Top 10 Biggest NBA Draft Conspiracy Theories
10. Sonics Get Kevin Durant (2007 No. 2 Pick)
We can’t put this any higher than No. 10 on this list because it’s a conspiracy over the No. 2 overall pick in 2007. In this case, conspiracy theorists think that the NBA gave the rising star from Texas to the Sonics by allowing them to win the second overall pick in the 2007 Draft - the consensus landing spot for him behind Greg Oden.
Seattle was looking for an arena deal to improve upon crumbling KeyArena and conspiracy theorists believe this was David Stern’s attempt to keep basketball in the Emerald City with a Sonics’ revival that rallied voters. Of course, the Sonics were bought by Clay Bennett moved before the 2008-09 season when a new arena deal in Seattle could not be struck. But conspiracy theorists wonder if Durant - already a three-time NBA scoring champion - was a gift from the NBA as one last-ditch effort to get that deal done.
9. Magic Get Shaquille O'Neal (1992 No. 1 Pick)
The Orlando Magic not only did not make the playoffs in their first three seasons after beginning play as an expansion franchise in 1989-90, they won no more than 31 games in any year while the Miami Heat that came into existence a year earlier were already in the postseason. That’s why conspiracy theorists believe that it’s just too coincidental that the Magic nabbed the top overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, which yielded them man-child Shaquille O’Neal.
The Magic didn’t make the playoffs in Shaq’s rookie season but were in the NBA Finals by 1995 on the back of O’Neal, a 7-foot-1 monster with a lethal combination of power and agility. It would have been a horrible embarrassment for an expansion franchise to utterly fail and either be moved to another city or contracted and cynics believe Stern deliberately made sure that didn’t happen.
8. Blazers Get Greg Oden (2007 No. 1 Pick)
The NBA was busy in 2007, according to those who harbor conspiracy theories. Many believe that second overall pick Kevin Durant was guided to Seattle one pick after Portland was given the top overall selection. Many remember that forward-center Sam Bowie was selected with the second overall pick in the famed 1984 draft, which was one slot ahead of some guy named Michael Jordan.
And that’s part of what inspired the conspiracy theorists who believe that the league gave Portland a handout - the can’t-miss big man whom was a consensus top overall pick even over Durant. The Blazers also have one of the best fan bases in the league that had watched its team miss the playoffs four straight years - the longest drought since being an expansion franchise.
If Stern was trying to give the Blazers a jolt, he failed miserably as Oden has become a bigger bust than Bowie.
7. Magic Get Penny Hardaway (1993 No. 1 Pick)
If you listen to conspiracy theorists, David Stern is a heck of general manager. Shaquille O’Neal’s rookie season in Orlando produced improvement; the Magic landed at 41-41, which was good for ninth place in the Eastern Conference - just out of the playoffs. It was clear Shaq was going to be the next big thing - literally - in the NBA and the Chicago Bulls had just completed a three-peat with Michael Jordan.
With no one looking like they could reasonably challenge the Bulls, was David Stern trying to create a great NBA rivalry that could play out in the 1990s like the Celtics and Lakers did in the 1980s by handing the Magic the No. 1 pick for the second year in a row despite infinitesimal odds? Well, the Magic were in the NBA Finals two seasons later with Penny Hardaway at point guard, giving conspiracy theorists all the ammunition they need.
6. Wizards Get John Wall (2010 No. 1 Pick)
Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, one of the most-respected men in professional sports, passed away in November of 2010. Was it a coincidence that the Wiz won the lottery and the right to select first overall in the 2010 NBA Draft months later? Most reasonable people would say yes, but conspiracy theorists point to a few reasons that the victory was suspicious.
Beside David Stern’s affinity for Pollin and the presence of the late owner’s widow at the lottery event itself, Washington had embarrassed the league with a locker-room gun incident involving Gilbert Arenas and Jarvaris Crittenton. Some believe that Washington’s lottery win over the 15-win Timberwolves and, most especially, the 12-win Nets - a team that was headed for historic futility at one point - was the league’s way of bailing out the Wizards.
