Has the NBA rigged the Finals in favor of the Golden State Warriors?

Golden State Warriors Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The NBA may not be favoring the Golden State Warriors, but they seem to be avoiding the narrative of rigging the NBA Finals for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Golden State Warriors are clearly in the realm of greatest team all-time in their sweep of the Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA finals.  But officiating can still play a part in the result, or add injury to insult in this case.

An important aspect of winning can be seen both on and off the court around the politics of officiating, There are illegal basketball moves on both sides, when you have defenders chasing Curry and his teammates screening to get him open.  So the way the officals call the game can greatly shift it one way or the other.

The Cavaliers played well enough that the officials could have rigged the series in their favor, if instructed to.  The Cavaliers could have won Games 1 and 3, or stayed a lot closer in Games 2 and 4.

According to the bulk of conspiracy theorists, that would have been in the best interest of the league to maximize ratings. However, the officials turned down opportunities to give the Cavaliers subtle help each game of this series.

The obvious examples from each game:

1 – the “block” (not the 2016 one) and the game-ending ejection

2 – the momentum shifting no-call on Curry’s trip of James and the Ty Lue’s technical

3 – Green does not get a 2nd technical for arguing and the Warriors shoot 13 1st half free throws to the Cavaliers 0.

4 – Klay Thompson playing in the first half with 3 fouls gets a favorable no-call on James.

Those were all opportunities for the NBA to beat the Warriors.  Coach Kerr has to know in the back of the head that he’s practically daring the officials to extend the series by leaving Thompson in the game. The move suggests the Warriors felt they were immune to being screwed by the refs.

Since the 2016 finals, the Warriors have successfully pleaded to give Green special treatment in key games.

So with all the suspicion that the NBA officials are designed to tilt games for the purpose of ratings, could the Warriors’ lobbying have guided the invisible hand in their favor instead?

The serial offense

In these past two finals, twitter swarmed over non-called 2nd technical fouls that would have resulted in automatic ejections for Green.

Side note:  Coincidentally, Twitter also blew up those same games over James passing the ball off the backboard to himself for dunks as well.

But less likely a coincidence that the officials made sure Green would remain in the game after flack from suspending him in the 2016 finals.

Rewind to the 2016 finals controversy

Instead of taking a stand against Green’s chronic misbehavior, the Warriors have attempted to brand him as the victim.

It’s hard to find documentation of the Warriors referring to the suspension for the actual cause of accumulated technicals.  Many fans think Green was suspended just on a judgement-call for a single incident, without being aware of the rule for chronic offenders.

The Warriors claimed that James baited Green, which is definitely valid.  But the problem is that their description of the play just starts with James throwing down Green at halfcourt and then stepping over him.

Nevermind the reason that they are so close to halfcourt is because Green is setting a moving screen like football blocker on James.  Nor that it’s Green who first lays a hand on James before being thrown off of him.

Nor that in reverse Green would call out James for flopping when Green drops to the ground.  Like Green claim’s on a more aggressive role-reversal example the following season.


Nevermind that Green is up 10 points with under 3 minutes and the ball, and decides to seek out James and get chippy.

The Warriors reverse-psychology

The Warriors completely tried to absolve Green from any wrongdoing, as if it was James’ being a “cry-baby” or the league’s corruption.  But Green had gotten away in the prior series with multiple warnings already.

Green is no victim.  He had several incidents off the court that summer as well, including an assault and inappropriate picture.  He’s reckless.

James was rewarded the technical he deserved and Green received a very reasonable flagrant 1, considering he had multiple flagrants in the prior series, including for hitting players in the groin.

It would have been way too lenient to help Green around the automatic-suspension rule at that point. It was as obvious as Grayson Allen having a tripping problem.

Both the Cavaliers and Warriors were doing their part to push the agenda of the officiating in the aftermath of the Green-James scuffle, without pushing too hard.

However, the Cavaliers dropped the issue when they won the finals, whereas the Warriors continued to push it as the reason they lost.

Ayesha Curry’s twitter rants

Recently, Ayesha Curry got into a fight with a Rockets fan that was blown over on social media, by Ayesha Curry.  It was very reminiscent of the Ayesha we saw in the 2016 finals regarding the controversial officiating.

This is actually the x-factor of the story.  Generally, people will dismiss a single incident as coincidence but will jump on the second piece of evidence.

Most are inconclusive about the NBA suspending Green for Game 5.  But then in Game 6, Steph Curry is throwing his mouthpiece in response to fouling out.  The referees were calling him tighter than usual and it gave the Warriors key supporting evidence to believe they have a case of intentional officiating.

