Old NBA, Meet the New NBA
Here's how ESPN presented this one night in NBA history...without irony.
After seeing what transpired this past Wednesday night (April 13, 2016), I realized I really should cover the NBA a bit more closely. This league, even under the direction of newish Commissioner Adam Silver, apparently isn’t immune to the shenanigans attributed to the David Stern regime.
As the 2015-16 NBA season wound down, two stories took hold in the media, both of which were actually the culmination of six months worth of hype. The first was the retirement of Kobe Bryant. The second was whether the defending champion Golden State Warriors could eclipse the seemingly unbreakable mark of 72 season wins (in 82 games) set by the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Dennis Rodman era.
The Kobe Farewell Tour—which in many obnoxious ways mirrored the Derek Jeter farewell tour with the retiring player being honored at each stadium he visited in his final season—would close appropriately enough in Hollywood with the Kobe’s LA Lakers at home versus the Utah Jazz.
Believe it or not, the Staples Center sold $1.2 million worth of Kobe-related merchandise to Kobe-obsessed fans prior to the game. Meanwhile, the newly relocated LA Rams delayed the announcement of its trade with the Tennessee Titans (a franchise that knows a thing or two about relocating) to acquire the NFL’s #1 overall draft pick until the following morning so not to interfere with LA’s Kobe celebration. With those kind of numbers and attention is it any wonder this game played out in the fashion it ultimately did?
Kobe scored a career-high 60 points in his finale on 22 of 50 shooting (the most shots attempted by a player in 30 years). Statistically speaking, the game was an anomaly in Kobe’s career, but I supposed it could be slightly forgiven since it was his literal swan song. Yet when the main attraction scores literally 60 percent of the Lakers points (the team put up a total of 101), you have to question the motivation of the Jazz coaching and defensive play.
Well, obviously, the Jazz put up no defense. They were there to fulfill a specific role as the NBA’s “heels” (like a pro wrestling “villain” destined to lose). Utah were out of the playoffs with nothing to gain by winning and perhaps an extra ping pong ball(s) in the league’s draft lottery hopper for the #1 overall pick should they lose.
So without having to tell anyone on the Jazz to do so, the team laid down for Kobe...much to the league's enjoyment.
Ipso facto, the game was fixed. Same as Super Bowl 50 was for Peyton Manning, same as Jeter was grooved a pitch for his walk-off hit, etc. etc.
Yeah, sure, that pitch wasn't intentionally grooved...
The “Hollywood ending” for Kobe was just that: a scripted event. It’s just that no one needed an actual screenplay to act out their role. It was improvised with clear knowledge of what needed to transpire to entertain the craving fans.
Further up the road, the Warriors were in a similar situation. In order to achieve its record breaking victory number 73, Golden State needed a win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the 7th playoff seed in the Western Conference. Contenders by definition, but not true competition.
The Warriors’ star of stars, Stephen Curry, also had an opportunity to personally accomplish something the NBA has never before seen. If Curry could sink nine three-pointers in the game, he'd become the first player to reach the milestone of 400 threes in a season.
True to NBA marketing form, the Warriors didn’t disappoint. Not only did they drop the Grizzlies 123-104, Curry went 10-19 from three-point land, setting a new NBA high watermark at 401 three pointers made. Incredible numbers from a truly gifted shooter, no doubt.
But take a slightly closer look at you can see that the Warriors—and by extension, the Grizzlies—forced that 400+ number into being during Game 82. Curry hadn’t attempted more than 16 threes in a game all season…until Wednesday night. In that final contest, Curry put up 19 attempts. Number 400 didn’t drop until midway through the 3rd quarter (attempt number 15), and it took four more three-point shots to drain number 401 (attempt 19).
You don’t think someone on the Warriors bench knew what was what numbers-wise, and made sure Curry made his mark? And exactly how much did the Grizzlies exert themselves to (a) win the meaningless-to-them game and (b) stop Curry from three-point land?
This game, too, was fixed in the same manner as Kobe’s exit. No one said to the Grizzlies, “You will take a dive tonight.” It was just a known thing amongst players, coaches, and even referees.
These outcomes were what the fans wanted, what the league wanted, and what did they (the Jazz and Grizzlies) have to gain by playing the “spoiler” role? So, why fight the inevitable? Two meaningless games in the grand scheme of things with two results that certainly benefited the league.
You can call it tanking, but tanking by another name is simply a fix.
And people still think sports aren’t entertainment manipulated for these purposes?