Today in Sports History: June 7th

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(Danny Ainge signing with Boston. Photo courtesy of AP Photos)

6/07/1977 - Ainge signs with Blue Jays

Years before he joined the Boston Celtics, where he won two NBA titles in seven-and-a-half seasons, Danny Ainge signs with the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball. Ainge spent three seasons with the Canadian ball team, amassing a less-than-spectacular .220 career batting average. Towards the end of his time in Toronto, he impressed several NBA scouts by leading BYU to the sweet sixteen in the NCAA basketball tournament (though he played for the Jays, he had not lost his amateur status). He was so impressive on the basketball court that many began to question if he was playing in the wrong sport.

"I have no regrets about choosing baseball over basketball," he said in April 1981. "I really think I can have a longer career in baseball. I have no desire to play in the NBA. I don't think my knees could stand the severe beating. I have no regrets concerning my decision at all."

Just two months later, the Boston Celtics selected him with the 31st pick in the NBA Draft -- a draft that also saw Tony Gwynn get picked in the final round by the Clippers. Presented with an opportunity to play with Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and the defending champion Boston Celtics, Ainge changed his mind relatively quickly.

"I'm thinking about this 24 hours a day and it's making me crazy," Ainge said in September. "I've never quite anything in my life before. But the advice of everybody, from people I hardly know to those closest to me, my family and my teammates, has been the same. Play basketball. In life you change your mind sometimes and you've got to do what makes you happy. That's perfectly sound advice. I realize now I made the mistake. I signed the contract too sign."

Ainge made it clear that he wanted to give the NBA a shot. But the Blue Jays still had Ainge under contract, and though he hadn't performed well with them, they believed he was going to be a star one day. A legal battle ensued, where both the Celtics and Blue Jays claimed they had the right to keep him. Ultimately, a jury ruled that while his contract prevented him from playing baseball anywhere else, it did not prohibit him from playing in another sports league. Ainge was allowed to sign with the Celtics, which he did that November.

In the NBA, Ainge 11.5 points per game in a 14-year career. He never achieved superstar status, but he was more than suitable with the Boston Celtics and was one of the best three-point shooters in the 1980's. He later played for the Sacramento Kings, Portland Blazers, and Phoenix Suns.

6/07/1993 - Petrovic dies in car accident

Just days before the start of the NBA Finals, Nets shooting guard Drazen Petrovic dies in a car accident on a rain-slicked autobahn in Germany. Petrovic was just 28 years old, and was coming off the best season of his career. After one-and-half years of sparse playing time in Portland, Petrovic had become the leading scorer of the New Jersey Nets, averaging 22.3 points per game in 1993.

The news of Petrovic's death sent shock waves throughout the world. The Croatian-born athlete was an immensely popular player and was considered one of the best shooters in the league. He was the first foreign player to break through and become a star in the NBA, setting the stage for future foreign greats such as Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, and Pau Gasol. And in dying before his time, Petrovic attained an iconic status among basketball aficionados.

"Drazen Petrovic was an extraordinary young man, and a true pioneer in the global sports of basketball," said commissioner David Stern. "I know that a lasting part of his athletic legacy will be that he paved the way for other international players to compete successfully in the NBA. His contributions to the sport of basketball were enormous. We are all proud of the fact we knew him."

"To me, it's like losing a son," said Nets general manager Willis Reed, who broke down to tears. "He left no stones unturned trying to make himself the best player he could be. We don't have enough players in this game that care that much about it."

The next year, the Nets won 45 games before losing in the first round to the New York Knicks. Nets coach Chuck Daly had considered resigning after the 1993 season, but felt entitled to coach the team through its healing process. When Daly left the following years, the Nets posted three consecutive 50-loss seasons in a row. In 2002, Petrovic was posthumously enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

6/07/1995 - Rockets steal Game 1 against Magic

The Houston Rockets come away with a thrilling victory in the first game of the NBA Finals. Two Rockets players stepped up in the clutch when they had to, but it was the player who failed down the stretch that got all the press.

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

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(Michael Jordan applauds his team's record win. Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler, Getty Images)

6/07/1998 - Bulls stomp Jazz in Game 3

Five of the six games in the 1998 NBA Finals were nail-biters. The lone uncompetitive game was a blowout -- a historically large blowout.

The Chicago Bulls destroyed the Utah Jazz, 96-54, in Game 3, breaking a series tie and giving themselves a 2-1 advantage. Utah's 54 points was the lowest scoring output since the implementation of the shot clock; their 42-point loss was the largest in finals history; they also set records for fewest field goals in a game (21) and points in a half (23); and they had as many turnovers (26) as they did assists, steals, and blocks combined.

All in all, it was a shocking result, especially from a pair of teams that had played each other so tightly of late.

"We didn't put up much of a fight," said Utah coach Jerry Sloan. "I'm very disappointed about that. I'm somewhat embarrassed for NBA basketball for the guys to come out and play at this level, with no more fight left in them than what they had. They got all the loose balls, all the offensive rebounds, and we turned the ball over."

"We don't have any excuses at all," said Karl Malone, who scored 22 of his team's points. "We just got beat."

The Bulls and Jazz split the remaining two games in Chicago, moving the series back to Utah. As all NBA fans are aware (or at least I hope so), the Bulls won Game 6 and the series on a Michael Jordan game-winning shot over Bryon Russell. In 1999, the Bulls -- ironically -- surpassed the Jazz's ineptitude by scoring 49 points in a game against the Miami Heat, breaking the record for fewest points in a game. That team had just lost Michael Jordan to retirement and was seriously paying the price for it.

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