Today in Sports History: June 19th

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(The first recorded pro baseball game. File photo courtesy of Associated Press)

This is a big, big, big day of sports. Here's a taste of what happened on June 19th in sports history:

  • The first baseball game... EVER
  • Waner gets hit No. 3000
  • Brent Barry jumps to ABA
  • Bulls draft the G.O.A.T
  • Bulls also draft famous sprinter
  • Portland picks Sam Bowie
  • Isiah has a phenomenal quarter
  • Horry hits another game-winner
  • A bad day to be Jay Will
  • The death of a college legend

What does it all mean? Well, you'll just have to read on, won't you...

6/19/1846 - Knickerbockers lose to the Nine

Alexander Joy Cartwright is considered the father of professional, organized baseball. Cartwright was working as a volunteer fireman in 1845 when he first got involved in the game of "town ball," one of the many forebears of baseball. Cartwright devised a set of playing conditions to make the often chaotic game more standardized, including setting the base paths at 90 feet, and founded the "New York Knickerbockers" ball club, the first in baseball history.

With his "Knickerbocker Rules" as the guideline regulations, Cartwright and his team of ball players set out to promote their refining of the game. The first officially recorded contest between the Knickerbockers and a professional opponent occurred on June 19, 1846, at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The Knickerbockers went up against the New York Nine, a group that consisted mostly of cricket players. The Nine obliterated the Knickerbockers 23-1 in four innings. Undeterred, Cartwright continued to span the country, taking the game of baseball with him wherever he went.

6/19/1942 - Waner reaches milestone

Paul Waner gets the 3,000th hit of his career off a pitch from Braves pitcher Rip Sewell, making him the seventh player in history to reach the 3,000 plateau. Waner was one of the best players the Pirates ever had; his lifetime batting average was .333 and he had eight different seasons with at least 200 hits. Waner was nicknamed "Big Poison," and his brother Lloyd, who also made the Hall of Fame, was nicknamed "Little Poison." In Paul's case the nickname was appropriate, as he was a notorious drinker who played better drunk than he did sober.

"How good would I have been if I hadn't used the stuff?" Waner once asked himself. "It's hard to say, but actually, I sometimes think it helped me. ... One year I laid off the stuff. My average went from .362 to .321. So near the end of the year I got word from Pie Traynor, my manager, that the front office wanted me to know if it was okay if I had a few belts now and then. I began hitting real good."

6/19/1967 - Barry jumps to ABA

After two seasons with the San Francisco Warriors, Rick Barry signs with the Oakland Oaks of the American Basketball Association, becoming the first NBA player to defect to the ABA. Barry, who had led the NBA in scoring with 35.6 points per game, was not pleased with his lack of incentive awards. The Warriors promptly sued, claiming that they still had him under contract for another year. A California judge ruled that Barry could not play with the Oaks until his Warriors contract expired; rather than returning to San Francisco, Barry stuck with his guns and sat out the entire 1967-68 season.

Barry spent four years in the ABA and in 1969, he agreed to re-sign with the Warriors when he completed his contractual obligations in the ABA. After a year in Oakland, he was traded to the Washington Capitols, then spent his final two years with the New York Nets. When he finally rejoined the Warriors in 1972, they had moved to Oakland and had renamed themselves the "Golden State Warriors." Barry played six solid seasons in Golden State and helped them win an NBA title in 1975. He signed with the Houston Rockets in 1978, where he lasted for two more years before calling it quits.

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(Here Jordan signed with the Bulls on Sep. 12. Photo by Charles Knoblock, AP Photos)

6/19/1984 - Portland drafts Bowie over Jordan

With the first overall pick, the Houston Rockets select Akeem Olajuwon, who would later add an 'H' to the front of his name and become one of the 50 greatest players of all time. Then it was Portland's turn. The Blazers selected Sam Bowie, a talented center out of Kentucky who they believed had just as much potential as Olajuwon.

Bowie was not a bad player at all. The problem was that he missed two full years of basketball in college with a leg injury, an injury that didn't subside when he made the transition to the NBA. Bowie would struggle with his knees throughout his career and had trouble staying on the floor. Between the 1987 and 1989 seasons, his final three in Portland, Bowie played a grand total of 25 games.

