Efforts toward transparency: legitimizing the NBA
After the Cleveland Cavaliers wound up winning the first overall pick in the NBA lottery with just a 1.7 percent chance, many cried foul.
Since LeBron James left for Miami four years ago, Cleveland has really lucked out in the lottery. In 2011, they received the number one and number four overall picks (Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson respectively). In 2012, they received the number four overall pick (Dion Waiters). In 2013 the Cavs again won the first overall pick (Anthony Bennett) before winning the first overall pick again in 2014.
Needless to say, the odds of that entire happening are improbable. To put this good fortune into perspective, your odds of knocking in a hole-in-one are more likely (1 in 12,750) that just getting the number one picks alone in 2011, 2013, and 2014 (1 in 13,467).
Conspiracy theorists were all over this, and still are. Plenty of NBA skeptics felt the fix was in, and that the lottery is rigged. Many still believe there is some kind of internal puppeteering going on behind closed doors.
For conspiracy theorists and anti-theorists alike, the question remains: why doesn't the NBA put this to sleep?
This is a league that garners skepticism and suspicion unlike any other major sport. To address these notions, Commissioner Adam Silver has pledged an effort toward transparency. This includes the presence of retired NBA referee Steve Javie to provide live commentary on controversial calls throughout the playoffs. With such a focus on maintaining a level of transparency, why not make adjustments to the lottery? Why not further legitimize the NBA?
Similarly, too many times games are decided (or at least clearly affected) by officiating. The Van Gundy brothers, among countless other coaches and basketball figures, have criticized this reality. Obviously, NBA referees do not have an easy job. Missed calls are inevitable, but the frequency of mistakes is far too great and ultimately challenges the integrity of many games. After 2004's infamous Malice at the Palace and 2007's Tim Donaghy betting scandal the NBA and its refs drew extremely harsh (and deservedly so) criticism for losing control of games. Since then, however, it seems many games are over-controlled and over-officiated--resulting in an obvious threat to Adam Silver's alleged attempt toward transparency.
Mark Cuban is especially known for openly voicing criticism of said officiating. He's been fined several times for expressing his disdain for alleged poor officiating. An article published at Larry Brown Sports reveals that he even hired an ex-FBI agent to review NBA officiating after losing in the 2006 finals in which Dwyane Wade was awarded an incredible 97 free throw attempts. According to John Canzano of the Portland Oregonian, Cuban hired Warren Flagg, who now runs an investigation and security firm. Flagg told Cuban that he could not only sue the league, but would win the case. Despite this, Cuban decided to leave things alone.
Numerous people write off the NBA for this kind of skepticism. Many of the same people tiredly explain that in the NBA "there's no defense" and that "college kids have more heart." Why not address these perceptions? If the NBA really cares about transparency, they would prove them wrong. Have referees swallow more whistles. Let the players play and the coaches coach. Let them decide the outcomes themselves.
This isn't even necessarily a call for the return of 80s rugged, physical style. Rather, a call to let players lock guys down without receiving tedious calls. Let the players grind it out and express competitive emotion without getting slapped with petty technicals.
The referees need to do a better job of removing themselves from the equation of the outcome. If there is obvious contact deterring a shot from potentially going in, make the call, but nobody came to the arena or flipped on ESPN, TNT or ABC to watch Joey Crawford emphatically make decisions. They came to watch star athletes put on a show (though Crawford may disagree).
As for the lottery, what is the problem with actually running the ping pong ball machine live? Why run it in the back room and come out to tell the public the results? It's almost like they want to arouse suspicion. Don't tell me it takes too long. The 30 minute lottery presentation is filled with an excessive degree of fluff and videos of players who won't actually be chosen until the draft begins. By running the ping pong ball machines live, the NBA would put a gaping hole in conspiracists' notions.
Silver's effort toward transparency is really more of a large scale effort to legitimize the NBA. If the effort is genuine however, there is obvious work to be done. Silence the skeptics with nuanced efforts. Prove an established, authentic product. Otherwise, questions of legitimization will continue to surround the league, and the NBA will forever remain the black sheep of major sports.