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Conspiracy theories can never taint sports' memorable moments

The summer months are frequently disparaged as sports' dog days, and deservedly so. From mid-June until early August, every mainstream game save baseball decides to hibernate, leaving casual fans and ardent zealots alike with a sporting landscape rivaled in its exhilaration by "Meet the Press" marathons.

But not this summer.

Conspiracy theorists are running out from the hills of Montana and onto sports pages nationwide. Would you believe that in the last four weeks, all of the following remarkably unfolded:

Sparking an improbable yet astonishing chain reaction, NBA Commissioner David Stern - in sneaky Stern fashion - masterminded a scheme of inconceivable intricacy by conspiring with the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers to ensure that the more populous market would be on display in the Finals. The cheeseheads may have Brett Favre, but by golly, the Finals would have Philly.

As it always seems to do, Stern's unfailing genius delivered.

Don't tell me you actually believe Ray Allen's untimely sprained knee in game 7 was simply a stroke of bad luck. Or that Sam Cassell's scanty 8-of-19 shooting was mere coincidence.

The aforementioned events were purely elements in Stern's weasely web of deception.

Then, scarcely two weeks later on the grass courts at Wimbledon, Richard Williams, father and promoter of the two flashiest stars in the women's tennis galaxy, impersonated Stern with pinpoint accuracy.

First, he successfully encouraged Monica Seles to withdraw. Then he sold Martina Hingis on a first-round flop. Finally he duped Serena - his other daughter - into believing a championship repeat for Venus was best for the Williams' family name.

Once dusk descended on the 2001 Wimbledon fortnight, Venus Williams beamed just as brilliantly as she did the year before. Venus' back-to-back conquest may be etched eternally in the record books, but Richard earned this one.

If that's not enough, I present you with the staggering yet factual events of the past two weeks.

Our believe-it-or-not odyssey zooms to a start in Daytona Beach at the Pepsi 400, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to the scene of his family's darkest hour to fashion perhaps its finest accomplishment. There he won the event in honor of his late father, who passed in a horrific crash on the very same speedway earlier this year.

Talk about redemption. Talk about renaissance. Racing provided both.

If only it weren't fixed. The whole episode was a contrived hoax, drama straight out of NBC's "Passions" - as fictional and farcical as it gets. How else could Earnhardt so audaciously and intrepidly whiz by half a dozen cars in the event's waning moments? Why else would teammate Michael Waltrip sacrifice the chance at a Daytona double (he also captured the more celebrated Daytona 500 in January) to help out a buddy?

Earnhardt couldn't and Waltrip wouldn't ... unless the moons were aligned or NASCAR desired it so.

The clincher of summer sports arrived in the form of none other than Cal Ripken Jr., an American hero of folkloric proportions. On the night of July 10 at Seattle's Safeco Field, the new-age Iron Man drank from the same unholy grail as Stern, Williams and Hot Wheels.

We all gazed in fixed wonderment as Chan Ho Park delivered and Ripken belted - smoking a home run to deep left on the first pitch of the first at-bat of his final all-star game.


Too bad Bud Selig and Donald Fehr finally agreed on something - that suckering a pitcher into serving up a juicy fastball right in Cal's wheelhouse would be the perfect send-off for the game's perfect icon.

The cynics and snobs would have you believe all of the above.

They want you to ruminate over the adage "it's too good to be true" and when applied to sports, conclude that it's false. They want you to believe that the games both children and grown men play cannot unfold with such splendor and drama. They want to label the rapture sports fills us with as imaginary figment.

Conspiracy theories, though, fail to logically explicate exactly how cars buzzing at upwards of 200 mph for four-plus hours can carry out a boardroom plot. They also can't tell me why the world wept when Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch at the 1996 games in Atlanta, or why Ripken wields the same magic for this 21-year-old student in 2001 as he did for the same hopeful 8-year-old shortstop in 1987.

As the memorable moments multiply, the conspiracy theories lose their steam.

Lucky for us, the moments never end.