February Classic Moments

"Classic Moments," the biggest sports news event of the day in the 20th century, is archived daily in this area.

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Other months:
January '00
January '99

Feb. 1
Needing 11 assists to break Magic Johnson's all-time NBA mark of 9,221, Utah Jazz guard John Stockton passes Magic before the first half is over against Denver. And, appropriately, the record-breaking assist comes via a pass to Karl Malone.

With a sellout crowd of 19,911 in the Delta Center in Salt Lake City standing and roaring in anticipation, Stockton's bounce pass to Malone comes off the floor just a bit high. But the Mailman snares it before it goes out of bounds, squares to the basket and delivers on a 17-foot baseline jumper with 6:22 left in the first half.

Asked about Malone converting, Stockton says, "He's been responsible for so many (of the assists), it does seem fitting. Like I've said all along, this isn't my record. These guys have had to make the shots, and Karl has made a zillion of them."

Stockton gets five more assists in Utah's 129-98 win, giving him 16 for the game and 9,227 for his 10½-year career. The record breaker comes in Stockton's 860th game; Magic needed 874 for his total.

In a message to Stockton via Jumbotron, a smiling Magic says, "John, from one assist man to another, you are the greatest team leader I have ever played against."

1984: Executive vice president David Stern replaces Larry O'Brien, who announced his resignation last year, as NBA commissioner. The 41-year-old Stern is the league's fourth commissioner, with Maurice Podoloff, J. Walter Kennedy and O'Brien preceding him.

Stern is an attorney who had worked on several cases involving the NBA before becoming its first general counsel. He was promoted to executive vice president in charge of legal and business affairs under O'Brien.

Stern will develop and expand NBA Properties, the league's marketing arm, and NBA Entertainment. He will establish NBA International to focus on the league's role in the worldwide growth of basketball. He will oversee the launch of the WNBA in 1997.

He also will be the NBA's key man in the lockout of the players that will delay the start of the 1998-99 season three months.
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Feb. 2
In the first voting for Baseball's Hall of Fame, a singles hitter beats out the sport's greatest slugger. Ty Cobb, who had 4,191 hits, receives 222 of 226 votes from players and writers. Babe Ruth, who bashed 714 home runs, and Honus Wagner are tied for second in the balloting, with 215 votes each.

Also elected to the Hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., are Christy Mathewson (205) and Walter Johnson (189). Among the players not getting the 75 percent of the total votes needed for election are Nap Lajoie (146), Tris Speaker (133), Cy Young (111), Rogers Hornsby (105) and Mickey Cochrane (80).

Cobb is uncharacteristically modest when told of his receiving the most votes. "I deeply appreciate the honor," says the Georgia Peach, interrupting a round of golf in San Francisco. "I am overwhelmed. I am glad they (the players and writers who elected him) feel that way about me. I want to thank them all."

Besides his hits record, Cobb also is No. 1 in games (3,034), at-bats (11,429), runs (2,245), batting championships (12) and most seasons hitting .300 (23).

With two goals against the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers center Phil Esposito joins Gordie Howe as the only NHL players to score 700 regular-season goals.

No. 699 comes late in the second period on a power play. It is the kind of goal that Esposito has all but patented. Taking a pass in the crease from Ron Greschner, the 37-year-old Espo snaps the puck past Washington goalie Wayne Stephenson. No. 700 comes early in the third period when he breaks in with a pass from Don Maloney and his wrist shot goes off Stephenson and bounces into the net.

"The one I remember best of all of those 700 goals was No. 1, against Montreal, when I was with Chicago and Bobby Hull got an assist on it," Esposito says after the Rangers' 6-1 victory in Landover, Md. "I'll never catch Gordie. He'll probably still be playing when I retire."

The 51-year-old Howe, who has 797 goals, will score four more before retiring at the end of the season. Espo will finish his 18-year career in 1981 with 717 goals.
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Feb. 3
Horse racing:
Shoe's ending isn't Hollywood. At Santa Anita Park, in the last race of his illustrious career, 58-year-old Willie Shoemaker takes a brief lead on Patchy Groundfog with about an eighth of a mile to run. But late speed comes on down the stretch, and Patchy Groundfog, a seven-year-old chestnut, fades to fourth in the $107,850 Legend's Last Ride Handicap, a farewell that brings 64,573 fans to the California track.

