Judge Dennis Prince once believed that all teams had a chance to compete and win in the NBA. Isn't that cute...but it's wrong!!
What's a little conspiracy between friends, board members, network partners, advertisers, product endorsers, league officials, players, select coaches, select team owners, and odds-setters? After all, it's not like the whole world is involved, right?
Beware because you have entered the realm of conspiracy theory—a place where everything is not as it appears to be despite the insistence of some that "it's only a game and it's fairly managed." Let it be known that this particular court, presided over by this particular judge, believes there is something truly rotten in the NBA league offices. This court is not inclined to merely look the other way at gross indiscretions and flagrant whistle-swallowing moments, even if a favorite team were to be recipient of the league's leanings. No, this judge has seen much too much to dismiss this whole charade as the natural "ebb and flow" of a professional sports operation (with "professional" being the most profound overstatement that could be associated with the National Basketball Association). Welcome to the case of the People vs. the NBA. Please be seated.
Actually, this will be a brief presentation. It's not that the prosecution lacks requisite proof of its assertion that the NBA has grown increasingly unstable, unreliable, and unabashed in its propensity to skew the results of its product—Exhibit 'A': the Game—but, rather, that the defendant itself (the NBA, lead by Overlord David Stern and his band of questionable cronies) has unwittingly confessed to its own transgressions in this irrefutable evidence—Exhibit 'B': NBA's Top 10 Greatest. Let us take, for starters, the glaring omission in this new DVD title—Top 10 Greatest…what? Are we talking about games, players, annual grosses, flagrant missed calls, or what? Shrewdly, the NBA intentionally does not fill in the blank, as it has most certainly been counseled that to do so would invite a rain of incrimination upon its head. Therefore, fans and consumers are once again burdened with trying to determine what motivates this league that has yet to recover from the departure of Messrs. Larry Bird, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, and Olden Polynice. Wait! Strike that last name from the record. Thank you.
Ladies and Gentlemen, when a sport sees the rise of a true superstar, a talent that cannot be suppressed and needs little assistance from those around it to fully flourish, it is uniformly appreciated. The sports league—and blessed franchise—that is so endowed will reap the benefit of a superstar's performances, eliciting higher ticket sales, greater merchandising potential, and even the attention of generally uninterested onlookers taking note of the magic that is momentarily on display on the diamond, the gridiron, the hardwood—whatever the case may be. But these superstars cannot be manufactured, and they can only perform as their talent permits. The point is, these athletic phenoms come and go independent of any league's mandate. When a league attempts to tamper with the talent on display, eager to prolong its effect or temporarily suppress its unbridled dominance (all for reasons of monetary gain), we can all immediately detect illicit manipulation.
This court notes that not only are a team's fans incensed at what appear to be blatant miscarriages of on-court justice, but outsiders often take note. For example, regular sports writers are too often caught in the unenviable position of having to somehow acknowledge their readers' difficult-to-ignore observations and assertions while not biting the crooked league hand that feeds the writer's coin purse. Sometimes a dark horse will ride in from far, far off the sidelines to assert foul play visible even from a ridiculously remote distance. Hollywood legend James Garner proclaimed Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Playoffs a "crock" when league officials ensured key players of the imminently victorious Sacramento Kings would foul out, thereby ensuring a decisive (and lucrative) Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Garner, of course, isn't a regular at the star-stumbled Staples Center so the NBA considers his comments irrelevant. Consumer activist and sometime Presidential candidate Ralph Nader too saw the gross misconduct by the league and its minions, asserting that the well-intentioned and paying consumer was being ripped off when a league displayed the temerity to sway the outcome of its product. The league, of course, knows that Nader continues to be considered a peripheral kook and, therefore, his comments are irrelevant.
The list of league indiscretions is longer than the ridiculously exhausting 82-game regular season. Whether they be ridiculous fines and suspensions issued against players and coaches if ever a questionable comment is made publicly regarding league officials (curious how they wear the same uniforms as convicts of days gone by) or the incredibly coincidental pairing of teams for major holiday games, playoff contests, and ultimate NBA Finals matchups, the jig is most certainly up. The league, in blind pomposity, now offers the sharpened blade and stretches bare its own neck when it presents this new DVD featuring "the greatest game from each of the last four decades." In its blindness to its own unjust antics, the NBA, under the tutelage of Der Commissar Stern, offers the most damning of all evidence.
