The number eight is considered lucky in China, and so everyone assumed that's why the Beijing Olympics opened on August 8, aka 08/08/08. This little chestnut gave the media a mildly exotic (but easy to understand!) piece of Chinese culture to talk about in their inevitable stories on the Olympic host country, and also something interesting to say about the opening ceremonies before they happened. But NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol explodes the myth of 8-8-08 in the Times today, saying superstition is "not really why the Olympics started then." The real reason? Money. (Duh.)

Before it had the 2008 games sewn up, China planned to bid on then using a September start date. But this would collide with NFL coverage in the U.S. and thus dampen ratings, as occurred in the 2004 Olympics in Sydney. NBC, which already had TV rights to the 2008 Olympics, urged China to consider moving the date.

So China proposed a mid-August start date in its official bid, and won.

But it turned out that date interfered with the U.S. Open, meaning tennis stars would skip the Olympics, meaning more ratings pain.

China looked at the $894 million in NBC money it had already deposited into one of its banks and decided to accommodate one last change request from NBC, to August 8. Americans looked at the price of gas and the lack of money in their bank accounts and decided to stay home and watch the Olympics rather than go out at night or on vacation. Ratings soared and NBC was very "lucky" The End!