The NBA has provoked more conspiracy theories than the other three North American professional sports leagues combined. Perhaps, in part, it’s because how visible players are without a helmet or cap obscuring the emotion of the moment, or their interactions with teammates, coaches, referees, and fans. Or, maybe the NBA’s coterie of agents, players, scouts, and league executives smacks of an organized entity capable of carrying out a diabolical plot to obscure the truth. Regardless, for a huge segment of NBA fans, some of the most baffling moments and motivations in the league’s history are best explained by an anonymous commenter in the throes of a particularly lucid LSD daydream. That’s the moment fiction and fact blur and Reddit threads bleed into reportage.
The popularity of NBA conspiracies could be explained by how they attach themselves to basketball’s very best. The top player today, LeBron James, continues to be a fountain of them. The fact that some have come true—like when people tracked Dan Gilbert’s private jet in the summer of 2014 convinced James was going back to Cleveland (count us among those who thought online Cavs fans had turned to PCP after Anthony Bennett). Or the Space Jam 2 Hollywood tycoon conspiracy predating LeBron’s decision to sign with the Lakers this past summer have only emboldened the tin-foil-hat-wearing denizens with League Pass subscriptions. Everything from LeBron’s hairline, his weight, alleged PED use, and more have swirled around him for years. Unfortunately, even his family gets embroiled, with one of the more famous yarns percolating for so long online it becomes fact in the minds of many. The same could be said for the NBA’s OG GOAT, Michael Jordan, who played well before social media, or the ubiquity of smartphones, which have largely laid bare a player’s every move and utterance. The mystique attached to previous NBA era only heightened the rumors and innuendos about Jordan. That’s what normally happens with legends, but more so when there’s not as much information out there to debunk the conspiracy.
NBA conspiracies are so popular they’ve become something of a cottage industry among fanciful YouTube impresarios who have Stephen A. Smith’d their way to online ad revenue. Like the 1,000-year-old game of telephone acting as the foundation of all major religious texts, conspiracies are simultaneously an oasis in the desert of useless ephemera and the island in the sea of plausible coincidences. While the veracity of most conspiracies should be laughed off, or downright ignored, here are seven NBA conspiracies we want to believe in, if only because they provide a little bit of structure to an increasingly mad world.