The NBA is the greatest league in the world. From Toronto’s amazing season to Kevin Durant’s surprising Warriors departure, basketball fans around the world are treated to drama 365 days-a-year. From October to June, we get to enjoy the regular season, but once the Finals have crowned a new champ, the NBA Draft kicks into life, followed by free agencies and the NBA Summer League. The next thing you know, the stars at back at training camp and the new season is ready to get underway.
Whilst on-court bust-ups and last-second clinchers are what NBA fans live for, some fans get a whole lot of entertainment from the off-court gossip and melodramas. It’s fair to say that over time, some of these ‘stories’ took on a life of their own. Despite that, they remain as much a part of NBA folklore as any game-winning shot ever will.
Let’s take an inside look into 15 of the NBA’s greatest myths...
Here's some of the greatest urban legends in NBA history.
Michael Jordan Gambling Suspension
In October 1993, Michael Jordan stunned the world when he announced his retirement from basketball, he shocked it even more so when he signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox a few months later. At the time of his retirement, Jordan stated that he had simply lost his desire to play basketball. He would later reveal that the death of his father played a significant role in his retirement, his autobiography would describe Jordan having thoughts of retiring as early as the summer of 92.’
At the time of his retirement, the NBA was in the middle of an investigation into Jordan’s gambling habits, which had come to the forefront after a few stories surfaced in the previous months. One story had Jordan losing $1.25 million gambling on a golf course, another story had him spotted at an Atlantic City casino the night before a playoff game in 1993. Jordan even admitted, under oath, that a $57,000 check in his name found at a convicted drug dealer’s home was payment for a previous gambling debt.
Amidst the media frenzy around his retirement, Jordan was asked if he would ever come back and play in the NBA. He raised eyebrows by saying “Five years down the road, if the urge comes back, if the Bulls will have me, if David Stern lets me back in the league, I may come back.” Let’s be honest, he wouldn't really need NBA commissioner David Stern’s permission to come back. Eventually, after a failed stint in Baseball’s minor leagues, Jordan returned to the NBA in March of 1995.
Many started to wonder if the retirement and the gambling investigation were connected, some even has theories that Jordan hadn’t retired willingly. The story goes that Jordan didn’t retire at all, instead he was suspended by the NBA for his gambling issues, and they covered up the entire controversy with a ‘retirement’ that allowed both sides to come out of the mess looking crystal clean.
Toni Braxton Breaks Up The Mavericks
This is a story straight out of a soap opera.
When the Dallas Mavericks drafted Jimmy Jackson, Jamal Mashburn and Jason Kidd in three straight drafts, it looked like they were laying the foundations for something special. That's three Top 5 picks, and that type of talent together for the long haul can only lead to tons of success, right? Well, the Mavericks never found out because that team broke up quicker than confetti. The question remains, was it all Toni Braxton's fault?
The most commonly circulated version of this story describes Jason Kidd had a date with Toni Braxton, but was miffed when she cancelled last minute. He was even more bummed out when he found out later that she cancelled because she made plans with Jimmy Jackson. Whatever happened, Kidd was traded in December of 1996, and Jackson and Mashburn were traded two months later.
For her part, Braxton never confirmed nor denied anything, saying she doesn't kiss and tell at the time, all while promoting her new album, Secrets. All three of the players have come forward and denied the rumor in some way, shape or form but perception becomes reality and this is the story people have been running with for decades now.
Not Steve Nash's Baby?
Speaking of soap operas, this is a story straight out of a movie. It's hard to know what's true here, and this story involves a lot of connecting public dots to predict what happened in private, but where there's smoke...
Steve Nash won two MVP awards as the anchor of the Phoenix Suns in the 2000s, carrying the franchise on his back by pushing them into title contention almost every season. He also found love off the court during that time, marrying Alejandra Amarilla, that is until their marriage abruptly ended after five years.
Nash broke the news of the breakup himself, the day the couple's third child was born. It seemed odd, and Nash said the couple had been living separately for months at the time but would continue to co-parent even as they finalized their divorce. When Jason Richardson was traded just a month later, many started to wonder if the two events were connected and the rumor was that maybe Nash's newest child with Alejandra was actually Jason Richardson's.
Neither player has ever come forward to deny the scandalous rumors, but Alejandra did an interview shortly after the baby's birth and said she and Nash had planned to have a third child.
Caron Butler Loves Mountain Dew
Like every other sports league in the world, the NBA has had it's share of terrible stories of athletes suffering through addiction. Sometimes it ends careers outright, and sometimes the athletes are able to bounce back and overcome their struggles to restart their careers and change their lives. Two-time All-Star Caron Butler is part of the second group, even if his addiction struggle isn't nearly as dire as the struggle of many others.
