Today in Sports History: June 2nd

6/02/1993 - Smith misses as Knicks lose

With the New York Knicks trailing, 95-94, with just a few seconds remaining in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Knicks forward Charles Smith receives the ball a few feet from the basket. Smith was surrounded by a trio of great Chicago Bulls defenders -- Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Horace Grant -- but he was still able to get off four point-blank shot attempts. To the ire of Knick fans everywhere, Smith missed four well-contested shot attempts in a row, and B.J. Armstrong capped off the game with a buzzer-beating layup. Chicago won, 97-94, and took a 3-2 lead in the series. The loss was the Knicks' first at Madison Square Garden in 28 games.

It was a defining moment for the New York Knicks, who were never quite able to win it all while they had Patrick Ewing. They were always in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, but inevitably, something always stood in their way. It was the heroics of Michael Jordan, the heroics of Reggie Miller, John Starks shooting terribly against the Rockets, Ewing missing a point-blank layup -- Smith's woes seemed to sum it up perfectly. The 6-foot-10 small forward had four chances to lay it in, but Pippen, Jordan, and Grant where there to keep it from happening, regardless of how close he was.

There was questions as to whether or not Smith was fouled on his four arrant shot attempts. "I'm tired of talking about fouls and officiating," Smith said in the locker room. "You watch the film and you be the judge. I wouldn't have done anything differently." Even if he was fouled, Knicks fans could hardly hold it against the officials; New York attempted a dozen more foul shots and missed a whopping 15 of them.

In Game 6, Michael Jordan -- who also had 54 points in Game 4 -- followed his triple-double in Game 5 with a poor shooting performance, making only eight of 24 shot attempts. New York was right in it, but eight missed foul shots and 19 turnovers cost them dearly. Chicago won 96-88 and advanced to the NBA Finals, where they outlasted the Phoenix Suns to win their third straight title. The Knicks would lament their defeat all summer long, particularly because they won the first two games of the series. The following season they exacted a bit of revenge by defeating the Bulls in seven games, mostly because Michael Jordan was busy playing baseball.

6/02/2000 - Miller lifts Pacers to finals

For the final time in his career, Reggie Miller plays against the New York Knicks in the postseason, and as usual, he does not disappoint. Miller scored 17 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and once again sent the fans at Madison Square Garden home in tears. The Pacers won, 93-80, and advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Indiana lost to the L.A. Lakers in the finals in six games.

This was the last game in the decade of the 2000's that the Knicks were a serious contender. After the season, Patrick Ewing -- besought by a litany of criticism for never getting the Knicks a title -- was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics. The Knicks slowly got worse and worse, and when Isiah Thomas assumed control of the team, the team got so bad that "Fire Isiah" chants became more frequent than cheering.

6/02/2002 - Kings and Lakers play Game 7

One of the best series in the post-Jordan era comes to a close, as the Lakers pull away from the Sacramento Kings. The Kings did their best to give away the game, and in the end, their inability to hit clutch shots cost them dearly.

To read more about this story, click here for an in-depth Inhistoric article:

6/02/2007 - Piniella kicks his hat

Lou Piniella's first ejection in a Cubs uniform was well worth the wait.

The Chicago skipper had been hired in the offseason to lead the Cubs to glory, to raise them from their 99 straight years without a championship. But things were not going so well in the windy city. Just the other day, star pitcher Carlos Zambrano had been lifted after giving up 13 hits and six runs in five innings. Zambrano then came to blows with catcher Michael Barrett in the dugout and the two had to be separated. Both players tried to downplay the incident -- Barrett even said, "I think it happened because Zambrano and I are so close. I think of him like a brother. It's like a sibling rivalry" -- though he would be traded just three weeks later.

By June 2, local columnists were writing that the Cubs were in a state of disarray and that Lou had lost control of the team. It was with that, and the team's disappointing 22-30 record, that Piniella lost it in the bottom of the eighth. His Cubbies were trailing 4-3 after blowing a three-run lead and were on the verge of their sixth straight defeat. With no out, Angel Pagan, the tying run, was at second base having just hit a double. The Atlanta Braves pitcher then threw a wild pitch and Pagan bolted to third. But his attempt to advance a base was short and he was tagged out at third base on a bang-bang play.

Piniella then stormed out of the dugout to argue the call. From his angle, it looked as though he was safe, though replays reconfirmed that the call was accurate. Piniella later said that he was challenging the umpire whether it was right or wrong: "It didn't make a damn bit of difference."

Piniella, known as the king of manager-umpire tantrums, took his frustration out on the third base ump. After getting tossed for incessant arguing, Lou kicked dirt on umpire Mark Wegner, threw and then kicked his hat, and left to a standing ovation with chants of "Lou" from Wrigley Field. Trash was thrown on the field by rowdy fans and the game was delayed for seven minutes. Chicago lost 5-3 and Lou was suspended for four games.

By this point, the Cubs were 7.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first place and many were calling for Piniella's job. But Lou must have known something no one else did because the Cubs suddenly caught fire. The next day, the Cubbies crushed the Braves 10-1. They won 35 of their next 53 games including 11 of 12 at one point to close in on the faltering Brew Crew. By the end of the year, Chicago was the NL Central champions, and Lou was seen as a catalyst and a leader rather than the captain of a sinking ship.

Many believed that Lou's dirt-kicking tirade single-handedly turned their season around, and had the Cubs won the championship, his meltdown would've become a legendary moment in Chicago sports history... however, they were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. So no dice.

Further reading:

It Had to End This Way for Smith and Knicks [New York Times]

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