Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 at 2:38 pm  |  43 responses

The Latest NBA Conspiracy Theory

The formation of the LeBron-Wade-Bosh trio raises eyebrows.

by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack

Conspiracy theories are nothing new to the NBA. From whether the New York Knicks were set-up to select Patrick Ewing first overall in the 1985 Draft to whether the Los Angeles Lakers were aided by help from referees in their seven-game series win over the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, the League has constantly fended off accusations of shady operations. Now, there might be another conspiracy theory to add to the list.

If you haven’t read enough about the Miami Heat’s free agent collection of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, well, here’s one more story to satisfy your appetite. Many theories have been brought up for how the Heat secured James and Bosh to free agent deals in addition to re-signing Wade. Some folks, including a Knicks-loving filmmaker, have suggested the process was rigged. John Vrooman, a sports economics professor at Vanderbilt University, hinted at a set-up while falling short of calling it a conspiracy.

“The NBA’s overt strategy of preferring dynasties over competitive balance and star players over team production runs through LeBrons Decision Basketball everything they do,” Vrooman wrote in an e-mail message.

Vrooman wrote that in response to a question I had about one of his previous e-mail statements, which included his thoughts about the latest “twisted free agency charade” from this summer and how the events of this past free agent season will be replicated in the future.

The latter point remains to be seen, as the NBA’s current economic structure could drastically change by the ‘11-12 season. For example, a “soft” salary cap may no longer exist past this season if NBA owners have their way. The soft cap, which has been in place since 1984, permits teams to exceed the salary cap to re-sign their players and to sign reserved contracts which are considered salary cap “exceptions.”

“The reason the salary cap is soft is so that conservative owners could be protected against maverick owners, while at the same time not killing the chicken that laid the golden egg. The Larry Bird exception is a classic example of the NBA’s reasonable desire to preserve existing teams,” Vrooman wrote of the exception that allows a team to exceed the cap in order to re-sign what’s typically a franchise-type player.

There’s no fault in the attempt to keep a valuable player with one team. It’s what has helped the NBA stand apart from other leagues over the years. While Hall of Famers like Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant have worn only one jersey their entire career, greats in other sports will slide from one team to the next because of a “hard” cap (NFL), which makes for tough financial decisions, or no cap (MLB), which gives teams the ability to throw all the money they want at the best available players. (It should be pointed out that Ray Lewis and Derek Jeter are fine examples of how players in the NFL and MLB can still remain with one squad.) Yet what started out as a good intention, to permit teams to keep their players to maintain dynasties, has morphed into the NBA looking the other way at teams trying to recreate those talent-laden teams from the ’80s.

“The NBA has by default reached the reasonable conclusion that familiarity and personal competition between DWade and LBJ and Kobe [Bryant] feed national TV ratings and it does indeed,” Vrooman wrote. “Whether or not [Commissioner David] Stern’s token attempts to preserve the Raptors and Cavs, to fine owners for tampering, and then somehow to stand for the Heat’s free agent bonanza on the heels of the Celtics’ Big Three and the mystery move of Pau Gasol to join Kobe in L.A., is conclusive evidence of this open and overt strategy of dynasties over [competitive] balance is an empirical question that is subject to debate.”

It’s a loaded statement that should be broken down. Stern, or any part of the NBA for that matter, has not appeared to do anything to aid the Raptors and Cavaliers after the departures of their franchise players. In fact, Stern fined Cavs owner Dan Gilbert $100,000 for comments he made about James in a letter to Cavs fans, and in a follow-up phone interview with the Associated Press, after James announced he would sign with the Heat.

The tampering charges Vrooman wrote about were in regards to the $100,000 fine handed to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and $10,000 fine given to then-Suns general manager Steve Kerr for comments made about James prior to the official start of free agency in July.

The references to the formation of the Celtics and Lakers’ cores are self-explanatory. The Big Three coming together in Boston raised some eyebrows after then-Timberwolves general manager Kevin McHale and Celtics Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge — Celtics teammates in the ’80s — made a deal to trade Kevin Garnett to Boston. It was a trade that appeared unbalanced at the time.

Gasol’s deal to the Lakers raised suspicion in even more folks, namely Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. He stated the trade was “beyond comprehension” and that there should be “a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense.”

Points that Vrooman raised have been at the core of debates among NBA fans and critics. In his opinion, there isn’t much room for discussion.

“The debate shouldn’t last long, and the empirical question is easy to answer. There have only been six different NBA championship clubs and home markets in the 27-year modern era of the soft salary cap (1984-2010) and we all know who they are, including DWade and the Miami Heat. There is no doubt: This imbalance is by design.”

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  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    Nice write-up, Kyle. Being a conspiracy theorist myself, I’m always under the assumption that if it’s possible, it’s probable.

