Today in Sports History: June 6th

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(McHale took down Rambis on this day in 1984. Photo courtesy of AP)

6/06/1946 - The NBA is born

At the Hotel Commodore in New York City -- two years to the day of the invasion of Normandy -- a group of owners officially birth what would later be known as the National Basketball Association. Known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA), the league officially changed its name to the NBA when they merged with the National Basketball League in 1949.

The league launched with a 60-game schedule and 11 teams -- three of which managed to stick around into the 21st century. The Philadelphia Warriors (later the Golden State Warriors), the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks are the last remaining teams from the BAA era. The defunct teams include the Washington Capitols (coached by Red Auerbach), the Providence Steamrollers, the Toronto Huskies, the Chicago Stags, the Pittsburgh Ironmen, the St. Louis Bombers, the Cleveland Rebels, and the Detroit Falcons.

6/06/1984 - McHale takes down Rambis

With seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, the L.A. Lakers led the Boston Celtics 76-70 at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. It was Game 4 of the NBA Finals, and L.A. had a lead in both the game and the series; it appeared that the showtime Lakers were well on their way to winning the title.

But at the moment, something happened that changed the course of the series. In one of the most famous hard fouls in NBA history, Celtics forward Kevin McHale stuck out his left hand and clotheslined the bespectacled Kurt Rambis, who was going up to attempt a shot. Rambis fell hard to the floor and was rearing for a fight when he stood up, but Lakers forward James Worthy shoved him to the ground and prevented a melee from ensuing. "I'm sure that cooled me down and kept me from throwing a punch," Rambis said in 2008. "Because that's where I was going."

It was a zeitgeist moment of the NBA in the 1980's. McHale did not receive anything for sending Rambis to the ground -- not an ejection, not a technical, not a fine, not a suspension. Had that same play occurred 24 years later, when the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals for the first time in 21 years, McHale would have gotten all of that.

The shove was also significant for, in most people's minds, energizing the Celtics and turning the series completely around. The Celtics went on a run and forced the game to overtime, where they prevailed, 129-125, and evened the series at 2-2. Boston would win the series in seven games.

"Before that play, the Lakers were like little kids just running across the street without looking," Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell told the Boston Globe in 2000. "But after that play, they would stop, press the walk button, wait for the light to turn, then look both ways."

For the Lakers, much of the blame went to superstar Magic Johnson, who committed two crucial errors in the closing minutes by missing a pair of free throws and losing the ball to Robert Parish. Celtics fans would taunt him for years by calling him "Tragic Johnson," but M.J. got his revenge in 1987, when he beat the C's on a game-winning hook shot.

25 years later, Rambis was still upset over McHale's hard foul. "There are things that you are not supposed to do," he had said. "In the heat of the moment, those things do happen anyway, sometimes. You get your competitive fires going. ... But you are not supposed to do, for instance, what Kevin McHale did to me when I was in the air. You are supposed to make a play on the ball."

Ironically, Rambis got a bit of payback that summer. He was awarded the head coaching position of the Minnesota Timberwolves, replacing none other than Kevin McHale.

 

6/06/2000 - The Rally Monkey debuts

The Anaheim Angels were trailing the San Francisco Giants 5-4 in the ninth inning when history was made. Before the Angels went to bat, the scoreboard operators played a clip from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective on the big screen. The clip showed a monkey jumping up and down, and the operators -- Dean Fraulino and Jaysen Humes -- superimposed the words "RALLY MONKEY!" over it.

The Angels scored two runs and won the game. The monkey charm had worked, and the clip was so popular that the Angels hired a white-face Capuchin monkey, which had appeared in an episode of Friends, to be in original clips. The monkey became the unofficial mascot of the Angels, and much like the octopus with the Detroit Red Wings, plush monkeys could be purchased at Angels games. Two years later, the Angels won the World Series after being down in the series three games to two (against the Giants no less).

6/06/2001 - Iverson steps over Lue

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Philadelphia 76ers shock the Los Angeles Lakers with a 107-101 victory in overtime. The reigning-champion Lakers had won all eleven of their postseason games and certainly weren't expected to lose on their home court. But Allen Iverson, the MVP of the league, single-handedly gave the 76ers the victory.

Midway through the third quarter, the Sixers were sitting pretty with 72-58 lead. Iverson had scored 38 points and was embarrassing the Lakers defenders. That was when Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson took out Derek Fisher and subbed in Tyronn Lue, the team's fourth-string point guard who was almost kept of the postseason roster. He had played in only 61 games in his three-year career -- 38 in 2000-01 -- and averaged just 3.4 points and 1.2 assists in the regular season.

It was a brilliant decision. Unlike the other point guards on the team -- Fisher, Brian Shaw, and Ron Harper -- who were big and slow, Lue was just six feet tall and was quick enough to stay in front of the 76ers superstar. Lue played in the final 22 minutes of the game and did a phenomenal job at denying Iverson the ball. He held A.I. to just a single bucket over a 17-minute stretch and collected five steals while making two of three shot attempts. The Lakers outscored the Sixers 36-22 after Lue checked in and forced the game to overtime.

The Lakers held 99-94 lead halfway through the extra session when Iverson was finally able to find some space. After a pair of free throws, Iverson hit a wide-open three to give the Sixers a 101-99 lead. Then on the Sixers' next possession, Iverson had the ball on the right side of the court with Lue all over him. Using his signature crossover to perfection, Iverson faked a drive to the baseline and stepped back for an open jump shot. As the ball went through the net, Lue accidently backpedaled into Iverson and stumbled to the ground. Iverson then stepped over Lue as he walked down the other end of the court.

It was a classic game all the way around. Allen finished with 48 points on 18-41 shooting and took 49% of his team's shot attempts. Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers with a monster game: 44 points, 20 rebounds, five assists. It was only the second time in finals history that opposing players scored 40 in the same game.

Though the Sixers' upset was memorable, it was a one-shot event. The Lakers won the next four games and claimed their second of three consecutive championships. Lue would get an offseason contract from the Washington Wizards and went from a bench warmer to a league veteran. The Sixers, who lacked a legitimate No. 2 scorer, were never able to get back to the Finals with Iverson and were forced to trade him in 2006.

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