Big and Rich performed at halftime, a move that was ridiculed by TNT analyst and former NBA player Charles Barkley. In addition, as noted later in this article, ABC Sports (after relying on hip-hop music early on) has used artists such as Rob Thomas and Tom Petty for the NBA Finals in recent years.
Team relocation controversies
Vancouver Grizzlies move to Memphis
The Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis, Tennessee after the 2000–01 NBA season. On January 25, 2001, it was announced that the Grizzlies would be sold by Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment to Michael Heisley, who originally intended to keep the team in Vancouver. However, the team moved, in part due to the weak Canadian dollar, lack of local ownership, and the unwillingness of some players to live in Canada. After a bidding war between Memphis, Louisville, Anaheim and New Orleans, Heisley selected Memphis as the relocation destination for the Grizzlies on March 26, 2001. Heisley selected Memphis because it offered a better deal and had better local executive leadership than Louisville. Eventually, the NBA Board of Governors approved the team's plans to move to Memphis on July 4, 2001 and the team became the Memphis Grizzlies for the 2001–02 NBA season.
Seattle SuperSonics move to Oklahoma City
The Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007–08 NBA season. After failed efforts to persuade Washington state government officials to provide funding to update KeyArena, the SuperSonics' ownership group, led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, sold the team to Professional Basketball Club LLC (PBC), an investment group headed by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. After failing to persuade local governments to fund a US$500 million arena complex, Bennett's group notified the NBA that it intended to move the team to Oklahoma City and requested arbitration with the city of Seattle to be released from its lease with KeyArena. When the request was rejected by a judge, Seattle sued Bennett's group to enforce the lease that required the team to play in KeyArena through 2010. On July 2, 2008, a settlement was reached that allowed the team to move under certain conditions. Details of the settlement revealed that PBC would pay the city of Seattle $45 million immediately in exchange for breaking the KeyArena lease and an additional $30 million if Seattle was not given a replacement team in five years. Also, according to the conditions of the settlement, the Sonics' name and colors could not be used by the team in Oklahoma City, but could be taken by a future team in Seattle, although no promises for a replacement team were given. The OKC team would retain the franchise history of the SuperSonics, which could be "shared" with any future NBA team in Seattle. The team moved to Oklahoma City immediately and became the Oklahoma City Thunder, beginning play for the 2008–09 NBA season.
Latrell Sprewell chokes coach
The incident brought mainstream attention, but not quite the amount of criticism of the league as a whole as later controversies would. While some wondered if Sprewell's actions were indicative of a growing trend in the league, others tempered that belief with the idea that it was an isolated incident. Then active player Buck Williams said this on PBS:
Sprewell would have his image redeemed somewhat after a run to the NBA Finals with the New York Knicks in 1999. However, after a contentious battle with the Minnesota Timberwolves over his salary in 2004, his image took another hit. Sprewell retired for good in 2005. After his retirement, he suffered several financial difficulties, including his home being foreclosed on and having his yacht forcibly seized and sold at auction.
After a massive altercation between Indiana Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans on November 19, 2004, the NBA came under severe criticism from the national and mainstream media. Commentators, and those familiar with the event outside the sports media, were divided over the issues of who should primarily be blamed for the incident. Anger and blame was placed on the players, at NBA Union Chief Billy Hunter, who protested the length of suspensions, the fans who sparked the melee and the referees who did not put a stop to it.
In the wake of the brawl, the NBA came under harsh scrutiny from some outlets. Noted conservative radio personality (and former ESPN NFL analyst) Rush Limbaugh said the brawl was "hip-hop culture on parade" and also added the statement that "NBA uniforms are now in gang colors. They are in gang styles." NBA commissioner David Stern, in a 2006 interview, made this comment about the brawl-related criticism:
The Knicks-Nuggets brawl was an on-court altercation at a NBA game between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets at Madison Square Garden on December 16, 2006. This altercation was the most penalized on-court fight since the Pacers–Pistons brawl.
