The Fix Isn’t In

As a former journalist, David Kahn knows a good story line when he sees one. But as a current NBA general manager, he should know better.

Moments after the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were represented by owner Dan Gilbert’s son, Nick, won the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery, the Associated Press quoted Kahn:

“This league has a habit, and I am just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines. Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow 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 [Love] [O’Connor]: ‘We’re toast.’ This is not happening for us and I was right.”

In black-and-white, Kahn’s words are colder and darker than a mid-January Minneapolis night as his cynicism implies two nefarious things.

One, there’s the implication that the NBA Lottery is fixed. And two, he’s implying the NBA fixed said Lottery, last year for a widow and this year for Nick Gilbert, who happens to have neurofibromatosis, which is a neurological disease that causes tumors to grow in the body at any time. Thankfully, he stopped short of saying the league should capitalize on these storylines by making an NBA Cares PSA out of it.

Of course, Kahn’s quote has caused quite the kerfuffle on the Intertubes: here, here and here. He’s rightfully being smacked around for sounding insensitive, even if, as the video below shows that he may have been joking.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLzYrfhttT0&feature=player_embedded w=640 h=390]

Maybe he was making light of the fact the Timberwolves luck — always bad — never seems to change. Maybe he was trying to make light of the fact that some good luck charms, such as an ultra-confident and charming 14-year-old in a bow tie and Buddy Holly glasses, work better than others.

But one thing is for certain: Kahn, whatever he meant, chose cruel words.

“The NBA has a habit … of producing some pretty incredible story lines ”

No, Mr. Kahn. The NBA doesn’t. Lotteries do. It doesn’t take Shirley Jackson or an old Bogie movie to know that lotteries spawn great storylines. Lottery stories are compelling for the simple fact that winning a lottery is catching lightning in a bottle. Good story lines will sometimes come from the Lottery not because the NBA wants it to, but because of the randomness of the event itself.

The NBA has its share of problems — allowing a numbskull such as Donald Sterling to own the Clippers, by having Isiah Thomas hang around its edges and having the impending lockout hanging like the sword of Damocles over the 2011-12 season — but “fixing” the Lottery results are not one of them.

Would you like to know why? The simple reason is: THE NBA LOTTERY IS NOT FIXED. It is not fixed. It is not fixed. It. Is. Not. Fixed.

As a former employee of the NBA, I have assigned people to report on it. As a reporter for FanHouse, I have covered it. Henry Abbott can vouch for this. True Hoop’s papa and granddad of the True Hoop network was sitting next to me in 2009, and in 2010 when Washington Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld snuck into in 3A like a student late for class only to see his team’s combination of numbers come up three times in the first four draws.

The implication of lottery fixing is not only absurd because of the amount of work, secrecy and complicity needed to pull it off, but also because it’s not even close to being true. Any NBA GM, many of whom have seen the draw process play out in front their own eyes, should know this is a fact. Any NBA GM not named David Kahn should be incensed with Kahn’s statements that their team may have won or lost the Lottery because of a conspiracy, especially because they know it not to be true. One David — Stern — is more than likely furious. I can imagine a 212 area code popping up on one of Kahn’s phones in the immediate future.

For years, the league has allowed reporters into the Lottery draw room in Secaucus and still it has to deal with knuckleheads who think that it’s not on the up-and-up. It’s the NBA equivalent of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Despite doing producing the evidence, there will always be non-believers. These people, however, shouldn’t come from your own ranks.

For some reason, Kahn’s implication also struck a nerve with me as well, and not only for the fact that he seemed to be making light of Dan Gilbert’s son. In the video, you can see that there was an uneasy jocularity in his tone and that he may not want to go there. But go there he did. And the words … It was as if he was impugning everything we — me, other journalists, team officials, league officials — saw in that room.

Here’s one thing I can tell you: ping-pong balls don’t lie.

Kahn should walk back the words for implying that they do.

UPDATE: Turns out David Kahn the GM does love a good Lottery story line. It’s just that David Kahn, the former journalist, forgot how to tell a story well.

Less than 24 hours after making the comments above, Kahn told the excellent Ken Berger of CBSSports.com that he was joking and wasn’t trying to imply that the lottery was fixed.

“The first questions I was asked last night by the reporters were, did I feel that the Timberwolves were jinxed,” Kahn said. “You know, we have a poor lottery record. And I want to say for the record, I don’t believe in jinxes, curses, hocus pocus, and I don’t believe we’ve been harmed in any way. What I said last night, I do believe in the power of story. And I just felt it was a heck of a lot better story for a 14-year-old to beat out two middle-aged executives standing together on a stage on national TV, and that our league has had its own share of luck in being a part of those stories. That’s it. Anybody ascribing anything else to it is completely doing their own thing.”

Kahn pointed out that his comment Tuesday night “elicited laughter,” and said, “There was no follow-up question. Nobody said, ‘Do you understand what you just said?’ No, because everybody knew context. But I do understand, to your point, just reading it dry, that somebody could infer that. So lesson learned.”

Asked again Wednesday if he was simply reiterating his assertion that the lottery results were rigged to produce a better story, Kahn said, “Absolutely not. I’m just saying that, if you look at sports in general, typically fairy tale stories, Cinderella stories, whatever you want to say, those tend to dominate sports. I just knew when you’re standing there with a 14-year-old kid, logically the 14-year-old kid … it had nothing to do with being nefarious.”

Seth Carstens