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David Stern shrugs at NBA Draft Lottery conspiracy

Jun 1, 2012, 4:36 PM EDT

David Stern, Tom Benson AP

Even David Stern gets how you can draw the connections. In 2010 the widow of long-time Wizards owner Abe Pollin is on the stage when her team wins the lottery in a Hollywood story. In 2011 it was the Cavaliers — who had lost LeBron James — that won the lottery.

Then this year the New Orleans Hornets — owned by the league and being sold to Tom Benson to keep them in the NBA’s smallest market — that somehow wins the lottery and the rights to franchise-changing Anthony Davis. By the way Benson was in the audience but Michael Jordan, owner of the team with the worst record in the NBA, was not.

Conspiracy theorists are having a field day. You don’t need Fox Mulder to draw the connections here. This is easier to believe than there are aliens in Area 51.

The league still owns the team because the Louisiana legislature still has to approve some changes to the arena lease, once that is done the sale can be completed. Stern said this to the New York Times (in a great story by Harvey Araton).

Recounting a conversation with Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Stern said: “I said, ‘Can’t we close this deal before the lottery, just against the possibility that this team will win it?’ But we ultimately decided that it didn’t matter because, you know, if New Orleans comes up first it’ll be because we own it and we made a deal. If the Nets come up first it’s because of Brooklyn, and if it’s Charlotte it’s because of Michael Jordan….

“Go ahead and say it — conspiracy theory,” Stern said with a plaintive shrug.

David Stern can’t win here because you can’t prove a negative. You can’t prove — at least to the satisfaction of critics and conspiracy theorists — that it was not rigged.

It doesn’t hold water for me. Bottom line, if I’m going to take the gigantic risks of convincing Ernst & Young to commit fraud on 29 very rich and successful business owners (who happen to also own NBA teams) I’m not doing it to send a potential superstar to the NBA’s smallest market. But for the conspiracy to be true, that’s what David Stern did. I know people in the room, nobody close to it thinks it is rigged.

Still, you can see how the lines get drawn all the way back to Patrick Ewing and the frozen envelope. I’m just not buying. Stern, he’s just shrugging.

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