All ten players on the court at the time of the altercation were ejected, and seven players total were suspended. Carmelo Anthony of the Nuggets was suspended for 15 games, while J. R. Smith and Nate Robinson were suspended for 10 games each. Neither coach was suspended; still, some believed that then-Knicks coach Isiah Thomas should have been suspended for allegedly telling his players to foul any Nuggets player who attempted a dunk or layup. NBA Commissioner David Stern received criticism for not including Thomas in the suspensions. Some viewed Stern's leniency as evidence of a special relationship with Thomas.
Thomas was accused of trying to bring back the mentality of the late 1980s Detroit Pistons, who were known for their physical play. Various columnists and observers found Thomas' actions inappropriate; before the fight, Thomas was seen warning Anthony not to go into the lane. ESPN analyst and former NBA player Greg Anthony stated that "I never had a coach say that to an opponent ... I've had a coach say, do a better job protecting our territory. That's a little different."
The fight brought a large amount of media attention, and was a topic on mainstream news broadcasts, including World News with Charles Gibson. Several columnists claimed that the NBA had been set back several years, and many used the fight as evidence of the league being a haven for thugs.
Knicks guard Steve Francis noted that the media reaction to the fight and the suspensions itself were "racially motivated". Francis argued that MLB and the NHL had fights worse or equal to the Knicks/Nuggets altercation and rarely faced the type of media attention and scrutiny that the NBA received. Several columnists agreed, including Sam Smith (who called the coverage "racist and nonsense" in a piece), J. A. Adande and David Aldridge.
Kobe Bryant trials
In 2005, the NBA was in the midst of creating a new collective bargaining agreement. One of the main topics of the deal was the league's desire to create a new age limit for players to enter the NBA draft.
The idea of an age limit had been talked about for several years, after the entrance into the league of several high school players. While several players who have entered the league out of high school have become successes (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, J. R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Jermaine O'Neal, Rashard Lewis, Tracy McGrady, and decades ago, Shawn Kemp and Moses Malone), others have been relative failures (for example, Ndudi Ebi, James Lang, Kwame Brown, Sebastian Telfair, Eddy Curry, Robert Swift, DeSagana Diop). Those in favor of an age limit made the argument that players entering the league out of high school did not know the fundamentals of playing professional basketball and also were not mature enough to handle playing in the NBA.
|“||Well, they are physically mature enough to be part of the NBA, and they are great young players. But as you frame the issue, the question is whether a couple of years more of seasoning would increase their maturity, their skills, their collegiate programs and ultimately what it could do for sending messages to kids who are practicing their skills who should think about getting an education rather than coming right to [the] NBA.||”|
|— NBA commissioner David Stern in a 2001 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.,|
Proponents of the age limit included Michael Wilbon, who argued that it was important for young players to get an education. Wilbon's belief, while held by many, has also been referred to as "simplistic" and "[reflective] not just [of] hypocrisy but a reimagination of reality as well". Michael Mccann of the Mississippi College School of Law made this argument:
Greg Anthony was one prominent NBA personality against the age limit. Anthony's belief was that people should be able to make their own decisions about whether or not to enter the league, and that (quoting an article and not Anthony himself) "players from inner-city high schools aren't academically qualified for college because of the lower quality of education compared to their suburban counterparts". This led him into conflict with Wilbon and more notably with colleague Stephen A. Smith. On an April 2005 edition of NBA Shootaround, Anthony and Smith got into a heated debate about the age-limit. This came only days after Anthony was the primary interviewer in a discussion with Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal.
The interview was described by Sports Illustrated writer Mark Bechtel as "...Greg Anthony putting words in O'Neal's mouth then saying something along the lines of, 'Is that what you meant?' And then O'Neal would say, 'Exactly.'" It came on the heels of O'Neal discussing the age limit in the context of race, and as he was in the midst of growing media attention and criticism.
As noted in the article The Real Color of Money: Controlling Black Bodies in the NBA by David Leonard, O'Neal was roundly attacked for his opinion, with many accusing him of playing the race card.
With the agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, the age limit was put into place. Any person attempting to enter the NBA draft must wait until the calendar year of his 19th birthday, and must also be at least one year out of high school.
No tolerance rule
At the start of the 2006–07 NBA season, the NBA instituted a new rule regarding in-game player complaints. The "no tolerance rule", as it was referred to by players and the media, allowed referees to call technical fouls when players complained too vehemently about calls.
