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Best sports conspiracy ever

How many conspiracies can possibly involve David Stern, you ask? Many. Very many. AP Photo/J Pat Carter

Leagues run amok

David Stern, all-knowing dark overlord?!? ... Impossible!
The '85 NBA draft lottery is fixed by commissioner Stern (and one chilly envelope) to let the Knicks draft extremely tall lane walker Patrick Ewing with the first pick.

(Proven) Rich men colluding to hoard money?!? ... Never!
During the 1980s, greedy MLB owners agree not to sign one another's free agents, suppressing salaries. Players sue; owners settle to the tune of $280 million.

Besides, those agreeable Canadians will never complain
In 1988 the NHL mandates that the Edmonton Oilers trade Wayne Gretzky to the LA Kings because it will be good for business if Gretzky plays in the U.S.

Say it ain't so, Broadway Joe!
In 1969 the NFL fixes Super Bowl III to allow noted panty hose model Joe Namath and his Jets to upset the Colts. The victory ultimately bolsters the AFL before the AFL-NFL merger.

The far tougher problem: Brooke Shields
ATP Tour executives manage to keep Andre Agassi's 1997 positive drug test for crystal meth quiet in the best interests of tennis.


No-good cheaters

Say it ain't so, Jose!
After the 1994 strike, MLB owners, players and league execs conspire to ignore the growth of steroids in an effort to "save" the game through a tiresome barrage of home runs.

On a related note: Universe based on lies
In 1951 the New York Giants steal signs (thanks to a spy with an actual spyglass!); cheater Bobby Thomson hits pennant-clinching Shot Heard 'Round the World.

Goodell and Belichick unlikable?!? ... No way!
In 2007 NFL commissioner Roger Goodell destroys the Patriots' Spygate tapes because they reveal an even more damning form of cheating.

Everything else ever? All Romo's fault
Seahawks give holder Tony Romo an especially slick football on the potential winning field goal in the 2006 playoffs. Seminal Romo moment ensues.

Because, you know, The Falklands War
Diego Maradona's Hand of God goal -- an obvious hand ball in the '86 World Cup-is not called because the referees were biased in favor of Argentina over England.


Mobsters and gamblers

Float like a butterfly, dive like Liston
In his '65 bout with Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston (who did, after all, learn to box in prison) bets against himself to pay off mob debts and is KO'd by a phantom punch.

Seriously, the guy's last name was Riggs
In 1973 highly perspirant former pro Bobby Riggs throws the Battle of the Sexes to Billie Jean King after betting against himself to settle -- yes! -- gambling debts.

(Proven) Say it ain't so, Joe!
White Sox conspire with mobsters to throw the World Series. All are banned for life, including illiterate rube Joe Jackson. Upside: Ray Liotta's finest role.

Gambling ... in Nevada?!? Perish the thought!
When UNLV players appear in a photo with convicted fixer Richard Perry, rumors swirl that the Runnin' Rebs threw their '91 Final Four game against Duke.

(Proven) The Mob ... in Manhattan?!? Unthinkable!
City College of New York basketballers -- with the kindly help of the mob -- orchestrate a point-shaving fix in 1950-51 that all but destroys the NIT.


Those dirty refs

Russians are cheaters?!? ... Inconceivable!
In the 1972 gold medal game, a Soviet buzzer beater hands Team USA its first Olympic loss after villainous officials put three dubious seconds back on the clock.

Stern acting in his own interest?!? ... Shut up!
With the NBA in need of a new star after the Kobe Bryant rape allegations, D-Wade-friendly refs conspire to help the Heat beat the Mavs in the 2006 Finals.

Touchy subject: Michael Phelps' seventh gold medal
In the '08 Olympics, Phelps' touch pad is rigged to be extra sensitive, gifting him the 100-meter butterfly by 0.01 of a second -- and a record-tying seventh gold.

Because, you know, like 17 people live in Sacramento
NBA refs -- them again? -- help the Lakers beat the Kings in the '02 conference finals. In Game 6, LA takes 27 foul shots in the fourth; the Kings take 25 all game.

A professional boxing match fixed?!? ... Get out!
In a 2012 title fight, Timothy Bradley is handed a controversial decision over Manny Pacquiao by promoter Bob Arum, who wants a new star to set up a rematch.


The art of mythmaking

NASCAR drivers have hearts?!? ... Preposterous!
Dale Jr.'s first Daytona 500 win in 2004 -- six years to the day after Dad won his first and three years after his death at Daytona -- is set up by NASCAR and other drivers.

Does hitting a home run in an All-Star game even matter?
In 2001 human deity Cal Ripken Jr. becomes the oldest player (40) to go yard in an All-Star Game -- thanks to a pitch intentionally grooved down the middle.

It's not like The Man wasn't sacked 524 other times ...
In 2001 Brett Favre allows Michael Strahan to sack him, thereby letting Strahan set the NFL's single-season record (22.5), which still stands.

Stern ... Again? Seriously, did the man kill Kennedy too?
Michael Jordan's first "retirement" in 1993 is actually an under-the-table suspension from Stern, punishment for -- wait for it! -- his gambling debts.

Baseball manufacturing heroes?!? ... Impossible!
Curt Schilling applies fake blood to his "blood-soaked" sock in the 2004 ALCS to make his pitching effort appear all the more heroic.


Final round

Winner: The Black Sox, 27.2 percent
The Big Five conspiracies to emerge from our brackets are all fine examples of ne'er-do-welling. But not even Cold War Olympic scandal can top the 1919 Sox for sheer chicanery. Stolen evidence! Skinflint owners! False confessions! Guys named "Chick" and "Swede!" Say it ain't so? Say it was so -- so very conspiratorial.

USA/USSR: 25.7 percent
Jordan: 18.6 percent
Steroids: 16.8 percent
Envelope: 11.8 percent

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