Just Can't Shake That NBA Conspiracy Feeling

Shaun RouserContributor IMay 26, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 19:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers walks next to LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during a break from the game at Staples Center on January 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

I have never subscribed to conspiracy theories.

Whatever it is—Tower Seven, Castro, the mob and JFK, the girl in the polka dot dress, Skull and Bones, The Freemasons, the Trilateral Commission, the Illuminati in general—I've always found Occam's razor to be imminently useful.

Watching the NBA conference finals, however, I haven't been able to shake one conspiracy theory: If it starts to look like a Magic-Nuggets Finals matchup is looming, won't David Stern just "make sure that doesn't happen?"

Granted, I'm still not sure what exactly I'm accusing the NBA of.

And, moreover, the logistics and secrecy that would be necessary to carry a conspiracy to completion would be impossible to manage (remember Occam's razor).

"Three can keep a secret," Ben Franklin said, "if two of them are dead."

Intellectually, I know this to be true. But I'm still suspicious. The memory of Lakers-Kings Game Six is still fresh, after all.

In my mind, a direct order to tip the scales would never be given—no meetings, no paper trail, no secret recordings—just an air of apprehension and disappointment emanating from the league's office.

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Stories are leaked that hint at the league's disappointment, though these "sources" never state that sentiment directly. This, in turn, causes David Stern to have to "address" these rumors.

"The NBA has never been stronger; this league isn't built on just one or two stars or one or two teams. There're young stars building names for themselves all over the league," Stern would probably say matter-of-factly, "no matter who plays, the NBA Finals is one of the great showcases in sports and whoever plays will put on a great show, a great athletic and competitive event for sports fans."

None of which would totally convince me.

Undoubtedly, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony are stars but no one believes they're as huge, nationally and internationally, as LeBron and Kobe. Everyone knows the NBA wants one matchup and one matchup only.

The most important part of the conspiracy, though, is that no one ever gives the referees an order.

They're allowed to twist in the wind with every sports page and radio show in America (outside of Florida and Colorado) lamenting the possibility of a Magic-Nuggets Finals.

Each time they turn on their televisions, The Swoosh bombards them with LeBron and Kobe puppets, which are followed by Vitamin Water commercials featuring 23 and 24.

Moreover, everyone at the Worldwide Leader is howling at the idea that after an entire season they're going to have to bellow hackneyed catchphrases for the thousandth time while doing Nuggets-Magic highlights (ahem, Stuart Scott).

Subconsciously, the zebras get the message.

With the weight of the basketball universe on their shoulders, run of the mill "star calls" become slight favoritism.

The free throw disparity doesn't change, however.

But crucial free throws late in games, at the very time the refs usually "swallow their whistles," are awarded to 23 and 24 (though one wonders whether this is a definite advantage for LeBron).

And before you know it, the stars have aligned, lightning strikes twice, and the Lakers and Cavs are set for a best out of seven for the Larry O'Brien trophy.

All this says a lot about David Stern, I know. And Stern is no Richard Williams.

And, quite frankly, I've always thought David Stern was completely overrated as a commissioner. Think about it: How difficult of a job was it to sell the NBA during the Magic-Bird 80s, the Jordan 90s, and to market the Dream Team. They all sold themselves practically. Only a total incompetent could've screwed that situation up.

But none of this matters to the conspiracy theorist.

In the conspiracy theorist's mind, Stern becomes the guileful leader of a national basketball plot.

His machinations and accomplices are hidden in plain sight for the few who are willing to see them. Even his missteps are carefully orchestrated ruses. And the rest of you, because of your willful ignorance, are complicit in the act.

But the best part of being a conspiracy theorist, I've found, is no matter what happens there's always another secret plot and every stone that's been turned over to reveal nothing simply means the answer must be under another stone.

A Lakers-Magic or Nuggets-Cavs Finals proves that the NBA was, at the very least, half successful.

Why only half successful?

Well, mirabile dictu, another theory will quickly emerge.

And a Nuggets-Magic Finals?

A carefully orchestrated misstep to throw us off the trail, perhaps...