This is the first installment in an ongoing series of stories that will attempt to separate the truth from fiction.
When a franchise achieves as much success as the Lakers have over the past 40 years, it’s almost assumed that critics and envious fan bases will try to tear them down. Since they don’t have the ability to erase those accomplishments from the history books, they instead try to either distort or discredit them. These are the same people who believe that anything good that happens to the Lakers is the result of cheating, but never investigate the possibility of anything fishy going on when they lose.
Their newest strategy is what I like to call “Preemptive Delegitimization.” These are the guys who have already declared the Lakers the winners of the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery. You can’t help but be impressed. If the Lakers do win the lottery, they’ll say it was fixed. If they get the second pick, they’ll say it’s because the NBA knew it would look too fishy to give them the first pick. If the player the Lakers draft ends up leading them to a championship, then it will be because Adam Silver rigged it for them. If the Lakers end up getting a pick that’s worse than where they would have picked if the draft was based on won-loss records, you won’t hear a single peep.
Conspiracy theories are nothing new in sports. With each major scandal, whether it’s Pete Rose, Tim Donaghy, Connie Hawkins, or Paul Hornung, the shadow of doubt has gotten wider. In cases where human error is involved, it is now commonplace to question whether or not the mistake was really unintentional or if there’s something more clandestine behind it. In the cases where Goliath beats David, the popular thing to do now is to repeat the conspiracy theory over and over until it sheds the conspiracy tag altogether and becomes an outright fact.
Perhaps nothing has helped to fuel this habit more than the Internet. We’ve never had more tools at our disposal for rewriting history. With just a few clicks, anyone can find a stat to help support whichever point he or she is trying to make. Even the least tech-savvy among us, with just minimal editing skill, can put together a YouTube video that would make Leni Riefenstahl envious.
I was reminded of this the other day when one of the most often repeated conspiracy theories of the past 20 years came across my Twitter feed. Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com tweeted out a story by his collegue Jabari Davis about Australian NBA hopeful Dante Exum:
Dante Exum says the L.A. Lakers are "the best option" for him. Could he force his way to L.A. like Kobe Bryant did? http://t.co/oVgG8qDqfN
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) February 4, 2014
It’s important that I mention that Jabari has no agenda. Not only is he from Los Angeles but at one-time was a contributor to this very site. If you were to read his story, you’d see that Jabari does use words like “rumor” and “paralleling stories” when discussing the events surrounding how Kobe ended up on the Lakers. But that’s very different than what the headline of the story implies. The headline states it as fact, further giving both life and legitimacy to a rumor. Just look at one of the first replies Kennedy received to his tweet:
@AlexKennedyNBA Exum should play for whoever drafts him. Never liked kobe because of the garbage he pulled to get to the Lakers
— Steve Gill (@esjaygee) February 4, 2014
What really happened and what’s reported to have happened are distinctly different. Looking back on how we got here could serve as an excellent case study in how rumors evolve into facts in the digital age. Those who are fans of Kobe would tell you that the rumor is 100 percent false. Those who despise either Kobe or the Lakers will tell you that Kobe, his dad, and his agent basically threw on ski masks, locked the doors to the Continental Airlines Arena, and pointed their guns at the heads of the 29 GMs to ensure that Kobe would be a Laker.
As is the case with most legends, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.