Credible?NBA has doubters

Once again the credibility of the NBA has been attacked, with Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy's allegation of a conspiracy. Van Gundy stated that "a referee not working the playoffs" had informed him that center Yao Ming had been targeted for a crackdown on offensive fouls. Van Gundy never divulged his source, prompting Commissioner David Stern to fine him a coach's record $100,000.

Anyone who closely follows the NBA should wonder about recent occurrences that could make them think of conspiracies.

If there is indeed an ongoing league conspiracy, one would have to first look at the draft lottery. Fans have yet to see a ping-pong ball pulled from the magic lottery machine that determines which team gets the all-important first pick. Instead David Stern opens envelopes already containing the order of the top picks.

Every time there is a clear first pick in the draft, it creates controversy as to who that pick goes to. The year Stern invented this lottery, Patrick Ewing predictably went to the huge market of New York. When Shaquille O'Neal came out, fans needed to see to believe Orlando win with only one ping-pong ball out of 66. When Tim Duncan graduated, an instant contender was created in the San Antonio Spurs, who that year had David Robinson's injury. Last season Lebron James conveniently stayed in his home of Cleveland. Fans certainly are entitled to see these franchise-changing ping-pong balls as they are coming out, but for some reason Commissioner Stern doesn't allow for it.

Last year's alleged conspiracy was mild in comparison, between Stern and the television networks. With the Los Angeles Lakers in danger of entering the playoffs with a low seed, in midseason Stern slyly stretched the first round series to seven games, even though most fans, players and coaches were opposed to it. Stern and the networks rejoiced as the Lakers helped ratings by making it all the way to the Finals.

The biggest alleged recent conspiracy involved superstar Michael Jordan and, of course, David Stern. What would make one of the best players in the history of basketball suddenly decide to take up baseball? Perhaps a secret two-year suspension for gambling. Everyone knows Jordan occasionally lost huge sums of money, but not many know for sure whether or not he bet on team sports or why his father was murdered.

From the outside looking in, Stern seems to be a nice enough fellow, but he is first and foremost a shrewd businessman. He would have done nothing publicly to hurt the eventual six-time champion Jordan, his league's meal ticket, who even in retirement is still one of the most marketable athletes in the world.

Ironically, in last week's Van Gundy case, a conspiracy theory made no sense because Stern would love to keep Yao and China's over one billion people in the playoffs. But Stern was forced to counter-attack when the word conspiracy was used due to his own curious past decisions.

Predictions: The first round series picks went 7 for 8 in the fairly predictable NBA, with Chicago the only loser after blowing a 2-0 lead.

Detroit vs. Indiana - Stern couldn't prevent the reliving of the memorable Malice in the Palace basketbrawl game that led to three lengthy Indiana suspensions. Four bomb threats delayed the start of Indiana's next game in Detroit. The Pacers wanted to face the Pistons in the playoffs, and they have already taken over home court advantage. You have to root for 39-year-old Pacer Reggie Miller, but the pick is Detroit in 7.

Miami vs. Washington - Miami is 6-0 vs. Washington, but we'll be generous to the Wizards and say Miami wins in 5.

San Antonio vs. Seattle - The Spurs won't lose at home to banged-up Seattle, so it's just a matter of time. San Antonio in 5.

Phoenix vs. Dallas - As mentioned last week, this is the most likely upset, and Dallas now has evened the series. Still, we're going with Phoenix in 7.

Finals - Sticking with San Antonio over Detroit.


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