Posted: Friday October 29, 2010 10:17AM ; Updated: Friday October 29, 2010 1:27PM
Michael Rosenberg
Michael Rosenberg>VIEWPOINT

Sports conspiracy theories

Story Highlights

Will Brett Favre play Sunday? Will NFL suspend him? Is it a conspiracy?

These theories take on life of own; some say Knicks getting top pick in '85 rigged

Most of these claims are baseless, but this being sports it's fun to argue

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Many wonder if the NBA fixed the first draft lottery in 1985, in which the Knicks got the first pick and selected Patrick Ewing.
Getty Images

The last time Brett Favre missed an NFL start, Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas. Think about that. The man earns his living as a human piņata, but he never misses a day of work.

And now he might miss one. Favre's ankle is suffering from seismic fallapartis -- he has two breaks, and the only question is how severe the breaks are, which just makes me thankful that it's not my ankle. Maybe Favre will play against New England on Sunday and maybe he won't.

But if he doesn't, that will mean one thing:

CONSPIRACY THEORY!

As you have surely heard, the NFL is investigating Favre for trying to organize an illicit huddle with a former New York Jets employee. And if a quarterback who never misses a game suddenly does miss a game ... well, people will talk. They'll gossip. And they'll wonder if he was suspended, or ducked a suspension.

If you believe that spectator sports exist largely to spark conversation, you have to love a good conspiracy theory, which is not the same thing as believing it. Conspiracy theories have been around sports forever -- in ancient Greece, the first Olympic marathon winner supposedly rode a horse for a few miles.

Actually, I just made that up. But it's a good one, isn't it? I almost believed it myself, and I'm the guy who made it up! So today, let's look at a few of sports' favorite conspiracy theories -- and try to take a detached view of how believable they really are.

CAST YOUR VOTE ON SPORTS' BIGGEST CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Conspiracy Theory
Babe Ruth missed the first few weeks of the 1925 season because of venereal disease.

Why People Believe It
His actual illness was never released. Teammates implied it was ... um, an acquired malady of the loin region.

Upon Further Review
(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

Nine. Really, what's not to believe? Ruth's sexual prowess is well-documented, and he did not have the most discriminating taste -- it's safe to say some of his lady friends got around. The fact that this rumor got out at all, in the shielded sports world of 1925, gives it credence. The fact that nobody has ever come up with another ailment makes me believe it. You don't miss two months of a season because of a stomachache.

Conspiracy Theories
Sonny Liston took a dive against Muhammad Ali in 1965, and Mike Tyson took a dive against heavy underdog Buster Douglas in 1990.

Why People Believe It
Liston had Mafia ties. Boxing is dirty. Tyson was crazy.

Upon Further Review
(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

Two, total -- two for Liston, zero for Tyson.

The Tyson rumors actually died down over time. The idea that Tyson thought he was invincible and was headed for an inevitable downfall has grown on us. It was surprising at the time, that's all.

As for Liston: I'm no boxing expert, but knowing what we do now, is it really surprising that Ali beat Liston? He was a better fighter. People just didn't realize it in the mid-60s. Ali had already beaten Liston once, in Miami, and Liston's lifestyle did not lend itself to training. It is quite possible that Liston realized he couldn't beat Ali and quit in the second fight -- and yes, even plausible that he was on the take. But knowing what you know now, the result is not surprising.

Conspiracy Theory
The NBA fixed the 1985 draft lottery so the Knicks would land Patrick Ewing.

Why People Believe It
It's the NBA. It was the first-ever lottery. Ewing was considered the best prospect in years, and he was already an East Coast icon from his years at Georgetown. The Knicks had been lousy and the league needed a boost in New York.

Plus, if you go to the youtube clip of the lottery you'll see that when the fourth envelope is placed in the spinning globe thingie (at around the 4:50 mark), it is slammed against the side of the globe thingie, apparently causing a crease in the envelope. This was the SAME ENVELOPE that David Stern pulled out to determine the No. 1 pick! OMG OMG OMG!

Upon Further Review
(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

Two. If you watch the video, you'll notice that Stern intentionally looks away as he reaches into the globe thingie, and that he picks an envelope in the middle of the pile. How could he know which envelope was bent? What is he, David Copperfield? Besides, when the globe thingie spins around, the envelopes hit the side at least as hard as that first envelope did when it was thrown in there.

If Stern had known that he'd still be answering questions about this 25 years later, he would have gone the ping-pong ball route and nobody would have suspected anything. Oh, who are we kidding? Of course they would. It's the NBA!

Conspiracy theory
UNLV fixed its 1991 NCAA Final Four game against Duke.

Why People Believe It
UNLV was the defending champion, had not lost all season, and had humiliated Duke in the title game the year before. Also, UNLV was the NCAA's alltime renegade program (by reputation, anyway) and several Rebels were photographed in a hot tub with a man named Richie "The Fixer" Perry. We repeat: Richie "The Fixer" Perry. Not Richie "Play Hard And Try To Win, Fellas" Perry. Richie ... OK, you get it.

Upon Further Review
(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

One, and that's only because it was UNLV in 1990, and anything was possible at UNLV in 1990. It was like if you sent Al Capone into a saloon in the Wild West with Ron Artest.

But seriously now: if the Running Rebels wanted to fix a game, why that game? Why not shave a few points when they were favored by 30 in January? Forget the moral question. It was not in their best interest to throw that game, especially since the best players on the team (Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony) were about to turn pro.

Mostly, though, there is this: Duke had more talent than UNLV. Really, it's true. Nobody thought that at the time, because the Rebels had been so dominant and Duke's two best players were white guys. But look: Grant Hill was a better pro than Johnson, Christian Laettner was a much better pro than Augmon, and Bobby Hurley was the No. 7 pick and probably would have been at least as good as Anthony if he hadn't gotten in a car accident.

Conspiracy Theory
Michael Jordan suddenly retired from the Bulls in 1993 to avoid a suspension from the NBA for his gambling.

Why People Believe It
Jordan's gambling was a big story in the summer of 1993 -- the first real chinks in his marketing armor. Up to that point, most people thought of Jordan as a combination of Julius Erving and Mahatma Gandhi. There was no good reason for that, and anybody who read Sam Smith's excellent book, The Jordan Rules, knew better. But hey, it was an innocent time.

Then we found out Jordan was a competition junkie who would go to the golf course and bet a stranger $147 million that he could hit his drive in the fairway without breaking his tee. This led to the publication of the book, Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction, by one of Jordan's old golf opponents, who was trying to "help" Jordan deal with his addiction. As we all know, if you want to help somebody with an addiction, you write a book about them. Or something like that.

That summer, Jordan's father, James, was murdered, fueling some ugly rumors about gambling debts and enemies and retribution.

Upon Further Review
(On a scale of 1 to 10, how believable is this?)

Two. And it's only a two because every conspiracy theory in the NBA is at least a two. James Jordan was killed in a robbery -- there is zero evidence it was tied to his son's gambling. And speaking of his son's gambling: Jordan was a competition addict, not a gambling addict. There is no evidence that he did anything to compromise the competitive integrity of the NBA other than draft Kwame Brown.

Here is the really absurd part: do you really think the NBA would cover up the suspension of its most popular player by kicking him out of the league for a year and a half? What the heck kind of marketing plan is THAT?

 
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