They cheer Shoemaker all the way back to a postrace interview tent. On the way, he gives one of the two pair of goggles that he wore in his 40,350th race to an eight-year-old boy.

The race ends a much-publicized international tour, from Malaysia to Paris, for which the 4-foot-11, 98-pound jockey has earned about $1 million, including a reported $100,000 for today's appearance.

Shoemaker retires with a record 8,833 winners, including four in the Kentucky Derby, two in the Preakness and five in the Belmont.

"No win, no place, no show, no matter," writes Los Angeles Times columnist Mike Downey. "He was still king of the sport of kings, the Greatest Shoe on Earth."
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Feb. 4
America's Cup: 1987: Four years ago, Dennis Conner was a goat, the first American skipper to lose the America's Cup in the 132-year history of the event. Today, he's riding the wave of success. The Los Angeles Times headline will proclaim: "Conner Re-Earns His Stripes as Star of America's Cup."

Led by the single-minded and determined San Diego yachtsman, Stars & Stripes sails to a one-minute-and-59-second victory over Kookaburra III of Australia in the waters off Fremantle, Australia, to complete its 4-0 sweep.

"It's a great moment for America and a great moment for the Stars & Stripes team, a great moment for the Stars & Stripes crew, and a great moment for Dennis Conner," he says. "We all appreciate that the America's Cup is the pinnacle of yachting, on a pedestal and the holy grail of yachting."

The victory boosts Conner's record to 2-1 in the America's Cup, as he also had skippered the winning boat in 1980.
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Feb. 5
At the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Dick Button enters the freestyle skating event with a commanding lead earned in the compulsory figures and a reputation as the best freestyle skater in the world. The 18-year-old from Englewood, N.J., does not disappoint the capacity crowd in the Olympic Ice Center.

He does five leaps and spins that no other skater attempted, and makes everything look easy. At times, he seems to hang poised in the air. At others, he spins with such rapidity as to be only a blur. From the most exacting maneuvers he emerges with a big smile.

Button is rewarded with sensational scores, getting no lower than a 5.5 from any judge and even receiving a perfect 6.0 from one judge (an American). In easily defeating runner-up Hans Gerschwiler of Switzerland, the world champion, Button becomes the first American figure skater to win an Olympic gold medal.

Button will successfully defend his Olympic title in 1952.

Grabbing three rebounds in the final 36 seconds, Bill Russell becomes the first player to pull down 50 in a game. The 6-foot-9.5 Boston Celtics center finishes with 51, breaking the NBA mark of 49 he set on Nov. 16, 1957.

Coach Red Auerbach is told about Russell's chance for the record and lets him play the entire 48 minutes. Russell gets 24 rebounds in the first half and 27 in the second half in the Celtics' 124-100 romp over the Syracuse Nationals before 5,518 fans in Boston. He also scores 23 points, making 8-of-16 field-goal attempts, and has five assists.

Russell's rebounding record will last 9 and-a-half months. Arch-rival Wilt Chamberlain of Philadelphia will grab 55 against Russell and the Celtics on November 24.
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Feb. 6
Arthur Ashe, the first African-American to win the U.S. Open (1968), Australian Open (1970) and Wimbledon (1975), dies of pneumonia, a complication of AIDS, at New York Hospital in Manhattan.

Ashe, who said he believed he contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, through a transfusion of tainted blood during heart bypass surgery in 1983, first learned of his infection after undergoing emergency brain surgery in 1988. Ashe didn't reveal his illness to the public until April 1992, when he learned that news articles were being prepared about his condition.

A serious and thoughtful man, he was among the first African-American athletes to urge other blacks in sports to use their success to promote civil rights at home and abroad. After retiring from tennis, he spent the rest of his life as a scholar and activist, using his fame in sports as a platform to address inequities in society.