The season started with a spike in the number of technical fouls and ejections. There were "one-hundred-four technicals and seven ejections in the first fifty-one games", while "only seven games of the first fifty-one games thus far have had no technical fouls". Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, who would later be suspended for his participation in a fight later that year, was suspended on opening night of the season after two technical fouls.
Some observers viewed the rule as unfair and taking the passion out of the game; others believed that it only served to take pressure off of referees who made bad calls.
|“||I don't like it. Basketball is an emotional game; guys are always going to express their thoughts about calls. ... There are times you are going to disagree. You shouldn't get a "T" for nit-picky things.||”|
|— Corliss Williamson, Sacramento Kings|
|“||Over-the-top complaints and gestures should certainly be penalized, but the rule goes too far. Does David Stern believe that disallowing the players' protests will fool fans into accepting the infallibility of the refs?||”|
|— Charley Rosen, Fox Sports|
Others agreed with the rule, viewing it as a much needed policy to cut down on the "whining" by players in the league.
|“||Nobody likes the scowling, the arm-waving, the stomping and ball-slamming, certainly not after a meaningless call in the second quarter of some game in mid-November. And such ridiculousness was one reason why too many consumers perceived NBA players as self-absorbed, overbearing, churlish and out of touch. ... Too many are out of touch with the people who pay the freight. Who pays to come to the arena to see this demonstrative complaining? Nobody. The notion some players have put forth, that the NBA is trying to take the emotion from the game, is so preposterous it's insulting.||”|
|— Michael Wilbon, The Washington Post|
After the initial spike at the start of the season, the amount of technical fouls and ejections declined significantly towards the middle of the year. Several players, including Denver Nuggets guard Allen Iverson, were still ejected on technical fouls; Iverson's ejection came during his first game against his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, and he was later fined by the league for claiming that referee Steve Javie ejected him on the basis of a feud the two supposedly had.
Some NBA fans have accused the league of conspiring to have large-market teams and popular players succeed in the postseason. Since 1980, every NBA Finals has involved at least one of the following teams: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, or San Antonio Spurs. Additionally, in that span, every NBA Finals has involved at least one of the following eight players: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, or LeBron James.
Many of these accusations are based on the premise that the NBA desires large markets and popular players for ratings purposes. Former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson disputes the idea that matchups have the biggest effect on ratings:
Bucks-Sixers 2001 Eastern Conference Finals
|“||It behooves everybody for the league to make more money, and the league knows that Philadelphia is going to make more money with L.A. than we would with L.A.||”|
|— Milwaukee Bucks star Ray Allen, before Game 6 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals.|
In 2001, the Milwaukee Bucks played the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The small-market Bucks (who had not even been featured on NBC that year prior to the second round of the Playoffs) did not have any "big-time" stars, with the exception of Ray Allen (who, despite being popular, was not in the upper-echelon of NBA players in terms of endorsements). Their opponent that year, the 76ers had the polarizing and popular Allen Iverson, who had a multitude of shoe deals and mainstream recognition. The Sixers also featured that year's winners of the MVP award in Iverson, Defensive Player of the Year award in Dikembe Mutombo, Sixth Man of the Year award in Aaron McKie, and Coach of the Year award in Larry Brown.
