Today in Sports History: May 8th

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(Willis Reed after his heroic Game 7. Photo courtesy of Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

5/08/1970 - Willis Reed limps onto the court

There are only a few moments in sports that can accurately be described as legendary. The Willis Reed game is one of them.

The New York Knicks were heavy underdogs coming in to Game 7, even though the final game would be played at Madison Square Garden. Their opponents were the Los Angeles Lakers, with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain -- a team that would win a record 33 consecutive regular season games just two years later. In Game 5, Knicks center Willis Reed had suffered a serious thigh injury that was supposed to keep him out the rest of the playoffs. With their main defender sidelined, New York had struggled to contain Wilt the Stilt. In Game 6, Chamberlain scored 45 points and grabbed 27 rebounds as L.A. crushed the Knicks, 135-113.

With just a few minutes before the start of the decisive game, no one was sure if Reed was going to play or not. It looked bleak for the home team -- without their captain, it didn't seem that there was any way they could stop Wilt Chamberlain.

And then, to the euphoric delight of the Garden crowd, Reed limped out of the locker room and onto the basketball court. Those who were there said it was the loudest Madison Square Garden had ever been. "I was very, very nervous," Willis said in 1988. "I walked out there without being able to walk too well and there I was having to face probably the greatest all-around center in the history of the game. I would've had problems if I'd had two good legs."

"The scene is indelibly etched in my mind," Knicks guard Walt Frazier later said, "because if that did not happen, I know we would not have won the game."

Reed was so badly hampered by his injury that he only played 27 minutes. But he began the game by hitting the first two shots of the night -- the only shots he would take. The Knicks, spurred on by the roaring of the crowd, carried the momentum of Reed's return to a 113-99 victory; it was their first title in franchise history. Walt Frazier had a phenomenal game with 36 points and 19 rebounds, but it was Willis Reed who was named the MVP of the Finals. Reed's tenacity, in bearing it all just to give his team just a little bit of life, became a transcendent moment in sports. From then on, whenever there would be talk about someone playing through a serious injury -- perhaps just to inspire their team -- the name Willis Reed would invariably come up.

"There isn't a day in my life that people don't remind me of that game," Reed said twenty years later.

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(Randy Johnson struck out a lot of Reds on this night in 2001)

5/08/2001 - Randy Johnson fans 20 Reds

In a 2001 game against the Cincinnati Reds, Randy Johnson did what only Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens had done before: strike out 20 batters in a single game. Through nine innings, the "Big Unit" gave up one earned run on three hits and zero walks. His 20 K's tied Wood and Clemens for the most strikeouts ever through nine innings. After retiring his final victim, Johnson pumped his fist in the air in what was the most reoccurring piece of footage from his career.

However, the Diamondbacks only produced one run themselves, and the game went into extra innings. Johnson did not pitch the 10th, meaning that despite throwing one of the most dominating performances ever, he finished with a no-decision. Though the D-Backs eventually won in 11 innings, this game would prove to be a microcosm of Johnson's time in Arizona: great performances without much run support.

Johnson threw out as many men in as many innings as Wood and Clemens did when they fanned 20 batters. But since Johnson did not technically do it in a 9-inning game, his feat is not listed with the other two. Despite being gypped out of the record books thanks to an inconsequential technicality, Johnson won his third straight Cy Young award that year and was the 2001 World Series MVP.

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(Allen Iverson during his now-famous no-practice press conference)

5/08/2002 - Talking about practice

The Philadelphia Sixers had just been bounced from the first round of the playoffs, and many columnists wondered if Allen Iverson was going to be traded. Coach Larry Brown added fuel to the fire by stating, "My problems with Allen have been the same for six years. I love him, his competitiveness. The issues are things he has control over, and he'll have a problem with me if he doesn't take care of it. He has to be at practice. He has to set an example. He knows that if he's willing to do that, he'll be a Sixer for life."

Shortly thereafter, Iverson held a press conference with the intention of squashing the rumor that he was on bad terms with coach Brown. In the process, he covered the practice issue and gave the media one hell of a soundbite:

Reporter: "Could you clear about your practicing habits since we can't see you practice?"

Iverson: "If Coach tells you that I missed practice, then that's that. I may have missed one practice this year but if somebody says he missed one practice of all the practices this year, then that's enough to get a whole lot started. I told Coach Brown that you don't have to give the people of Philadelphia a reason to think about trading me or anything like that. If you trade somebody, you trade them to make the team better...simple as that. I'm cool with that. I'm all about that. The people in Philadelphia deserve to have a winner. It's simple as that. It goes further than that.

Reporter: "So you and coach Brown got caught up on Saturday about practice?"

Iverson: "If I can't practice, I can't practice. It is as simple as that. It ain't about that at all. It's easy to sum it up if you're just talking about practice. We're sitting here, and I'm supposed to be the franchise player, and we're talking about practice. I mean listen, we're sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we're talking about practice. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game last it's my last but we're talking about practice man. How silly is that?

Now I know that I'm supposed to lead by example and all that but I'm not shoving that aside like it don't mean anything. I know it's important, I honestly do but we're talking about practice. We're talking about practice man. [laughter from the media crowd] We're talking about practice. We're talking about practice. We're not talking about the game. We're talking about practice. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you've seen me play right, you've seen me give everything I've got, but we're talking about practice right now. [more laughter]

Reporter: "But it's an issue that your coach continues to raise?"

Iverson: "Hey I hear you, it's funny to me to, hey it's strange to me too but we're talking about practice man, we're not even talking about the game, when it actually matters, we're talking about practice."

Reporter: "Is it possible that if you practiced, not you but you would make your teammates better?"

Iverson: "How in the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing?

Further reading:

No record for Johnson? So what [ESPN]

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