Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Sunday, June 03, 2007
David's Revenge? Teams Suspect Stern Rigged NBA Lottery to Punish The Tankers
Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated reports on the most recent meeting of the NBA competition committee--a meeting held in Orlando last Tuesday and one that Thomsen calls "the most important competition committee meeting in years." The four-hour long meeting was chaired by Commissioner David Stern and attended by representatives from 29 of the 30 teams. Apparently things got testy when the topic turned to tanking, as Thomsen writes that there are "suspicions among some league executives and coaches that Stern rigged the results of the lottery." According to these suspicions, Stern somehow manipulated the ping-pong balls so as to punish the three teams (Grizzlies, Celtics, and Bucks) that were alleged to have purposefully lost games:
According to people who were there, the big issues were the alleged tanking of regular-season games, the mess created by last week's lottery and the rule prohibiting players from leaving the bench during on-court altercations that resulted in the suspensions of the Suns' Stoudemire and Boris Diaw during the West semifinals.As often as I criticize David Stern, I am going to defend him here. I feel confident saying that the lottery was not rigged and there was no conspiracy. Stern may be powerful, but short of telekinetic powers, I strongly doubt that he could or would have rigged the lottery, particularly given that an independent lottery firm--albeit one hired by the NBA--actually conducts it. The results were certainly unfortunate for the three teams with the three worst records, but that is the nature of a lottery where no team--including the team with the worst record--has a likely chance of landing either of the first two picks.
As to whether teams intentionally tanked games, I guess it depends on how one defines "intent." I'll consider the Celtics, since I follow them more closely than I do any other NBA team.
1) Did Coach Doc Rivers set out to lose games? Probably not, as I do not think his conscious object was to see his team lose games, particularly given pride and a weakened hold on his job. But did he experiment with lineups in ways that he would not have had his team been competing for a playoff spot? Probably, perhaps because he wanted to evaluate players for next season or because he was trying to catch lightening in a bottle, and by doing so, he likely knew there was a substantial risk that his team would lose more games.
2) Would Paul Pierce have played through elbow and foot injuries had his team been in playoff contention instead of being shut down with a few weeks left in the season? Probably, especially given his reputation for playing hurt. But was he really 100% and covertly kept out by GM Danny Ainge so that the team would lose more often? Probably not.
3) Could Al Jefferson have played through a minor knee injury in April rather than sit out a week? Probably. But was he "kept out" to ensure additional loses? Probably not.
I guess I would call it "passive tanking" which might reflect the "reckless" mens rea in criminal law: being aware that certain behavior poses a substantial risk of causing harm, but having other, possibly acceptable, intentions for the behavior. That may not comprise laudable conduct, but it's not as egregious as is generally implied by the word "tanking."
For related coverage on Sports Law Blog and The Situationist, check out:
Redesign the lottery so that the real drawing happens live on international TV. Seeing grim men in suits arrive in the TV studio with the envelopes all ordered by some secretive behind-the-scenes process does not help perceptions.