Evaluating Sports Conspiracy Theories

By Ryan Bologna

There are tons of conspiracy theories. Some are silly, but some seem to have legitimacy when you dig deeper. Here are some of the most interesting sports conspiracies, and whether or not we think they’re true.

Larry Johnson and UNLV threw the 1991 Semi-Final

As the defending champion, UNLV came in as the favorite against Duke. However, Vegas books could not take bets on UNLV games. So the conspiracy is that Larry Johnson and possibly other players on the team were offered money to throw the game so that Vegas books could take bets for the championship game. There is also said to be a picture of the team with a known fixer in a hot tub.

The final play is intriguing. Johnson takes the ball up the court, and seemingly has a chance to drive to the basket to tie the game. Instead he pulled up and passed to Anderson Hunt, who was forced to take a contested three-point shot as time expired.

Conspiracy or Coincidence?

Verdict: Coincidence

As someone who watches a lot of college basketball, ugly last possessions are very common. There are countless games that end on broken possessions like that. If Johnson and UNLV really were throwing, it probably wouldn’t have been a one possession game at the buzzer.

MLB Colluding To Keep Salaries Down

This supposedly took place in the 1980s. MLB teams created a database in 1987 that recorded what each team was offering free agents. Why is this information important? Because that could easily be used to keep salaries down. Any type of perceived leverage that the players have would be wiped out because teams knew what players were offered prior.

Conspiracy or Coincidence?

Verdict: Conspiracy

Given MLB’s history, and sports owners in general trying to save as much money as possible despite their generational wealth, there is too much smoke here. An arbiter ruled that there was collusion in 1990 as well.

Patrick Ewing Knicks Lottery

When you think sports conspiracy theories, there is perhaps none more famous than the Patrick Ewing lottery in 1985. The theory is that the NBA wanted the big market New York Knicks to get the star player out of Georgetown. The prevailing thought is that before the drawing, the Knicks envelope was placed in a freezer so it would be easy to tell which one it was. When watching the video, you can see one envelope is placed differently than the rest when it was put into the pile. It was thrown against the glass, which was in theory meant to bend the corner. That way it was easy to tell the Knicks envelope from others.

Conspiracy or coincidence?

Verdict: Conspiracy

As with others, there is just too much smoke here. The freezer story might not be true, but the placing of the envelopes into the pile is blatant. There have been more accusations of a rigged lottery since then, but this is the most obvious case.

Photo Credit: Feng Yu

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