Michael Jordan didn't exactly go on top, winning the championship in his final game like Bill Russell or homering in his final at-bat like Ted Williams. Here is how our favorite sports legends fared in their final games:
Babe Ruth (May 30, 1935)
The Babe, playing for the Boston Braves, went out with a whimper,
going 0-for-1 against the Phillies at Baker Bowl. He played only the first
inning of that day's doubleheader. Three days later he announced his
Ted Williams (Sept. 28, 1960)
At age 42, Williams had an excellent final season, batting .316 and clubbing
29 homers. He played his last game at Fenway Park. In
his first at-bat, he walked and scored on a sac fly. He flied out in the
third inning, then boomed a long out against the right-field fence in the
fifth. In the eighth, he came up for what most knew would be his last plate
appearance. A two-minute ovation greeted him at the plate, and then he faced
Orioles pitcher Jack Fisher. He pounded a 1-and-1 pitch 440 feet into the
Red Sox bullpen for his 521st homer.
Jim Brown (Jan. 2, 1966)
Brown, the NFL MVP in 1965 after running for 1,544 yards and scoring 21 TDs,
played his final game against the Packers on Jan. 2, 1966, in the NFL
championship game. He was unable to get going on the slushy, muddy field,
and ran for just 50 yards on 12 carries as the Browns lost, 23-12. He then quit football, still at the peak of powers.
Bill Russell (May 5, 1969)
Russell, player and head coach of the Celtics, led
Boston to its 11th title in 13 years, as the Celtics held off a furious Lakers rally in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to win 108-106. Russell played all 48 minutes and scored just six points, but grabbed 21 rebounds. Russell, 35, retired as both player
and coach after the season.
Willie Mays (Oct. 16, 1973)
In Game 3 of the 1973 World Series at Shea Stadium, Mays came up to bat,
pinch-hitting for Tug McGraw in the 10th inning of a 2-2 ballgame. Buddy
Harrelson was on first after a two-out single. Mays grounded to A's
shortstop Bert Campaneris, who forced Harrelson at second to end the inning.
It was Mays' only at-bat of the game (which the A's won, 3-2), and the last
time he'd appear in the seven-game Series.
Muhammad Ali (Dec. 11, 1981)
Just five weeks shy of 40, Ali faced Canadian champion Trevor Berbick in the
Bahamas. The 28-year-old Berbick beat Ali in a unanimous decision in the
10-round bout before about 7,000 fans, who, at the end, stood and paid
silent tribute to Ali. "I did good for a 40-year-old," Ali said. "He was
too strong. I could feel the youth. Age is slipping up on me. I know it's
Larry Bird (May 17, 1992)
In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Cleveland routed the
Celtics 122-104, and Bird's lackluster play contributed to the loss. He
scored just 12 points, and added only five rebounds and four assists while
committing two turnovers.
Bird hadn't announced his retirement, but Cavs fans getting ready for the
finale in Cleveland bid him goodbye, anyway -- without sentiment. "For
Larry Bird's last game, turn right at the next corner," read one heartless
sign near Richfield Coliseum. (Bird was also a member of the Dream Team in the Olympics that summer.)
Joe Montana (Dec. 31, 1994)
In a great QB duel, the 38-year-old Montana, playing in his second season
with Kansas City, faced Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the AFC wild card
game at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami. Montana had a great game, completing
26-of-37 for 314 yards and two TDs, but Miami won, 27-17. Did he plan to
retire? "That's like asking a fighter who just lost a championship fight if
he wants to fight again," Montana said. But he would never play again in the
Magic Johnson (May 2, 1996)
Johnson, who'd last played during the 1990-91 season, came back in late
January 1996. His last NBA appearance came with the Lakers down two games to
one against the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. Playing Game 4
in Houston, Magic shot just 2 of 8 from the field, scoring eight points and
dishing out five assists as the Lakers lost the game, 102-94, and the series.
Wayne Gretzky (April 18, 1999)
The day of The Great One's last NHL game, he got a call from Michael Jordan.
"Michael told me that I'm going to really love retirement," said Gretzky. "He said, 'You're going to have no qualms about it.'"
That night at Madison Square Garden, Gretzky was feted with an enormous
farewell ceremony. and his number, 99, was retired by the NHL. Although the
Rangers lost to the Penguins 2-1 in OT, Gretzky did manage to leave the fans
with a memory: an assist on New York's lone goal, career point No. 2,857.