2017 Game 4

Green was given what the scoring table and announcers believed was his 2nd technical foul in the game.  However, the 1st technical foul when Green elbowed Iman Shumpert was clarified to be for Steve Kerr‘s reaction to the call, allowing Green to remain in the game.

Not only did the Warriors advocate that Green is the victim and target of bias, but they were livid with the officiating in the game. The Warriors press the league rigged the game to extend the series, discrediting the Cavaliers shooting 24-45 from 3-pointers.  Whether they were sensitive from losing the 2016 finals or just being pre-cautious.

2018 Game 3

Why would NBA want to help the Golden State Warriors beat LeBron?

That’s a good question.

The stronger theory is that the Warriors use the 2016 finals as leverage. Much like how Marc Cuban’s actively lobbied during the 2011 finals, citing a massive free throw discrepancy from 2006 finals.

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Most believe that the likely purpose of rigging games is to either get the best-selling story for the finals or extend the series as long as possible to maximize television revenue.

Coaches and players seem well aware that stars can get beneficial treatment. Officials will be criticized for robbing offensive momentum or fouling out key players from key games.  It’s inhibiting the league’s money-makers and perceived as inconsistent.

LeBron James may be the biggest star in the game, but he is not as important to the success of the league than his predecessor Michael Jordan, and the Warriors easily win the star-power battle.

The NBA may try to keep the Warriors in check. Green and the Warriors seem to lead the NBA in technical fouls every year. But the NBA will back away from the Warriors when it matters most.

Or what if the mega-dynasty of the Warriors actually sells more than the story of LeBron James leading an upset to surpass Michael Jordan?

Jordan’s timing made him an indispensable asset to the NBA

People just assume that James must get the same preferential treatment as Jordan.  The truth is he doesn’t. Both the NBA and Nike used the image of Jordan to grow to the global level of the post-Jordan era.  The story of a superhuman competitor, slightly below NBA average height, but better than the game’s giants was extremely profitable.

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Jordan was the only player that the NBA could not afford to have not win, because of timing with the most explosive era of growth.  With James, it doesn’t really matter towards their bottom line whether he wins or loses, because they no longer are relying on a single player to scale.

In fact, if anything, it’s helping drive the news headlines and debate shows if he loses the finals.  Perhaps that’s why the NBA adjusted the rules to help Jordan excel in isolation, while James does not even get to the free throw line as much as other less-physical NBA stars.

So there are two viable theories behind why James may get less preferential treatment than Jordan.  Either he is more difficult to officiate due to his size, or there is less money on the table between Jordan winning from the next guy because of the crucial timing.

This is not to say the NBA prefers the narrative of James passing Jordan or not, but they are certainly more indifferent to his success than Jordan’s.

The NBA wants to reward teams that make it to the top

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  • The NBA may have mixed feelings about a dynasty, but that does not mean they will not benefit from them.

    Teams’ owners are competing to be the next Warriors.  They are constantly attempting to balance selling tickets and winning now, with the future, by how they build their teams.

    Even title competitors will opt for a painful rebuild-mode because they will never quite get over the hump with the current infrastructure.  All with the hopes that being the team on top will reward the process.

    So if the NBA just tried to drop any team from the top of the league the moment they got there, why would teams even bother trying to get there?

    The NBA has no choice but to suck up to teams at the top.  Both to incentivize franchises to compete in the first place and because the league can profit from a dynasty too.

    Conspiracist or whistleblower

    Is it still a “conspiracy” theory if the majority believes it?

    Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory.  (Unless you are one of those people who swear against them.)

    So yes the “crazy” line is thin here, but don’t be naive either.  The NBA is a for-profit business.  The board members of a corporation will never fire the CEO on the basis that profits are high but the product is unauthentic.

    It’s pretty well documented around the league for a long time that there is some competitive balance lost due to the nature of the business.  The NBA fired a referee for gambling, who has been scapegoated by the NBA, but not fired for fixing games.

    In a for-profit world, a professional sports league is going to do whatever they can get away with to maximize profits.  The commissioner is the CEO and their incentives will depend on how much money the league makes. But if they feel the fans are too suspicious, they will back down as a measure of damage control.

    In other words, the NBA would attempt to sway the outcome of games by balancing what will boost ratings and how much criticism they will receive for doing so.

    Many expected the officials to favor the Cavaliers to help extend the series, but that was not the case.  So either there is no rigging of games, the NBA wants to throw conspiracy theorists off their tail, or the NBA will benefit from coronating the Warriors dynasty.

    The commonality behind all three of those theories is that all seem to favor the Warriors would win.  Of course, there’s also the fact they were the superior team too.