  • http://twitter.com/HarryByrdMan44 LA Huey

    Haters go’n hate. Why would the league let small market San Antonio land Duncan when the Celtics needed him and had a great chance to land him? Why would Stern hand down suspensions that killed their most exciting team (the Suns) in favor of their “most boring” team? Yes, the Garnett trade was lopsided (since McHale conceded Rondo) but the Gasol trade was a combo of a salary dump and acquisition of a blue chipper.

  • drosefan

    A great article was written about a month ago on Yahoo Sports about LeBron and his move to Miami along with the facts about him almost not getting invited to the 2008 Olympics among other things. It should be read by those who are interested in finding out how this really happened. In my opinion, LeBron knew he was leaving Cleveland two years ago.

  • Joe

    Actually, there have been 7 championship teams since 1984:

  • KillakillfromAdamsville

    It’s a good read but none of it matters. Balanced teams playing for a title don’t sell tickets, jerseys, or sneakers. It’s just a part of the world we live in.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    Keep crying, bit*hes.

  • Savage Dragon

    It seems to me, Conspiracy Theorist see the things that they want to see when it comes to stuff. I’m not the best person to debunk theories but clearly there are a few things that should disprove the theories:

    Tim Duncan’s boring ass winning 4 Rings not counting the series where detroit and SA played each other.

    Detroit beating the Lakers in the Finals.

    (If the NBA really controlled stuff, no way would those two things happen)

    Plus you can just look at what happened to Cleveland the past two years. Cleveland losing to Orlando and Boston? You know everybody wanted to see Kobe take on Bron and win? So you guys are saying that David Stern would rather see Orlando playing in the Finals as opposed to the Chosen One?

    You can go further and say that if the Miami Superfriens was preordained, why would they let Lebron go out like that? Wouldn’t it be better for Lebron to almost win a ring/actually win a ring and decide that he got so close/or that his job is done in Cleveland, that he should leave to win multiple championships with a better team and prevent all the backlash that he’s experiencing this year.

    I got more cases like that, but I’m pretty busy and I don’t want this post to become too disjointed.

  • Savage Dragon

    Ps, I had spacing and formatting in what I just posted, but apparently Comments like that are supposed to end up as a Big Block of Text. My bad ya’ll

  • http://www.realgm.com Gman

    eh… leave this story alone already.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Only, it makes more sense for the league to have Lebron and Wade battling for the next few years as Kobe begins his inevitable decline, instead of them forming a power team just to go against Kobe.
    Bron in the Chi and Wade and Bosh in Miami would have created potential dynasties, but also created a more entertaining regular season.
    This theory has some flaws.

  • total scrotal implosion

    First, hakeem was no 1 pick in 84, kyle stack. Ill let you figure out which one was ewings. Damn, im so tired of slam writers make stupid mistakes like that, you make it obvious that you dont really know your craft. Get it together dingus

  • http://slamonline.com Kyle Stack

    @total My bad. (I say that in honor of Manute.) ’85 was the year.

  • total scrotal implosion

    The 02 wcf was so obviously rigged. Kg trade was fine, al jefferson anyone? 25 12? Nothing wrong with how celts got together, nor miami. Pau trade was a steaming pile engineered by jerry west and buss. the league has done so much to stop the spurs, .4 shot by fish(he barely got it off but no way clock startd on time), joey crawford in general and specifically the no call on fish jumping on barrys shoulder that next day league said should have been calld, how convenient. League cheats for lal, and dallas when cubes complained about yaos screens then rest of series yao was in foul trouble on bs. 02 wcf is most obvious example of favoritism

  • The Philosopher


  • http://www.slamonline.com Nima Zarrabi

    It should be noted that the NFL also has a mechanism in place to keep its most important players from bouncing via Unrestricted free agency. It’s called the Franchise Tag, and it is the reason why cats like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will never be able to test the free agent market. Manning has already been franchised in the past and Brady is entering the final year of his current contract. If the Pats and Brady cannot agree to an extension, the Pats have the ability to tag his rights, therefore granting Brady a salary that averages no less than the top 5 at his position for 1 season. By tagging his rights, Brady would not be allowed to test free agency. Each team is allowed 1 franchise tag per season. PS: @Eboy: Hilarious, dude.

  • JTaylor21


  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Moose

    And Tupac is alive.

  • Lan

    Good conspiracy. But check out Football(Soccer in USA)in England, Italy and Spain. It’s always the same teams finishing in the top 3. In Italy, they caught a couple of the teams (AC Milan and Juventus) in match fixing and sent them down to the lower division as punishment (I think).

