How are the 2014 76ers Any Different than the 1919 White Sox?

After the 1919 World Series, when it was revealed that some members of the Chicago White Sox had taken bribes in exchange for throwing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, several of their players, including one of the biggest stars of the era, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were banned from baseball for life. Almost a century later, the effects of that scandal are still being felt in major league baseball.

Baseball has been criticized, rightly or wrongly, for taking too soft a stance on the use of performance enhancing drugs. In fact, baseball has always been soft on people trying to gain an edge to win, be it spit balls, corked bats, or stealing signs. More than one baseball player has said over the years that “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying”. What MLB has absolutely no tolerance for is the opposite of cheating; intentionally losing games.

Pete Rose is the all-time leader in hits, a three time World Series winner, MVP, 17 time all-star, and three time batting champion, yet he was banned from baseball for life for betting on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. He had never been formally accused of not trying to win, but the thought of a baseball manager gambling on baseball games was still considered so damaging to the integrity of the game that the league was willing to ban one of its biggest stars for life.

This stands in stark contrast to the approach of the NBA. For years, many people, including prominent sports writers, have openly questioned the integrity of the league and its officiating. It has been openly suggested that the referees will favour a big market team like the Lakers or the Celtics over a low profile teams like the Sacramento Kings. The most oft-cited example of this was game 6 of the Western Conference Championship between the LA Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. In that game, the Lakers were granted 27 foul shots in the 4th quarter alone, while some blatant fouls committed in plain view of the referees were ignored.

In 2007, NBA referee Tim Donaghy was charged with betting on games that he was refereeing after an FBI investigation. Mr. Donaghy, who would plead guilty to several charges and spend time in prison, claimed that he was told several referees in the game, because it was in the interest of the NBA to have a seventh game, intentionally favoured the Lakers.

In many ways this was a bigger scandal than the 1919 World Series, as there has actually been an official convicted of influencing games. None of the baseball players in 1919 were ever charged and nobody was ever convicted of anything. The NBA then did a rigorous investigation of itself which apparently proved that Donaghy acted entirely alone, all of his accusations against the NBA were false, and there was absolutely nothing for anyone to worry about. The league continued on with absolutely zero fallout, even after two Washington Wizards players pulled guns on each other in the locker room in a disagreement over a gambling debt.

All this brings us to the 2014 Philadelphia 76ers, who by all indications are doing everything in their power to not only lose games, but to lose every single game this year. The 76ers are a good bet to break the record for the worst record in NBA history this year, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that they will actually go 0-82. To be clear, the players on the roster are working hard and are trying to win; it is the team’s management is trying to lose by purposely assembling the least talented team in the NBA.

Their plan started a couple of years ago when they decided to rebuild and traded away their best player, Andrew Iguodala. Trading away veterans to focus on drafting young players is nothing new, but what the 76ers did truly broke new ground. While they continued to shed their veterans, they repeatedly drafted talented players recovering from serious injuries or who were planning to spend the next year or two playing in Europe. This allowed them to acquire good young players, but because those players could not play for them right away, they could continue to finish near the bottom of the league and acquire more lottery picks. To ensure that they continued to be outmatched in the short term, they have filled up their roster with 9 (nine!) undrafted players.

The team is making a mockery of the spirit of competition. To those who say that the team is trying to win at some point in the near future, just not right now, I would counter that the 1919 White Sox were only accused of trying to lose a handful of games. What the Philadelphia 76ers are doing is every bit as damaging to the integrity of the game as the 1919 White Sox. If the NBA cared about the integrity of its game it would do something about it. But it won’t.