Is the NBA rigged?
January 05, 2010, 04:07 PM
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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.)

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?