The NBA Playoffs According To Jeff

26 Apr

When most people think of conspiracy theories and theorists, they think about those things in relation to the assassination of JFK.  On that topic, conspiracy theories abound, and although the overwhelming evidence is that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the President, there will forever be those who passionately believe that there was some form of conspiracy at work, with some Communist organization or even the CIA involved.  Jeff was a history major at Middlebury, and he seemed totally content with the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald was, in fact, the sole perpetrator of the crime.  None of the other theories stirred any passion in him.

Jeff saved his passion for an entirely different conspiracy theory.  He was absolutely convinced that there was an ongoing conspiracy being carried out right under the noses of every NBA basketball fan in the world.  And given that it was occurring in his favorite sport of basketball, it enraged him, and up until just months before he died, he did everything in his power to raise awareness of this situation among friends, relatives, and really anyone who would listen.  Jeff’s theory held that the NBA itself, under the direction of its Commissioner, David Stern, instructed its referees to officiate playoff games in a way that would result in the league’s biggest market teams and most marketable superstar players advancing to the NBA finals every year.  The purpose of this, of course, is to maximize both television ratings and revenues for the league.

Jeff had a strong moral compass and a good sense of right vs. wrong.  And when he saw things that were wrong, he became a young man with a cause and was determined to expose those who were doing egregious things.  He believed that by raising awareness of such situations and by building consensus among broad groups of people that things needed to be changed, he could help effect that change.  When it came to sports, he utilized his column in The Middlebury Campus, his Facebook page, and his Talkin’ Sports blog after college to air his views.  And I’m told by friends that he also used Friday and Saturday night animated barroom conversations to bring people over to his point of view.  So exactly how passionate was Jeff about his NBA Playoffs Conspiracy Theory?  Well, the email he sent me on May 3rd, 2010, just six months before he left us, leaves little to the imagination: 

“There are enough of us who care, even as the majority of people in the U.S. continue to be complicit in this scandal.  Back in the ‘70s, most people thought Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were crazy when they came out with their initial accusations about Watergate.”

With those provocative words, Jeff made it clear how strongly he felt about this issue.  His crusade against Stern and the NBA had begun many years before, but Jeff really started to hit it hard in 2009.  That year, the Orlando Magic in the East and the Denver Nuggets in the West were the teams that Jeff was rooting for to pull off major upsets over Lebron’s Cavaliers and Kobe’s Lakers respectively, since he believed the latter two were the leagues’ preferred teams and that the refs would officiate in their favor.

Jeff was always quite good at supporting his arguments with specific examples and by pointing out that there were many others who agreed with him.  On May 27th, 2009, he sent me the following email:

“Here are some examples of espn.com posters responding to the state of officiating in the playoffs right now:

 

wshsmrhopper88 (5/27/2009 at 3:45 PM)

Real sports fans arent surprised by this at all. Donaghy was telling the truth about the league and its way of officiating. ESPN should stop riding LEBRONS jock and do some real sports investigation and get to the bottom of the NBA officiating. Instead theyll be a bunch of cowards and write a small article on it, but nothing will be said on TV. NBA=WWE

 

chrisg122 (5/27/2009 at 3:50 PM)

The sad state of NBA refereeing is becoming too obvious now that this is standard operating procedure.

 

cchunyadi (5/27/2009 at 3:53 PM)

Bull… the refs don’t call anything on howard during the game then rescind this… almost not worth watching basketball anymore. a fair game would be nice to see not favoring any one player or team. Fire all the refs and get some foreigners do it who don’t know our teams. then it might be fair

 

So you can continue to be naïve and think nothing is going on, but just know that there are plenty of people who think the exact same thing as I do.”

And a day later, after the Nuggets had suffered a tough defeat at the hands of the Lakers, Jeff sent me this email with a quote from Nuggets coach George Karl.  And note Jeff’s tag line at the end: 

“I thought they got the benefit of the whistle. Every player in my locker room is frustrated, from guards to big guys. Gasol goes after at least 20 jump shots, 20 shots to the rim and gets one foul; our big guys have 16. Nene has six fouls, three or four of them don’t exist…we’re sitting here just confused by the whistle. “ 

-Nuggets coach George Karl

The NBA: where bullshit happens”

Not that Jeff needed any further encouragement, but when his favorite sports writer, Bill Simmons, wrote about the officiating, he was emboldened.  Jeff wrote to me on June 8, 2009:

“Read Bill Simmons’ latest column if you get the chance. Just when I was starting to think that the officiating might be somewhat fair in this series, Simmons points out the fallacy of that thinking. 

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/090608&sportCat=nba

Simmons was Jeff’s man, the sports writer who he respected and enjoyed reading the most, both because he spoke his mind and did so in a very entertaining way.  And Jeff felt that he and Simmons saw eye to eye on virtually everything.  So when a fellow paralegal sent Jeff a 2007 Simmons article entitled “Bill Simmons’ 1985 Draft Lottery Conspiracy Theories”, he was thrilled to find yet another example of purported nefarious behavior by David Stern.  He emailed Drew, Brett and me on May 3rd, 2010:

“Did you guys also know that Bill Simmons has written a piece about—and many other people have alleged—that the 1985 NBA draft was rigged so that Ewing would end up a Knick?  Here’s the article that Sean sent me today: http://nba.fanhouse.com/2007/04/19/bill-simmons-1985-draft-lottery-conspiracy-theories/ 

While I do agree with Jeff that the most marketable NBA superstars such as Kobe and Lebron have always received the benefit of many questionable calls both in the regular season and the playoffs over the years, I never actually believed that Stern instructed league referees to make such calls in order to influence the outcomes of crucial games in those teams’ favor.  But who knows?  Jeff was both relentless and convincing when trying to persuade me and everyone else otherwise.