Adding insult to injury, the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft was none other than Michael Jeffrey Jordan, who became the greatest basketball player of all time with the Bulls. It was the ultimate humiliation for the Blazers, who could have paired Jordan with Clyde Drexler and formed an unbeatable powerhouse. Instead, they drafted a player who essentially handed them an IOU ever year. Portland's selection is by far the most infamous selection in draft history, particularly since John Stockton and Charles Barkley were available as well.

It is also worth noting that the Chicago Bulls, if given the opportunity, would have gladly drafted Bowie in a second. Shortly after drafting Mr. Jordan, Bulls GM Rod Thorn expressed disappointment in his selection. "We wish Jordan were seven-feet," he told the Chicago Tribune, "but he isn't. There just wasn't a center available. What can you do? Jordan isn't going to turn this franchise around. I wouldn't ask him to. He's a very good offensive player, but not an overpowering offensive player."

6/19/1984 - Bulls draft Carl Lewis

The Chicago Bulls walked away from the '84 draft with Michael Jordan, who would lead them to six championships and a plethora of other achievements. But Jordan wasn't the only superstar athlete the Bulls drafted that day. With the 208th pick of the NBA draft (it used to go ten rounds), the Bulls selected... track-and-field superstar Carl Lewis, one of the greatest Olympic runners ever.

Lewis had never played high school basketball, had never played college basketball, and may not have even picked up a basketball. Rod Thorn later described the pick as a publicity stunt. Amazingly, Lewis' pick came only one month after the NFL Draft, where he had been drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the twelth and final round. The Cowboys had picked Lewis in the quixotic dream that he would be interested in becoming a wide receiver. Lewis, who had never played high school or college-level football, had declined that offer as well.

Later that year, the 22 year-old Lewis would win four gold medals at the Los Angeles Olympics. However, no amount of medals can surpass fulfilling every sports fans dream: getting drafted by the Cowboys and Bulls without even playing the sports.

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(Len Bias at the 1986 draft. Photo by Isaac Brekken, AP Photos)

6/19/1986 - Len Bias dies

There are certain moments in life that are so earth-shaking that people remember where they were when they heard the news. One of those moments happens on June 19, 1986, as Len Bias dies of a drug overdose at the age of 22. Bias, who won back-to-back player of the year awards at Maryland, had been selected with the No. 2 pick in the draft by the Boston Celtics just two days earlier. His incredible depth and leaping ability, coupled with his 6-foot-8 physique, led many to compare him to Michael Jordan. In most people's eyes, he was the top prospect in that year's draft.

The drug that killed one of the brightest players in the NBA was the same drug taken ubiquitously by athletes throughout the 1980's: cocaine. Bias was celebrating his selection in his dormitory at the University of Maryland when he began convulsing, having suffered a seizure from the lines of cocaine he had just inhaled. He was taken to the hospital where he was unable to be resuscitated. He died of cardiac arrest.

Everyone was stunned -- friends, family, teammates, onlookers, people who had no idea who he even was. It was the sort of story that no one could believe. How bad had things gotten when even the most in-shape, healthy, 22 year-old college athlete had succumbed to narcotics?

Bias' death affected many things in American life, in particular, it ushered in the anti-drug movement of the late 80's that included programs such as DARE and "Just Say No." It tarnished the reputation of the University of Maryland, forced the athletic director to resign, forced their basketball program to go away for three years, and kept the school off of television for a few years. But the biggest effect it had was in the NBA, with the Boston Celtics. Had Len Bias been on the same team as Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, and Larry Bird, there's no telling how successful the Celtics could have been. Instead, it took Boston 22 years -- the entire lifespan of Bias himself -- to win another NBA championship.

Others believe that Bias would have been the true rival that Michael Jordan never had in his career, that he would have been the Larry Bird to Magic Johnson and the Wilt Chamberlain to Bill Russell. Sadly, it's all speculation and probably the biggest what-if in basketball.

6/19/1988 - Isiah scores 25 in third

In Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals, Isiah Thomas registers the greatest-scoring quarter in NBA Finals history. The Detroit Pistons point guard scored 25 points on 11-13 shooting in the third period, made even more impressive because of a serious ankle injury he suffered eight minutes in. Thomas had inadvertently landed on the foot of Lakers guard Michael Cooper -- he gutted it out and scored 11 more points in the period, including a miraculous shot in the corner to finish off the third.

