Welcome back to Fixture Calendar’s series looking at some of the most memorable moments in sporting history. In this article, we put basketball under the spotlight. From monumental individual performances to team dominance and game-defining decisions, here are some of the moments that helped weave basketball’s history.
Michael Jordan’s final shot as a Bull, Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals
With 18 seconds remaining in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone and drove down the court. Jordan’s Bulls were down by one as they tried to close out the series. MJ had carried the team on his back for the game, outshooting the rest of the Bulls combined, but he had been inconsistent, and was only shooting 14-for-34 on the night. At the three-point line he encountered small forward Bryon Russell, who had been irritating him all game so, with the signature Superman swagger, Jordan cooked Russell and put up a lazy jumper from 17ft to put the Bulls up by one with five seconds to go. The game-winning shot would be the last of Jordan’s 13-season career in Chicago, as he announced his retirement in the offseason but it sealed the Bulls’ 6th title and second three-peat of the 90s, marking the pinnacle of a true dynasty. Jordan’s grace in the moment and what that shot truly meant, make this a defining moment in NBA history.
Teresa Weatherspoon makes ‘The Shot’, Game 2 of the 1999 WNBA Finals
In 1999, the WNBA was still in its infancy. The league had been founded in 1996 and, since its inception, had been dominated by the Houston Comets. Behind a big three of Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, and Cynthia Cooper, the team had cruised to win the league title in 1997 and 1998 and they looked all set to do the same in 1999 as they took a 67-65 lead into the final seconds of Game 2 of that year’s Finals. Enter the New York Liberty’s Teresa Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon had been part of NY Liberty in 1997 when they lost the inaugural WNBA Finals to the Comets, and she was not going to let that happen again. Weatherspoon took an inbound pass from Kym Hampton and charged down the court. Holding off Tina Thompson, she tossed up a shot from half-court and watched in disbelief as the shot beautifully went in as the buzzer sounded, taking the series to a decisive Game 3. The Comets would go on to win the series, but Weatherspoon’s iconic shot has gone down as one of the biggest moments in the WNBA.
The Fab Five and Chris Webber’s illegal timeout, 1993 NCAA Division I Basketball Championship
The University of Michigan introduced one of the greatest recruiting classes in 1991. Joining the Wolverines were Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson, four of whom would go on to play in the NBA and four of whom would be named All-Americans, a single recruiting class record at the time. The team made two consecutive NCAA Championship games and lost both but one of the most memorable moments came in the second Championship game, in 1993 against North Carolina. With twenty seconds left in the game, Michigan were down 73-71 and Webber was fighting his way up the floor, pushing against an aggressive North Carolina double team. With eleven seconds remaining, Webber found himself trapped in the corner, so he called a timeout but the problem was that Michigan had no timeouts remaining. It’s unclear what was going through Webber’s head and he’s never spoken about that moment to the media but the move earned him a technical foul and the pair of resulting free throws put the Tar Heels up by four and they went on to win the game 77-71. ‘The Timeout’ and the legend of the Fab Five remain outstanding features of Webber’s legacy and NBA history.
LeBron versus the Celtics, Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals
The 2012 Eastern Conference Finals saw the first seed Miami Heat trying to hold off the seventh seed underdog Boston Celtics. As the teams met at TD Garden for Game 6, the Celtics were looking to clinch the series after winning the last three games. It would be a pivotal moment for LeBron, who was under intense scrutiny. The Celtics had ended his final playoff run with the Cavaliers in 2010 and he had underperformed in the 2011 Finals loss to the Mavericks. So, with the world watching, LeBron showed why he had earned the title of The King shooting 19-for-26, and finishing with 45 points and 15 rebounds in a series-tying 98-79 win. LeBron more than doubled the points total of Rajon Rondo, Boston’s top scorer and he outscored Boston’s other four starters combined. The game silenced LeBron’s critics as he demonstrated he truly was an undisputed talent and his performance sparked a wave of dominance that would lead to back-to-back championships for the Heat. LeBron’s Game 6 will go down as one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history and one that can be watched again and again.
The Boston Celtics win 8 consecutive titles, 1959-1966
Red Auerbach is one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, and perhaps the crowning achievements in his storied 56-year career in Boston was the eight consecutive championships he coached the team to in the late 50s and early 60s. Auerbach was the pioneer of the fast-break offence, building tough aggressive defences and speed-oriented offences. During their dynasty, this approach was built around Hall of Famers such as Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones. The dynasty began with a 4-0 sweep of the Minneapolis Lakers in 1959 and ended with a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, who had relocated from Minneapolis six years before, in 1966. There simply wasn’t a team that could overcome the Celtics. During their dominance, they recorded 461 regular season wins, including a 62-win season in 1964-65 and no team has since matched Boston’s championship streak. Such a feat would take a Herculean effort in the modern, hyper-competitive NBA leaving Red’s Celtics to stand alone with one of the greatest feats in basketball history.
