10 conspiracy theories in sports that drive fans nuts

Rams shoot down Michael Sam conspiracy theory
Rams shoot down Michael Sam conspiracy theory

During the San Antonio Spurs win over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals the air conditioning at the AT&T Center stopped working, eventually causing LeBron James to cramp and have to be carried off the court.

After the game, it didn't take sports fans long to speculate that the malfunction was actually intentional to give the Spurs an even bigger home court advantage. This was just the latest in a long history of conspiracy theories that many sports fans want to believe.

One Redditor started a thread asking others for their favorite sports conspiracy theories. Here are some of the best and most popular in no particular order.

1. Cal Ripken Jr.'s record streak of games played was saved by an intentional power outage.


Why fans believe it is true: In 1997, two years after breaking Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played, a game between the Orioles and Mariners was postponed because of a electrical failure that affected the lights at Camden Yards. This led to a wild rumor that the team intentionally caused the failure to save Ripken's streak when they learned Ripken would be unable to play after he got into a fight with Kevin Costner.

Why it is probably bunk: News reports at the time show that Ripken was at the stadium and sitting in the dugout prior to the power outage.

2. The 2005 NHL Draft was rigged so the Pittsburgh Penguins could draft Sidney Crosby to save the troubled franchise.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals
Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals


Why fans believe it is true: Shortly after escaping bankruptcy, the Pittsburgh Penguins were still in trouble as a franchise and threatening to move to Kansas City. The team then won the 2005 NHL Draft lottery for the rights to draft the wunderkind, Sidney Crosby, and shortly afterwards, an agreement was in place to build a new arena.

Why it is probably bunk: The Penguins were one of four clubs tied with the best chance of winning the lottery. One of the other teams was the New York Rangers. While Crosby may have saved the Penguins it would have been better for the league if he ended up with the Rangers who at the time were one of the worst teams in the league.

3. Michael Jordan's first retirement was actually a secret suspension for gambling.


Why fans believe it is true: Just months before Michael Jordan announced his first retirement in 1993 and eventually pursued a career in baseball, the NBA had launched an investigation into Jordan's gambling habits. In addition, Jordan joked during his retirement press conference that he may come back to the NBA "if David Stern lets me back in the league."

Why it is probably bunk: The question conspiracy theorists struggle to answer is, why would the NBA cover up Jordan's gambling misdeeds and kick the best and most popular asset out of the league for two years? For all the NBA conspiracy theories — and there are plenty — they always involve a conspiracy that benefits the league. Getting rid of Jordan did not benefit the NBA. The more likely scenario is that Jordan, one of sports' fiercest competitors no longer felt challenged by basketball and needed something else. He was also dealing with the recent death of his father, who had been murdered just months before his son's retirement.

4.Muhammad Ali's "phantom punch" to knock out Sonny Liston in 1964.

Why fans believe it is true: In the first round of their championship rematch, Muhammad Ali knocked Sonny Liston down with a punch that many in attendance did not see, leading to the name, "phantom punch." To add to the confusion, Ali did not immediately retreat to a neutral corner, delaying the referee's count. Liston staggered to his feet after about 20 seconds and resumed the match. However, the referee then stopped the fight after the official timekeeper signaled that he had counted Liston out. This led many to think the fight was rigged.

Why it is probably bunk: When the video is slowed down, it is clear that Liston's head snaps when Ali's glove makes contact with the chin.

5. The NFL destroyed evidence from "Spygate" to hide evidence that the Patriots cheated in a Super Bowl.


Why fans believe it is true: After Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were caught spying on the New York Jets during a game, the NFL discovered tapes at the Patriots' facility that were almost immediately destroyed. A report later surfaced that the Rams secretly taped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough prior to the 2001 Super Bowl. Many fans believe the tapes destroyed by the league showed the Patriots cheated to win a Super Bowl.

Why it is probably bunk: In a recent report from ESPN, the NFL destroyed the tapes were destroyed "almost as quickly as the tapes and notes were found," and that the league executives "stomped the tapes into pieces and shredded the papers inside a Gillette Stadium conference room." If true, NFL almost certainly didn't have enough time to know the details of what were on the tapes. In addition, one tape had already leaked and it is believable that Goodell did not want any other leaks made to the media.

6. The NBA rigged the 1985 NBA Draft so the New York Knicks could get Patrick Ewing.

Why fans believe it is true: Patrick Ewing was one of the best prospects in years and the league's marquee franchise needed a star. In addition, in the video below, the person placing the envelopes in the bin seems to throw one envelope against the side of the bin and the envelope David Stern pulls out with the Knicks logo inside appears to have a bent corner.

Why it is probably bunk: If the NBA wanted to bend a corner of the envelope as a signal to Stern, it would be easier to bend the envelope prior to even bringing them out. The envelopes were stacked and nobody would have noticed a bent corner. It also would eliminate the risk that throwing it against the side would not actually bend the corner.

7. The NBA rigged Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals to save the Los Angeles Lakers' season.


Why fans believe it is true: The Lakers trailed the Sacramento Kings 3-2 in the series and were tied heading into the fourth quarter of Game 6. The Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter and scored 16 of their last 18 points at the free throw line to win by four points. The Lakers would go on to win that series and the NBA championship. Years later, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who resigned and later admitted to gambling on NBA games, suggested that the conspiracy was true noting that he heard a game had been fixed that matched the description of the playoff game.

Why it is probably bunk: Donaghy did not work the game in question and if his story is accurate it is second-hand knowledge at best.

8. The NBA rigged the NBA Draft for the Cleveland Cavaliers after LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat.

Ray Stubblebine/Reuters

Why fans believe it is true: Fans believe the NBA rigged the draft lottery to help the Cleveland Cavaliers after LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the Cavs received nothing in return. The Cavs won the draft lottery in 2011 (and then again in 2013 and 2014) and picked Kyrie Irving.

Why it is probably bunk: The Cavs were not an especially long shot to win the lottery. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves had a better chance to win the lottery, and even they had a 75% chance of not winning the lottery. The fact is, the NBA's lottery is designed to make it unlikely for the worst team to actually win.

Cleveland Cavaliers 2011 Draft Press Conference
Cleveland Cavaliers 2011 Draft Press Conference


9. The 1995 New Zealand national rugby team was poisoned prior to the World Cup Final.


Why fans believe it is true: In front of their own fans, South Africa defeated the heavily-favored New Zealand squad in the final of the 1995 World Cup. Prior to the match, many members of the New Zealand team came down with food poisoning and after the match, their coach blamed a mysterious waitress named "Suzie."

Why it is probably bunk: One of the team's managers is on record saying "Suzie" was not a real person and that the team drank what he called "dodgy" milk two days before the match after a big night out that left members of the team feeling "not too fit."

10. Pete Rose had a secret agreement to be reinstated to baseball after lifetime ban.


Why fans believe it is true: Pete Rose has long acted as though his lifetime ban for gambling on baseball games was never actually supposed to be a lifetime ban and that he would eventually be reinstated. However, then-commissioner Bart Giamatti died just eight days after the suspension was handed down and many fans believe his promise to Rose died with him.

Why it is probably bunk: Giamatti was replaced by his close friend, Fay Vincent. If it was the wish of Giamatti to eventually reinstate Rose, it is likely Vincent would have known and would have honored his friend's wish. Vincent refused to reinstate Rose and he remains banned to this day.

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