Misguided by the premise that "bigger is better," this new boxed set contains a full five discs of content, none of which are truly "full." The first disc offers a bland and barely digestible sit-down forum headed by current league shill Bill Walton who tries to guide true greats of the game—Walt Frazier, George Gervin, and Dave Cowens—into the groupthink of the league when he asks "what was the greatest?" The former players, along with banal ESPN—The Magazine mouthpiece Ric Bucher, comment on what they consider to be the greatest Finals moments, the greatest coaching performances, the greatest shots, the greatest dynamic duos, and so much other water cooler blather. Running at a trim 53 minutes, this segment, originally aired on the History Channel, is all that will be found on the under-utilized Disc One.
The remaining four discs each feature one of the games deemed "greatest" of each of the past four decades. Here is where the league begins to show its hand, as any fan could quickly guess which teams will appear based on the annoying "popularity contest" bent that has besmirched the truly great teams (and their players) who aren't the Celtics, the Knicks, the Lakers, or the Bulls. But, those are the obvious choices and, therefore, those are the teams you'll find playing here. Disc Two features Game Seven of the 1970 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. Disc Three features the 1986 NBA Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals Game 2 between the Chicago Bulls (featuring a second-year Michael Jordan) and the Boston Celtics. Skipping over to Disc Five, we find 2004 NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs. And now, back to Disc Four, which contains the most abysmal display of league tampering as the brutish Utah Jazz attempt to survive in Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls. Here you'll witness an attempt to "bite the hand that feeds" as the officials on hand inexplicably beleaguer Michael Jordan's Bulls with fouls quickly in the fourth quarter while allowing the grabbing and jabbing Jazz to commit foul after foul with nary a whistle—watch John Stockton grab and pull a opponent onto him without being penalized despite the clear witnessing of the infraction by the corpse-like referee Dick Bavetta. To watch this game again provides evidence the league wished to extend the series to a money-making Game Seven, even at the expense of the league darling, Jordan. Michael, however, must not have received the memo as he provides the greatest play of all, launching the game-winning basket with 5.2 seconds left in the game.
The value of this over-manufactured, over-packaged five-disc set is the comparison and contrast of the game and its elements from 1970 to 2004. Notice the almost complete absence of annoying advertisements in 1970, those that now mar the vision and spectacle of the game itself and clearly suggest the partnering and pandering that occurs to ensure the advertisers the greatest return on their investments. Notice, also, the practical invisibility of the game officials during the 1970 Finals—why is it that all fans now immediately recognize the names and faces of officials, those who should enable the flow of the game, not insert themselves into the proceedings. There is some slight enjoyment in seeing how simple the game was in 1970 and being able to once again witness the grace that was once the game of basketball. Lithe and lengthy players glided up and down the court, moving with style and precision, perfecting the veritable dance-like mastery of the game that Dr. James Naismith initially intended. The progression of each game shows how the whole affair has mutated into a grotesquerie where hulking beasts of men regularly pound and pummel one another, as intent on getting away with their offenses whistle-free as on actually getting the ball through the hoop.
As far as image quality goes, this set varies due to the source material. Naturally, the 1970 Finals game is soft and lacking requisite contrast. The best looking of the games is that on Disc Four while the 2004 exhibition on Disc Five—that which should be the best by means of current broadcast technology—has a very unsettling movement that appears as if every fifth frame has been excised. The result is a strange fluidity that seems as if the image was captured by a camera filming the image of an in-arena monitor.
Ladies and Gentlemen, whether you subscribe to the notion of league meddling or not, this court maintains that all is not well with the state of the NBA. For a league so desperate to "grow" another Michael Jordan, whether that means allowing high school drafts of players like Carmello Anthony or LeBron James or luring back former winning coaches such as Phil Jackson who immediately enjoys a string of incredibly coincidental championships, it's clear that the NBA manages itself like any other business would; it seeks to maximize its earnings by making adjustments to its product in a way that will return the highest yield on the investment. At this time, the league may consider taking a page from the World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly World Wrestling Federation) notebook.
National Basketball Entertainment?
This court finds the NBA guilty of manipulation and offers up NBA's Top 10 Greatest as compelling evidence of guilt.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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