Another Day, Another Conspiracy Theory!

By the time this post is delivered, three games of the 2014 NBA Finals will have been played. The focus of today’s blog, however, is Game 1. In a contest played last Thursday night in San Antonio, the Air Conditioning apparatus failed at AT&T Arena. The circumstances surrounding the malfunctioning AC were not immediately available, but in the second half officials from Spurs Sports and Entertainment released the following statement:

“An electrical failure for the power that runs the AC system in the AT&T Center has occurred, we are continuing to work on resolving the problem. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

This explanation, while perhaps plausible, maybe even totally accurate, did not reassure countless Miami Heat fans, or an array of conspiracy theorists. Americans are never at a loss when confronted with the opportunity to contemplate and propose various bases for good conspiracy theories.

In fact, there is a rich history of events colored by the lens of supposed conspiracies, ranging from the Kennedy, King, and Malcolm assassinations, to Nicole Simpson’s murder (Did OJ do it?), to the alleged Benghazi cover-up. Of course, many of us know people who still insist that Elvis, Tupac, and Biggie are still alive. Perhaps you are one of them. These are all events that when mentioned, easily generate as much of an enthusiastic reaction today, as when they unfolded.

While historical events in general lend themselves to the notion of conspiracies, the frenetic mixture of competition, the unbridled zeal of fans, and the steroidal commercialism of pro sports serve to make the “arena” a breeding ground for generating conspiracy theories.

Sports in general have gifted us with a number of interesting, if not compelling, conspiracy theories. Key examples include:

  • 1919 – Black Sox (Chicago White Sox) scandal; eight members of the White Sox were alleged to have conspire to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Several players careers were terminated as a result
  • 1965 – Sonny Liston was alleged to have fixed/thrown his Heavyweight Title Bout against Muhammad Ali, falling to what some deemed a phantom punch, and what slow motion later revealed to be a blow unlikely to have rendered the then Champion unconscious
  • 1973 – Bobby Riggs was alleged to have bet against himself, and thrown the famous Battle of the Sexes Tennis Match against Billie Jean King. He had easily defeated Number 1 ranked women’s player Margaret Court earlier
  • 1980’s – Baseball owners’ were alleged to have conspired to collude to drive players salaries down. This claim was eventually validated in court
  • 2013 – The NFL was alleged to have orchestrated a power outage after Beyoncé’s Half Time performance at Super Bowl XLVII in order to keep the Baltimore Ravens (who had built a substantial half time lead) from running away with the game against the San Francisco 49’ers

Baseball, boxing, tennis, and football all play a prominent role in American sports culture. This writer, however, is a huge basketball fan. As such, here are a few examples of basketball related conspiracy theories that have emerged over the past half-century or so:

  • 1972 – After the USA’s domination of Olympic Basketball (never having lost a game since its introduction as an Olympic Sport), the Soviet Union upset Team USA in a controversial game that still rankles many Americans, including and especially, the players associated with the game. Team USA members declined to claim their Silver Medals
  • 1985 – The first year of the lottery era was also one of the most controversial drafts ever. Even today, speculation rages that the lottery was rigged to allow the New York Knicks to receive the first pick, which was anticipated to be (and actually was) Patrick Ewing. Whether the luck of the lotto, or the will of the Commissioner, the pick led to a revival of the Knicks, who had been struggling
  • 1993 – Michael Jordan’s first retirement is rumored to have been more of a forced suspension, rather than a voluntary retirement. Jordan had garnered a significant amount of attention for his extra-curricular activities, and it is alleged that Commissioner Stern suspended him for gambling, and that the retirement was a convenient ruse to avoid dealing with what would have been the ensuing controversy embroiling the NBA’s marquee player
  • 2002 – The NBA is alleged to have rigged the Western Conference Finals to save the Lakers’ Season. The Lakers trailed the series 3-2, and were tied with the Sacramento Kings going into the fourth quarter. The Lakers shot 27 free throws in the quarter, scored sixteen of their last eighteen points from the line, and went on to win the game by four. They would eventually win the NBA Championship
  • This year, and every year since the advent of the Draft Lottery (i985) – The worst NBA teams tank (throw games) to improve their position in the Lottery. Anyone who watches the sport regularly has noticed that some teams appear to lose late season games, almost inexplicably. At the same time, other teams near the bottom exert maximum effort, and fight to the end, in search of the last of the sixteen Playoff spots, rather than one of the fourteen spots in the Lottery

That brings me back to Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals between the Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs, the team with the best record in the NBA, and the defending Champion Miami Heat. By attaining the League’s top record this year; the Spurs earned home court advantage throughout each Round of the Playoffs, as long as they continued to win, including the Finals. As a result, the first two games of the Finals were played in San Antonio, with the next two set for Miami. Any necessary additional games will alternate between San Antonio and Miami, until one of the teams wins four games (Best of Seven).