5. Cavaliers Get LeBron James (2003 No. 1 Pick)
James had been a high-school prodigy who brought schoolboy hoops to national television while appearing in his high school’s uniform on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Oh yeah, and he was from nearby Akron, OH. What a perfect tonic for the Cavs, who had struggled for years to obtain true success amid some crushing defeats. You all remember Michael Jordan over Craig Ehlo, right?
That’s why the conspiracy theorists were quick to see that James’ arrival to the Cavs’ doorstep was a bit too convenient. But here’s the thing: The Cavs tied for the worst record in the league in 2002-03 with 17 wins - meaning that them winning the draft lottery was - while well-timed - statistically expected. But that actually gave conspiracy theorists more ammo, as they pointed out that only one team with the league’s worst record had won the lottery (1990 Nets).
Of course, all this ignores the fact there were plenty of future All-Stars in the draft. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were three of the next four selections.
4. Bulls Get Derrick Rose (2008 No. 1 Pick)
The Chicago Bulls, one of the NBA’s cornerstone franchises thanks to Michael Jordan, hadn’t been able to come remotely close to replacing MJ’s star power since he left the Windy City after the 1998 season. Since then, the Bulls had missed the postseason seven times and never made it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. But in the 2008 draft, the Bulls were handed the ultimate gift, according to conspiracy theorists.
Despite a 1.7% chance to win the lottery, they won the right for the No. 1 pick and were able to take Rose, who naturally is a Chicago native. By 2011, he would win the NBA’s MVP and looks to be one of the transcendent talents in the league going forward - if he can stay healthy. This was shooting fish in a barrel for conspiracy theorists, who grow louder for every basket Rose makes for the big-market Bulls.
3. Cavaliers Get Kyrie Irving (2011 No. 1 Pick)
It was a bit convenient that the Cavs landed the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft less than a year after LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and left the Cavs high and dry. With all the backlash from “The Decision,” many thought this was David Stern’s consolation prize to the heart broken city of Cleveland.
Even Timberwolves GM David Kahn put on his tin foil hat after the Cavs won the lottery. “This league has a habit, and I am just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines. Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow and this year it was a 14-year-old boy,” Kahn said, referring to the son of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who was on stage for the lottery announcement.
Irving turned out to be the 2011-12 NBA Rookie of the Year. It no doubt was a good way for the Cavs and their fans to recover post-LeBron.
2. Hornets Get Anthony Davis (2012 No. 1 Pick)
We will see what comes of Davis, whom most NBA evaluators believe will be the only franchise-changing player to come out of the 2012 NBA Draft. But of course, the Bobcats - a team who set an NBA record for futility by percentage in the shortened season - did not win the lottery. That distinction goes to the New Orleans Hornets, a team that has been owned by the league and is transitioning it to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. As conspiracy theorists would say, “here’s a little gift for taking the Hornets off our hands.”
After trading Chris Paul - and the fiasco that surrounded that - it’s clear that the NBA didn’t want a depleted New Orleans franchise on its resume - especially considering the past hardships in the city and the awful attendance at Hornets games. Oh yeah, and Davis was seen wearing an old-school Hornets hat (granted, a Charlotte Hornets cap) before the lottery as if he knew something we didn’t.
Needless to say, after all these years of conspiracy theories, Stern sounds a little on edge about the latest one…
1. Knicks Get Patrick Ewing (1985 No. 1 Pick)
There was no question Ewing’s 1985 selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft would earn the top spot on this list. It’s fitting that the draft lottery system was implemented for the first time in Ewing’s draft to avoid teams from tanking, feeding conspiracy theorists more material. Many suggested that the NBA fixed the lottery in its first year as a way to push Ewing, one of the best college basketball players of all time, to New York - the biggest television market with one of the league’s flagship franchises.
The video of Stern pulling the Knicks’ envelope has been analyzed more than the Zapruder film (one version on YouTube has over 136,000 views). Some believe that Stern pulled a frozen envelope or one that had a crease on the corner so he knew which one belonged to the Knicks. Whatever the truth is, it’s still talked about nearly 30 years later with Ewing long retired and never delivering an NBA title to the Big Apple.
Needless to say, there are plenty of sports fans that don’t trust David Stern and enough conspiracy theories for an Oliver Stone film.