"He was one of the best men of his generation," said Magic Johnson, also infected with the virus that causes AIDS, "and his loss is a loss for all of us."

Arthur Ashe was 49.
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Feb. 7
Track and field:
Cornelius Warmerdam is the first man to pole vault 15 feet outdoors. Tonight he becomes the first to reach that height indoors. And the California school teacher accomplishes this feat without his favorite bamboo pole, which was delayed in transit from the West Coast.

Competing with a borrowed pole that is shorter than the one he's accustomed to using, Warmerdam is a paragon of grace and agility as he soars steadily upward at the 35th annual Millrose Games. The lithe 185-pounder doesn't miss a jump until after clearing the milestone.

At 14 feet, 8 and one-quarter inches, Warmerdam breaks the world indoor record. Then, racing down the 140-foot runway in Madison Square Garden, the man who has jumped 15 feet a dozen times outdoors does it for the first time indoors with a vault of 15 feet, three-eighths of an inch. The capacity crowd of 16,000 roars its approval.

Warmerdam keeps on going, but he fails three times to clear 15-4.
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Feb. 8
After finishing with the worst record in the nine-team National Football League last season at 2-9, the Philadelphia Eagles have the first choice in today's inaugural NFL draft. They use it to select University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger, who had won the first Downtown Athletic Trophy as the best college player east of the Mississippi in 1935. (The name of the award will be changed to the Heisman Trophy in 1936.)

The Chicago Bears will acquire Berwanger's rights and owner-coach George Halas meets with the player in the lobby of a Chicago hotel. When Halas asks how much Berwanger wants, he says $25,000 for two years, no cut. (The highest paid player in 1935 was Bronko Nagurski, who reportedly received $7,000.) Halas turns to Berwanger's date and says, "Nice to meet you," and then says to Berwanger, "We'll see you around, Jay."

Berwanger will never play pro football. During World War II, he will serve as a Navy aviator. After the war, he will launch a business career that will make him a millionaire. From 1941 to 1955, he also will referee Big Ten games.

Offering no explanation, former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell shuns the Basketball Hall of Fame, saying he will refuse induction. In his first year of eligibility, the five-time NBA MVP is voted into the Hall today.

"For my own personal reasons, which I don't want to discuss, I don't want to be a part of it," says Russell, the Seattle Sonics coach. "I'm not going."

Speculation is that Russell's decision has racial undertones since there are no other African-American players from the NBA in the Hall.

"If that's so, then he (Russell) is wrong," says Lee Williams, executive director of the Hall. "We have the original Rens in our honors court. They were elected in 1961 and consist of seven black players. Also, Robert Douglas, owner and manager of the Rens, is in the Hall of Fame."
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Feb. 9
: Attempting to provide hitters with help, Major League Baseball outlaws the spitball and all other "freak deliveries" that involve defacing or applying a foreign substance to the ball. This includes resin, talcum powder, paraffin, and the shine and emery ball. A pitcher caught cheating will be ejected and suspended 10 days.

The owners, though, provide an exception: A grandfather clause will allow a handful of spitball artists to continue using the tactic for the 1920 season. After this year, all "freak" pitches will be banned without exception.

Baseball also adopts writer Fred Lieb's proposal that a game-winning homer with men on base be counted as a homer even if its run is not needed to win the game. Two other changes: The intentional walk is banned and everything that happens in a protested game will go in the records.

: Three months after announcing his retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers because he had tested HIV positive, Magic Johnson returns to play in the All-Star Game. Voted a starter by the fans despite not playing a game, Magic puts on a clinic in Orlando.

In 29 minutes, he has game-highs of 25 points (shooting 9-of-14 from the field, including 3-for-3 from three-point range) and nine assists. He wins the MVP award as the West whips the East, 153-113.

"It's like I'm in a dream right now, and I don't ever want to wake up," Johnson says. "Because for one day, I got the NBA back in me, for one day. And it was great.

"This was like the perfect ending to the story. I've been trying to write this story all week, and (the game) was like I was at my typewriter, and I said, 'Here's my ending.' Period."
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