The NBA has plenty of urban legends to offer. There is something about the league that seems far more conducive to corruption, scandals, and conspiracies than any other major sports league.
When developing this list, a few themes started to develop. The first major theme that is spread throughout this list is that many believe that the league offices are corrupt and regularly engage in shady, underhanded tactics in order to secure the results that best suit their needs. In general, many feel that the league favors the large market teams that stand the best chance of bringing in the strongest TV ratings. The league benefits financially if the Knicks play the Lakers in the NBA Finals every year, so it’s not hard to see what David Stern’s motivation would be to help out such teams.
Another theme that developed is regarding what players get up to behind closed doors. We will never know what happened in a players only meeting between Charles Barkley and Charles Oakley, which is just the kind of scenario that urban legends need to grow.
But anyway, here they are. From the spooky to the unfathomable to the downright bizarre, these are 12 head scratching NBA urban legends you won't believe.
12 Pete Maravich Predicts His Own Death
“Pistol” Pete Maravich was a five-time NBA All-star, the 1977 NBA scoring champion, and has had his number retired by both New Orleans and Utah (same franchise). He also predicted his own death.
Maravich was four years into his NBA career when he made a statement in an interview that he did not want to play in the NBA for 10 years and then die of a heart attack at 40, which is exactly what happened to him.
10 years into his NBA career Maravich was forced to retire due to injuries, he then dropped dead of heart failure while he was playing a game of pick-up basketball. Many believe didn't believe this one, but it's actually completely true and Maravich predicted his passing incredibly accurately.
11 Glenn Rice Slept with Sarah Palin
The rumors and urban legends that insinuate Sarah Palin had a one-night stand with future NBA player Glenn Rice is exactly why people love the rumor mill.
During the height of Sarah Palin’s fame, a book entitled The Rogue went inside the supposed secret life of the Presidential candidate. The book alleges that Rice and Palin had an affair while Rice was playing for Michigan in a tournament held in Alaska and Sarah Palin was working as a local sports reporter. The book also stated that Sarah Palin loved her some 'white powder' during this time in her life.
The alleged affair is said to have occurred less than a year before Palin would elope with her husband. The Palin family has denied that the book has any credibility and we'll never know if there's any truth to this one.
10 Magic Johnson Bought the Cure to HIV
The chances of this urban legend being true are very small, but the legend itself deserves some attention. Magic Johnson announced to the world that he was HIV positive in 1991.
Being HIV positive at the time was thought to be a guarantee that the person would develop AIDS and eventually pass away from the disease. Since 1991 a lot of misconceptions regarding HIV have been cleared up and the advancements in treatment for the disease have improved considerably.
Fast forward 25 years and Magic Johnson is doing just fine, has never developed AIDS and is very successful in his post-basketball career.
The urban legend is, of course, that Magic Johnson bought the secret cure for HIV that only rich people know about, while the poor sufferers of HIV go without it. The truth according to Magic and those around him is that he simply has responded very well to all the medications he has been taking since his diagnosis.
9 Unofficial Race Quota System
Unlike urban legends that have to do with Dennis Rodman, this particular urban legend is no fun to talk about. There are whispers around NBA historian communities that an unofficial race quota system existed in professional basketball in the mid-1900s. In the book The 30 Greatest Sports Conspiracy Theories of All Time, former NBA player Cal Ramsey claims that he was put on waivers as a result of a quota system that the all white owners in the league had which limited teams to only three or four black players per roster. Let's hope this one isn't true...
8 Gregg Popovich Shuts off the Air Conditioning in 2014 NBA Finals
If you don’t believe that sports franchises rig their home courts, fields, or ice to favor their team, then you just aren’t diving deep enough into the pool of sports conspiracy.
Baseball franchises have been accused of shutting on and off air conditioning during games to suit their team’s needs. Well, the San Antonio Spurs were accused of doing the same thing during LeBron James’ infamous “cramp game.”
The urban legend is that Popovich had the arena shut off the AC to slow down LeBron in game 1 of the series. LeBron began suffering cramps and left the game.
Popovich, joking about last night: "I saw the air conditioning people in the hallway … i sent them home."— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) June 6, 2014
The modern day Spurs have quite possibly been the most successful franchise in the NBA. Is it any wonder that some are accusing them of using underhanded tactics similar to what the New England Patriots are often accused of?
