We tend to look at every aspect of the NBA with a magnifying lens. Things that happen all the time between normal people get blown out of proportion when they happen to NBA athletes and every word they say gets analyzed, interpreted and repeated to death, all in the name of stories, sound clips and headlines.
But the reality is there’s a lot of money on the line, a lot of fame at stake, and plenty of inflated egos along the way, so sometimes things happen that really do push the limits and change the way people look at the game, and at the world. We’ve put together a few of the NBA’s best scandals that have reverberated throughout the league. Sometimes they’re crucial, sometimes they’re embarrassing, but they’re never boring.
The Malice at the Palace
It isn’t usually hard to tell the difference between Basketball and Hockey, but on this faithful night in Auburn Hills, things got real. So, it’s 2004, a Pacers vs the Pistons blowout for the visitors in its dying minute. After a “sort of” flagrant foul and a last minute scrap between Ben Wallace and Ron Artest,
Artest ends up lying in the prone position on the sidelines with a wimpy, incredulous look on his face that proved too much to resist for one of those normally gentle Michigan sports fans. He threw a bottle into Artest’s mug, and Ron, not one to suffer indignity lightly, leaped into the stands and gave the fan a fine Indiana beating.
A few of the fan’s buddies jumped in after Artest started feeding him punches, and then Steven Jackson leaps into the fray and hits the nearest fan with probably the wildest haymaker in the history of Basketball. Chaos ensued, and the end result was the Pacers exiting the arena in a hail of beer, bottles and boos. For all the talk about “disgrace” this and “Sad scene” that, I thought it was mostly just funny, especially the backstage footage of Artest being babied over by an assistant coach like he was the Pope. This is why you never go home early guys!
Timberwolves and Joe Smith Salary Cap Mambo
For a small market team the Timberwolves have held their head high in the world of scandals, including their fair share of domestic assault, DUI shenanigans, but the snafu that put Minnesota on the map was the Joe Smith contract in 1999. The salary cap is a double-edged sword for the teams whose owners rank among the world’s richest, but for better or worse it’s the system the NBA works with, or in the case of Kevin McHale, around.
At the turn of the century the Timberwolves were figured to be the next big thing, and McHale, their GM, was making sure he’d have the pieces to play with, and none more important than Big Joe Smith. His salary was up for negotiation, and McHale offered up an underhanded scheme by which he promised to bump his salary into the stratosphere if he took a lesser deal this time around.
The idea was of course to have enough wiggle room to rope in some major free agents, but that sort of deal is strictly verboten. When the league found out they decided to make an example of the situation.
David Stern threw every book he had at McHale, fining them in excess of $3 million and taking away 5 1st round draft picks (later 3). It was all the kibosh the Timberwolves needed to sink to the lowly depths they’ve only now started to climb out of. It stands as a cautionary tale to this day, “if you’re gonna game the system, make sure you’ve covered your ass”.
Magic Johnson has HIV
AIDS was an epidemic long before Magic announced he had contracted the HIV virus, but after the 5-time NBA champ dropped the bomb, the disease was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and the tide against misinformation, prejudice, and effective treatment started to turn. It was a tough pill for everybody to swallow, but Magic did more to push AIDS out of the “gay/drug addict” stereotype and into the spotlight than anybody else, and that attention is a big part of the reason we don’t really worry about it anymore.
Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton draw guns in locker room
You’d think that at some point there’d be a story about athletes acting so ridiculous that it would make you want to give up watching sports altogether, but if this story isn’t the one to do it it’s hard to imagine what would.
So, it’s a practice day, Christmas Eve in the Nation’s capital, and Javaris Crittenton has taken issue over the non payment on a bet he made with 3-time all-star Gilbert Arenas. Gil just ain’t gonna pay, so what’s a millionaire athlete and father of three to do when his rep’s on the line, why, pull out the handgun he brought with him to basketball practice on Christmas Eve, that’s what! Not to be outdone, Javaris pulls out his own piece and the two men have a nice, old-fashioned Mexican standoff in the room where they’ve ostensibly showered together. Any way you slice it, this story has floated to near “Plexico” levels of stupidity, and just goes to show you that money does not buy brains.