This month, a fake ESPN “30 for 30” documentary on Michael Jordan’s 1996 movie “Space Jam” set the Internet on fire. But there are tons of quirky, weird, and downright amazing sports stories (mostly true) that deserve to be delved into by the pros. The documentary series is full of awesome pieces of sports journalism, with Grantland.com founder Bill Simmons at the helm as executive producer, telling stories from the sporting world that are extremely compelling and in many cases, not widely known or discussed. Here are six that probably never will be made but definitely should.
Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich swap wives, families
Well, technically, it was a husband swap, as the wives, kids, and even pets stayed in their respective houses. Peterson and Kekich were both pitchers for the New York Yankees, and good friends, in the early ‘70s. The story goes that New York Post sportswriter Maury Allen threw a swingin’ party (heh) at his house, where the players discussed the idea and then went home with each others’ families. They liked the arrangement so much that they decided to make it permanent. Peterson says it wasn’t a “sex thing,” though it’s hard to believe that wasn’t at least a part of it. The story blew up when the team held a press conference during spring training in 1973; prior to that, all that new team owner George Steinbrenner had trouble with was his players’ goddamn long hair. There are so many questions. Who brought up the swap idea in the first place? What did the kids think? While most of the parties involved probably wouldn’t consent to being in a documentary, Peterson offered his services as a consultant to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who have been talking about making this story into a movie for a while . Also compelling is how, as NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra mentioned, this swap story draws attention away from the fact that Peterson was actually a pretty great pitcher. Another sad note is that the “trade” ruined the two pitchers’ friendship. But hey, the swap worked for Peterson: He and Susanne Kekich are still together 40 years later, while Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson split long ago.
The brief and wondrous history of the XFL
One of the most entertaining books I’ve read in a long while – and by far my best-ever drunk Amazon Prime purchase – is Brett Forrest’s “Long Bomb: How the XFL Became TV’s Biggest Fiasco.” WWE douchebag (back then, he was WWF douchebag) Vince McMahon somehow fooled NBC into thinking it would be a good idea to combine good old American football with his trashy pro wrestling empire to create a rough game that was more focused on manufactured locker room drama, scantily-clad women, and comical levels of badassery than it was on the actual play. Jesse “The Body” Ventura was the league’s comically over-the-top commentator! There was a guy named He Hate Me! Every single one of the players had a microphone on them at all times! Of course it tanked — and since reading about the sinking ship was hilarious, I bet seeing it in documentary form would be, too. Why won’t it happen? Everybody involved in the XFL is probably still too embarrassed to admit that they were in the XFL. But the short-lived league had some lasting influence — the NFL adopted it’s “skycam,” and now occasionally mics players. Back up idea if ESPN doesn’t want to do an XFL “30 for 30”: a Slamball documentary.
The time Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter on LSD
Look, no matter what your stance on drugs is, throwing a no-no is an incredible feat when completely sober, let alone when you’re hallucinating that the batter is Jimi Hendrix hitting pitches with his guitar. The above video uses Ellis’s own narration (from a 2008 NPR interview) to tell the story. Due to plenty of drugs and a sitcom-worthy “what day is it?” mix-up, he pitched while tripping balls. He walked eight batters and hit one, but when it was over, he’d thrown a perfect game. At times he couldn’t even see the ball. He dove out of the way of “line drives” that went nowhere near him. He thought Richard Nixon was umpiring the game. Rounding out Ellis’s badassness, he was a staunch supporter of players’ rights as well as the rights of African Americans throughout his career (in his minor league career, he sometimes went into the stands to confront racist hecklers) and, after quitting drink and drugs in 1980, later became a drug addiction counselor. Sadly, he’s not around to star in his own “30 for 30,” as he passed away in 2008, but his legend lives on — the guy has five (five!) goddamn songs written about his incredible psychedelic feat. Naturally, there is some debate over whether it truly happened — but we’ll let Bill Simmons and friends decide for us.
The time Toni Braxton Yoko Ono’d the mid-’90s Mavs
In 1996, the three J’s — Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn, and Jim Jackson — were supposed to resurrect the Dallas Mavericks, who were yet to win an NBA title (hell, at this point, they just wanted to make the playoffs). Enter R&B musician Toni Braxton, who had to come in and ruin everything. There was already a beef firmly in place between Kidd and Jackson when, according to legend, Braxton showed up at the Mavs’ hotel to pick Kidd up for a date — and left with Jackson instead. Supposedly, this was the final straw that ended the teammates’ troubled relationship. Kidd asked for a trade to get away from Jackson, and ended up going to Phoenix. The Mavs imploded and it took 15 years for the team to win an NBA championship (although, oddly enough, by then Kidd had cycled back to the Mavs and was the team’s starting point guard). Alright, we’re not really blaming the team’s collapse on Braxton (though apparently, some do). Ultimately, it’s just a rumor, though one that many Mavs fans — my editor included — believe. But it’d be interesting to get the true story; Kidd and Jackson have said this story isn’t true multiple times, but Braxton never confirmed or denied, keeping the story alive by saying, “I’ve at least heard of them [but] as far as dating, whether it’s true or not, I can never kiss and tell.”
The curse of “The Simpsons” episode “Homer at the Bat”
Along with the Madden covers curse, here’s part of sports superstition that deserves a closer look. This Season 3 “Simpsons” classic was remarkable for not only a hilarious plot, but also the number of baseball stars who lent their voices to the episode: Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey, Jr., Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Ozzie Smith, and Darryl Strawberry were all recreated in cartoon form for the show, which aired on Feb. 20, 1992. In the episode, each of the cartooned MLB stars except Strawberry fall victim to hilarious accidents, my favorite being Boggs getting knocked out by lovable drunk Barney after an argument over Britain’s greatest prime minister. But while fans laughed as Steve Sax was charged with every unsolved crime in history and Ozzie Smith disappeared in the “Springfield Mystery Spot,” nearly all of these players faced real trouble in the following years. Strawberry was suspended from baseball three times for drug use, Scioscia missed the entire ‘93 season due to a rotator cuff injury, and Mattingly and Canseco faced multiple injuries. Here’s a full list of the curse’s damage. Well, shit, Griffey made it out OK. He’s the sole survivor, and was a “clean” beacon of hope during baseball’s steroids era.
Wilt Chamberlain’s magnificent sex life
The basketball legend claimed that he had slept with 20,000 women in his lifetime in the pages of his 1991 autobiography — which had an entire chapter dedicated to his sex life. Quit scratching your head, someone at Mental Floss did the math for you — if he started at 15 and the book was published when he was 55, that’s an average of 1.4 sexual partners every day. We can safely assume this was just a stupid stunt to help sell his book, but a closer look at the repercussions of his claim would be pretty interesting. In retrospect, it was probably a bad decision to brag about promiscuity during the height of AIDS fear. But more so, the claim changed the public’s perception of him which is a shame, because they were thinking of his (self-alleged) sordid lifestyle rather than, say, the time he scored 100 points in a single game. Also, some say that he was horrible with women, making his claim even more ridiculous.