By The Beacon Staff
January 20th has proven to be an action-packed day in sports history and should be appreciated for that, regardless if you are a casual sports fan or hardcore sports trivia buff.
Let’s start with sports that are in season: basketball. In 1968, UCLA’s 47-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of the Houston Cougars. First off, that game would never have happened if it wasn’t for the Canadian physical education professor and instructor Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game in December of 1891 while teaching at the International Young Men’s Christian Association Training School (YMCA). The school is now known as Springfield College, and is located – interestingly enough – in the same town that the Basketball Hall of Fame is located in: Springfield, Massachusetts.
A little more than a year later on January 20, 1892, the first official basketball game took place. There were two nine-man teams. A soccer ball was used and peach baskets were nailed 10 feet above the floor on the balcony. The game ended at 1–0; the winning shot was made from 25 feet (7.6 m), on a court just half the size of a present-day court.
Fast-forward 75 years later and in 1967, Wilt Chamberlain set an NBA record by making all 15 of his field goal attempts. He bettered the mark a month and four days later, making all 18 attempts. Not to be outshined, in 1995 Karl Malone, aka “the Mailman,” broke onto the 20,000 career point plateau. He also was the game high scorer, draining 28 against a Lebron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers (Lebron was only 11 at the time). Five years later Karl logs his 43,000 minutes played in a game against the Vancouver Grizzlies, now known as the Memphis Grizzlies. Karl became the 8th player to hit this elite plateau.
Back to Houston ending UCLA’s winning streak. All-American Elvin Hayes led the Houston Cougars in what was tagged (months before game time), the “Game Of The Century.” The game was played in the Astrodome and was the first regular season basketball game to be televised nationally. It’s probably safe to say that this game opened the financial floodgates and marketing magic for Division 1 basketball and the NCAA’s post-season tournament, March Madness.
On the court, the talent that was found there was state of the art for the day: Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Google him and you’ll find a treasure chest of lifetime achievements that will boggle the mind); Elvin Hayes, who was the number one draft choice of the San Diego Rockets; and Don Chaney, who was drafted by the Boston Celtics as the 12th pick in the first round. Chaney is the only Celtic to have played with both Bill Russell and Larry Bird.
The “Player of the Game” award had to go to Elvin Hayes, as he scored the winning points on two free throws after being fouled by UCLA reserve Jim Nielsen. Standing a towering 6’9”, but not as towering as Lew Alcindor who stood at 7’2”, Elvin managed to block 3 of Lew Alcindor’s shots while posting a modest 10pts and grabbing 5 rebounds.
In a losing cause Lew Alcindor drained 19pts, sharing game high scorer with teammates Lucius Allen and Mike Lynn. Some suggest that because of a scratched cornea he suffered in a game previous to the Houston game, one that caused him to sit two games prior to the Houston game, Lew Alcindor was not as effective as he could have been. That argument might be a bit thin considering that he also grabbed 18 rebounds and shot 5 for 6 from the line.
Regardless of the behind-the-scenes intrigue, the story behind the story, UCLA would face Houston in the semi-final game of the 1968 NCAA championship, walking away with a 101- 69. UCLA would win the title against the University of North Carolina 78-55, as Houston would lose to Ohio State in the consolation game.
From the dark side on this date in other sports: Roger Clemens was arrested for assaulting a police officer in a nightclub in 1991, where else but in Houston. In 1974 Essex Community College defeated – or rather, utterly dismantled – Englewood Cliffs 210-67; President Jimmy Carter announced the American boycott of the Olympics in Moscow in 1980; and in 1984 Johnny Weissmuller, a US swimmer, died at the age of 79. Mr. Weissmuller won 5 gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics.
In football – well, if you are a New York Giants fan then you might remember: Lawrence Tyne’s game-winning field goal against the Packers in 2008, or Matt Barr’s game-winning field goal in 1991 with no time left on the clock against the San Francisco 49ers, who were the defending Super Bowl champions.