If we have learned anything about the NBA playoffs this year, it is that they aren't controlled by giant corporate hands at the league office, NBC and the shoe companies.
If the games were "arranged," the Lakers and Suns would have started the Western Conference finals Monday night, and the Bulls and Knicks would have started the Eastern Conference finals last night.
Think of it: a final foursome including the nation's three largest cities/TV markets, plus Charles Barkley. From the standpoint of TV ratings, advertising possibilities, salable media angles and all those things the NBA holds so dear, it would have been a feast.
But then all four members of that Corporate Dream Team Final Four got whipped in the conference semifinals.
There were so many sad-faced CEOs moping around, you'd have thought they'd lost their limo privileges or something.
As it was, all they lost was a little of their beloved market share -- and not that much, considering that they still have Shaquille O'Neal to trumpet, not to mention Dennis Rodman, if his teammates don't kill him.
Of course, if the wrong-team-wins trend continues to hold -- and the guess here is it will -- the Rockets will beat the Spurs and the Pacers will beat the Magic, setting up an NBA championship series between those teams everyone is dying to see, Indiana and Houston.
Think of it: basketball's biggest prize decided by a couple of minor-league hockey towns.
A few more years of that and those CEOs will lose their limo privileges, not to mention their jobs.
Yet, as contradictory as it sounds, it was good for the league that the "wrong" teams won. When a critical non-call on Michael Jordan helped the Bulls in the first round, and then another non-call on Patrick Ewing (he traveled on his game-winning drive in Game 5) helped the Knicks stay alive against the Pacers, it was beginning to seem that the playoffs were stacked in favor of the high-profile, high-corporate teams.
Not that the games really were fixed or anything, of course, but it was just so obvious what the corporate side wanted, and the NBA thrives more than any other league on corporate support. Even a thick-headed conspiracy theorist could put those pieces together.
But then the Magic beat the Bulls because the best team won, and the Rockets beat the Barkleys because the Rockets are remarkable, and the Pacers beat the Knicks because Ewing missed a finger roll, and the playoffs were a lot less salable but looked a lot more honest.
At least now NBA commissioner David Stern doesn't have to go into hiding to wave his Bulls pompon during games.
The Bulls were the team the league most wanted to succeed, of course, for obvious reasons: Jordan was every bit as thrilling and dominating in his comeback as he was before. That his shooting was off didn't matter much.
He did make critical mistakes at the end of several games against the Magic, leading to the inevitable -- and ridiculous -- conclusion that he'd lost his late-game magic. He made mistakes because he had to force things, because no one would do it if he didn't, and any decent NBA defense can stop a team so one-dimensional.
What Jordan has lost is his options, a team around him.
The championship Bulls of 1990-93 were only mediocre without him, and this year's are even less than that. They have no center, an average backcourt and no bench -- and that just wasn't enough against the powerful and young Magic.
Of course, with O'Neal and Penny Hardaway still postseason fledglings, the Magic is still a year away, just as the Pacers were a year ago.
The Pacers may be faceless, a marketer's nightmare, but they're a solid team with enviable balance, capable of winning inside with Rik Smits and outside with Reggie Miller, or on the strength of their tireless defense and rebounding.
The Magic is happy just to get this far, and the Pacers, after losing to the Knicks last year in the conference finals, are hungry for more. Enough said.
It figures that the Pacers will wind up playing the Spurs in the finals; the Spurs had the league's best regular-season record, and David Robinson is having a career year. But underestimating the Rockets has become an NBA art form.
The Rockets have enormous mental strength. They won the finals in Game 7 last year, and have advanced to the conference finals this year by winning Game 5 of a five-game series at Utah and Game 7 of a seven-game series at Phoenix. That's a trifecta that won't often be repeated.
The league wants the Spurs to come out winners, naturally; the Rockets are plodders, and the Spurs have Rodman, the famous loony-tune who snubs his coach during timeouts. His rebellion is so overt -- and such a blatant, almost pathetic cry for attention -- that it is amazing to watch.
I've always been a big Rodman guy; I love his rebounding, his defense and his warrior mentality. But the truth is that his negatives are outweighing his positives right now. His bizarre behavior has become a distraction that hurts his team's concentration. He gives the Spurs an emotional flaw.
Maybe they can overcome it, but the guess here is the unified, mentally flawless Rockets will prevail. And then run out of gas against the hungrier Pacers.
Indiana, NBA champs? It's the league's worst nightmare, and you can be sure it'll never happen again. But at least no one will be able to claim that the fix was in.