David Stern retired today as Commissioner of the NBA after 30 years on the job. His tenure was marked by incredible financial success, but also an undercurrent of controversy. From his first year in the league, fans have been coming up with David Stern conspiracy theories. While they may not be true, they are fun to imagine. Let’s take a look at how some of the biggest conspiracy theories affected the Orlando Magic.
Stan Van Gundy
The Orlando Magic’s former coach clashed often with Commissioner Stern. When Dwight Howard was suspended in 2007 a furious Van Gundy said “This is the system David Stern and his minions like. So that’s the system you have. … I certainly can’t have an opinion because David Stern, like a lot of leaders we’ve seen in this world lately, don’t really tolerate other people’s opinion or free speech or anything. So I’m not really allowed to have an opinion.”
Stern, apparently furious with the Magic coach, held a grudge. Even though he didn’t fine Van Gundy immediately, he talked to Orlando’s ownership, effectively muzzling Orlando’s coach. But the payback didn’t end there.
When Stan Van Gundy tried to get a broadcasting job at ESPN the deal fell through under shady circumstances. His brother Jeff Van Gundy explained, “There’s certainly circumstantial evidence that something from the outside — presumably the NBA — changed (ESPN’s) thinking. As a broadcaster of the NBA, it gives you pause. How forthcoming can you be? You don’t want your honesty to cost you a chance at employment.” The implication? David Stern shut Stan Van Gundy out of the NBA. It’s also interesting that such a great coach hasn’t been hired since the Magic.
The Orlando Magic have won the NBA draft lottery three times, tied for second most in NBA history with the Cleveland Cavaliers. (The Los Angeles Clippers have one and astounding five times proving attacking is an unreliable strategy at best). Now is this really a conspiracy theory, good luck, or just terrible teams? Maybe a little bit of all three.
In 1992, the Orlando Magic won the draft lottery with the second-best odds, earning the right to select the one and only Shaquille O’Neill. The addition of a franchise center improved team so much that they went 41–41 the next year, just barely missing the playoffs. But miraculously, the Magic won the lottery for the second time in a row. That team still holds the record for lowest odds ever to win the NBA lottery with a minuscule 1.3%. The Magic eventually traded that pick (Chris Webber) for a package of draft picks that included the legendary Penny Hardaway.
Is this actually a conspiracy? Probably not, but NBA fans have a hard time believing that David Stern didn’t pull some strings in the draft over his 30 years. Patrick Ewing to the Knicks, the Cavaliers winning the lottery after LeBron James left, the New Orleans Hornets winning the year after Chris Paul was traded.They all raise red flags.
What would be his motivation for helping the Orlando Magic? The Magic were a young franchise, one of Stern’s first major expansion acts as commissioner. He wanted them to succeed to prove that he was right to expand. Nothing draws more crowds than a championship contender with two marketable stars. Whether Stern meddled in the lottery odds or not, Magic fans can safely say that Lady Luck has smiled on them in the past.
Even the most casual NBA fan has heard the conspiracy theory that Jordan’s first retirement in 1994 was actually a league imposed suspension for gambling. But not many people consider how Jordan’s absence affected the Orlando Magic.
Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls had just won three straight NBA championships and looked like they would never lose one again. The Orlando Magic, with young stars Shaquille O’Neil and Penny Hardaway, were the Eastern Conference’s second best team but looked destined to live in Jordan’s shadow.
With Jordan “retired” the Magic won their first Eastern Conference Championship and made the NBA Finals where they were promptly destroyed by the Houston Rockets. While Jordan eventually returned, and Shaquille O’Neil left Orlando, the Magic’s first NBA Finals appearance was largely a result of David Stern’s supposed meddling.
Orlando Magic fans should miss David Stern. He helped create the franchise in Orlando 25 years ago, brought the All-Star Game to Orlando in 2012, and some of the best David Stern Conspiracy Theories helped the franchise out a ton.
What do you think? Do you believe the David Stern conspiracy theories? Let us know in the comment section below.