Take your pick -- warm, fuzzy feel-good story, or the latest fodder for conspiracy theorists?
Last week's NBA draft lottery, the event where a bad bounce of a ping-pong ball can teeter the balance of an entire sport, was notable for a couple of reasons:
On the surface, it was redemption for the once powerful, then woebegone, now strutting-again Cleveland Cavaliers, who went from the NBA Finals into the garbage pile once a certain someone decided to take his talents to South Beach. And now, after winning the lottery, the Cavs are suddenly in position to become relevant again, given they have the first and fourth overall selections in next month's draft.
It was also a compelling human interest story. The Cavs were represented at the lottery by Nick Gilbert (above, center), the 14-year-old son of team owner Dan Gilbert (above, right). Nick is afflicted by neurofibromatosis, a rare nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow in the body at any time. The scene of Nick doing a victory dance at the lottery's conclusion, while Timberwolves GM David Kahn and Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor (Minnesota and Utah were the other two teams with a shot at the No. 1 slot) could only stand by scowling, was priceless.
But as soon as the event ended, the tin hats came out. First to pull one on was Kahn, whose Timberwolves have never been awarded the No. 1 pick in 14 trips to the Lottery.
"This league has a habit, and I'm just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible storylines," Kahn said. "Last year is was Abe Pollin's widow (referring to the longtime owner of the Washington Wizards) and this year it was a 14-year-old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed. We were done. I told Kevin (O'Connor), 'We're toast.' This is not happening for us and I was right."
Kahn is far from the first person to raise his eyebrows at unusual events where the NBA is concerned. Officials Hue Hollins and Nick Bavetta (who was dubbed "Knick" Bavetta) have been called out in the past for their perceived propensity for making calls in favor of a certain New York team. And what about Tim Donaghy, the disgraced official who really DID fix games, and spent time in prison for it?
And then there's the main event when it comes to the NBA's image of supposed impropriety: the 1985 Draft Lottery, and the right to select Patrick Ewing No. 1 overall, famously won by the Knicks. At that time, the lottery was determined by team logos on huge envelopes pulled out of a bin by NBA commissioner David Stern. The story, which some people I know and trust swear to be true, is that the envelope with the Knicks logo was kept in a freezer before the lottery -- so when Stern was fishing through the envelopes, he knew which one to avoid, until it was the only one left.
Kahn wasn't the only one drawing conclusions last week, either. The New York Times reported that seconds before the lottery winner was announced, John Wall -- last year's No. 1 pick -- was standing next to Duke guard Kyrie Irving -- who could be this year's No. 1 pick -- and "whispered 'Cleveland' in Irving's ear before the cameras turned on."
In the days since, Kahn has backtracked -- OK, turned and fled -- from his initial view, claiming he was "joking" when spoken to moments after his team lost out yet again.
"I don't believe in jinxes, curses or hocus pocus, and I certainly don't think we were wronged," Kahn told the Associated Press. "But I do believe in the power of story, and I joked that it's a heck of a better story for a 14-year-old kid to beat out a couple of middle-aged executives standing together on a stage on national TV, and that our league seems to always have its own share of luck in being a part of these stories.
"That was the entire meaning of what I said in a joking fashion, and what I believe was received in such fashion."
The reality is he and the Timberwolves are just on a run of really, really bad luck. The perception? Another story entirely.
UPDATE: Back on May 12, I wrote about the backlash that slashed, crosschecked and boarded the Rangers' Sean Avery after he taped a PSA in support of gay marriage for New Yorkers for Marriage Equality.
With every day that goes by, the movement is getting more support from the sports world. Longtime Suns CEO and president Rick Welts recently came out, announcing he is gay. TNT analyst Charles Barkley, a former Sun, spoke out in support, saying he had no problems playing with gay teammates. "I'd rather have a gay guy who can play," Barkley said, "than a straight guy who can't play.
Now, a prominent NBA star, the Suns' Steve Nash, has joined Avery in taping a PSA for the organization.
"Hi, I'm Steve Nash," he says in the PSA. "I spend my summers in New York and I love playing at the Garden. A growing number of professional athletes are speaking out in support of gay and lesbian couples getting marries, and I'm proud to be one of them. Join me and the supermajority of New Yorkers who support marriage equality."
On Friday, ESPN.com reported the results of a Gallup poll, which said 53 percent of respondents said same-sex marriage should be recognized as lawful and valid, while 45 percent said no.