The eight biggest sports conspiracy theories

Bill Simmons Says Michael Jordan '88 Dunk Contest Was Rigged
Bill Simmons Says Michael Jordan '88 Dunk Contest Was Rigged

The Cauldron

Forget who killed Kennedy, these are the pressing questions that we, the sports-loving public, demand answers to.

8. Game 6 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals

The theory: With the Sacramento Kings leading the Lakers 3–2 in the Western Conference Finals, David Stern ordered the officiating crew to take every possible measure to ensure that the Lakers won.

Why it might be true: The Kings are small market, the Lakers are one of the NBA's premier franchises. The Kings in the Finals means low ratings; the Lakers in the Finals means BIG ratings. And as for Game 6 specifically, anyone who saw the contest - even Lakers homers - would admit that the officiating down the stretch was incredibly biased in favor of Los Angeles. Additionally, former NBA official Tim Donaghy has claimed that he was told by an official who worked Game 6 that it was rigged.

Why it might be false: Umm ... uhh ... hmm. Tough one. You know, in all fairness to David Stern and the NBA, this doesn't even belong in a list of conspiracy theories. Because it's not just some "theory." It's definitely true.

7. Janet Jones: Gambling patsy

The theory: Phoenix Coyotes assistant Rick Tocchet ran a large, nationwide sports gambling ring and Janet Jones, the wife of Wayne Gretzky - who was Phoenix's head coach at the time - was implicated as a major client. But Gretzky was not. Jones took the fall for her husband.

Why it might be true: It's hard to believe that Tocchet was running a gambling ring as a side job and taking huge bets from his boss's wife and that Gretzky knew nothing about any of it. It also makes sense that Jones would take the fall, because her husband's image is more important to their long-term financial well-being.

Why it might be false: Wives try to keep things quiet from their husbands all the time. Just ask Cal Ripken's wife (theoretically!).

6. Spygate's coverup

The theory: After the Patriots were busted for filming their opponents' signals and practices, commissioner Roger Goodell destroyed all the Spygate evidence because New England's cheating program was much larger than the public knew.

Why it might be true: When the program was uncovered, Goodell asked the Patriots to turn over all of their illegal tapes and documents - trusting them to do so, despite there being no reason to trust them. Then less than two weeks later, Goodell had all of the evidence destroyed, explaining his reasoning: "It was the right thing to do." That's, uhh ... vague. Maybe it was an attempt to quickly and tidily move past the fact that the winner of three recent Super Bowls had cheated their way to championships.

Why it might not be true: To pull off a legit conspiracy, you have to be pretty smart - whereas Goodell is an established moron. Destroying the Spygate evidence and continuing to trust the Patriots weren't the actions of a conspirator, they were the actions of someone with a very low, Goodellian I.Q.

5. Ali-Liston II's "Phantom Punch"

The theory: Sonny Liston took a dive and was "knocked out" by a "phantom punch" from Ali midway through the first round in their 1965 rematch.

Why it might be true: There were rumors that Liston had run up major gambling debts to the mafia, so he may have bet against himself in the fight and then lost on purpose to make back what he owed. Also, footage of the Ali jab that floored Liston shows that it barely connected.

Why it might be false: It was a punch that barely connected. Yet it connected. And it was thrown by Muhammad Ali. If the average person took a glancing blow from 1965 Muhammad Ali, they would not only be knocked out, they would be decapitated.

4. Cal Ripken and the Baltimore power outage

The theory: Cal Ripken and his wife have long been friends with Kevin Costner. In August 1997, while Ripken's consecutive games streak was still intact, Costner was staying at their residence. Cal left for that night's Orioles game, but then came back to the house because he forgot something and walked in on his wife having sex with Costner. Ripken called Orioles owner Peter Angelos to tell him he wouldn't be able to play and Angelos knocked out the power to the stadium.

Why it might be true: Ripken's streak sold a ton of tickets for the Orioles and it's not inconceivable that Angelos took drastic measures to keep it alive.

Why it might be false: Kevin Costner? Unless Mrs. Ripken has terrible terrible terrible taste in movies, there's almost no way she slept with Kevin Costner. Oh, and everyone claims Ripken was at the stadium and in uniform the night the power mysteriously went out. But that's beside the main point, which is, of course: Kevin Costner sucks at acting.

3. Curt Schilling and the bloody sock

The theory: Pitching against the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, Red Sox starter Curt Schilling put ketchup or red paint on the sock covering his injured ankle to give him an excuse if he pitched poorly - or make himself a hero if he did well.

Why it might be true: Schilling so loved attention and sought to self-mythologize himself at every turn, perhaps the theory isn't so absurd. It gained more traction in 2007 when veteran broadcaster Gary Thorne said Boston catcher Doug Mirabelli had admitted that Schilling's sock didn't have blood on it, before backing away from the claim.

Why it might be false: Have you seen what Curt Schilling writes on Twitter? He's not smart enough to pull something like this off. It's surprising he's smart enough to pull on socks.

2. Michael Jordan's secret NBA suspension

The theory: In light of Michael Jordan's six-figure gambling, which may have included bets on NBA games, NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Jordan for the 1993–94 season. But in order to not sully the name of the league's biggest ticket and bring increased scrutiny on the NBA, Stern allowed Jordan to say he was "retiring" to try baseball.

Why it might be true: Jordan's casino gambling during the previous season's playoffs had drawn attention that Stern did not care for and sports superstars don't usually quit the game they love at age 30 to try a sport they haven't played since age 12.

Why it might be false: Jordan was at the peak of his career and seen as an athlete with no rival. By choosing baseball over a suspension, he was seen as an athlete who could easily be K'd by Double-A pitchers with 84 mph fastballs. Which is to say: you can make the case that playing baseball hurt his image more than a suspension would have. If there's any Jordan-related conspiracy, it's that he sold his soul to Satan before his North Carolina career and then, in exchange, he had to humiliate himself on the Wizards for two years and grow a mustache suggesting his support for Hitler.

1. David Stern and the frozen envelope

The theory: Before the 1985 NBA Draft lottery, Stern - perhaps along with other top NBA executives - had the envelope containing the Knicks' card frozen so Stern would be able to feel it by touch, handing the No. 1 overall pick - and Patrick Ewing - to the Knicks.

Why it might be true: The NBA has long wanted the big-market Knicks to be good, Stern is a New York native, the team was in the toilet at the time and Patrick Ewing was the most desired rookie to come along in years. Plus, Stern has never struck anyone as the most ethical fellow.

Why it might be false: If David Stern was in the business of rigging things so the Knicks would be good, he would have had James Dolan and Isiah Thomas killed years ago. In fact, you have to wonder if there's a conspiracy against the Knicks.

Related links:
You better check yourselves, players
Losers who win, the NFL's best worst playoff teams
The gospel according to the BBWAA

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