Today in Sports History: June 5th

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(Ewing exults after winning Game 7. Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler, Getty Images)

6/05/1977 - Blazers beat Sixers in Finals

The Portland Trail Blazers defeat the Philadelphia 76ers, 111-109, to win the NBA World Championship in six games. Blazers center Bill Walton was sensational, putting in 20 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists and eight blocks in the best performance of his career. Julius Erving led the Sixers with 40 points and eight assists, while George McGinnis added 28 but missed a shot in the closing seconds that would have tied the game.

When the buzzer sounded, 12,411 rabid fans at the Memorial Coliseum rushed the court in celebration. The Blazers' championship run, the first in their seven-year existence, captivated the city of Portland, which had gone years and years without a single professional sports team. The Blazers had been heavy underdogs and even lost the first two games of the series, but they fought back, and the "Blazermania" that erupted when they won became the most memorable part of the '77 Finals.

Portland's love affair with the Trail Blazers did not end there. From their championship season in 1977 to 1995, the Blazers sold out a record 809 consecutive games at Memorial Coliseum. Part of it had to do with the arena's tiny seating capacity, which never expanded beyond 12,888 -- but even when they moved into the newly-built Rose Garden, they continued to rank among the best attendances in the NBA.

1977 turned out to be a miracle season for the Trail Blazers, much as the 1969 campaign had been for the New York Mets. Walton had only one more healthy season before succumbing to a series of leg injuries. He spent four injury-plagued seasons with the San Diego and Los Angeles Clippers before finishing his career as bench player on the Boston Celtics. The Blazers remained competitive for a while and made the postseason each year from 1983 to 2003. However, they failed to win the championship in each of the 21 years.

6/05/1991 - Jordan hits crazy layup

In the midst of a 107-86 drudging that the Chicago Bulls were giving the L.A. Lakers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Michael Jordan provides the highlight of the season. Receiving a pass from Bulls teammate Cliff Levingston, Jordan caught the ball at the foul line and had a wide-open lane to the basket. As he took to the sky, ready to jam it down with his right hand, he saw Lakers center Sam Perkins out of the corner of his eye. Thinking that Perkins was going to try to block his shot, Jordan flipped the ball to his left hand and layed it in -- as Perkins wisely stayed out of frame. It was a phenomenal acrobatic move that was made famous by the call of NBC announcer Marv Albert: "A spec-tac-ular move by Michael Jordan!"

"It was just instinct to change hands," said Jordan, who shot 15 of 18 from the floor and made 13 straight buckets at one point. "It was just one of those creative things. Sometimes you never know what's going to happen."

In the annals of great NBA highlights, great passes, crazy three-pointers, tomahawk jams, and game-winning shots are common. Rarely have layups joined the list. Besides Jordan's mid-leap switch of the hands, there had been only one non-game-winning layup that was instantly recognizable to longtime basketball fans: Julius Erving's one-handed flip layup where he managed to dip it in from the other end of the basket.

With the win, the Bulls traveled to Los Angeles and played the next three games at the Great Western Forum. The Lakers, playing without the retired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, weren't the same team that they were in the 80's. They were still competitive, though it was clear that the younger and quicker Bulls outclassed them. Whatever shot they had at the title disappeared in Game 4, when both Byron Scott and James Worthy suffered injuries that kept them sidelined for the remainder of the series. Chicago took all three games in L.A. and won their first of six NBA titles with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

6/05/1994 - Ewing big as Knicks head to finals

The New York Knicks advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1973 and do it in exciting fashion. The Indiana Pacers led Game 7 of the conference finals with thirty seconds left, but a put-back dunk by Patrick Ewing gave the Knicks a 91-90 lead with 26.9 to go. After a badly missed shot by Reggie Miller, the aforementioned Pacers lightly shoved John Starks to the floor with 3.2 seconds left. The officials ruled Miller's foul to be a flagrant, a rather contorversial foul considering that circumstances. It was a collosal ruling that cost the Pacers a chance to potentially tie the game after a timeout; John Starks shot four free throws in 0.7 seconds and gave the Knicks a 94-90 win.

In the highlight of his professional career, Ewing stood on the scorer's table and stretched out his arms in jubilation. Ewing had the game of his life, collecting 24 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks, as well as slamming down the game-winning bucket. The following season, the Pacers and Knicks played another seven-game series and this time it ended in almost exactly the opposite way. Ewing had a point-blank shot in the closing seconds of Game 7 that could have tied the game at 95; instead of dunking it, he attempted a one-handed finger roll that hit the back of the rim and bounced off.

New York would lose the 1994 finals in seven games to the Houston Rockets. The series featured several memorable moments, although it is best known for being interrupted in the middle of Game 5, when O.J. Simpson fled from the police in a white Ford Bronco.

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(Larry Johnson's famous four-pointer. Photo by Lina Cataffo, courtesy of New York Daily News)

6/05/1999 - Johnson sinks four-point play

A four-point play is about the rarest thing you see in a basketball game. They are so rare that from 1980 to 1999, the New York Knicks only produced 16 of them. Yet in Game 3 of 1999 Eastern Conference Finals, Knicks forward Larry Johnson produced the most famous four-point play the NBA had ever seen.

Trailing the Indiana Pacers 91-88, the ball was inbounded to L.J. on the right side of the court. With Antonio Davis defending him, Johnson gave a couple head fakes, got Davis up in the air, and took a few steps to the three-point line. As Davis tried to get in front of him, the two bumped softly at the hip -- a foul was called on Antonio as Johnson threw up a three-pointer with 5.7 seconds left. His shot was good, sending the crowd at Madison Square Garden into a frenzy. As the Pacers looked on in disbelief, Johnson sunk the go-ahead free throw. New York would win 92-91, and Johnson, with a game-high 26 points, was the hero all around.

It was a tough loss for the Indiana Pacers, who had led the game from the very beginning. "Basically they outplayed us for much of the game and we kept hanging and hanging, and we got some big plays," said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. "And Larry, the first four-point play that I've ever seen decide a game. So it was an unbelievable end."

But should it have been a foul? Davis conceded, "If I did foul him, I thought I fouled him early," but questioned the continuation call. Indeed, the replays showed that as Johnson went up for the shot, Davis wasn't anywhere near him. "Phantom foul" said NBC color commentator Bill Walton after seeing the replay. "Home court advantage. That's what you get when you're playing at home," mused Steve Snapper Jones.

The Knicks would go on to win the series in six games, becoming the first No. 8 seed to advance to the NBA Finals. Johnson's four-point play, along with Allan Houston's one-handed runner to beat the Miami Heat, were the signature moments of the Knicks '99 run to the NBA Finals.

Further reading:

Great Shot! Jordan's Best Amazingly Goes One Better [Washington Post]

Knicks magical 1999 run seems so long ago [New York Post]

What happened in Game 6 [ESPN]

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