In any event, the point of this blog post is not to come to a conclusion as to whether or not the NBA playoffs are rigged.  Rather, it is to illustrate how passionate, engaged and alive Jeff was just months before he made a horrific decision to leave the world.  I frankly don’t know many people who have his level of energy and engagement in the things that they are most interested in.  And that is why the way he died was so incongruous with the way he lived up until his last two months.  This adds a perpetual layer of bafflement on top of our grief, and that is a torturous combination for our family.  Of course, it always comes back to the damn meds.  If Jeff hadn’t turned to a psychiatrist for help after leaving a job he couldn’t stand, and if that guy hadn’t prescribed medication after only one session…

I won’t dwell on that now.  Instead, I’ll close by telling you which teams Jeff would have most wanted to win the NBA championship this year and why.  First, he would have been sure that the league would be manipulating games in order to get a Lakers-Heat finals, which would arguably be the series with the flashiest superstars, coolest cities and the highest TV ratings.  Kobe vs. Lebron.  So he would have been passionately rooting against that pairing.

In the East, he would have preferred that any of the Knicks (of course), Bulls or Celtics reach the finals.  He would approve of Mike Woodson’s Knicks, who have finally committed themselves to defense and teamwork, the aspects of the game that Jeff believed to be the most important.  And he completely respected Boston’s core of low key veteran stars (Pierce, Allen, Rondo and Garnett), as they too play as a real team but are not the media-darlings that Lebron and company are.  The Bulls are led by a brilliant young superstar in Derrick Rose, and while he can dominate a game himself, he also sets up his teammates for great open looks.  Jeff always enjoyed watching the Bulls play.

In the west, Jeff loved the Spurs, a team replete with quiet, hard-working and humble stars like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.  And he had great respect for the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, both in terms of his raw talent and the way he plays the game and conducts himself.  He appreciated Oklahoma City’s youthful enthusiasm, yet didn’t perceive them to be too flashy or cocky.

You know, I recently finished the Stephen King book, 11/22/63, that I wrote about in my first blog post of this year (“Starting A New Year By Seeking A Do-Over Of The Past”, January 10, 2012).  Throughout this time travel story, King repeatedly used the phrase, “the past harmonizes”. This year’s abbreviated NBA season can be used as a perfect illustration of what this phrase means.  The last time the NBA had a strike-shortened season was 1998-99.  That year, the Knicks barely made the playoffs as the 8th seed and yet they rode an incredible hot streak to shockingly make the NBA finals against Tim Duncan and the Spurs.  The Knicks lost in 5 games, but what an astonishing run they had. 

Stephen King has me convinced that today’s Knicks, once again a low seed (7th) in the first strike-shortened season since then, are supposed to ride another amazing wave into the finals against those very same Tim Duncan-led Spurs.  The past harmonizes.  But while I believe this is what is supposed to happen, part of me thinks it’s too much to ask of a Knicks team that is too one dimensional without Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, but is also too confused a team with them, and now Stoudemire is back.  That part of me says that they need to play together another year or two before competing for a title and that their time will come.  And part of me thinks it’s also too much to ask of the Spurs’ Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, who have logged a ton of NBA mileage together over too many years, to overcome the youth of the Thunder.  But I hold out hope for this scenrario, and it’s fun to dream. 

After considering everything that my son taught me, I also see a scenario in which it will be either the Bulls or the proud old warriors of the Celtics, who are peaking at precisely the right time, and who clearly have Miami’s number, facing the young stallions of the Thunder in the NBA finals.  If this happens, I think either Eastern Conference team would win in seven games.

Either way, David Stern and the conspirators will have failed, and in the Celtics scenario, to Jeff’s delight, Stern and his minions (as Jeff referred to them) would have to traipse out to Oklahoma City, of all places, to see Game 7 of the finals. Not exactly the glamorous location, like Miami or L.A., that Stern would have preferred.  And as an added bonus, Jeff’s favorite sports writer of all-time, Bill Simmons—a die-hard Boston sports fan—would get to joyfully write all about a totally unexpected Celtics title run.  Jeff would love every minute of this.  It all seems so right. 

And whether it’s the Bulls or the Celtics who win it all, they are both teams with incredibly rich histories that today remain teams of great destiny.  The past harmonizes.

And even if I’m completely wrong about all of this, it will still be fun to root for an outcome that my son in Heaven would surely love to see.  Thinking about things in this way and taking up his causes are ways in which I keep Jeff alive and with me all the time.  And you know what?  In some small measure, it helps.  It can’t bring him back, but I use this way of thinking both as a way to keep Jeff’s spirit vibrant and as a weapon with which to ward off the darkness that constantly threatens.  And so I will root with all my heart for the Knicks (first and foremost), Celtics, Bulls, Spurs and Thunder to overcome the conspirators and for one of them to bring home the trophy.

This is what Jeff would want, and that’s more than good enough for me.

 

-Rich Klein

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