Pop and Tim win their fifth title, 2014
There are few player-coach duos in the NBA more iconic than Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. Popovich took the head coach position at the San Antonio Spurs in 1996 and Duncan was drafted out of Wake Forest during the 1997 draft. Their first title together came in the 1998-99 season. Jump ahead 15 years to 2014. Duncan was 38, a two-time MVP and 14-time all-star. Popovich was 65 and still coaching the Spurs, who had never missed the playoffs under him. The Spurs had lost the 2013 Finals to LeBron’s Miami Heat and were eager to bounce back to avenge the loss. At the end of the regular season, they were the top seed in the West with a 62-20 record. Duncan finished as the team leader in rebounds and blocks per game, and second in points per game. The Spurs survived a scare in the first round of the playoffs, holding the eighth seed Mavericks off. They proceeded to power through the Trail Blazers and Thunder to set up a Finals rematch with the Heat. This time, they came out on top, beating them 4-1. Popovich became the fifth coach in history to win five titles and Duncan proved that he was still a dominant force in the league. Two legends of the game winning their fifth title together is a moment few will forget.
Warriors go 16-1 in the playoffs, 2017 NBA playoffs
The Golden State Warriors looked unstoppable coming into the 2017 playoffs. They had gone 67-15 in the regular season where Steph Curry had set a new record for single-game three-pointers (13), and four players made the All-Star Game. Free agent signing Kevin Durant proved his worth alongside established stars like Steph and Klay Thompson but the pinnacle of their season came in the playoffs. They went 15-0 to open the playoffs, sweeping the Trail Blazers, Jazz, and Thunder before taking a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals against the Cavaliers. They never scored less than 100 points in the 15 matches and were held to less than 110 only twice. Their chance for a perfect postseason ended in Game 4 of the Finals, as they fell 137-116 to the Cavaliers but that would be their only loss as they took the title in Game 5. 16-1 in the playoffs is an unbelievable feat, and a run with enough highlights to fill an article of its own. It was a truly iconic moment in NBA history.
Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, March 2nd, 1962
NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain set the single-game scoring record in 1962. On March 2nd, Chamberlain’s 46-29 Philadelphia Warriors played host to the 27-45 New York Knicks. By the end of the first quarter, the Warriors led 42-26 and Chamberlain had 23 points. He had also gone nine-of-nine from the free throw line, quite the feat given that Chamberlain was historically a poor free throw shooter. By halftime, Chamberlain was sitting on 41 points and 13 free throws. He had in mind the single-game free throw record, which stood at 24. However, his teammates were eyeing his total points. In the locker room, Guy Rogers spoke to coach Fred McGuire, “Let’s get Dip [Chamberlain] the ball. Let’s see how many he can get.” As he began to rack up points, the Knicks almost exclusively focused on him, often triple or quadruple teaming him. By the end of the third period, he had 69 points and despite the Knicks ramping up their aggressive defence against him, Chamberlain posted his best quarter of the game in the fourth, scoring 31, for a total of 100 points in the game. Potentially an unbreakable record, the 100-point game is truly a shining moment in basketball history.
Villanova Wildcats win the NCAA Championship as an 8th seed, 1985
March Madness, or the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, often brings magical moments. After a disappointing 1984-85 regular season, the Villanova Wildcats entered the 1985 Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament as the 8th seed in the Southeast bracket. After a tight win over 9th seed Dayton, they stunned 1st seed Michigan in the second round. In the Semi-finals, they met Maryland and beat the Terrapins in a tight 46-43 victory which set up a regional Final against 2nd seed North Carolina, who they dominated 55-44. In the Final Four, they met Memphis State, the second seed from the Midwest. A 52-45 victory put the Wildcats into the title game for the first time since 1971. There they met Georgetown, led by the legendary Patrick Ewing. The Wildcats were able to hold a slim lead in the final seconds of the game to become the lowest seeded team to win the NCAA championship in an enduring moment for college basketball.
The Dream Team, 1992 Summer Olympics Men’s Basketball Tournament
In 1986, the IOC ruled that professional athletes could participate in the Olympics. Six years later, the United States sent one of the most dominant squads in Olympic history to Barcelona to contest the Men’s’ Basketball Tournament. The 12-man roster was comprised of ten active NBA players (including legends like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, and Karl Malone), the recently retired Magic Johnson, and college phenom Christian Laettner (who would go 3rd overall in the 1992 draft). Beginning with the Tournament of the Americas qualifying event, the team went on a 14-game winning streak to the Olympic gold, scoring 1665 points and beating their various opponents by an average of 47 points. Their closest match was for the gold medal, where they beat Croatia 117-85, whilst in their opening match of the Olympics they beat Angola by 68. The team was elected to the basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 and 11 of the 12 players are also Hall of Famers. The performance of the Dream Team is something every basketball fan needs to watch for themselves.
There are many, many more moments like these that deserve an honourable mention. By its nature, basketball is full of individual moments of greatness. Kobe scoring 81 against the Raptors in 2006, Magic Johnson’s graceful hook shot to clinch Game 4 of the 1987 Finals against his recurring rival Celtics, Steph Curry hit 12 threes in a game to tie the record in 2016 before breaking the record with 13 a few months later, Jerry West (the man on the NBA logo) sending a Finals game to overtime in 1970 with a 60-foot miracle shot – and many more. However, there are also moments that go beyond a single player such as the heated Pistons-Pacers rivalry boiling over in 2004 in the Malice at the Palace brawl that irrevocably altered the season for both teams. Basketball is truly a game of moments. An iconic moment could take place across the globe at any time. Keep on top of all Basketball fixtures with the Fixture Calendar.
Written in December 2019
Photos by NBA