What was Caron's vice? Mountain Dew, of course. While that might not sound like that big of a deal, for a professional athlete guzzling a 2-liter of Mountain Dew a day, or six cans a day, that can be extremely damaging. Caron was even drinking Mountain Dew during games and at halftime, and even Kobe Bryant couldn't get him to break his addiction. Eventually he went cold turkey, and lost a ton of weight in the process, but hopped back on the wagon soon after, even though he cut his Dew intake.
Gilbert Arenas And A Shoe Full Of Poop
Gilbert Arenas garnered quite the reputation during his time in the NBA. Not only was he a dynamic scorer, and the guy who infamously brought guns into the locker room due to a dispute over a gambling debt, but he was also the craziest prankster in the league. Pranks are a part of the hazing culture in the NBA, whether it be popcorn in a teammates car, or shaving cream on somebody's face when they're asleep, or even poop in a shoe.
Yes, one of the craziest pranks of all-time comes thanks to Gilbert and some poop in a show. As the story goes, Gilbert's teammate Andray Blatche cut some of Gil's clothes up and threw them in a jacuzzi, surely getting a good laugh out of the whole thing. Now, Gilbert was the proud owner of a $100 million contract at the time, so surely a few ruined outfits wouldn't have hurt him too bad, but he went and got his revenge anyway.
Now, here's where the story gets a little fuzzy, either Gilbert popped into Andray's shoe himself, or found some dog poop and put that in there, but either way the shoe was treated like a toilet. Nobody knows if Andray ever stepped into the shoe with the mess in there, but that's one prank that will go down in NBA history.
Staples Center's Secret Tunnel
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin enjoyed six amazing seasons as teammates with the Los Angeles Clippers. They made a few deep playoff runs and seemed to form a bond that you'd have to think would last a lifetime. Well, it turns out things weren't so peachy in that locker room and when the run eventually came to an end there clearly was some bad blood there. That all came to a head when Chris made his return to Staples Center in 2018 as a member of the Houston Rockets, leading to an almost fight, and a rumored trip to the Clippers locker room through a secret tunnel.
Things got heated late in the game when some trash talking and maybe some dirty play led to a few confrontations and ejections. Tempers flared and even after the game ended players were still upset and began looking for each other. From there the story spirals out of control, with reports that Rockets players, including Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza, bulldozed their way into the Clippers locker room through a secret tunnel or hallway. There were even reports that the Rockets sent big man Clint Capela to the front door to the Clippers locker room to create a diversion so they could sneak through the tunnel undetected.
The actual story ended up being a little less scandalous. Yes, a few Rockets tried to get into the Clippers locker room to have a word or two with some of the players, no, Capela wasn't a diversion (though, another Rockets big man, Tarik Black, did suspiciously make his way to the front door) and no, the players didn't go through a secret tunnel. But, not everything is a myth, it turns out there are extra hallways and entrances to the Clippers locker room, and they'll be secret tunnels to me forever now, I don't care.
Anthony Mason In Biggie's "I Got A Story To Tell"
The basketball world and the hip-hop world intersect constantly. Drake said it best, "I swear sports and music are so synonymous / Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us." Well, one of the most famous times those worlds clashed involved an all-time great, some infidelity, a robber, a classic song and decades of mystery.
In 1997, just two weeks after his death, The Notorious B.I.G's second album, Life After Death, received a posthumous release. The album was instantly hailed as a classic, and would go on to reach diamond status for selling over 10 million records. While the album was jam-packed with hits, it also featured a ton of b-sides and album cuts that would reach legendary status as well.
Maybe the most famous of those album cuts was "I Got a Story to Tell," where Biggie tells a literal story about sleeping with a woman who also has a relationship with a player on the New York Knicks. As the story unravels, Biggie is at her house when the Knicks player shows up, unannounced. While the girl panics, he comes up with a plan quickly and instead of running from the house he ties a scarf around his face and robs the player.
For years fans wondered if the story was true and theorized who that player might have been. Many guessed John Starks or Larry Johnson, and eventually Fat Joe and Diddy revealed who the story was indeed true, and about former All-Star and NBA Sixth Man of the Year Anthony Mason. With both men deceased, they can't confirm or deny the story themselves, but all signs point to this incredible collision of worlds being true.
The Frozen Envelope
These days, the NBA Draft Lottery has become big business for the league and a televised special that millions of people tune into. The current system involves a ton of ping pong balls and can get complex, but it used to be way more straight to the point. Back in 1985, the lottery consisted of little more than then commissioner David Stern pulling envelops out of a box.
But that simplicity is exactly why many believe the 1985 lottery to be fixed, as the New York Knicks won the right to the No. 1 overall pick in that year's draft. It made sense why the NBA would want the big market Knicks to have the pick, the No. 1 prospect that year was Patrick Ewing, who played at Georgetown in DC.
