Today in Sports History: June 26th

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(Lloyd McClendon walks off with the base. Photo courtesy of AP Photos)

6/26/1981 - Magic Johnson signs 25-year deal

There are short contracts. There are long contracts. And then there's the contract Magic Johnson received in 1981.

After just two seasons, Magic Johnson was already considered one of the most talented players the NBA ever had. It was that level of skill that granted him the the most extensive deal in NBA history, as Jerry Buss handed Magic a 25-year, $25 million contract to stick around with the Los Angeles Lakers. The deal began in 1984, would have ended in 2009, and gave the Lakers' guard $1 million per season.

Johnson became just the third player to earn a million-dollar annual salary, joining fellow L.A. teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Houston Rockets forward Moses Malone. Though he had been given largest contract in the history of professional sports, Johnson was a long way from being happy. Only five months later, the franchise player asked to be traded and subsequently forced Buss to fire head coach Paul Westhead.

With the hiring of Pat Riley in Westhead's place, Johnson remained with the Los Angeles Lakers and helped them win multiple titles over the course of the decade. But by the time his contract became active, it was no longer the lucrative mega-deal that it was when he signed it. Players of all sports were now making $2-3 million a year, and his 25-year deal was preventing him from raking in the cash. He later renegotiated his deal and resumed make top dollar like everyone else.

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(Kobe receiving his Lakers jersey next to Jerry West and Del Harris. Photo by Steve W. Grayson, UPI)

6/26/1996 - Hornets draft Kobe Bryant

The Charlotte Hornets select Kobe Bryant with the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA draft. Bryant had averaged 30.8 points per game at Lower Marion High School and was one of the first players in the country to receive national attention before getting to college. The pick was certainly a surprise to Bryant, who hadn't even worked out with the Hornets.

Just a few days later, Bryant was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac. The deal wound up being an enormous mistake for the Hornets, who missed out on having the best young player in the game. Bryant would win three championships over the next decade and established himself as one of the greatest guards of all time, while the Hornets were later forced to move to New Orleans due to plummeting ticket sales.

The 1996 draft is generally considered one of the best that ever happened. Ten of the first twenty players became All-Stars and the first six picks -- Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, and Antoine Walker -- all panned out. Also getting selected was Jermaine O'Neal, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Also getting picked in the first round of the '96 draft was point guard Derek Fisher, who was selected by the Lakers with the 24th overall pick. The Lakers came into the draft looking to improve at the guard position; 15 seasons later, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher were still in the Lakers' starting lineup. I'd say they did a good job.

6/26/2001 - Lloyd McClendon steals first

Lloyd McClendon wasn't pleased when he was ejected from a game against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates manager had witnessed two questionable calls by first base ump Rick Reed, and the strain of coaching the last-place Pirates might have compounded his frustration.

McClendon threw his hat in outrage, picked up first base, and exited the field to a standing ovation with the base still under his arm. When he got to the dugout, he heaved the base down the steps and went back to the clubhouse. The umpires decided not to go after fuming McClendon and wisely replaced the base with a new one.

"(Reed) wasn't seeing the calls at first base, so I figured I might as well take it with me," said McClendon. "All I ask is that we get our fair shake. I think we’ve been taken for granted, and I'm tired of it."

Pittsburgh trailed 6-4 in bottom of the 11th, but kept the game alive with a two-out, two-run homer by Aramais Ramirez. In the 12th, Rob Mackowiak singled to center to score Dmitri Young, giving the Pirates a 7-6 win. Afterward, Lloyd was dealt a $1000 fine, and an all-time spot on the coaching-meltdown Hall of Fame.

6/26/2003 - LeBron highlights stellar draft class

With the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select LeBron James directly out of high school. Selected with the No. 3, 4, and 5 picks were Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. All four players became outstanding, franchise-leading players, leading many to proclaim the 2003 draft class one of the best of all time.

However, sandwiched in between those picks was Serbia and Montenegro prospect Darko Millicic, who the Detroit Pistons drafted with the No. 2 pick. Pistons coach Larry Brown flatout refused to play him, and though the Pistons won the championship in 2004, they did it with Darko sitting on the bench. The Millicic pick is one of the more infamous ones in NBA history, as the Pistons chose to select an untested foreigner instead of three future greats. However good the Pistons were could have been multiplied ten-fold had they drafted Wade -- a fact that Pistons fans would not soon forget.

Further reading:

Pirates rally in 11th, snatch victory in 12th [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

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