Today in Sports History: May 11th


(Erving's incredible baseline layup. Photo by Manny Millan, Sports Illustrated Photos)

5/11/1972 - Willie returns to New York

The San Francisco Giants trade an aging Willie Mays to the New York Mets for pitcher Charlie Williams and $50,000. The deal sent the 41 year-old Mays to the city he had played in the first six years of his career, before moving with the Giants from New York to San Francisco. Coincidentally, Hank Aaron, his eternal counterpart, would wind up copying his career path; Aaron spent the final years of his career with the Milwaukee Brewers, having previously played in Milwaukee when the Braves were there.

Willie spent just two years in the Big Apple and added another 14 home runs to raise his career total to 660. But he wasn't the same player. His jersey appeared unusually tight on him, he batted in the low .200's, and in the 1973 World Series, he badly misplayed several balls in the outfield and even stumbled awkwardly out of the batter's box.

Mays finished his career not long after that. Though many people still considered him the greatest player ever, as it was a common opinion at the time, his return to New York did not expand his legacy a bit -- his stint with the Mets is considered one of the most infamous examples of an athlete playing passed his prime.

5/11/1980 - Erving makes baseline move

Julius Erving of the Philadelphia 76ers pulls off a spectacular move in Game 4 of the 1980 Finals. Early in the fourth quarter, the Sixers superstar beat Mark Landsberger off the dribble, only to be met at the baseline by L.A. superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Erving leapt into the air with his body completely behind the backboard, the two Lakers bigmen positioned to his left. Remarkably, Erving was somehow able to palm the ball, guide it under the rim and lay it in from the opposite side, all while appearing to be nowhere close to the net when he started.

"I could not believe my eyes," Magic Johnson, playing for the Lakers in his rookie season, said 25 years later. "It's still the greatest move I've ever seen in basketball. The all-time greatest."

The Sixers won the game, 105-102, and evened the series at 2-2. Just a few days later, it was Magic's turn to amaze everyone as he almost recorded a triple-double while playing at the center position.

5/11/2003 - Palmeiro climbs to 500

The 500-home run club was the most prestigious in all of sports. Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Williams, Jackson, Mantle, Robinson, Schmidt -- these were the best baseball players of all time. To join the 500-club was the ultimate of honors, it essentially granted instant access to the Hall of Fame.

But on May 11, 2003, quiet Rafael Palmeiro smacked the 500th home run of his career off of the Indians' Dave Elder. Many writers didn't know what to make of it. Palmeiro had only been an All-Star four times, and though he was a former Gold Glove winner and a terrific player, he had never been the best player on his team. The question was then asked if the 500-home run mark, with all the recent buzz about steroid use, was really the all-important milestone that it had been for years.


In 2005, Palmeiro recorded the 3,000th hit of his career at Seattle's Safeco Field. With two epic milestones under his belt, Palmeiro's lack of superstar status was waived off -- no one with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs could ever get rejected from the Hall of Fame. However, less than a month after collecting his 3,000th hit, Palmeiro tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. His Hall of Fame status, which he had worked so hard for, went down faster than a led balloon.

5/11/2007 - Baron dunks over Kirilenko

In the 2007 semifinals between the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz, the Warriors won Game 3, 125-105, in a series they would lose in five games. The highlight of the night, and the series for the Warriors, came near the end of the game -- when Baron Davis dunked over Andrei Kirilenko of the Jazz with one hand.

Now I admit, the historical significance of this dunk is minimal at best. However, the image of Baron -- a point guard -- literally grabbing Kirilenko by his face and pushing him down to make the dunk (even though that's not exactly what happened) is priceless. There are not many, if any, in-game photos more perfect for a poster than this. So kudos to Kat Wade of the San Francisco Chronicle for snapping the picture.

Just one year later, B.D. left town to play for the Clippers.

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