NBA takes cue from the grassy knoll
League bigwigs conspire to make sure fans perspire
I don't have many marketable skills. If, heaven forbid, a global catastrophe forced all of us to rely on our hands to grow vegetables and build luxurious lean-tos, I would be qualified to edit the commune newsletter.
But there are a few things I do know about, and one of them is suspicious behavior. If you're lurking or skulking or generally sneaking around, I'll pick up on it in two seconds. And I'm a leading theorist when it comes to conspiracy theories.
On Tuesday, Dallas beat San Antonio, 103-91, to avoid being knocked out of the Western Conference finals. This seemed a bit peculiar, seeing as how the Mavericks were without their best player, superstar Dirk Nowitzki. And it seemed a bit peculiar because the Spurs at one point had a 19-point lead in their own arena.
The naive among us will say that players often band together in the face of adversity and perform beyond their apparent capabilities. The gullible among us will say that a 19-point lead in the NBA is written in pencil and can be erased quickly. And the unsophisticated among us will say that anybody can beat anybody else on the road.
We conspiracy theorists, on the other hand, believe that UFOs are abducting cows for research purposes.
Below the surface, where we CTs keep two years' worth of provisions, there was something unsettling about that playoff game. Maybe it was the fact that the Mavericks had absolutely no business winning it.
That brings us to one question: How did it happen?
It might have happened because -- cue the ominous music -- the NBA didn't want the Western Conference finals to end early.
Allow me to lay out what is obvious to those of us who believe there was indeed a shooter on the grassy knoll in Dallas (and it wasn't Steve Nash):
Interest in the NBA is waning. Playoff ratings are down 19 percent from last season, according to USA Today. If you put together all the people who care deeply about a Spurs-Nets Finals, you could fit them in Hoboken.
To compound the problem of a less-than-sexy matchup, the NBA was facing the prospect of a loooooooong layoff before the Finals if the Spurs had beaten the Mavs on Tuesday.
The first game of the Finals, no matter the participants, is scheduled for Wednesday. Had San Antonio wrapped up the conference finals Tuesday in Game 5, there would have been a seven-day recess before Game 1 of the Finals against the Nets.
God couldn't create interest in these playoffs in seven days.
Momentum would have been gone. Attention spans would have shifted about 15 times in the span of a week. Fans would have moved on to the next big thing, even if it was the World Lumberjack Championships.
And ABC, which is paying the NBA $400 million a year for the broadcast rights, wouldn't have been too happy about the prospect of a snoozing populace. Its predecessor, NBC, traditionally allowed wiggle room in its playoff scheduling to avoid long layoffs before the Finals. ABC, which refuses to wiggle, doesn't want to look bad.
I think you can see how this would work. Network executives whisper in the ear of NBA Commissioner David Stern, who whispers in the ears of NBA referees, who whisper in the ears of the players on both teams, who manipulate Game 5 in order to serve their masters, a secret world government that calls Yanni its maximum leader. There is a lot of whispering in conspiracies.
Interest in the NBA thus is somewhat sustained. Sure, 100 people would have had to be in on the cover-up, but that sort of thing didn't stop Princess Di from faking her death to avoid a miserable life in the public eye, did it?
You think it's all in my head? Two years ago, Bucks coach George Karl said the NBA was conspiring to put the 76ers in the Finals. The refs were following orders and robbing the Bucks, Karl implied. The league fined him $25,000 for exercising his right to free speech and giving his paranoia a walk around the block while he was at it.
Sports fans are huge conspiracy theorists. If you've listened to sports talk radio, then you know the fix is in more often than it's out. The baseballs are juiced, the linesman is a crook, etc.
I just want you to know it's all true.
And Princess Di is living with Bigfoot, the big lug, while happily subsisting on berries and tree bark.
Rick Morrissey is a sports columnist with the Chicago Tribune.