Conspiracy theories thrive in part because they help people make sense the seemingly inexplicable. One lone gunman couldn’t just kill a president, there had to be others involved in a complex plot to murder John F. Kennedy and cover it up. Vaccines must lead to autism because nobody wants to think the disease is random and could happen to their child.
Or, David Stern secretly suspended Michael Jordan over his gambling on basketball games, because no way Michael Jordan would just walk away at the peak of his popularity and powers.
Except that’s exactly what he did.
In Episode 7 of The Last Dance the filmmakers talked about the baseless conspiracy theory that swirled around Jordan when he went to play baseball — that David Stern suspended him over gambling. Then everyone involved shot that theory down.
“I didn’t retire because the league kicked me out or they suspended me for a year and a half. That is not true,” Jordan said during Last Dance. “There’s no truth to that. I needed a break, my father just passed. And I retired. And I retired with the notion that I wasn’t going to come back.”
“The folklore, the urban legend that I sent him away because he was gambling. No basis in fact,” former NBA Commissioner David Stern said.
“How can I phrase this delicately? Total bulls***,” said Brian McIntyre, former Senior Communications Advisor to the NBA, said with emphasis.
The conspiracy theory also doesn’t hold up to basic logic.
The NBA is a business and Michael Jordan was the meal ticket. When he left the league television ratings slid, the Bulls were not the same draw on the road, and franchise values dropped across the board. There is no way David Stern would do that to the business of the NBA.
Plus, as Roland Lazenby notes in “Michael Jordan: The Life,” there is zero chance Stern lets Jordan return as an owner if he had bet on games.
If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that facts and logic are not going to slow down a good conspiracy theory. As much as The Last Dance exposed it for crap, there are probably more people today who think Jordan was secretly suspended than there was yesterday.