The Whiteboard: Ranking the best NBA conspiracy theories on Reddit

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Reddit is a collection point for some of the strangest theories and ideas on the internet. Here are the best NBA conspiracy theories they’ve cataloged.

Skeptical or not, we all love a good (harmless) conspiracy theory and sports is fertile ground. Everyone knows the big, legendary NBA conspiracy theories — David Stern’s frozen envelope to get Patrick Ewing to the Knicks, Michael Jordan’s baseball hiatus was really a shadow suspension for gambling problems, the flu game was really a hangover.

But there are plenty of others, equally compelling despite holding a slightly smaller stature in the narrative arc of NBA history. A recent NBA Reddit thread asked readers to share a few conspiracies they honestly believe and I fell down the rabbit hole unpacking a few that I had literally never heard before.

Here are my favorite new NBA conspiracy theories:

4. Colorblindness explained Ryan Anderson’s weird home/away shooting splits

The theory was explained in Reddit in fairly meager detail: “ryan anderson sucked at shooting in predominantly red arenas due to him being colorblind” but referenced a thread from a few years previous that actually looked at some shooting splits. However, those splits were just from his seasons with the Rockets. Presumably, Anderson would have the same problem shooting in Houston while he was a member of other teams, or while playing in the home arenas of other red-heavy teams like the Chicago Bulls or Atlanta Hawks.

I don’t really have an objective way to quantify the amount of red that might be in the background of different arenas, including how it might vary from season to season as team jerseys were redesigned. However, if we look at the numbers for his entire career playing in Chicago, Atlanta and Houston compared to games in all other arenas there does seem to be a noteworthy trend with a decent sample size.

However, a Houston Chronicle article from 2017 stated that Anderson is not colorblind. So either this one is not true, he’s not aware of his color blindness or he just doesn’t want to admit it.

3. The Morris twins traded places

As explained by Reddit: “The Morris brothers definitely switched places during a playoff series before (I think it was 2017). One of them was playing and the other was out for the playoffs. I think Markieff got hurt and it looked bad, but he still suited up to play the next game. I’m still convinced it was Marcus playing”

This one is weird but actually feels surprisingly plausible. The game in question was Game 2 in the second round of the playoffs between the Wizards and Celtics. Markieff was a member of the Wizards and left Game 1 after what looked like a severe ankle sprain in the first quarter. Two nights later, he played 26 minutes, putting up 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block. Or was it his twin, Marcus, at that point a member of the Detroit Pistons, who had missed the playoffs entirely?

Rodger Sherman actually explored this conspiracy at the time for The Ringer and couldn’t come to a conclusive answer, but he did find a few extremely interesting details:

First, the Morris twins had previously admitted to doing this exact thing, switching places during AAU games:

“We did it before in AAU ball,” Markieff admitted in 2013. “It [the jersey switch] was on the bench. It happened real quick. He had hurt his ankle but I had fouled out. I gave them a little limp back in, like I was hurt and kept playing.”

Second, the identical twins have identical tattoos. As Sherman pointed out: “Why the heck would you get the same tattoos as somebody if not to commit basketfraud?”

2. The myth of Ersan Ilyasova

This one is too weird to ignore, even if I can’t understand the practical implications at all. According to one Redditor: “Ersan Ilyasova = Arsen Ilyasov”

Ersan Ilyasova was a Turkish forward who played 825 career NBA games for seven different teams stretched over 13 seasons. He was a moderately successful role player, a stretchy big with a propensity for drawing charges. (He last played during the 2020-21 season and is still third on the all-time list for charges drawn).

Arsen Ilyasov was born in Uzbekistan and crossed into Turkey at the age of 18 in 2002 and then promptly disappeared along with any documentation of his existence.

Maybe they’re the same person?

The theory is that Ilyasov and his family were escaping religious violence in Uzbekistan and assumed new identities upon arriving in Turkey. I’m not sure what this really changes about the modest legacy of Ilyasova, other than the fact that he’s always been three years older than his listed age. But back in 2003 (before he ever made it to the NBA) the Uzbekistan Basketball Federation did file a complaint with FIBA, alleging that Ilyasova was Ilyasov and that he was thus ineligible to compete for Turkey in the European Championship.

I couldn’t find a definitive answer but it’s especially weird that these unproven allegations and the entire story essentially predate his lengthy NBA career.

1. The Spurs rigged their air conditioning

I vaguely remember joking about this at the time, but I didn’t realize it had persisted as a legitimate conspiracy theory. As explained by Reddit: “The Spurs purposefully broke their AC system because they knew LeBron was prone to cramping.”

This is a reference to Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals when the air conditioning in the AT&T center went down in the middle of the game. This was June in San Antonio and the interior temperature quickly became steamy. LeBron James left the game with cramps in the fourth quarter and was unable to play the final 4:00 minutes. Coincidentally, the Spurs went on a 16-3 to finish the game while LeBron sat and won 110-93.

This theory leans heavily on the mythic gamesmanship and tactical brilliance of Gregg Popovich. But it’s hard to imagine the Spurs a) risking the health of their own players b) having any reason to think this would specifically affect LeBron enough to swing the game and c) be able to keep the scheme quiet all these years.

Still, Jason Terry has accused the Spurs of pulling similar if less dramatic stunts in the past, including putting a snake in the visitor’s locker room and turning off the hot water to their showers. And of course, Popovich himself joked about sending the air conditioning repair people home. Maybe his dry sense of humor was masking a bit of truth?

This is probably the least believable of the four conspiracy theories. But it’s definitely my favorite.

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