We’ve all been there.
On court calls we can’t ascribe to anything other than corruption. Someone bought the ref. The fix is in. There can be no other explanation.
The fact that it tends to be a decision that went against our favored team in the matchup is nothing but the purest coincidence.
But there have been times when we would have been right.
Thankfully, for the continuing existence of the National Basketball Association as we know it, they’re pretty few and far between. In this article, we’ll take a look at everything from the most unlikely conspiracy theory, to those that people were right to be suspicious of. We’ll also take a glance at the wider world of sports betting and see if that can help us to shed any further light on the situation. Buckle up…
You’ll quite rightly come across many opposing views regarding rigged betting, depending on whom you ask and when.
IT’S ALL TOO EASY TO CRY FOUL
Blame outside influences, rather than accept that your team has been beaten by another. Bad luck cannot exist in the mind of the rabid fan – only corruption and cheating.
Disillusioned fans all over the world claim that games are rigged as and when it suits their narrative. But how often are they right?
Let’s look at a few unassailable facts and try to get a better idea.
Emotions surrounding sports are genuinely astonishing and sometimes frightening.
Objectively, we have to accept that none of it actually matters. At all. Yet we pour our hearts and souls into it. We gnash our teeth and wail, bemoaning our terrible luck when we lose. Or perhaps we feel we’ve been cheated. We experience a rush of euphoria and adrenaline that is hard to recreate through any other activity in life. To some people, it is the one passion that gets them out of bed in the morning.
So, can we really be trusted to judge whether there is inherent bet rigging in the world of sports?
We’ll look at some famous examples of proven and suspected game rigging later. For now, let’s think about how it could be done.
The only individuals who can affect the result once the game starts are:
Fans can boost their sides, so we might argue that they can be added to that list. But in terms of creating a situation where we want to under-handedly alter the result of a game, the fans are out of the equation.
If we want to look at how higher influences might conspire to favor one result over another then we have some examples later. For now, let’s agree that, once any game is underway, these are the only people who can affect the outcome.
Here, we take a look at some of the Best Australian NBA Players currently playing, alongside significant players through the NBA's history.
HOW WOULD PLAYERS ACTUALLY CHEAT?
The only way that players can be sure to affect any game that they wish to influence is to fail.
It is no use offering them secret brown envelopes filled with cash and telling them to “go out there and win”. That is literally their job description already.
So, we could perhaps persuade them to miss more free throws than usual. To slip and let a defender past at a crucial moment. Take 10% off their normal effort and give less than their best.
All the things we could entice them to do would be negative. Like asking a boxer to throw a fight.
This surely goes against the grain of most professional basketball players. Competition is in their blood. Imagine going to sleep at night knowing that you let your team and your fans down for money?
There is still the issue of “tanking” that we need to address but we will come to that later.
HAVE PLAYERS CHEATED IN THE PAST?
Sure – there are always going to be examples of dishonorable players who can be corrupted. All players bring with them their individual problems and attitudes. Not all of them are heroes.
As far as we can tell, those with the most money and power in the world are usually the least moralistic and the most corrupt. They abuse their influence and power, creating or exacerbating the conditions that affect most of society’s least privileged individuals.
Many sports are played by youngsters growing up in those difficult circumstances. They are inevitably exposed to the dark underbelly of life sometimes. There are countless stories of players who have had financial issues, gambling, drug, and other addictions. That makes them more likely to accept offers from outside, unscrupulous sources.
It is seldom the case that any given player decides to tank in a game in order to affect any prop bets placed on him. But that’s not to say it has never happened.
Luckily, as far as we can tell, the modern game has almost no issues with player corruption. For one thing, they are so incredibly well remunerated that it would make no sense for them to risk everything for a one-off payday.
HOW COULD COACHES RIG GAMES?
Again, the only way that any coach could affect a game that was not their job already, would be negative. Coaches have the last word on rosters and interchanges. They could perhaps leave out key players or interchange them if they were in good form? It seems ludicrous to consider but has been known.
There have been instances of coaches ignoring or “bending” the rules regarding eligibility and academic requirements. But those are separate issues. Cheating to get better players onto your roster is not an example of betting being rigged. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Now, let’s get one thing straight. Being a referee in any sport is no easy task. You are guaranteed to upset and enrage 50% of the people watching with every single decision you make.
And they won’t be using logic and objectivity when they voice their disgruntlement about your bad calls…
Refereeing is HARD. They have to have eyes and ears everywhere. Sure, they have a team to ensure that nothing is missed but it’s still not easy. I challenge anyone who thinks it is to go and referee a local game of any kind and maintain that belief.
The work of a referee is often based on their subjective perception, and they will always be criticized. They are subject to everything from background checks to regular training and assessments. And let’s not forget that the minimum salary an NBA referee can expect is almost 200 thousand dollars with a top end of over half a million. That might be nowhere near what the players receive but is still not to be sniffed at.
