If an NBA rookie, playing out of position in an important Game 6 in the NBA Finals, scores 42 points, grabs 15 rebounds and dishes out seven assists but nobody sees it, did it really happen?
This is how low the NBA had sunk in 1980: Its national-TV contract with CBS called for tape-delayed coverage of even the championship series. That's why America missed seeing live Magic Johnson's transcendent performance that gave the Lakers a 123-107 win over the Philadelphia 76ers and the first of Magic's five championships.
The story after the game was not Magic (who was moved to center because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had sprained his ankle in Game 5) but, rather, how no one had seen what Magic had done. When David Stern took over as commissioner four years later, he pointed to this game as exactly what he didn't want to happen during his reign. And it never did.
4. The Len Bias shocker: June 19, 1986
Another NBA Draft, another Boston Celtics steal. Virtually every NBA expert evaluated Len Bias, a University of Maryland forward whom the Celtics got with the second pick, as the best talent available, the future successor to Larry Bird, the perfect player to keep Boston competitive until 2000.
But just a day after the draft, Bias, 22, returned from Boston to his Maryland campus suite in Landover and, sometime in the middle of the night, ingested cocaine that may have contributed to his sudden death by cardiac arrest. "It's the worst thing I've ever heard," said Bird, who days earlier had led the Celtics to the championship.
The impact of the tragedy was profound: A flurry of self-examination at college campuses and in pro sports leagues about the perils of drugs; an investigation into Maryland athletics that eventually led to the resignation of coach Lefty Driesell; a domino effect that tore through that '86 Draft, which produced a number of other drug victims and early washouts; and a low point for the Celtics franchise, which has not won a championship since.
5. A Magic moment, but not a magical one: Nov. 7, 1991
The rumors started early that day. Magic Johnson, slightly past his prime but still one of the best players in the game, is retiring. But why? Finally, at a nationally televised news conference, Johnson announced that he had the AIDS virus and, indeed, would be quitting. In typical Magic fashion, what he said was that he had "attained" the AIDS virus, as if it were a conquest.
And over the next few months, indeed, "conquest" became the operative word. Johnson said he had contracted the virus through heterosexual contact, of which there was no shortage -- encounters in elevators and offices, sometimes with more than one woman.
As with the Bias tragedy, there was an immediate self-examination of NBA players and casual sexual encounters. But as one NBA hound reported at the time, "Outside of a few more condoms, nothing much changed."
6. Michael lost how much? May 1993
Around the NBA it was an open secret Michael Jordan loved to gamble -- in casinos, on the golf course, in private card games. He would come in from a night of gambling in Atlantic City, take a shower, go to the arena and beat up the Knicks or the 76ers. So whose business was it what Jordan did with his personal money?
But then a heretofore unknown lawyer named Richard Esquinas came out with a book called Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction, in which he alleged that he had won $1.3 million from Jordan on the golf course. The book, coupled with the $57,000 check that Jordan had written to a guy named Slim Bouler to cover gambling losses -- any time you gamble with a "Slim," you deserve what you get -- suddenly made Jordan's alleged "addiction" a matter for national consumption.
A few months later Jordan announced his retirement from basketball -- that would be his first retirement -- and speculation began as to whether NBA commissioner David Stern had demanded he get away from the game because of his unsavory gambling associations. To this day Jordan and Stern vehemently deny it, but the accusation has never gone away and probably never will.
7. Is that my neck or are you just glad to see me? Dec. 1, 1997
The relationship between Golden State Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell and his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, was never a good one. The latter didn't appreciate the former's rather loose approach to things such as schedules and practice habits, while the former didn't appreciate the latter's intensity and attention to detail. Trouble had been brewing (Carlesimo had fined Spree for missing a flight three days earlier) when on this day the coach instructed the player to make crisper passes during a practice session. Spree warned the coach to get out of his face. Carlesimo didn't.
So Spree wrapped his hands around Carlesimo's neck for, as witnesses later recalled, at least 10 to 20 seconds. The two were pulled apart and Sprewell left practice, but 20 minutes later, not being a man to forgive and forget, he returned and threw a few punches at the coach before they were separated again. Spree's take on the incident? "I wasn't choking him that hard." Still, photos surfaced showing red rings around Carlesimo's neck.
Both of them have moved on. Sort of. Carlesimo is an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs but hasn't gotten another head-coaching opportunity. Sprewell played with the Knicks and the Timberwolves but may have talked himself out of the league a couple of years ago when, after rejecting a multimillion-dollar free-agent contract, he said, "Hey, a man has to feed his family."