The series had several calls deemed dubious by the Bucks and their fans. Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell and then-head coach George Karl joined Allen in complaining about the officiating and hinting that the league was against them. Karl and Allen were both fined for their comments. In Game 6 of the tensely fought series, Bucks forward Scott Williams threw an elbow at Iverson and was subsequently suspended for the deciding Game 7. After the Bucks lost Game 7 on the road, Sports Illustrated columnist Marty Burns insinuated that the suspension may have been a form of payback by the league:
|“||Williams' elbow to Iverson's chin warranted the flagrant 2 ruling, which kept Williams out of Game 7, but the Bucks' public airing of such potentially damaging charges to the NBA probably didn't help their case.||”|
Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals
The 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers was one of the most memorable in league history. The popular (though small-market) Kings led the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers three games to two heading into Game 6 at Staples Center, a game which would prove to be the most infamous of the series. The game, which the Lakers won by four, featured several disputable calls, including a late game no-call involving Mike Bibby—after he was bleeding from being elbowed in the nose by Kobe Bryant. This game was the epitome of the major issue in the series. Both teams complained about the officiating at different points in the series (the Kings in Game 6 and the Lakers in Games 2 and 5). Quoting then-ESPN basketball analyst David Aldridge:
|“||There is nothing I can say that will explain 27 free throws for the Lakers in the fourth quarter – an amount staggering in its volume and impact on the game. It gave me pause. How can you explain it? How can you explain a game where Scot Pollard fouls out when he's two feet from Shaquille O'Neal, or that Doug Christie is called for a ridiculous touch foul just as Chris Webber spikes Bryant's drive to the hoop, or that Mike Bibby is called for a foul deep in the fourth quarter after Bryant pops him in the nose with an elbow?||”|
(sic – it was a non-call, not a foul on Bibby)
|“||At a time when the public's confidence is shaken by headlines reporting the breach of trust by corporate executives, it is important... for there to be maintained a sense of impartiality and professionalism in commercial sports performances... That sense was severely shaken in the now notorious officiating during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings... When (Washington Post writer Michael) Wilbon writes that ‘The Kings and Lakers didn't decide this series ...three referees did..’ when many thousands of fans, not just those in Sacramento, felt that merit lost to bad refereeing, you need to take notice beyond the usual and widespread grumbling by fans and columnists about referees ignoring the rule book and giving advantages to home teams and superstars.||”|
The Kings would go on to lose Game 7 of the series at home. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy filed in court papers in 2008 said that Game 6 was fixed by the NBA. NBA Commissioner David Stern denies allegations. Lawrence Pedowitz, who led a review of the league's officiating following the outbreak of the scandal, concluded that, while Game 6 was poorly officiated, no concrete evidence existed of that game being fixed.
Accusation from Jeff Van Gundy
During a 2005 playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy was fined a record amount for a coach, $100,000, for asserting that he had a source within the league who informed him that the referees were being instructed to call more fouls on Yao Ming, due to protests by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
2006 NBA Finals – Dallas vs. Miami
The 2006 NBA Finals came the year after a series that saw the second-lowest ratings in NBA Finals history. After the Detroit Pistons and the small-market San Antonio Spurs slugged it out in a seven-game series, the 2006 finals was considered more attractive because it featured the relatively large market Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks and superstars Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, and Shaquille O'Neal.
With the series tied at two games apiece, Game 5 was pivotal. On the final possession in overtime, Wade received an inbounds pass from mid court. Because Wade had already been in the front court prior to the inbounds of the ball, some argue that he should have been ruled ineligible to receive the pass in the backcourt and the Heat should have been called for a backcourt violation. After receiving the ball, Wade went on to drive to the basket, drawing a foul on Nowitzki. Replays would reveal that Nowitzki barely touched Wade, further angering Mavericks fans. However, the replay also showed Mavericks' guard Devin Harris grabbing Wade's arm. In between Wade's free throws, Maverick Josh Howard looked to coach Avery Johnson to see if he wanted to call for time. Howard made a timeout gesture towards his coach; referee Joe Derosa saw and charged Dallas with their final timeout.
Without a timeout, the Mavericks were forced to inbound from full court after Wade hit his second free throw. Unable to get off a shot from inside of half court as time expired, the Mavericks lost the game and the series two nights later. Game 5 had 38 fouls called against the Mavericks with only 26 against the Heat. The Mavericks shot 25 free throws as the Heat shot 49. After Game 5, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was livid; he was quoted by The Miami Herald as screaming at David Stern that "[his] league is rigged". Cuban denied making the statement, and went on to write:
|“||Any prudent, rational person can easily see it. The games are not rigged. Thats a complete insult to the players on the court and the incredible amount of effort they put into preparing for and playing the games. All 82 regular season and post season games. The NBA couldn't rig the games if it wanted to. And it doesn't want to. Its that simple.||”|
Despite his denial, Cuban was fined $250,000 by the league, not for his alleged comments, but for general "acts of misconduct" following the game.
In Game 5, Wade shot a total of 25 free throws, equaling the entire Mavericks team total.
