Prolific commenter slickwilly wrote in one of the Comey threads,
Jack, we need a post on how the Spurs were aided in their win by either a) James Harden point shaving, or b) someone slipped him date rape drugs How ethical are the accusations?
I had been vaguely aware of the surprise rout the short-handed San Antonio Spurs inflicted on the Houston Rockets to win their NBA play-off series, but as the NBA is far-off my ethics radar due to the fact that I consider it a fake sport played by too many ethically-challenged athletes who achieved fame and wealth thanks to the corrupt college basketball system, a direct query like this was required to get my attention. Here is what happened, courtesy of the Sporting News, as the Houston Rockets superstar delivered an epic choke when his team needed it most:
With Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker out for Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, James Harden was expected to dominate the Spurs.
Instead, Jonathon Simmons and LaMarcus Aldridge led a perfectly executed game plan by Gregg Popovich to hold Harden and the Rockets to just 75 points in a 39-point win. Harden made just two field goals, had six turnovers and registered a minus-28 as Houston shot just over 30 percent in the loss.
The Washington Post later elaborated on the shocking details:
In the wake of the Spurs’ playoff series-clinching, 114-75 rout of the Rockets on Thursday, it was hard to know which was more shocking: that San Antonio could play so well without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, or that James Harden could play so poorly. The Houston star scored just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting in more than 36 minutes of play, looking nothing like a leading contender for NBA MVP honors…Harden not only failed to take advantage of the absence of the league’s best perimeter defender, he was stunningly ineffective in the final four minutes of regulation and through the five-minute overtime period. In that span, Harden scored four points on 1-of-6 shooting, turned the ball over four times, and committed two costly fouls, including an offensive foul on what could have been a game-winning possession with seconds left in regulation.
This is not just an example of a star player having a bad game, like “Casey at the Bat.” Harden is regarded as a strong contender for the 2017 NBA MVP award. Nobody could remember a similar example of a healthy NBA super-star playing so poorly for so long in a crucial play-off game, and there is no sport where a single great player’s performance can make the difference between victory and defeat more surely than basketball. Harden has not explained his flop, so people are making excuses for him. The popular theory seems to be that he was suffering from a concussion following an elbow to the head suffered in the previous game two days earlier. This is pure speculation, however, and as the Post notes,
“If Harden did have a head injury, it didn’t stop him from hitting the club after Thursday night’s game. TMZ has video of him partying at Set in Houston and reports that he followed that up with a trip to a strip club.”
Other observers have suggested a more sinister explanation. An NBA executive texted one sportswriter: “Has an NBA player ever been investigated for point shaving?” On a podcast after Game 5, sports provocateur Bill Simmons said, “I really hope Harden had his bell rung, or something, because he was just [terrible].” Simmons hopes that, because the alternative is too horrible for NBA supporters to contemplate. ESPN talking–well, shouting—head Stephen A. Smith also demanded an explanation for Harden’s choke, saying, “I think there needs to be an investigation, to be quite honest with you. He looked like he was drugged out there, for crying out loud. Literally comatose.”
(Well, if he were literally comatose, they should have dragged him off the court.)
All but the anonymous texting NBA exec are flying in the face of Occam’s Razor, which declares that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. Drugged? Brain-addled? There needs to be an investigation to determine if a top NBA star was paid off to lose a game.
For a long time, the assumption has been that NBA stars are paid so much money that none of them would ever shave points or throw a game. Harden is a prime example: he made 28.3 million dollars this season. However, the ability of elite athletes to get in financial trouble regardless of their income is legendary. I have a next-door neighbor who was just hired by the NBA to create and administer a program to instruct young stars regarding the perils of having too much money and fame with too little experience and common sense. Many NBA stars live outlandish life-styles, hand out money to old friends and relatives, maintain entourages, pay child support to multiple ex-sex partners, and have gambling debts. Basketball remains one of the most popular sports for big-time gambling. The odds in favor of the Rockets, in the wake of widespread knowledge that the Spurs would have to play a make-or-break game without two key stars, were prohibitive. Someone, and maybe many someones, made a bundle on Harden’s “bad day.”
The NBA has a duty to uphold the integrity <cough!> of its sport and relieve any doubts an episode like this naturally raises for any objective observer. An investigation is not only a reasonable course, it is a necessary one that both Harden and the Rockets, which has also been mum about why its leader forgot how to play basketball in one of the most important games of his career, should welcome. To answer slickwilly’s question, “How ethical are the accusations?”, the answer is “Completely ethical.” When shady characters stand to make big money from any sports upset and a player plays that uncharacteristically, these suspicions must be put to rest, and the only way that can happen is if someone verbalizes them.
Maybe the NBA should have James Comey look into it….