Thomas finished with 43 points, eight assists and six steals in unquestionably one of the greatest performances in NBA history. The Pistons stayed with the Lakers throughout the fourth quarter, but in the end, a pair of free throws from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar proved to be the deciding points. Los Angeles won on their home court, 103-102, to tie the series at three games apiece. Afterward, Thomas was seen leaving the arena on crutches.

"This was probably the best, most exciting playoff game I've ever played in," said Magic Johnson, who recorded 22 points and 19 assists. "Isiah was unconscious. He took control of the game. When he started skipping and hopping, you know he's in his rhythm."

"This is the most incredible playoff game I've ever been involved in," said Lakers coach Pat Riley. "The Pistons played their hearts out. At the end, we were determined not to let Isiah and [Adrian] Dantley touch the first pass, and we succeeded."

The Pistons' doctor stated that Thomas would be unavailable for Game 7. Isiah managed to play anyway, though the Lakers still came away with the win.

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(Jay Williams in a Nets preseason game. Photo courtesy of AP Photos)

6/19/2003 - Williams' career ends with accident

The promising career of point guard Jay Williams effectively comes to an end, as he crashes his motorcycle into a telephone pole. His ruptured body landed ten feet from the bike, leaving his pelvis fractured, the main nerve in his leg severed, and three of the four main ligaments in his left knee torn. Williams suffered no life-threatening injuries, however his wounds would prevent him from returning to the court for a while.

"I remember hearing the 'boom,' spinning around. Everybody was looking at me," Williams recollected. "The first thing I was yelling wasn't, 'I don't want to die.' It was, 'I threw it all away,' and I didn’t want to throw it all away. I wanted to play again. It's weird how the first thing that came to mind was basketball instead of staying alive."

In the 2002 draft, Williams was selected with the No. 2 pick by the Chicago Bulls. The former NCAA Player of the Year at Duke was inconsistent for most of his rookie season, however he showed flashes of his potential when he posted a triple-double against the New Jersey Nets. Williams was known in college as "Jason Wiliams," which was his given name. However he asked to be called "Jay" open entering the league, so as to avoid confusion with other NBA players Jason Williams and Jayson Williams.

Jay Williams was not wearing his helmet when he crashed, nor was he licensed to ride a motorcycle in the state of Illinois. He had violated his contract and the Bulls -- who knew that any potential he had was out the window -- could have released him without compensation. However, they generously granted him a $3 million buyout and released him the following February.

Williams never played in another NBA game. The closest he got was in 2006 when he earned a non-guaranteed contract with the Nets. He was cut ten days before the Nets' first regular season game.

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(Horry drills the winning shot in OT. Photo by Bob Rosato, SI Photos)

6/19/2005 - Horry huge against the Pistons

Robert Horry hit many clutch shots over the course of his NBA career. But only once did he take control of a game and THEN hit the game-winning shot. In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Horry did just that. With the series tied at 2-2, Horry scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to keep the San Antonio Spurs within points of the Detroit Pistons. And with only 5.8 seconds left, Horry knocked down a three-point shot over Tayshaun Prince that gave the Spurs a 96-95 win.

"He did everything," said Pistons coach Larry Brown. "That's why he has five rings. He's a big-time player. In moments like that, that's the difference."

Horry finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. His final shot, which gave San Antonio a 3-2 series lead, happened because the man who was guarding him, Rasheed Wallace, inexplicably left to double-team Tim Duncan. Horry was given a wide-open shot that may have cost the Pistons the championship. Detroit won in Game 6 (95-86) but lost in Game 7 (81-74). San Antonio won their third title in seven years, and some believed that Horry deserved to be the series MVP. Instead it went to Tim Duncan.

The fifth game of the 2005 finals is notable for not only being a great game, but for being the only game of that series was even remotely watchable. The slow, methodical, defense-oriented series was unattractive as it is, but the icing on the cake was that almost every other game was a blowout. The six other games in the finals were decided by a whopping 16.7 points per contest -- making it both low-scoring and boring.

Further reading:

The Day Innocence Died [ESPN Magazine]

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