Bulls-Celtics 2009 Eastern Conference First Round
During a 2009 playoff series between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, many Bulls fans felt that the referees were favoring the Celtics. In Game 5, Celtics guard Rajon Rondo made hard contact with the face of Bulls' center Brad Miller, with just 2 seconds left in overtime with the Celtics leading by two. Earlier in Game 5, Rondo tripped Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, forcing Hinrich to get stitches to close the resulting wounds from being tripped. The hit on Miller left him with a bleeding mouth, but because the foul was ruled a personal foul, Miller had to shoot the free throws, or he would not have been allowed to return, and the Celtics would pick the replacement shooter. Had the foul been ruled a flagrant, the Bulls would have been able to pick the replacement shooter. Miller would miss the first free throw, and then had to miss the second on purpose to give Bulls a chance to tie the game, but the free throw did not hit the rim and the Celtics got possession and ran out the clock. Rondo admitted after the game that he did not have a play on the ball.
In Game 6, near the end of the first quarter, Rondo threw Hinrich into the scorer's table in a fashion similar to Robert Horry's body slam of Steve Nash 2 years earlier. Rondo was assessed a flagrant 1, which allowed for him to stay in the game, rather than a flagrant 2 which would have meant an ejection (which was Horry's punishment for his similar foul). Furthermore, after both games, the league reviewed the incidents in question and decided not to suspend Rondo or upgrade the fouls, while Horry's body slam earned him a 2-game suspension. Meanwhile, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was suspended for Game 6 of the Magic's series vs. the Philadelphia 76ers after the league reviewed tape of him elbowing Sixers center Samuel Dalembert in the head in Game 5. It was ruled a technical on the floor, but after review, the league upgraded the foul to a flagrant 2.
2016 NBA Finals – Golden State vs. Cleveland
The 2016 NBA Finals featured a rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the defending champion and 73-win Golden State Warriors. After the Warriors went up 3–1 in the series, Adam Silver and the league office suspended Draymond Green from Game 5 of the Finals following repeated instances of him making contact with the groin area of opposing players. Cleveland would go on to win Game 5, the next two games, and claim the championship. Some believed that an incident in the Western Conference Finals in which Green's leg kicked into the groin of Oklahoma City Thunder player Steven Adams also warranted a suspension, even more so than the incident in the Finals; however, none was administered. Both incidents came during a game 4 that would result in a series at 3–1, and both times the team down 3–1 came back to win the series.
Many hinted at and questioned whether the decisions made by the league office were made with the intent to lengthen a seemingly forgone series, in order to improve the product of the playoffs, as well as receive an increase in ticket and merchandise sales.
Reggie Miller, former player and NBA analyzer and announcer, voiced his opinion through a series of tweets, saying
|“||Would bet my right arm if this series was even at 2–2 Draymond wouldn't be suspended for GM5. What happened in OKC was way worse..||”|
|“||And if you want to suspend him for the flagrant fouls, I'm fine with that, how about the officials call it in game. Don't wait for NBA later||”|
LeBron James would go on to lead the Cavaliers to win the NBA Finals 4–3, be awarded Finals MVP, while securing the first championship in any of the four major sports for the city of Cleveland in 52 years.
The 1985 NBA draft was the first to use the NBA Draft Lottery. Prior to that year, the team with the worst record in the NBA would get the first pick in the draft (as is done in the National Football League). The Golden State Warriors, which represent the San Francisco Bay Area, finished with the worst record in the NBA during the 1984–85 season and would have had the first draft choice under the previous system. That year, Georgetown center Patrick Ewing was the favorite to be the number one pick in the draft.
The lottery was established out of concern that the Houston Rockets had been intentionally playing poorly in order to draft the best players.
During this live televised draft lottery ceremony, the league used a system where sealed envelopes representing the teams with the worst records were mixed in a tumbler, and then drawn by NBA Commissioner David Stern one at a time to determine which of these clubs would get the first pick onwards. However, when these envelopes were added to the tumbler, one envelope was put in forcibly and banged against the edge, bending the corner, while all the rest of the envelopes were set in gently. When drawing for the first pick, Stern went for the one with the bent corner, which upon opening the envelope, it was revealed that the New York Knicks logo was inside. The large-market New York Knicks, who finished with the third-worst record in the league that season, eventually used the first pick to draft Ewing with (who would become a legend on the team, leading the Knicks to the 1994 NBA Finals. Although the Knicks also reached the 1999 NBA Finals, Ewing was injured). Nevertheless, the "bent envelope" fueled speculation that the league staged the result.
