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2000s: The Decade in Sports
Posted: Tuesday December 15, 2009 11:04AM; Updated: Tuesday December 15, 2009 11:04AM

NBA: 10 signature moments

Story Highlights

The Palace brawl and the Tim Donaghy betting scandal rocked the NBA

Shaq and Kobe supplied their share of drama -- both on and off the court

Robert Horry made two of the most memorable game-winners of the decade

By Jack McCallum, SI.com

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This Ron Artest foul on Ben Wallace set the stage for the ugliest night in NBA history.
Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

1. Malice at the Palace. What seemed like a typical early-season game between the Indiana Pacers and the host Detroit Pistons on Nov. 19, 2004, turned into the ugliest night in the history of the NBA. After the Pacers' Ron Artest stretched out on the scorer's table following a shoving match with the Pistons' Ben Wallace (who was upset with a hard foul from Artest), a fan threw a cup of beer on him, precipitating a brawl that spilled into the stands. Commissioner David Stern acted in accordance with his name and handed out a rash of suspensions, including a full season for Artest. The brawl paved the way for many fruitful discussions about NBA arena security, and many overblown discussions about the level of violence in the NBA.

2. The world learns the name "Tim Donaghy." In July 2007, word came that the FBI was investigating allegations that an NBA referee bet on games he officiated and might have made calls to affect the point spread. It turned out to be veteran official Donaghy, who promptly resigned before Stern rode him out on a rail. The idea that NBA refs favor certain players and teams had been around for so long that it seemed the sports world was just waiting for this to happen, but it was shocking when it actually seemed to have basis in fact. The whole mess has still not been put to rest because Donaghy continues to hurl accusations, not about other zebras betting on games necessarily, but about officiating favoritism.

3. Kobe turns himself in. The Lakers in July 2003 had just trotted out two new free-agent additions, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, who were primed to bring the title back to Los Angeles, when news broke that the team's superstar guard had turned himself in to authorities in Colorado. An arrest warrant had been issued for a sexual assault that allegedly occurred at a Colorado resort where Bryant was staying while he recuperated from knee surgery. Criminal charges were eventually dismissed, but a season of discontent, during which Bryant flew back and forth to Colorado for legal dates, eventually led to the breakup of the Kobe-Shaq-Phil Jackson Lakers.

4. Shaq goes South Beach. The Big Migrant has changed jerseys twice since this moment, in July 2004. But it was a huge, huge story when the Lakers -- responding to the disappointing five-game Finals loss to the Pistons -- traded O'Neal to Miami. Not since the Lakers' acquisition of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1975 had a big man of O'Neal's stature (as a player) been traded. The Lakers' breakup only got juicier when Shaq and Kobe began trading cross-continental insults. Say what you will about O'Neal never being the player he was in L.A., but the Heat got what they wanted with Shaq in the middle -- an NBA title, in 2006.

5. Michael says goodbye. It's not how Michael Jordan would've scripted it, but the 2002-03 schedule brought his mediocre Washington Wizards to play the mediocre Philadelphia 76ers in the final game of what (almost) everyone figured would be His Airness' final comeback. With the 76ers comfortably ahead and the game clock winding down, the 76ers' Eric Snow purposely fouled Jordan in the backcourt. He made both free throws and exited to a protracted standing ovation seconds later. He had 15 points, four rebounds and four assists in just 28 minutes of a 107-87 loss. Hey, the guy could still play. But it was over.

6. Robert Horry I. It didn't seem like a bad play by Vlade Divac, one of the cagiest players in the NBA. With time running out and his Sacramento Kings leading by two points in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, Divac knocked a missed shot by Shaq toward midcourt. Game ove ... well, not so fast. The ball went right to the Lakers' Horry, already a storied clutch shooter. He let fly immediately, and the ball went in to give L.A. a 100-99 victory and tie the series at 2-2. Yes, the Lakers still had to win two more games in the series, which they did in Games 6 and 7, but this was really the shot that paved the way for the completion of their dawn-of-the-century three-peat.

7. Redeem team gets redemption. As showdowns go, it wasn't exactly spine-tingling stuff. But anyone familiar with the vicissitudes of international hoops knew that Spain was eminently capable of beating the United States in the gold-medal game of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. So much was on the line considering the fact that the U.S. had succeeded in putting a team on the floor that truly represented the best the NBA had to offer, the first time that had happened since Barcelona in 1992. The poised and cohesive Spaniards did keep the game close, and even cut their deficit to two points in the fourth period, but heroics by Kobe and Dwyane Wade led the U.S. to a 118-107 win and produced a giant sigh of relief among the American basketball community.

8. Kobe goes for 81. His Lakers were trailing by 18 points early in the third period at home to the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, and Bryant had had enough. "He was ticked off," teammate Lamar Odom said. Bad things often happen to opponents (and sometimes teammates) when Kobe gets ticked off. From the point that the Raptors led 71-53 in the third, Bryant scored 51 points. His total of 81 (in what turned out to be a 122-104 Lakers win) was the second-highest single-game output in history, behind only Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962. It predictably produced a debate about whether it was a great performance or an epic display of ball hogging. Trust me: You get 81 in an NBA game, it's a great performance.

9. Robert Horry II. OK, now Big Shot Bob is wearing the uniform of the San Antonio Spurs. It's Game 5 of the 2005 Finals at the Palace against a Detroit team trying to go back-to-back, and the Pistons lead by two in overtime. "Don't leave Horry, whatever you do," Detroit coach Larry Brown tells his team (or words to that effect) in a timeout huddle. But after Horry found Manu Ginobili with an inbound pass in the corner, the Pistons did indeed rotate away from Horry. Ginobili tossed it back, Horry tossed up an unerring three, and the Spurs' 96-95 win gave them a 3-2 lead in the series going back to San Antonio, where they eventually won in seven.

10. Allen Iverson discusses his love of those quiet moments in the gym when no one is around and it's just you and the team and you're working on those little things that ... What turned out to be the most famous rant in NBA history began as a discussion about the relationship between player (the 76ers' Iverson) and coach (Larry Brown) after Philadelphia was eliminated from the 2002 playoffs. It actually started calmly with Iverson saying that he respected Brown and how Iverson is the "pit bull in his yard" that will protect his coach. But when the subject turned to Brown's complaints that Iverson's practice habits weren't up to snuff, A.I. went off on his belief that practice was overrated. He used the phrase "we're talking about practice" 13 times and it eventually became one of the most comedic -- and You-Tube-ed -- performances in press-conference history. We should not forget, however, the let's-all-come-together sentiment with which Iverson ended the session: "Now y'all come home and live your lovely life, live it up and live your life to the fullest."

2000s: The Decade in the NBA
ARTICLES GALLERIES
Thomsen: Highlights and lowlights
Thomsen: All-Decade team
McCallum: 10 signature moments
Montieth: Trades, free agency and draft
Anderson: WNBA starting five
POLL: Share your thoughts on the decade in the NBA
 

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