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Whenever a worldwide event happens, there are often two reactions over time, it gets politicized and some kind of conspiracy theory is developed. From the John F. Kennedy assassination to the “Moon Landing” to Paul McCartney being dead, if it seems feasible it will be suggested. What’s even worse, people will still believe it and try to add more reason or “proof” to it.
Sports surprisingly is no different. Usually the product of fans who are annoyed their team wasn’t successful or just have too much time on their hands is the reason why sports conspiracy theories do exist. While not as insane as some of the ones mentioned previously, they can definitely be out there.
Today, we’ll take a look at some of them. They’ll make you laugh, some may get you to think but above all, they’ll give us more of an appreciation of the fans, no matter how crazy they are.
In the end, that appreciation is what truly matters.
Dale Earnhardt Jr Wins The 2001 Pepsi 400
The end of the 2001 Daytona 500 will always be one of the most somber moments in the history of NASCAR. As Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line on the final in the first and second respectively, a massive crash in turn four saw Dale Earnhardt Sr’s car lose control before going head-on into the retaining wall, ultimately killing him.
Five months later, when NASCAR went back to Daytona International Speedway for the first time since the fetal crash, it was Earnhardt Jr that walked away with the win. It’s often viewed as one of the most cathartic moments in the history of NASCAR as well as the Earnhardt family.
So of course, people believed the race was fixed. Theorists claim that the moment was too perfect to be legit, often saying that NASCAR let Earnhardt Jr’s car slide on multiple competitive restrictions or that drivers let him pass on the way to a win. Fuel was added to the fire when Earnhardt Jr. vehemently denied the rumors, even going as far as to threaten a reporter who brought it up.
While it’s more likely untrue that this happened, there’s no denying that this moment will live on in NASCAR forever.
Cal Ripken Jr. And The Blackout
Baltimore Orioles’ legend Cal Ripken Jr. is often seen as one of the greatest in baseball history, not only for his productivity on the field, but for his availability. “The Iron Man” broke Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played in 1995 when he played in his 2,131 straight game. That game is often remembered for the number 2,131 on the side of the Orioles’ Warehouse behind Camden Yards and Ripken Jr. doing a lap around the field.
Despite breaking the 56-year old record, there was some controversy with it after the fact. Two years after he broke the record, Camden Yards had a partial power outage before the game which forced Baltimore to delay and ultimately postpone a game against the Seattle Mariners. While it’s never been proven, some believe that the team had orchestrated the incident.
While the streak was still going, it was rumored that Ripken had found his wife at the time, Kelly, in bed with actor Kevin Costner. It’s believed that Ripken was either injured in the altercation that had followed or was arrested and couldn’t make it in time for the game. This lead some to believe that Baltimore intentionally tampered with the lights to ensure the streak was kept alive.
In the years since, both Ripken Jr. and Costner have denied the encounter took place. Ripken Jr. has even come out and said he was at Camden Yards when the power issue was happening and was part of the decision to postpone the game.
Los Angeles Lakers Call Checkmate On Sacramento
Once playoff time hits in any sport, everything is under a microscope. Whether it’s the various New England Patriots scandals seeing evidence disposed of or the Baltimore Ravens “mysterious” Super Bowl power outage, you could do a whole list on conspiracy theories in the postseason. However, probably the most talked about is the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings.
Trailing Sacramento 3-2, in the series, Los Angeles found themselves tied at 75 going into the fourth quarter of Game 6. The Lakers would shoot 27 free throws alone in the quarter. Los Angeles would ultimately win the game 106-102, before taking the series in game seven.
Many theorize that the NBA told the referees to call more fouls in the fourth quarter on Sacramento. With the New Jersey Nets having clinched a spot in the NBA Finals, people felt the NBA were going to make sure that a major market team would go to finals for ratings. Many still believe that there is legitimacy to this theory, especially with questions surrounding some of the league officials and their gambling practices. For now, it’s just a thought.
The New Kid In Pittsburgh
There will always be questions surrounding the 1984 NHL draft and the race to see who would win the services of Mario Lemieux. It was seen as one of the earliest possible forms of tanking. That’s not the conspiracy theory that makes it on this list, that would come a little more than 20 years later.
Following the NHL lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season, four teams had an equal chance of landing the first overall pick, Sidney Crosby; the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, who had been struggling financially and in terms of viability and fan support, needed a new superstar. Simply put, Pittsburgh really needed this draft.
The story goes that the NHL gave Pittsburgh an extra ping pong ball for the NHL draft lottery and that was the ball that was picked to be number one. The league viewed Crosby as the guy who could save the franchise, and in a way, he did. Through his career, he has been an eight-time All-Star, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and a two-time Hart Memorial Trophy (Most Valuable Player) winner.
If the league did indeed fix the draft so he would end up in Pittsburgh, it may turn out to be one of the biggest jobs ever done. However, in terms of drafts, this wasn’t the biggest conspiracy.
NBA Draft…The King of Conspiracies
Rounding out a list of conspiracies is probably one of the most controversial driven events, the NBA draft. Every year fans watch the draft lottery to see which team would get screwed over in favor of a bigger market team or a team that was done wrong by a player. It’s gotten to the point that picking one wouldn’t cut it, so why not look at a few examples.
Starting with the most infamous, the “frozen envelope”. During the 1985 NBA draft lottery, it’s believed that the New York Knicks had been gifted the first-overall pick, Patrick Ewing, by the league doctoring the envelope as to show which one the commissioner should have chosen. The reason for this was because the league felt that having a successful team in New York would be in the league’s best interest.
Then there’s the interesting case of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Following the departure of LeBron James, Cleveland was without anybody. It’s heavily believed that the NBA may have rigged three drafts in a four-year span to help them out following “The King’s” decision. Despite them not finishing with the worst records in this this span, they wound up with the 2011, 2013 and 2014 first overall picks.
This isn’t really talked about because of how the picks turned out. In 2011, they took Kyrie Irving who was a star for the team until his departure in 2017. In 2013, they selected Anthony Bennett, who after his first two years in Cleveland, had bounced around the league before going overseas. Then in 2014, Andrew Wiggins was taken who was traded almost immediately for Kevin Love.
Then in recent years, there was the 2019 draft which was centered around Zion Williamson. For months, it seemed like a sure thing that the New York Knicks were going to get Williamson, then the draft lottery happened.
The year prior to the draft, New Orleans was the third highest-rated local market for the NBA (behind Norfolk and Oklahoma City). The team was planning to pair Williamson with their current Anthony Davis, prior to him being traded. While Williamson could have been a huge draw at Madison Square Garden, the problem was that it would have just been another player who could have been good but had his talents wasted by the team.
Now all of these conspiracy theories are just theories and ideas presented. Some may be more true than others but at the end of the day, there’s no definitive proof.