For the 2003 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets each had equal chances of drafting first overall, with the Cavaliers ultimately winning out. With high school basketball standout and future four-time NBA MVP LeBron James being the consensus number one pick in that year's draft, there was some speculation as to whether or not that year's lottery was rigged in favor of the Cavaliers, due to James being a native of nearby Akron, Ohio.
For the 2008 NBA draft, despite having a 1.6% chance of obtaining the number one pick, projected by many to be Chicago native Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls still were awarded the first overall pick and subsequently selected Rose as the first pick. Rose would go on to win NBA Rookie of the Year in the 2008–09 season and would win the NBA MVP in the 2010–2011 season while leading the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals that same season.
The New Orleans Hornets won the rights to the first overall selection in the 2012 draft. The Hornets were a league-owned team prior to the draft, leading to continued conspiracy theories about the lottery process.
Fines and suspensions
Criticism of referees and officiating
Players, coaches or front office members criticizing referees, officials or suggesting in any way that the league has conspiracy theories would result in an automatic fine of a minimum of $25,000. Media and fans see this as the league trying to discourage such discussions and comments, as they indeed have things to hide. The league also fears such would have impact ratings and popularity, resulting in lower ratings and most importantly, revenue.
Sam Cassell's Big Cahones dance celebration (from Major League II) are now seen as "obscene gestures". Among those who have also been fined for "dancing" are Caron Butler, Andray Blatche, Marco Belinelli, Andre Iguodala and Jameer Nelson. The fine has been documented to be a minimum of $15,000.
Restgate and Scheduling
In November 2012, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was fined $250,000 for sending four players home (including stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili) before a nationally televised game against the defending champion Miami Heat. It was the Spurs' fourth game in five nights and sixth game in nine nights, all of which were on the road. Commissioner David Stern released a letter before the game claiming Popovich had done a disservice to the league, fans and Miami ticket buyers by not giving them the game they paid to see. Most disagreed with Stern, saying Miami fans were there to see LeBron James and the Heat, not the Spurs. Many felt this was a cultural revenge move by Stern, who in the past had openly admitted he disliked the Spurs' success due to the lack of ratings they brought to the Finals as a small market team. The Spurs ended up leading for most of the game and only lost in the last minute, making Stern appear even more foolish for claiming the game was ruined before it even began. Stern later said that if Popovich had simply kept the players with the team he wouldn't have fined him, which went against his initial claim that the product on the court was diminished by who didn't play.
The incident also called into question the league's scheduling practices, such as cramming so many games into a short amount of time, especially like in the Spurs' case where the team had to travel between each game. Some called for an end to four-games-in-five-nights and five-games-in-seven-nights situations as it could put the players' health at risk and diminishes the product on the court.
Selective TV replays
While the league has implemented TV replays, as of the 2013–14 season, plays are not reviewable unless they are end of quarter plays, as well as the last 2 minutes of regulation and overtime periods. In many cases, referees have opted not to review final plays of the game, which would have impact on the final win-loss outcome. In the 2013–14 season, regular season games such as the Heat-Pacers, Mavericks-Timberwolves, Mavericks-Pelicans, Clippers-Mavericks, games have resulted in the controversial calls in the final play of the game that changed the outcome. In some cases, the NBA issued official statements after the game, admitting to the errors, however, the game's outcome remained unchanged. Many believe that such statements merely made as a PR move, although no action is done to improve the integrity of the game.
Many criticize too much time spent on replays that could have been resolved within short amounts of time. Oftentimes, the amount of time spent puts the game into long halts. The league is seen as intentionally operating in a way give negative perception of replays in general, as well as merely exaggerating their image of trying to keep the integrity of the game honest.