But how could Stern fix such the lottery? With cameras watching him and a room full of spectators? The theory is Stern and the NBA refrigerated or froze the envelop that had the Knicks name on it, that way he'd know which one to pull. Stern denies it, of course, but what else is he going to say?
Paul Pierce's Wheelchair To The Bathroom
In Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals, an epic clash between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, Paul Pierce went down in a heap and looked like he'd suffered a serious injury. There was a little less than seven minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, and just that fast all hope had been lost for the Celtics. Pierce had to be carried off the court as he clutched his right knee, and later he was lifted onto a wheel chair as he went to the locker room for further evaluation.
But just a few minutes later Pierce returned to the court and the game while the Celtics crowd went crazy. Eventually Pierce hit two huge three pointers, back to back, giving the Celtics the lead for good, and from there the Celtics would go on to win the series and Pierce won Finals MVP.
Well, people started to wonder what the big deal is with Pierce's knee after the miraculous comeback and Willis Reed moment. The man was in agony, and needed a wheelchair just to get back to the locker room, surely he suffered some type of serious injury, right? Eagle-eyed fans came up with another theory, and Pierce himself added fuel to the fire by later saying he simply had to use the bathroom and needed a way off the court. Zoomed in screen shots have some wondering if he already used the bathroom a little bit on the court, and now for many The Wheelchair Game is the Paul Pierce Poop Game.
Pierce tweeted about the moment recently, denying his own story, but those pictures look pretty convincing.
Michael Jordan Hangover Game
Everybody knows the story of the epic Flu Game, right? With the NBA Finals tied 2-2, and the Chicago Bulls heading into a pivotal Game 5 vs. the Utah Jazz, in Utah, Jordan suddenly came down with flu-like symptoms before the game. Somehow, the living legend overcame his sickness and dehydration to score 38 points, including a backbreaking three-pointer with 25 seconds to go to seal the win. The Bulls went on to win Game 6 in Chicago, earning them their 5th championship and Jordan his 5th Finals MVP.
But what if the Flu Game wasn't the "flu" game after all? Some skeptics don't think it was the flu that hampered Jordan that night, as their belief is the notoriously outgoing Jordan may have had a few too many drinks in between games and showed up to the arena that night with a hangover. Some former players have come forward to offer that theory themselves, while others believe Jordan was simply a victim of food poisoning. It doesn't matter though, The Flu Game stuck, and that's too bad because The Hangover Game has a bit of a ring to it.
The 2016 Finals Was "Rigged for money... Or ratings in not sure which"
Check out any Golden State Warriors game and you're bound to see Stephen Curry's wife Ayesha rooting him on from the stands. Whether she's with Steph's parents, his sister, a friend, or her own kids, she always seems to be there cheering as loud as any other fan. Well, things got especially passionate during the 2016 NBA Finals, and Ayesha went on a rant that will live on forever, and has become as much a part of that classic series as LeBron's Block and Kyrie's shot.
In the pivotal Game 6, Steph had a rough night, fouling out with four minutes to go in the game. It was the first time Steph had fouled out of a game in three years, and he was furious. Steph protested the final foul by throwing his mouthpiece into the stands, earning himself an ejection and hitting the son of one of the Cavs' owners in the process.
Well, Ayesha took her frustrations to Twitter, famously saying "I've lost all respect sorry this is absolutely rigged for money... Or ratings in not sure which. I won't be silent . Just saw it live sry." She deleted the tweet soon after, and apologized in a later tweet, saying her frustrations got the best of her. Some Warriors fans think she had a point, Cavs fans would argue she's just a sore loser but it's a tweet no NBA fan will ever forget.
Kobe's Insane Work Ethic At The Olympics
Even his biggest haters would have to admit, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. Kobe's work ethic is the stuff of legends, and the man is a bit of a maniac when it comes to basketball. He's known to show up young players but offering to work out with them at 3 o'clock, only to show up to their doors at 3 a.m. to see if they have the same drive as him.
But showing up a rookie or a high schooler is one thing, but in one iconic story Kobe showed the whole United States Men's Olympic team what hard work really is, much to the astonishment of one trainer. The story goes, the trainer was invited to help out the team in Las Vegas ahead of the 2008 Olympics. The trainer met Kobe the day of the first practice and discussed conditioning, Kobe must have liked what he heard because they exchanged numbers afterwards and the trainer told Kobe to call him whenever he wanted to get some extra work in.
A few days later, on the eve the first team scrimmage, the trainer's phone rang... at 4 o'clock in the morning. Well, Kobe wanted to get that extra work in, so the trainer hurried to the gym. By the time he got there it was about 5 a.m., and Kobe was already sweating and working out. The trainer helped Kobe work out for a few hours and when it was over Kobe thanked the trainer and told him he was going to the practice court to get a few shots up. The trainer headed back to his hotel room to get a nap before the 11 a.m. practice that morning.