The case of the malfunctioning air conditioning at the AT&T Arena is now officially added to the long list of NBA-bred conspiracy theories. The reasoning goes something like this. LeBron James, the Heat’s best player, and by most accounts, the best basketball player today, has a history of having trouble playing through cramps. Overly warm arenas are thought to be a key element in players, particularly LeBron, cramping in games.

Of course, the primary event that drives the notion of a conspiracy in this case is that LeBron cramped up, and missed more than half of the fourth quarter, including most of the last eight minutes (There are 12 minutes in a quarter). It is not difficult to reason, if you subtract the best player on the planet from your team, production will decline. The Heat went on to lose Game 1, and the pushback against the “nefariousSpurs was immediate.

Facebook, the Twitterverse, Instagram, the office water cooler, conversations at the gym, and between men and women on the street frequently buzzed with the notion that Gregg Popovich (the Spurs’ Coach) and Company had purloined Game 1 in an underhanded scheme designed to render lame the most potent force in the game.

Not to be left out of the conversational frenzy, at least one basketball player joined the fray. Jason Terry, of the Sacramento Kings, and formerly the in-state rival Dallas Mavericks, opined:

“You know what, Pop [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] has done that so many times. I don’t know if it’s a conspiracy, but I’m telling you, going into San Antonio is a tough place to play.

And I can remember very well one time where it was cold showers, there were about a thousand flies in the locker room. This year, there was a snake in the locker room. So, they’re going to pull out all the stops to get into your head.

When you go to San Antonio, expect something like that. And Miami fell victim to it.”

The snake Terry referenced was found by Thomas Robinson of the Portland Trailblazers in his locker prior to Game 2 of the Blazers’ Second Round Series against the Spurs. There are certainly a lot of snakes in Texas, but one making it into a locker room/locker; deep inside an NBA arena is a lot less likely than an AC malfunction, at least, in my view.

The temperature in the arena reached 90 degrees during last Thursday’s game. That’s hot if you were doing nothing but sitting. Playing a basketball game under such conditions would undoubtedly be uncomfortable. So why do I not believe it was a conspiracy/intentional? The propensity of LeBron to be affected by cramps notwithstanding, how could the Spurs discern that LJ would be the one person, of all players on both teams, to be so negatively impacted by the ensuing conditions that he would be unable to play effectively, or not at all? Moreover, how could they be sure that the debilitating effects would not extend to members of their own team?

I have sobering, if not good, news for those concerned about there having been a clandestine operation to derail Miami, in route to its third consecutive Title. Because the Spurs have home court advantage in this series, the Heat was always going to have to win a game in San Antonio in order to win the series and the Championship. The absolutely great thing about this is, there is nothing whatsoever that ever suggested it had to be Game 1. They have up to four shots at it, if needed, as long as they win at home. Moreover, the Heat won Game 2 Sunday night, which in effect, allowed them to steal home court advantage for themselves; mission accomplished…problem solved.  Well, momentarily anyway. The Heat, with no AC problems that we know of, at home in American Airlines Arena in Miami, gave it back. This marked the Heat’s first home loss during this year’s Playoffs. They have still not loss two consecutive games in the postseason this year, so expect them to bounce back tomorrow night. Of course, that won’t get home court advantage back; they must win again in San Antonio to do that. No question they are capable, but will they?  We shall see. By the way, lest you Heat fans feel inclined to throw in the towel because your team trails 2-1 after 3 games…last year at the end of Game 3, the Heat trailed 2-1…to the Spurs, so chin up!

Yes, “Another Day, Another Conspiracy Theory!” You may of course believe that which you are inclined to, or can imagine. As far I am concerned, this one fails the reasonable man test. Of course, that conclusion is based upon my temerity to presume I am a reasonable man. I’m done; holla back!

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