(Chapman's crazy shot. Photo by John W. McDonough, SI Photos)
5/01/1884 - First black baseball player
For all the commemorations that Jackie Robinson has deservedly received, it's often overlooked that he was not the first African American to play professional baseball. Today in 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker played in his first game with the Toledo Blue Stockings, who were a part of the American Association (which was a major league back in the day).
Walker and his brother Welday, who briefly played with Moses on the Blue Stockings, were the only recorded black men to play in a major league game prior to Jackie Robinson. Fleet's season ended after 42 games, when a serious injury led to his release.
In the offseason, players such as Cap Anson spearheaded a movement that outlawed blacks from being signed, creating an unwritten rule that the owners followed for over half a century. And with the country in a state where segregation and discrimination were perfectly legal, African Americans were forced to the sidelines.
Fleetwood, having suffered the injustices of discrimination first-hand, became disillusioned to the idea that blacks could live harmoniously inside the United States. In 1908, he wrote a 47-page pamphlet saying that racial integration was impossible. "The only practical and permanent solution of the present and future race troubles in the United States is entire separation by emigration of the Negro from America," Walker wrote.
5/01/1971 - Lew Alcindor changes his name
One day after his Milwaukee Bucks swept the Baltimore Bullets to win their first NBA title, Lew Alcindor legally changes his name to "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar." He had assumed the name since 1968, when he converted from Catholicism to an Islamic faith. But he had only revealed his new name within the last year, and many sportscasters had continued to call him by his given name. Translated into English, his name meant -- "noble and generous" (Kareem), "servant of Allah" (Abdul), and "powerful" (Jabbar).
"I have been kind of quiet about it until now," Jabbar told reporters. "But now since I am representing my country, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I would like to get that respect from you, from my countryman, if I can."
Jabbar finished his career winning five additional MVP's and NBA championships, and became universally famous as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His name change is one of the most famous in all of sports, just behind Muhammad Ali, who also changed his name when he became a Muslim.
In 1995, UCLA running back Sharmon Shah was given the name "Karim Abdul-Jabbar" when he converted to Islam. His name garnered a sizable amount of publicty as he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins. Abdul-Jabbar the basketball player, believing that there were too many similarities between them, sued Abdul-Jabbar the football player, citing their names, identical 33 jersey number, and the fact that they both went to UCLA. In 2000, the man formerly known as Sharmon Shah changed his name again, this time to: "Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar."
5/01/1997 - Chapman hits crazy shot
Rex Chapman sends a playoff game to overtime on a phenomenal shot. In Game 4 of the first round series between the Phoenix Suns and Seattle SuperSonics, the Suns trailed at home, 110-107, with 4.3 ticks on the clock. Seattle coach George Karl had instructed his team to foul as soon as the Suns caught the ball; conversely, Phoenix coach Danny Ainge told his team to shoot it immediately.
Jason Kidd, playing in his first season with the Suns, threw it in to the other side of the court. Chapman ran to catch up with it, caught the ball on one leg, and flung the rock at the basket as he pirouetted to his left. His miracle shot was nothing but net and tied the game with 1.9 seconds left. "It's the play we drew up," Chapman said after the game.
Had Seattle lost the series, Chapman's shot would have stood with the Seattle Sonics for years to come. They had already lived through the embarrassment of 1994, when Dikembe Mutumbo and the Denver Nuggets upset them as the No. 8 seed -- another first round exit would have forever labeled them as underachievers. But it was not to be. The Sonics wound up winning Game 4 in overtime and handily defeated them in Game 5. Still, Chapman's impressive heave continued to get plenty of airtime, a fact that annoyed the coach of the victorious Sonics.
''This is a classic,'' Karl said after Game 5. ''Chapman's shot is going to be Mutombo II. We'll see it 4,000 times on some kind of introductory to the NBA video. But they should put underneath it that we won. Kind of like Jerry West's 70-foot shot that tied the game against the Knicks a long time ago. They should put under there that the Knicks won. Just like us.''