Today in Sports History: May 16th

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5/16/1980 - Magic brilliant against Sixers

It's the greatest performance in an NBA Finals game, ever. In Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Los Angeles Lakers rookie Magic Johnson fills in at center for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had sprained his ankle in the previous game. Playing in Philadelphia, the 6'8'' Lakers point guard filled the center position admirably and played at all five positions during the game. Johnson flourished with Kareem out of commission, registering 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in a 123-107 Lakers win.

"Kareem is the man on this team," said Johnson, who became the only rookie to be named the Finals MVP. "He wasn't able to be here, so I knew I had to take over."

It was a watershed moment for the National Basketball Association. The fame and celebrity that followed Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Julius Erving redefined the NBA forever, and brought widespread popularity to a league that had been struggling for years. Johnson's performance in Game 6 was the first of several steps they took that saved professional basketball.

5/16/1999 - Houston's shot sinks the Heat

With 4.5 seconds left, Allan Houston caught the ball just inside the three-point line. He took a few steps to get near the foul line and then flipped up a one-handed tear drop, with just a couple seconds left on the clock. It was the biggest shot of Houston's NBA career. It was the final game of the Knicks' best-of-five first round series with their archival Miami Heat, and everything was at stake.

In the offseason, the Knicks had traded popular role players Charles Oakley and John Starks for Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell, and while the trades had made them younger and more athletic, it didn't appear that they had made them better. The Knicks had barely crept into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, and with reports surfacing that head coach Jeff Van Gundy was going to be fired, the only thing that could possibly save his job was a remarkable upset in Game 5.

Houston's high-arching shot hit the front end of the rim, bounced backwards, hit the backboard, and caromed back through the net with 0.8 seconds left -- giving the Knicks a 78-77 lead. The Miami crowd was stunned as Houston ran down the other end of the court to celebrate with his teammates. ''It seemed like it hung for two minutes, not two seconds,'' Houston said. ''It's the biggest shot ever for me.''

After a Miami timeout, Terry Porter had a 24-foot three that could have given the Heat a trip to the second round. But his final attempt was long, and the Knicks were able to celebrate, knowing that they were just the second No. 8 seed in history to upset the No. 1. It was the second time in the three years that the Knicks had knocked off the Heat, and the second time in three years that they exacted revenge against former head coach Pat Riley.

Houston's shot changed everything for the Knicks. Rather than going out in the first round, the Knicks found their groove and got all the way to the NBA Finals; Sprewell and Camby got better as the playoffs increased, and by the time they lost to the Spurs in the final round, no one doubted that acquiring those two was the right decision; and Jeff Van Gundy, who might have been fired within the hour after losing, instead got a comfy extension and became an established coach in the NBA.

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(The Dodgers go after the hat-stealer. Photo by Tom Cruze, Chicago Sun-Times)

5/16/2000 - Cubs fan steals Kreuter's cap

In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Los Angeles Dodgers were leading the Chicago Cubs 6-5 at Wrigley Field. The fans sitting behind the Dodgers' bullpen started getting rowdy and began throwing things at the players. Finally, a fan reached over and punched the back of Dodgers catcher Chad Kreuter's head, then ran off with his hat -- starting an incident in which the bulk of the Dodgers bullpen chased him into the crowd. The absconding fan was never found and it took nine minutes for the melee to end, after the players were pelted with food and drink. When it was all said and done, Chad Kreuter was still missing his hat.

Frank Robinson, baseball's new president of on-the-field operations, came down hard on the Dodgers brass. 16 players and three coaches were suspended for a total of 84 games, with Kreuter getting the highest suspension of eight games. It was the largest number of suspensions ever brought on by a single incident. Only three weeks earlier, Robinson had suspended 16 White Sox and Tigers players for their part in a giant brawl.

To counteract the drunken behavoir of its spectators, the Cubs announced that they were cutting back on the number of beer vendors at the stadium.

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