What if. Those two little words cut to the heart of what we love about sports. They keep us riveted even after a losing season (or nine of 'em in a row, bless you, Browns fans). They're about hope and vindication; they allow us to dream up dynasties and wipe away mistakes. What if... SI explores the most compelling (realistic) conjectures and the coulda-woulda-shoulda-been turning points with the most expansive ripple effects. Brace yourself. You have just crossed over into the imaginary zone

Edited by Adam Duerson and Jacob Feldman

. . . Alex Rodriguez
Had been traded to the Red Sox?

The players’ union spiked a proposed swap between Boston and Seattle in 2003. Had it approved of the deal? A-Rod’s legacy would be quite different.

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. . . The '94 MLB strike
Had never happened?

The Expos were barreling towards the World Series when the labor strike halted the season. What might Sports Illustrated had written if Montreal did, in fact, win it all that season?

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. . . Babe Ruth
Was sold elsewhere?

Had the Big Bam gone to the White Sox instead of New York in 1920, he might never have become the Sultan of Swat. And instead of the Yankees, another team might have owned the interwar period in baseball.

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. . . Williams and DiMaggio
Hadn't been sent off to war?

How many homers and hits could Ted Williams have tallied had it not been for his service in World War II and Korea? And what kind of numbers would Joe Dimaggio have amassed if not for his WWII time?

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. . . Michael Jordan
Had continued playing baseball?

For a 30-year-old who hadn't played baseball since high school, MJ actually played OK in the minors. Could he have developed into a major leaguer—and who would've come to dominate the NBA in his absence?

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. . . N.C. State
Hadn't pulled off its miracle?

Some sports what-ifs spill into the real world, like Jim Valvano's scramble across the floor after his Wolfpack's miracle NCAA championship, which set the stage for a series of V Foundation-led scientific breakthroughs.

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. . . The Blazers
Had better injury luck?

Portland passing on MJ would have been easier to swallow had its star of the '70s just stayed healthy—or if a potential late-aughts dream team had lived up to its potential.

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. . . Big Ben
Was drafted by the Giants?

One late-game heave in Arizona changed Big Ben's path, but also altered the career trajectory of Eli Manning, Larry Fitzgerald and many other top players from the star-studded 2004 NFL draft.

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. . . Donald Trump
Had made the Bills great?

President Trump was outbid in his pursuit of the Buffalo franchise in '14. Had he been awarded the team, things would be—well—different. But would he have been able to take on the AFC East establishment?

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. . . Drew Brees
Had passed his Dolphins physical?

Had Miami’s doctors signed off on Brees’s shoulder, we could have had a couple rivalries for the ages: Brady vs. Brees and Saban vs. Belichick. And the fallout would have radically changed the Saints plus the Crimson Tide and LSU programs.

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. . . These Field goal
Attempts had been good?

What if Wide Right had been Just Straight Enough and the Kick Six was actually just a Kick Three? Plus three other flubbed field goals that changed sports history.

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. . . George Halas
Had died in a boat wreck?

The legendary Bears owner (and NFL visionary) was supposed to be on the SS Eastland on July 24, 1915, but the then-20-year-old showed up late, only to see that steamer had rolled over, killing 844.

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. . . Jim Harbaugh
Stuck with Alex Smith at QB?

Had Smith remained the starter, both he and Harbaugh would still be in the Bay Area, and Kaepernick would still be kneeling, but on a different sideline.

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. . . The NFL map
Looked like this?

The Dallas Giants and New York Patriots? It could've happened. With a few twists of fate, the NFL could have looked mighty different. Here's a peek at that alternative reality.

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. . . Peyton Manning
Went to San Diego?

Darn you, Kelly Holcomb! Had the career backup held onto the ball in the Colts’ '97 finale, the '98 NFL draft order would have been completely different, a twist that might have been enough to keep the Bolts from bolting San Diego.

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. . . Teddy Roosevelt
Hadn't revolutionized football?

The irony of TR convening football's leaders in 1905 to make football safer is that he liked the sport's brutal nature. But an injury to his son helped sway him toward a modern version of the game.

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. . . Terrell Owens
Was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame?

The Eagles brought T.O. aboard to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia. If the Eagles had won Super Bowl 39, would Owens be in Canton already? Here's how his Hall-of-Fame speech might go.

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. . . Cleveland
Had been saved by Steinbrenner?

Can all of Cleveland's sadness be traced back to George Steinbrenner's inability to get a team into the NBA in 1964? What if he'd succeeded? Mark Bechtel lays out what that Boss World might have looked like.

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. . . These draft
Moments had happened differently?

While Derek Jeter becomes the hero of Cincinnati, Shaq and Kobe team up in New Jersey under John Calipari and Jerry Rice finishes a Hall of Fame career in ... Dallas!?

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. . . Injuries
Hadn't altered these five careers?

If Bo Jackson had just stayed healthy, more recent two-sporters like Jameis Winston and Russell Wilson might have tried to follow his path to superstardom, and women's tennis would certainly have followed a different path if Monica Seles was never stabbed.

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. . . John Wooden
Had never gone to UCLA?

Four esteemed coaches were a decision (or a poorly timed phone call) away from taking very different paths. Wooden in Minnesota? Belichick at ... Newsday?

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. . . Lance Armstrong
Had been whipped by cancer?

Lance inspired millions after beating cancer, but then let many down when he admitted to doping. So, is the alternate universe where he never returns to the bike a better one?

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. . . Muhammad Ali
Had never met Malcolm X?

"I might never have become a Muslim if it hadn't been for Malcolm," Muhammad Ali once wrote. Take that out of the equation, and The Greatest's career takes a completely different shape.

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. . . PEDs
Had been legal all along?

In a world of unfettered drug use, medical experts would become invaluable assets, records would be shattered, and debate about regulation and self-policing would likely fester.

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. . . Steve Bartman
Had never gone to Wrigley?

Would the curse have been broken in ’03? Unlikely, as the Marlins would still have caught fire and another scapegoat would've been found. That and three other what-ifs that are really so-whats.

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. . . Tiger Woods
Had become a Navy Seal?

You know Chris DiMarco? Oh, you don't? Well you would have if that pesky Tiger fellow had left golf to enter the Navy, as he dreamed of.

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. . . These trades
Had actually happened?

Just a few years after mock-mooning Lambeau, Randy Moss nearly ended up in a trade to Green Bay. Meanwhile, Albert Pujols could have become La Machine in Montreal and Mariano Rivera could have put an Ichiro/A-Rod/Griffey dynasty over the top.

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. . . Wayne Gretzky
Hadn't been traded to the Kings?

The Great One's move to L.A. irrevocably altered the NHL's geographic center and ignited a Cali puck boom. The Stanley Cup would be etched differently if Oilers owner Peter Pocklington had sold the team instead of its star.

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. . . LeBron James
Had chosen soccer over basketball?

Let Grant Wahl answer the question once and for all: No, LeBron would not help the U.S. win the World Cup. "It just doesn't work like that. ... Please, just stop with the daydreaming."

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. . . U.S. soccer
Got the right call at World Cup '02?

"If we were one of the big countries," U.S. soccer coach Bruce Arena says, his team would've been awarded a penalty kick in the 2002 quarterfinal against Germany. And what then?

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