Something secretly huge happened in the history of the Jewish experience in America last night at the annual NBA Draft lottery, in which teams that failed to make the playoffs this season select their order in next month’s draft through a combination of luck (they pick ping-pong balls out of a ball machine, lotto-style) and parity (the worse your record was this year, the more of your balls there are to pick out of the machine). Based on the records and balls, the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves had the best chance of getting the number-one pick, fully 25 percent at the beginning; instead, in a surprising but not at all implausible development, the Wolves ended up with the second pick, and the Los Angeles Clippers’ pick—which happened to be owned this year by the Cleveland Cavaliers, because of a trade—which had only the eighth-highest chance of getting the number-one pick (at the outset, not even three percent), in fact did just that.
Here is where it gets interesting. After the lottery was over, the frustrated Wolves general manager, David Kahn, reflected on the moment when only his team and the Cavs (with the Clippers’ pick) were left. At this point, his chance for getting the number-one pick was significantly higher. Each team gets to send up a designated ball-picker, and for context it is important to know that last year, the Washington Wizards beat the odds to get the number one pick when the widow of just-deceased former owner Abe Pollin was the ball-picker; this year, the Cavs’ ball-picker was the owner’s 14-year-old son, who suffers from Neurofibromatosis, a nerve disorder. Kahn said this: “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: ‘We’re toast.’ This is not happening for us and I was right” (my bold).
I am about to unpack this incredibly confusing statement but for now, know this: For maybe the first time, somebody alleged a conspiracy and offered the Jews as an example of a group that was precisely not in on the conspiracy. This was the first non-Jewish conspiracy. This is historic.
That Jews orchestrate conspiracies to benefit each other and to harm Gentiles is among the oldest tropes of anti-Semitism, of course. But in this case, everyone is Jewish: Abe Pollin’s widow is Jewish; the son of Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers’ owner, is Jewish; and David Kahn, yes, is Jewish. The conspiracy that Kahn alleges favors those whose success will produce good story-lines and disfavors those whose success won’t. Giving Abe Pollin’s widow and Dan Gilbert’s sick son the miraculous top picks produce good story-lines; giving the most likely team the top pick does not. In order to distill Pollin’s widow and Gilbert’s son from himself, Kahn looks to a control: The thing they all share. That is, of course, their Jewishness. Therefore, he concludes, their Jewishness cannot possibly have anything to do with the conspiracy.
But wait, there’s more. Who is perpetrating the conspiracy, in Kahn’s implication? “This league.” “This league”—the NBA—more than any other league, is personified by a single figure: Commissioner David Stern. Stern is also, of course, Jewish. In fact, last month, Tablet Magazine columnist Bethlehem Shoals profiled Stern in precisely these terms; Shoals noted, in reference to the widespread allegations that, well, Stern sometimes fudges with things—chiefly the refereeing and, yes, the lotteries—in order to produce more marketable story-lines: “At times, you wonder just how oblivious some fans are to the historical ghosts they are summoning when they accuse Stern of pulling all the strings.”
But at this point, it seems, Jews have made it. In a signal of just how outside the public consciousness the trope of the anti-Semitic conspiracy is, a Jew can prominently be accused of orchestrating a conspiracy, and not only is it not explicitly alleged that this conspiracy is somehow related to the perpetrator’s Jewishness, but in fact, the possibility that the charge is even implicitly anti-Semitic is explicitly foreclosed; shared Jewishness explicitly discounts the possibility that the conspiracy has anything to do with Jewishness. This is a watershed. We’ve made it, ma. Now we can stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start feeling sorry for Timberwolves fans, who have without a doubt the worst general manager in professional sports.
David Kahn, Minnesota Timberwolves GM, Hints NBA Draft Lottery Might Have Been Rigged [HuffPo]
Related: King David [Tablet Magazine]