HAVE REFEREES ENGAGED IN MATCH-FIXING?
The most famous betting scandal of them all is, without doubt, the fascinating tale of former NBA referee Tim Donaghy.
It is a twisting, insane romp filled with terrible decisions, outright greed, and organized crime. It’s far too entertaining and complex to try and synopsize here, so read our outstanding rendition of the biggest NBA betting scandal of them all.
Donaghy received a 15-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to two felony charges of “conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting wagering information on interstate commerce”
He never admitted to actually fixing games. But read the article and decide for yourself if he did.
Donaghy spilled the beans and, during the course of his testimony, claimed that “almost all” referees were engaged in some kind of biased behavior.
There have been numerous other instances where results have been disputed and accused of being corrupted but none have been upheld.
Suffice it to say that referees certainly can, and have affected games in the past.
DOES CORRUPTION GO HIGHER?
The most popular, unproven conspiracy theory in all of NBA history revolves around the 1985 NBA Draft lottery.
The build-up to this occasion and introduction of the lottery itself had been years in the making.
There was a terrible trend in the NBA for teams that had abandoned all hope of winning or making the NBA Playoffs to throw as many games as possible. In other words – tanking was rife. We’re about to discuss tanking in the next section.
FOR NOW, LET’S AGREE THAT IT IS A BAD THING…
The NBA thought so too.
Of all the teams that partook in this miserable practice, the San Diego Clippers under Donald Sterling were about the worst. Sterling didn’t even try to hide it. He declared that “We’ve got to bite the bullet. We can win by losing.” They proceeded to do just that.
It figuratively and literally became a race to the bottom. The rewards were just too huge to ignore. First choice in the following season’s NBA Draft? Second choice at worst? Yes, please.
The new commissioner of the NBA, David Stern was concerned about, among other things, the waning interest of fans in New York in the absence of a decent team. In 1985 these 2 scenarios collided and the conspiracy was born.
Stern desperately wanted the staggeringly talented Patrick Ewing to join a New York team. Specifically the abject New York Knickerbockers.
Ewing was a once-in-a-franchise kind of prize and would undoubtedly be a game changer for whichever team he joined. All the non-Playoff teams were now in the running. But how to make sure of the right result?
Not even able to win the shootout for the worst team in the league without help. Rumor has it that the envelope containing the Knickerbocker’s number was kept in a freezer beforehand. Stern could therefore differentiate it from the others and draw it out first.
He duly pulled the New York Knicks and accusations of foul play sprang up like so many artesian wells.
DOES MATCH-FIXING STILL OCCUR?
I think we can all agree that the easiest position from which to affect the outcome of a game is that of the referee. Players and coaches get paid so much that it is just not worth them risking their careers.
Referees are under a lot more scrutiny than they used to be in the NBA. They are trained regularly and their performances analyzed constantly. It is virtually impossible to say that no referees ever affect games in a way that they shouldn’t but at least steps have been taken to try and prevent it.
We shouldn’t like to speculate as to any dastardly schemes that exist in the higher echelons of the association. Let’s just say that any business that generates such colossal amounts of money is bound to attract scumbags of all shapes and sizes.
But as for the question – Is NBA betting rigged? From the upper reaches of the organization – probably not. There are bound to be shady deals and back-handers but they probably affect sponsorships and corporate nonsense more than they do the results of games.
We might question the process by which certain award-winners are chosen. It is impossible to guarantee that those who vote for the winners have not been compromised. It would be a herculean, risky task to bag a large enough number of them to affect the result anyway.
But how else would you do it? They could stop all betting on events with subjective outcomes like awards.
Now then. We come to the real threat to the integrity of the NBA and any bets placed on it.
Tanking. Deliberately losing games so as to improve your chances of getting a favorable NBA Draft pick.
Changes to the NBA Draft lottery system meant that it is less advantageous than it used to be to come last. But the advantage is still there. The lower your position, the more chances you have to be pulled out of the hat first.
And so it goes on. Teams that can statistically no longer reach the NBA Playoff series start throwing games. Fielding players that would normally not get a game. Whatever it takes.
It is a cowardly, despicable practice and one which leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth. The members of the team here at The Jump Hub are not all lucky enough to follow world-beating teams like the Atlanta Hawks (Go Hawks!). They have all been burned at one time or another by their beloved NBA teams tanking at the end of different seasons.
And it is soul-destroying…
We don’t care if it means you get a 2.5% higher chance of picking the best player next year. Sports are about doing your best. Fielding the most talented players you’ve got and matching them up against your rivals.
Win or lose, at least you gave it your all.