Later at practice, the trainer spotted Kobe shooting the ball on the side while players like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James strolled into the gym. The trainer went up to Kobe, asked him if he liked the workout and made some small talk. Eventually he asked Kobe, "So when did you finish?" Kobe was a little confused, so he asked "Finish what?"
“Getting your shots up," the trainer said. "What time did you leave the facility?”
And then Kobe gave an answer that became an urban legend on reddit forums and amongst Kobe fans everywhere.
“Oh just now. I wanted 800 makes so yeah, just now.”
Yeah, Kobe went and got a workout at 4 a.m. and kept going all the way until the entire team came to practice at 11 a.m., seven hours later. Of course, the team went on to win the gold medal that year and Kobe led them in scoring.
Pop Turned Off The AC
When the Miami Heat made their miraculous comeback in the 2013 NBA Finals to beat the San Antonio Spurs, nobody knew how the Spurs would respond. They were one rebound or just one free throw away from winning the NBA championship, but LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen put a stop to all of that with one of the most iconic shots and quarters in NBA history.
Well, the Spurs came back with a vengeance, working their way all the way back to the Finals in 2014 hoping to get their revenge against the Heat. The Heat stormed to the Finals, only losing the games in the process, while the Spurs got off to a slower start, going all the way to seven games in Round 1 but eventually making it to the championship series and with home court advantage to boot.
In Game 1, it looked like we were getting another classic series, with both teams playing tough and the game remaining close. Thanks to a malfunctioning air conditioning system temperature in the Spurs home arena rose to over 90 degrees, and LeBron got the worst of it, cramping up so badly he was forced to ask out of the game during the third quarter. LeBron played returned eventually, but had to ask out of the game again with 7:31 to go in the fourth quarter as well. The Spurs immediately went on a 10-4 run, turning a 2-point deficit into a four point lead. LeBron came back one more time with 4:33 to go in the game, immediately drove to the basket and scored on a layup and cutting the Spurs lead to two, but he cramped up yet again and had to be carried off of the court.
That was all the Spurs needed to claim victory in Game 1, as they finished the game on a 16-3 run with LeBron out, which caused Heat fans to cry foul all night. Some believed Spurs coach Greg Popovich may have ordered the air conditioner to be turned off to benefit the Spurs and hurt the ironically named Heat. Others pointed out that the Spurs had to play in the same conditions as LeBron and the Heat and fared fine.
To his credit, Pop joked that he "saw the air conditioning people in the hallway when we were leaving last night ... and I sent them home." He actually came to LeBron's defense, saying he played "pretty damn well." In the end, he didn't play well enough, because even though the Heat won Game 2 in San Antonio, the Spurs would go on to win the series in five games and get their sweet revenge for 2013.
Honey Nut Cherrios
Scuffles happen all of the time in NBA games. Guys are playing a competitive and physical game so things are bound to get heated. Most of the time it boils over immediately, but when Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett spent the game jawing at each other in January of 2013, it was clearly a little bit more heated than usual. They both received technical fouls, but things got so bad that Melo eventually showed up to the Celtics locker room afterwards, and he even tried to see KG at the team bus as well. The incidents after the game earned Melo a one-game suspension after all the dust had settled.
“It’s something you just don’t say to men, another man," Melo said afterwards when asked about the whole thing. “My mindset and motive of going back there to see him at the locker room and seeing him at the bus, I wanted to have a one-on-one conversation with him and talk about it like two grown men.”
So what did Garnett say to Melo to upset him so much? Well, supposedly he told him "Your wife tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.”
Carmelo's wife is none other than famous actress and host LaLa, and she got a kick out of the whole thing. After word broke that those were the words that supposedly riled Melo up, she tweeted “We ALL deserve free cereal 4all the publicity we’ve given Honey Nut Cheerios, #cantbelieveeverything." A few years later, while promoting a book she wrote, she denied that Garnett ever said that to Carmelo, but the story lives on and Honey Nut Cheerios has become synonymous with on the court disrespect.
Earl Manigault Makes Change
This is a little bit of a cheat because Earl Manigault never actually played in the NBA, but the man known as "The GOAT" is as much a part of the fabric of the NBA as anyone else. Manigault is widely recognized as one of the greatest basketball players ever, some even say he was as good as Michael Jordan, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calling him the best player he ever played with. While drug addiction and several prison stints kept him from ever reaching the NBA, his reputation preceded him and he became a living legend thanks to his exploits on the playground.
Manigault was renown for his leaping ability, and even at just barely 6-feet tall, he was said to be able to touch the top of the backboard, 13-feet high. In fact, legend has it that he used to jump up and snatch dollars off the top of the backboard to impress onlookers. What's even crazier is some say he'd even leave change on the top of the backboard to wow crowds even more. There are some who refute the tall tale, and others who swear by it and per usual, the truth probably lies somewhere right in the middle.