Can a basketball team legally lose a game on purpose?

This question was inspired by my local NBA team, the Portland Trailblazers. Here’s the deal:

The top 8 teams in each conference advance to the playoffs. The #1 team-- the team with the best regular-season record-- plays the #8 team-- the playoff team with the worst record. The #2 team plays the #7 team, the #3 plays the #6, and so on. The idea is that a good regular-season record confers the advantage of playing a comparatively weak opponent.

Normally (and obviously), it’s in every team’s interest to win as many games as they can, so they’ll have an easier time of it in the playoffs. However, sometimes the order in which the teams finish doesn’t exactly line up with the order in which we fans fear them as opponents. Even though the (#2) Dallas Mavericks have a better record than the (#3) Denver Nuggets, my Blazers have played way better against Dallas all season. Thus, I think the Blazers have a better chance against Dallas than they do against the nominally weaker Nuggets.

So, imagine this situation: It’s the last game of the season, and the standings are arranged such that if the Blazers win, they’ll face the Nuggets. If they lose, they face the Mavs.

Can the Blazers deliberately lose this game so they get the opponent they want? Can you throw a game if losing seems like it’ll be to your benefit? Has anything like this ever happened?

I should probably add that I can’t imagine that the Blazers actually doing this. But could they if they wanted to?

To legally play with the intent of losing, I don’t know. It’s precedent, though, that they can forfeit a game for whatever reasons seem justifiable to them. (This would of course piss off paying attendees, but that’s not the question being addressed.)

A little more complicated was the case of Somerset in English cricket. In May 1979 Somerset were playing Worcester. If Worcester beat Somerset convincingly they could boost their run rate (average of your strike rate for the season divided by the strike rate of your opponents) above Somerset and overtake them in the standings for a finals place. Brian Rose the Somerset captain came up with a scheme to declare the Somerset innings closed at 1 for 0. This meant that Worcester could only score two runs in winning and barely alter their run rate. After the subsequent outcry the authorities simply threw them out of the competition.

There is an interesting account of the whole affair here.

1992 World Cup of cricket. The undefeated New Zealanders played the unfancied Pakistanis in the last league game. If New Zealand won as expected, they would play Australia or the West Indies in the Semi Final, if they lost, they would play Pakistan. As it is they lost and Pakistan got through.

Pakistan would go on to win the Title.

Fascinating stuff.

I knew about Brearley putting all his fielders on the boundary to prevent a 4 off the final ball, and i vividly remember watching the underarm bowling incident on TV, but i had never heard of the Somerset/Worcester incident.

<Thought this was the Game Room. Nevermind>

Hmm, that’s probably where I should have posted this question. Didn’t think of it for some reason.

It must be against the rules of the league but probably not against the law.

It’s just that we’re not allowed in this forum to make jokes before the question is answered.

I’d argue that, if you meant illegal in the sense of against the law, then this is the right forum. If you meant against the rules of game, I’d agree that the Game Room would be more appropriate.

It’s always possible to try to lose without violating the league rules. For instance, the coach could pull the starters after the first quarter and let the subs play the rest of the way. Pretty certain to lose that game unless the other team is really pathetic (or the other team does the same). When asked about it, the coach could claim he’s resting the starters for the playoffs.

BTW, the Blazers played pretty bad against the Mavs the other day, so it may not make a whole lot of difference who they play in the playoffs.

I just realized that what would be even better is if BOTH teams wanted to lose the game. Imagine watching two teams trying to lose a game without being too obvious.

Moved to the Game Room from General Questions.


This has happened in soccer, with teams shooting on their own goals and the opposing team defending. I forget the silly standings scoring system that made this a good tactic.

The coach of the Cavaliers ,the year before Lebron came out , Lucas I believe, admitted they threw the season to get him. how bad is that?

Here you go.

The NBA draft is a different animal. You’ve got your lottery teams that all have a chance at landing the number 1 spot. If that’s true, then they tanked the season just for a *chance *to get Lebron.

Yes, but the lottery is weighted – the worse your record the better you chance is for number 1.

Has this sort of thing been done? Very likely, though it’s hard to prove. No team will ever admit it.

In the National Hockey League, Bruce Firestone, the founder and original owner of the Ottawa Senators, insinuated that the team deliberately lost games to ensure that they’d have the number one pick in the 1993 draft. The NHL draft lottery was instituted in 1995.

In one of Richard Dawkins books, he uses an odd soccer “game throwing” incident as an example, IIRC from the English Premier League. One of teams A, B and C was to be relegated. A and B were playing each other in the last game of the season, C was playing someone else. If C won, the loser of the A/B match would get relegated. If C lost, they could get relegated if the A/B match ended in a tie. A and B were playing a fiercely competitive game until word came through that C had indeed lost their game (it was flashed on the scoreboard at the A/B game). Immediately, the team that was a goal behind scored, which was cheered as loudly by the fans of the other team, and the two teams kicked the ball around in the center of the field for the rest of the game, clearly colluding to produce a tie.

There was an a game in the 1977 NFL season where by losing it’s next to last game to the lousy Detroit Lions (some things in the NFL never change), the Baltimore Colts improved it’s chances of making the playoffs.
Essentially the Patriots figured if they had won it;s last two games with Baltimore and Miami, they all would finish 10-4 and the Patriots would get first place on a tiebreakers having a 3-1 record against Miami and Baltimore. But when Baltimore lost, the Patriots hopes suddenly depended on the 3-9 Buffalo Bills winning on the road in Miami. If the Bills lost to the Dolphins, A Patriot victory over the Colts the following week would only ensure the Dolphins got the AFC East because of victories against common opponents (6-2 vs New England’s 5-3). Baltimore still had to beat New England the last week but figured the Patriots would only have the motive of preferring Miami over Baltimore in the playoffs.

Regarding the questionable Lions at Colts game, the Colts did take a 10-6 lead with 4:53 left. They also intercepted a Lions pass with 1:03 left. But on a fourth down on their 21 with 23 seconds left, the Colts elected to punt, had it blocked and returned for a touchdown. Cynics wondered why the Colts didn’t have punter David Lee run the ball out of an endzone for a safety, which still gave them a 10-8 lead and a free kick from their 20 yard line. Colts coach Ted Marchibroda said he didn’t want to take a chance of having the Lions get the ball if the punter was tackled before reaching the endzone although could have been eliminated if the Colts had taken a delay of game penalty.

If the Colts deliberately lost the game (and they denied they did), it worked to perfection as they won the Patriots game the following week, aided by a blown call by the referees who didn’t see QB Bert Jones drop the ball and blew the play dead when he hit the ground.