  • The Philosopher

    It doesn’t matter, my SLAM brethren, friends.
    LeBron Is THE KING.
    Y’all hear me??
    Unprecedented clout.
    Unprecedented talent.
    Unprecedented athleticism.
    Unprecedented potential.
    Controversy surrounds him AND his men.
    The masses are STILL in awe…
    For, he has changed lives, AND livelihoods.
    We are witness to… basketball holy ground.

  • http://www.twitter.com/gerardhimself Gerard Himself

    the last paragraph is something I have a problem with. Saying it’s “by design” means all those teams got their players like the Lakers got Gasol? Or how Miami got the superfriends? What am I missing here?

  • Savage Dragon

    @total scrotal how can you say the KG trade was fine but the lakers wasn’t?

    It’s simple, Memphis is paying max franchise money to Gasol, they were too good to get any lottery picks (playoffs 3 times in a row) but too bad to be championship contenders (getting swept from playoffs 3 times in a row.)

    If you play in a small market, there’s lil chance of you getting a good free agent and it’s hard to develop talent when you never get any lottery picks. So Memphis decided that they need to blow the team up, by trading Pau for an expiring contract and young talent so that they can rebuild………………………………..

    Kwame Brown (Sucks but is an expiring contract worth around 12 mill I think), Javaris Crittenton was a potential pg, and Marc Gasol was a good Center who wasn’t coming over quiet yet.

    SO Look at Memphis now, they got a squad of young talent, M. Gasol looks like their center for years, they used the money that they saved from Kwame to get Zach Randolph for a few years (who has played very well for them)and by the time that the Lakers start falling off, the Grizzlies will be a pretty good team, between Mayo, Gay, Gasol and maybe somebody else I’m forgetting…………………………………………………………………………..
    Now look at Minnesota, they traded KG to their homeboy from the Celtics when KG didnt’ originally want to go there, for Al Jefferson and some other people. Good player but where are all the people that they traded their best player for? Not a single one is still with Minnesota!…………………………………………………………………………..So Lakers made a trade to win now, Memphis made a trade for cap relief so that they could be a threat later on down the line, Boston made their trade so that they could win right away and Minnesota made their trade so that they could be …..what? So look back at these trades rationally and tell me which trade seems unfair in hindsight?

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    I enjoy the philosophers rants – Show me your Kings bling and then I’ll sing…

    Also on this point about the conspiracy; would Stern single handedly stop Steve Nash from getting a ring? How about Mike D’Antoni his Olympic team coaching staff of recent years…? If Stern was all about stacked champs, Nash would have rings.

  • http://slamonline.com Dave.

    I’m impressed how few people had the nous to comprehend or even read the article before commenting.
    FTR, it was both good and informative.

  • El Shish

    Need to put the idea that the Gasol-to-Lakers-deal was-rigged idea to bed. One-sided at the time, of course, the Grizzlies have gotten a lot more out of that deal than people are willing to accept. The Griz and Lakers weren’t stupid enough to think that Gasol Jr was chump change. His potential, the draft pick and the cap relief they obtained has helped that team rebuild on a more solid foundation and with a new strong core of similarly aged players. Likewise, it’s easy to say that Pau has been a top-3 big man all his career but fact is, few people actually saw him as that while at Memphis… top 6-7 more like. The deal worked out well for both teams. People need to get over that.

  • ab_40

    just let em play.. who cares. It’s good for the game that there are amazing teams like this. The world wide coverage and interest in the sport in own country will probably grow. the us is a microwave society everything must go fast and they wanna see results. but when it happens on a big scale you don’t like it. The boston miami storylines when they face of in the playoffs are gonna be amazing.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Innocent until proven guilty I spose.

  • http://www.shawnkemp.com Masr

    Man sometimes we all think too hard into something looking for an answer but the answer is right in front of us,Lebron wanted to go play for miami. Or maybe im just naive as f(ck

  • hammer

    @ the philosopher 9:55pm comment:Ooookaaaayyy philosopher. That was a lil weird. Lbj is good he has talent,but as joe pesci said in goodfellas “leave it @ that.” Changed lives? Ha ha! He hasn’t changed mine. Not even the gr8 mj changed my life. How has he changed urs? I’m curious 2 know. What the f**k has he dun 4 u huh? $? Jewelry? U on his payroll? Just sayin. Ur a grown man right? Act like 1 and leave those comments 4 tha kids and sportswriters!