Joey Crawford was once suspended by the league after a confrontation with Spurs forward Tim Duncan. Duncan was ejected for laughing on the sidelines in a game against the Mavericks in the 2006–07 season. After a meeting between Crawford and the league office, the NBA decided to suspend Crawford for the remainder of the season and made him attend anger management courses.
Accusations of network bias
During its twelve-year run of covering the NBA, NBC Sports televised a substantial number of games featuring the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. In the prime-time slot, from 5:30 p.m EST to 8:00 p.m EST, NBC aired games almost exclusively featuring New York, Chicago or Los Angeles (incidentally, those three cities are the top three television markets in the United States, and have been historically the three most populous cities). Several fans and media analysts viewed this as favoritism, and fans of teams like the Houston Rockets who, despite being a large market (and Houston being the USA's fourth most populous city), being one of the best teams in the early-to-mid-1990s, winning the title in 1994 and 1995, and featuring a superstar in Hakeem Olajuwon, were not featured on NBC at the level of the other three teams, felt as if they were being snubbed.
The perceived bias could be explained by the fact that, from 1990 to 2002 (NBC's run of covering the NBA), the Bulls, Lakers and Knicks played in six, four and two NBA Finals respectively, every Finals featuring one or more of those teams except 1995, when the Rockets swept the Orlando Magic to win their second consecutive NBA championship. Until 1998, the Chicago Bulls were a dominant team, and during the early to mid-1990s, the New York Knicks were also in the NBA's elite. From 1997 to 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers also joined the ranks of the best in the NBA. The teams' dominance, combined with the fact that they played in major media markets, led to their being featured more often than other teams.
New game ball
After the 2005–06 season, David Stern announced that the league would use a new microfiber ball for the 2006–07 season. The microfiber ball replaced the previously used leather balls. The league claimed the new ball would provide better grip than the leather counterparts, especially when wet from player's sweat. Still the majority of players (notably Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash) expressed dislike for the new ball, saying among other things that it became slippery when wet, bounced awkwardly and gave players cuts.
The largest complaint came from the fact that players had not been consulted before the new ball was put into play. The NBA Players Association filed an unfair labor practice lawsuit against the league because of that fact, subsequently dropping it after the league announced that it would revert to the leather balls starting on January 1, 2007. In a humorous move, the Washington Wizards played a video on the Verizon Center scoreboard welcoming back the "new old ball". Despite complaints, scoring and field goal percentage went up while the microfiber ball was used. Some individual players, however, including Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon and then Seattle SuperSonics guard Ray Allen, saw their usually high three-point shooting percentages decline.
Referee gambling scandal
In July 2007, reports of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were made public, which alleged that during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 NBA seasons, referee Tim Donaghy bet on games in which he officiated. On August 15, 2007, Donaghy pleaded guilty to two federal charges related to the investigation, and a year later he was sentenced to 15 months in prison and three years of supervised release. As a result, the general reaction by the media was that the NBA's popularity would be hurt by the news of this scandal.
Gilbert Arenas gun incident
On December 24, 2009, it was revealed that Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards had admitted to storing unloaded firearms in his locker at Verizon Center and had surrendered them to team security. In doing so, Arenas not only violated NBA rules against bringing firearms into an arena, but also violated D.C. ordinances as well. On January 1, 2010, it was also reported that Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton had unloaded guns in the Wizards' locker room during a Christmas Eve argument regarding gambling debts. The D.C. Metropolitan Police and the U.S. Attorney's office began investigating, and on January 14, 2010, Arenas was charged with carrying a pistol without a license, a violation of Washington, D.C.'s gun-control laws. Arenas pleaded guilty on January 15 to the felony of carrying an unlicensed pistol outside a home or business. His sentencing hearing was scheduled for March 26.
On January 6, 2010, the NBA suspended Arenas indefinitely without pay until its investigation was complete. NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement that "his ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game." By nearly all accounts, Stern felt compelled to act when Arenas' teammates surrounded him during pregame introductions prior to a game with the Philadelphia 76ers and he pretended to shoot them with guns made from his fingers. The Wizards issued a statement of their own condemning the players' pregame stunt as "unacceptable." On January 27, 2010, Arenas and Crittenton were suspended for the rest of the season, after meeting with Stern.
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