EXCEPT WHEN YOU DIDN’T
As basketball fans first and foremost, tanking really galls us. We would rather lose fewer games and be mediocre for the rest of eternity than to lose games deliberately. It’s awful. How are fans supposed to cheer their heroes if they suspect hey might have been instructed to ease off the pedal a little. Oh. So the ticket prices have eased off a little too have they? Hotdogs are 20% cheaper on the days when you take your foot off the gas and actually try to lose? Are you kidding?
We’re expected to still sit there like muppets, waving our flags and buying plenty of merchandise to pay the wages of all those over-paid charlatans who are now deliberately trying to lose?
YOU MIGHT SENSE THAT THIS IS A SUBJECT CLOSE TO OUR HEARTS
You’d be right. It is immoral. It is anti-sport. No sporting competition in the world should ever face a situation where it is better to lose a few games than to win them. How is that even a thing?
If you’ve come to find yourselves in that situation then it is time for an overhaul.
And all this bile and anger is just coming from a fan who hates to see his team lose. We haven’t even discussed the topic of betting.
HOW DOES TANKING AFFECT NBA BETTING?
Read this section of an article entitled – Tanking Season Is Here: What Effects Does It Have On Sports Betting?
Sports Betting & Tanking
TANKING HAS ALWAYS BEEN A VERY POPULAR TALKING POINT IN THE NFL BUT IN FACT OTHER LEAGUES SUCH AS THE NBAHAVE WORKED TO TRY AND DISCOURAGE IT BECAUSE NOT ONLY WERE TEAMS MANIPULATING THE SYSTEM, NOW, SO ARE LEGAL SPORTS BETTORS
IN 2017, THE NBA WORKED TO CHANGE THE RULES TO LESSEN THE BENEFIT OF TANKING INCLUDING MAKING THE WORST THREE TEAMS HAVE THE SAME ODDS TO GET THE NO. 1 PICK IN THE NBA DRAFT.
THOUGH THE RULES WERE EFFECTIVE FOR THE 2019 DRAFT, SPORTSBOOKS WERE STILL HAVING TO DEAL WITH BETTORS GET WINNING “EASY MONEY” ON MONEYLINE BETS AGAINST TANKING TEAMS.
IN A GAME LAST YEAR BETWEEN THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS AND THE PHOENIX SUNS, IT PROVED HOW DIFFICULT IT WAS TO MAKE ODDS FOR A GAME AT THE POINT IN THE SEASON WHERE THE SUNS HAVE ONE OF THE WORST ATS RECORDS IN THE LEAGUE AND ARE THE PERFECT TANKING CANDIDATE.
“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT WE PUT UP,” SAID CHRIS ANDREWS, SOUTH POINT SPORTSBOOK DIRECTOR. “THE WARRIORS ARE A [-2000] FAVORITE. THAT’S RIDICULOUS FOR AN NBA GAME, BUT THAT’S WHAT THEY ARE. AND THE MONEY IS ON THE WARRIORS … WHEN PEOPLE ARE BETTING THE (MONEYLINE) PARLAYS, IT’S ALMOST LIKE A FREE WINNER.”
WITH SPORTS BETTING ON THE RISE IN THE COUNTRY, IT WILL BE HARDER TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO TRY AND AVOID OBVIOUS TANKING TEAMS BECAUSE IT COULD BECOME DANGEROUS FOR SPORTSBOOKS.
HONESTLY, IT MAY BE A LOST CAUSE BECAUSE TANKING WILL ALWAYS BE A PART OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS DUE TO THE FACT THAT TOP DRAFT PICKS WILL CONTINUE TO BE THE KEY TO REBUILDING A BAD TEAM.
That just about sums it up perfectly.
There is your real game rigging in the NBA.
IT’S JUST THAT THEY’RE NOT RIGGING GAMES TO WIN BETS
At the end of the day, the best way to establish foul play in any situation like this is to follow the money. We’ve established that highly-paid athletes and coaching staff have no motivation to risk their incomes.
Even mid-level NCAA basketball referees are prohibited from making sports bets.
Fixing games is a felony, which adds a whole new level of reasons not to do it. We truly believe that the vast majority of them are on the level and are totally professional and committed to their jobs.
Any bad calls that come along are part and parcel of the sport. It is played and officiated by human beings. We are fallible. In such a fast-paced sport, it is impossible to catch everything. Yes, teams of referees work together to iron out as many mistakes as they can. But even then it’s not always enough.
The true travesty of justice in the NBA lies in the practice of taking games to gain NBA Draft advantage. Until that is eliminated, the answer to the question:
IS NBA BETTING RIGGED?
Yes. In plain sight
Thanks for reading. Stay safe. Look after yourself and each other. Pay close attention to your gambling habits and attitude towards a pastime that should be nothing more than entertainment.
If you think you might have gambling problems then please know that helps out there. The National Council for Problem Gambling is a great place to start. Contact them for judgment-free advice.
When the fun stops, stop