That sound you heard on Sunday was a collective gasp of disbelief as the Wizards didn't end up with the top lottery pick in the 2000 NBA draft. The conventional thinking, you see, was that despite the long odds against Washington, somehow the Ping-Pong balls would bounce in favor of Michael Jordan's new team.
This was only the most recent conspiracy theory adopted by fans and players who suspect that the NBA has become as orchestrated as WWF Smackdown, that David Stern is a Machiavellian puppeteer manipulating the strings of his marionettes. Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace is convinced that Portland is victimized by corrupt officiating because the Blazers "don't have a lot of poster boys." Reggie Miller believes that the Pacers will never get "benefit-of-the-doubt calls like New York, L.A. or Miami—the big market teams—do." Raptors coach Butch Carter asserts that evil forces soon will conspire to extradite his star Vince Carter from Canada to a U.S. market. What in the name of Oliver Stone is going on here?
In reality such theories are probably as far-fetched as magic bullets and Paul McCartney's death. But the point is this: The liberty the NBA has taken in blurring the lines between sports, entertainment and business has resulted in a disquieting credibility gap. When Stern unapologetically admits that the schedule for the playoffs will be determined by television's interests, it's only natural that small-market teams grow suspicious. When the league has a history of forcing its idea of who's a superstar down the public's throat, it's no wonder eyebrows were raised when rookie of the year balloting resulted in a tie for the second time since 1995. When Hoop, the NBA's official magazine, takes an airbrush to Allen Iverson's jewelry and tattoos as if they were zits on a supermodel, one can see how the skepticism of Wallace, a first-team cynic, might take root.
Perhaps those clouds of suspicion will dissipate should Indiana face off against Portland for the championship, which would mark only the third time in 15 seasons that no team from New York, L.A. or Chicago was represented in the Finals. Then again, a team from Nike's home state versus one coached by Larry Bird? Coincidence? Hmm....