Today in Sports History: May 20th

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(Mario Elie celebrates after hitting the game-winner. Photo by AP)

5/20/1993 - Barkley beats Spurs on jumper

Charles Barkley sends the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference Finals. In Game 6 of their second round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, the game was knotted at 100-100 with only a few seconds remaining in regulation. Barkley stood with the ball just beyond the three-point line, with David Robinson -- the reigning Defensive Player of the Year -- defending him. Barkley took a few dribbles inside the three-point arch before firing from the top of the key. His shot was nothing but net and gave the Suns their ticket to the next round.

"I always expect to hit the big shot," said Barkley, who finished with an impressive 28 points and 21 rebounds. "It felt good the second it left my hand."

"It was a tough way to lose, especially at home," said Robinson, who had 22 points and 14 rebounds. "We are all really disappointed. I feel like a train that hit the wall, but my body could use the rest. Mentally, I'm ready to play on."

"Everyone in the building knew he was going to get it," said Phoenix coach Paul Westphal. "They had their best defensive player on him and we had our best offensive player. It was a great thing to behold if you are a basketball fan. What gets better than that?"

The Suns advanced to face the Seattle SuperSonics, who had narrowly squeaked by the Houston Rockets in seven games. The Sonics forced the Suns to seven games as well, except this time, it was the Suns who came out on top. Phoenix then played the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.

5/20/1995 - Elie beats Suns on "Kiss of Death" shot

In Game 7 of a classic semifinals matchup between the Suns and Rockets, Phoenix point guard Kevin Johnson came up large, scoring 46 points (21 coming from the foul line) and dishing out 10 assists. Charles Barkley had a bad shooting game but once again put up great numbers when his team needed him most: 18 points, 23 rebounds, five assists. But the visiting Rockets stayed in the game anyway, thanks in large part to a pair of 29-point outputs from Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and an 18-point performance from Sam Cassell off the bench.

The hero of the game was none of the above. With 7.1 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, shooting guard Mario Elie sank a sideline three that gave the Rockets a 113-110 advantage. As the Rockets bench celebrated, Elie blew a kiss to the stunned Phoenix crowd. Houston would win, 115-114, and advanced to the Western Conference Finals once again. It was the second straight season in which the Suns had led the Rockets 3-1 only to lose the final three games.

Houston went on to the NBA Finals and swept the Orlando Magic in four games. Mario Elie would win three titles in his career, two with the Rockets and one with the San Antonio Spurs. For the Suns, it was an especially devastating loss, particularly because Barkley told reporters after the game that he planned on retiring. "I'm not saying this is 100% done, but I'll say more than likely I have played my last game," said the 32 year-old, who had played through back issues for years. "It's just time. It's time. I can't see my skills getting better; I can only see them getting worse."

Barkley would wind up playing another five seasons and might have played longer had he not ended his career on a leg injury. Ironically, he finished his career with the Houston Rockets, playing alongside a person in Olajuwon who he had once referred to as a "big, old crybaby."

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(The aftermath of the accident. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

5/20/2000 - Malik Sealy dies in car crash

Just four months after fellow NBA player Bobby Phills died in an automobile accident, the league suffers another tragedy. Malik Sealy of the Minnesota Timberwolves was driving home from Kevin Garnett's 24th birthday party when an intoxicated man, who was driving his car on the wrong side of the road, collided with Sealy's SUV. The offender was okay, but Sealy died at the scene due to head and chest injuries. He was 30.

Blood tests showed that the instigator, Souksangouane Phengsene, had more than twice the amount of permitted alcohol in his system. Convicted of vehicular manslaughter, he was sentenced to four years in jail; he later got out early in 2003.

Sealy spent eight years in the NBA with four different teams and was one of the best bench scorers in the league in Minnesota. Besides playing with the T'Wolves, Clippers, Pacers and Pistons, Sealy's roots also branched to New York; he went to school at St. John's University and made his reputation as one of the best scorers in school history. Off the court, Sealy was an inspiring businessman. He had his own line of shirts and ties and he had even appeared in a few acting roles, such as in the movie Eddie and in episodes of Diagnosis: Murder and The Sentinel.

Sealy was named after civil rights leader Malik Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X -- his father, Sidney, had worked as one of Malcolm X's security guards. Sealy would be buried in the same cemetery as Malcom X, and the Timberwolves announced shortly thereafter that they were retiring his No. 2 uniform.

5/20/2000 - Portland goes crazy with Hack-a-Shaq

For years, NBA teams had taken advantage of poor free throw shooters by intentionally fouling them and forcing them to hit freebies. The most prevalent form of this strategy was the "Hack-a-Shaq," named after Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq's 350-pound body was so strong and so imposable that teams would occasionally wrap him up in an attempt to take advantage of his weak foul-shooting.

Usually though, this type of intentional fouling was limited to only a few hacks a game. Never before had the Hack-a-Shaq technique been employed as a regular defense. Yet that's exactly what happened in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, when the Portland Trail Blazers visited the Los Angeles Lakers. Portland was so overpowered by O'Neal that they implemented the Hack-a-Shaq for the final six minutes of the fourth quarter. When it was all said and done, O'Neal had taken 25 free throws in under six minutes and made 12 of them. Overall, he finished with 41 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks.

The strategy temporarily worked, as the Blazers were able to cut it to a nine-point game with just under five minutes left. But Shaq caught fire at the line and made seven in a row down the stretch. The Lakers won, 109-94, in one of the slowest fourth quarters in league history.

"Obviously, if we get down in a game, that's what we're going to do," said Portland coach Mike Dunleavy. "Had we scored a few more times, we would have put ourselves in position to win. He's a great player. I like Shaq a lot. He just can't make his free throws."

Many were furious at Dunleavy's decision, which had reduced the pace of the game to a crawl. But many coaches were intrigued. Putting a player like Shaq, who hit less than half of his freebies, on the charity stripe instead of letting him score wasn't all that crazy an idea -- at least in a desperate situation like the Blazers were in.

Just a couple weeks later, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Pacers coach Larry Bird took it to the next level. With his team getting stomped by Los Angeles, Bird had his team foul O'Neal on almost every possession in the fourth quarter. Shaq attempted a record 39 free throws in that game and made 19 of them. The Pacers were able to mount a slight comeback, though it wasn't enough to get them back in the game. Los Angeles won, 111-104. Shaq finished with 40 points and 24 rebounds.

Also on this day:

1986: Mike Tyson defeats Mitch "Blood" Green in 10 rounds in their only head-to-head bout, moving Tyson's career record to 21-0. They tussled outside a Harlem shoe store in 1988.

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