7 Delonte West and LeBron’s Mom
Remember when LeBron James seemed to give up in the 2010 Playoffs against Boston? A lot of people chalked that up to James having no heart, having given up on the team, the franchise and the city. Some assumed that James was already trying to figure out where he would go after leaving Cleveland, perhaps to meet up with his old Team USA teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Other people think he just played bad because Delonte West got with his Mom.
Where this urban legend started is unclear, but for sometime the rumor mill was abuzz with the belief that Delonte West had begun an affair with LeBron James’ mother and that this was what fueled LeBron’s poor play in the playoffs that year. West has denied the rumors of course, but he’d have to deny them, wouldn’t he?
6 The Kobe Bryant Sexual Assault Cover-Up
If it seems weird to you that more hasn’t been made of the allegations of sexual assault against Kobe Bryant in 2003, you are not alone.
The story we know to be true is that a 19-year-old hotel employee alleged Bryant sexually assaulted her the night before he was to have surgery in Colorado. Then, after the media had a field day, the charges against Kobe were dropped when the victim refused to testify. Coincidentally (not coincidentally) the victim would then file a civil suit against Bryant, which was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money and also resulted in Bryant having to apologize but not admit guilt.
It certainly sounds like one of the greatest NBA players of all time bought his way out of sexual assault charges, doesn’t it? That’s not to say Kobe definitely committed a crime, but he certainly did buy his way out of the charges.
Kobe has been granted a free pass of sorts after this incident, with more than a few people wondering why exactly that is the case.
5 NBA Fixes 1985 Draft Lottery
Next we move on to an urban legend involving the 1985 draft lottery, which would determine who would land Patrick Ewing. Conspiracy theorists believe that the NBA will always favor the larger market teams over the smaller ones, believing that more money will always be generated in terms of TV ratings if large market teams go deeper in the playoffs. Hence everyone believes that the NBA fixed the 1985 lottery so that Ewing would go to the Knicks. How the NBA rigged the lottery is something many people have offered opinions on and they range from the Knicks envelope being frozen (thus easier to pick out) to advanced X-ray vision technology.
4 NBA Nixes the Chris Paul to the Lakers Deal
In 2011, NBA commissioner David Stern nixed a trade between New Orleans and the LA Lakers that would have sent Chris Paul to LA. Paul would end up going to LA anyway, but not to the Lakers. Stern stated that the Hornets were better off keeping Paul and refused to let the trade go through. What can’t be proved is if this is the real reason that Stern nixed the deal. Some believe that Stern conspired against Kobe and Chris Paul playing together because the team would be too dominant. New Orleans then made a deal to send Chris Paul to the Clippers (for much less) and the Lakers started their slow descent to a bottom-dwelling team before Kobe finally retired in 2016.
3 Michael Jordan Was Forced to Retire
Michael Jordan left the game of basketball in 1993. He told the media and fans that he was unmotivated with the game of basketball and he would eventually announce his intentions to play professional baseball, something his father had always wanted for him. The urban legend is that the NBA told him he had to step away from the game or else he would be suspended for a year for his various gambling exploits. Jordan was (and might still be) a notorious gambler, whose competitiveness for betting rivalled his competitiveness on the court.
2 Michael Jordan’s Father Was Murdered Due to Michael’s Gambling
Well, this part of the story is a little bit darker.
Before Michael Jordan’s first retirement in 1993, his father, James Jordan, was murdered. This led to wide spread speculation that Jordan’s father was murdered as a result of Michael failing to pay back his gambling debts. The urban legend was first mentioned by Chicago radio personality Norm Van Lier, who spoke of such a possibility on air.
Another rumor states that Van Lier stopped mentioning that Jordan’s father could have been murdered due to Michael’s gambling only after Bulls head coach Phil Jackson called him and told him to stop.
After an investigation it was concluded that two teenagers killed Jordan’s father in a random act, with nothing to do with Jordan’s gambling, but that hasn't stopped conspiracy theorists...
1 Widespread Referee and League Corruption
Disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy lacks credibility to say the least, but he’s certainly made some accusations regarding league-wide corruption that rings true to many.
Donaghy was sent to prison over the 2007 NBA betting scandal, as it was determined he had placed tens of thousands of dollars of bets on NBA games during the previous two seasons. According to Donaghy, however, he was far from the only corrupt NBA referee then and there are still many out there today. In fact, Donaghy states that the league will conspire with referees to fix games in order to ensure that some players do better than others and that the NBA is generally a pre-determined sport (only the players are unaware of this).