Today in Sports History: February 7th


(Jordan in a Sox uni. Photo by Eugene Garcia, Getty Images)

2/07/1990 - Leslie gets 101 in half

Well before she joined the WNBA and became the most recognizable female basketball player in America, Lisa Leslie made headlines for one of the most famous, or infamous, performances in high school basketball. Playing for Morningside High School, Leslie's coach, Frank Scott, gave the 6'5'' center the go-ahead to try to break Cheryl Miller's high school record of 105 points.

Leslie attempted to do just that against less-than-phenomenal South Torrance High School. After one half, Morningside led 102-24, with Leslie having scored 101 points. Many of her buckets were pure cherry-picking, as she waited in the backcourt to score without running back to play defense. Two of South Torrance's players had already fouled out, and with the team down to only four active players, the team forfeited after one half -- depriving Leslie the chance to obliterate Miller's record.

The reaction to Leslie's 101-point half was decidedly negative. Many columnists were appalled at the scoring spectacle, particularly with the lack of respect Leslie and Morningside had given their hampered opponents. When she heard that South Torrance was forfeiting, Leslie had gone up to the opposing coach and asked if they would stay in the game long enough for her to break the record. The coach responded, "Our girls have feelings too."

"It wasn't personal," said Lisa, who later became the first WNBA player to dunk in a game. "They knew I was going for the record. I thought knowing that would take some of the hurt away."

At the time, Scott defended his coaching decision. "In our league, we've held back as much as we can, and it's tough to keep holding them back," he said. "We decided to let the girls go one game a year." But he changed his tune after receiving repeated criticisms, saying, "After this year, we probably won't go for any more records. I don't feel that it's worth it. It creates too many bad feelings between the schools."

2/07/1993 - Shaq breaks basket in Phoenix

Shaquille O'Neal made a loud entrance in his first full NBA season. In a road game against the Phoenix Suns, O'Neal followed up a missed shot by Anthony Bowie with a two-hand slam where he hung on the rim for only a few seconds. The basket rattled as O'Neal landed on the floor, and as the players started to walk away, the stantion slowly sinked to the floor -- collapsing like a deflated balloon.

"The thing started coming forward, and I thought the whole thing was going to fall on me for a minute," O'Neal said.

The nationally-televised game was delayed 35 minutes as a new backboard was put in place. The Suns went on to win the game, thanks to Charles Barkley's 28 points and 19 rebounds. Orlando had a two-point lead after three periods, but the Suns turned it on in the fourth and outscored them 44-26 in the 12-minute quarter. To prove that his dunk was not an abbaration, O'Neal later ripped down the entire basket in New Jersey later that year.

2/07/1994 - Jordan signs with White Sox

In one of most unlikely developments in the history of sports, Michael Jordan signs a professional baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox. Jordan, who was 10 days shy of his 31st birthday, had retired in November when he stated that there were no more challenges before him. His retirement came just weeks after the death of his father, who had been brutally murdered on the side of a road in North Carolina. The owner of White Sox, Jerry Reinsdorf, was also the owner of the Chicago Bulls, who Jordan had played with for a decade.

It was an unprecedented move to say the least. Several athletes had crossed over to another sport, but never before had a player abandoned a sport that he was excellent at to try his stakes in something else. The fact that it was Michael Jordan, the most famous athlete and possibly the most famous man in the world, made it all the more incredible. Lots of people saw the signing as a publicity stunt, but Jordan insisted he was for real. His father, he said, had always wanted him to play baseball.

Jordan never made it to the majors and played with the AA-afiliate Birmingham Barons. In one season with the Barons, His Airness racked up a .202 batting average, 51 RBI, 114 strikeouts, and a team-high 30 stolen bases in 127 games. From September to November, Jordan played with the Scottsdale Scorpians of the Arizona Fall League and batted .252 in 35 games. Although he was hardly the player that he was on the basketball court, Jordan's fame was enough to make th Barons the highest-grossing minor league team in the league. They even got national attention from ESPN, who highlighted each of Jordan's games on SportsCenter.

Many people thought the retirement was temporary. If Jordan, who was only 31 years old, really had an urge to fill his competitive spirit, wouldn't it seem obvious for him to compete in the sport he was great at instead of one he struggled in? Eventually the stars aligned for this happen. In March of next year, Jordan -- who was reportedly close to a promotion to AAA-baseball -- left White Sox training camp because of the strike. He started practicing with the Bulls a few days later, leading to a plethora of rumors that he was coming back. On March 18, Jordan announced that he was indeed returning to the NBA -- ditching his short-lived, but memorable, baseball career.

2/07/2007 - Amaechi comes out of the closet

In preparation of the release of his book, Man in the Middle, former basketball player John Amaechi tells that he is gay -- making him the first NBA player to come out of the closet. Overall, he was just the sixth athlete from the four major sports to acknowledge his homosexuality, joining baseball players Glenn Burke and Billy Bean, and football players David Kopay, Roy Simmons, and Esera Tuaolo -- none of those six were stars and only Burke came out when he wasn't retired.

As a player, Amaechi's career wasn't remarkable, although he did score the NBA's first points in the year 2000. In five seasons, the British-raised center averaged 6.2 points per game, with his best season coming in 2000, when he scored 10.5 per game with the Orlando Magic. He was offered a $17 million deal to be the starting power forward of the Los Angeles Lakers, who would win the title in '01 and '02. But Amaechi stayed in Orlando for just $600,000, a move to regret as the Magic dispensed with him just a year later.

Amaechi's announcement made him a household name, as current and retired players gave their perspectives and opinions on gays and sports. As expected, some players said they'd have a problem with having a gay man undressing in the locker room, but overall, most were receptive to Amaechi's admission.

"I underestimated America," Amaechi said in May of that year. "I braced myself for the wrath of a nation under God. I imagined that it would be a firestorm, that it would be some insane number of letters demanding my deportation or my death. And in fact, 95% of the correspondence I've had have been overwhelmingly supportive and positive. But I will say that the five percent that I've had have been unbelievably, viscerally, frighteningly negative."

Further reading:

A Natural at Filling the Seats [New York Times]

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