  • http://thosefishtacosarethetits.blogspot.com Boston_Blogg3r

    Stay classy, Eboy…

  • hammer

    02 wcf:rigged. C’mon! How does any1,bsides laker fans,not c that!? 40 free throws awarded 2 the lakers n gm 6. Don’t know how else u xplain that s**t. When has something like that ever happened b4 or after that game? 85 draft:rigged. No way that the 1st ever draft wasn’t gonna be given 2 ny. Lbj/wade/bosh and pat riley: they ALL knew since 08 what they wanted 2 do. And if u don’t think so then ur just str8 naive. Open ur eyes ya’ll! The nba isn’t the secret service. They dont wiretap ur phone calls. Who’s 2 say that all 4 of them cats never called up each other or had informal meetings? The teams that were n the running for 1 or 2 of those cats NEVER had a chance

  • The Philosopher

    You are not the first to ask me if I am being financially supported by… The King.
    Anyways, The King has blessed us with good basketball for quite some time now.
    Kobe has too.
    D. Wade, Michael, Magic, etc., etc.
    That is what he has done for me, lately.
    As much as you, along with others, would beg to differ, he has done that for you, too.
    The King has done that for all of us.

  • hammer

    Agreed. I do beg 2 differ. 1 thing I do agree w/u is that all those cats have shown us gr8 bball. No doubt. But life changing!? Life changing would b having kids,getting married,owning a career. Things like that. Bron-bron is just a bball player. That’s it

  • The Philosopher

    Great ball for some is…
    life changing.

  • hammer

    Gr8 ball is something we enjoy watching. Its entertainment. Once the final buzzer sounds its back 2 the daily grind

  • dsleepy21

    Savage Dragon speaks the truth but let’s not forget exactly why it is the L-Wolves suck. They’ve had pieces and opportunities. But poor drafting and a stupid give-away of their best player (AJ) has done them in. I think if they kept Jefferson and drafted the right players last year and this year, then you could call the kg trade very fair.

  • dsleepy21

    and also ’02 wcf was set up. but there’s no denying that series was epic.

  • The Philosopher

    For many, that is true.
    But, then there are the children, poor and rich alike, that, when watching basketball, especially great basketball, it is a life changing experience for them.
    They learn to play it.
    Some go on to elite educational institutions and earn high class educations for free, based purely on the first time they’ve either watched basketball, or picked up a basketball, what have you.
    Again, The King is playing a part in… changing lives.

  • hammer

    Crazy thing is that I was just thinking the same thing philosopher. On that basis it is tru. Other than that let’s not get carried away with lbj

  • http://slamonline.com Dave.

    Is there a plugin I can download that converts hammer’s typing into English?

  • http://www.sonicbids.com Doyouwantmore

    Any time you get two guys fighting for money, some kind of fix is in, even if the two guys don’t know it.

  • Savage Dragon

    I really don’t think that the Wolves – Celtics trade was a conspiracy honestly, I think it was more of a you have something I need and I have something you need plus since we’re cool (Ainge and McHale) let’s go ahead and do it. It was more of we both need help plus we’re friends which makes it even better type of situation……………………………………Like Dsleepy21 said, Sota’s problems are more from incompetence than them trying to do something slick. I just hate when people accuse LA of cheating but have no problems with the more suspicious KG trade, but some people will never be happy unless their teams are winning and everybody else is losing.

  • Andrew

    Come on now, LeBron to the Heat was NOT “by design”. Do you seriously believe a sports league would be able to hide something like that?? Especially in a league like the NBA where nobody’s able to keep a secret and everybody likes talking? Especially considering in the age we live in. In the connected world/YouTube/blogs/247 news cycles and with all the technology available, do you seriously believe nothing would’ve leaked out if there was something fishy going on? Do you realize how many people would’ve had to be involved (league’s executives, players, teams executives etc.). How could someone hide something like that, especially in today’s age where you can’t hide anything? Too people would’ve had to be involved. Just accept the fact LeBron is close with Wade.

    And don’t you think the league would’ve been much better off with LeBron joining NY (finally reviving the Knicks) or Chicago?
    As far as the guy who brought up the .04 Fisher shot conspiracy, just stop it, please. The shot clock is managed by a neutral operator, not by the league itself. Have you ever heard of something called “human reaction time”? So there’s NO WAY the shot clock starts in the same exact split second a player touches the ball, as you foolishly believe. The clock operators are human beings, not robots. So think before speaking. If you re-watch that shot and take into account “human reaction time”, you’d notice there was nothing fishy.
    As far as kings lakers in ’02, people conveniently forget the Lakers were screwed by the refs in game 5 so it all evens out. The Kings had their chances to win game 7 and blew them (think to Peja’s wide-open airball or many missed FT’s). And, for the record, I’m NOT a Lakers fan.
    I can’t stand conspiracy theorists. Conspiracies just take away all the fun I have watching bball.

  • Izzy

    Yay! Conspiracy theories!!! Key word being: THEORIES!!! Like Elvis is alive! Tupac is alive! The earth is flat! The moon is made of cheese! Billions of years ago a heap of chemicals appeared out of nowhere and BANG everything randomly started evolving from nothing!!! All theories…good for a laugh…not much else