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Wednesday, April 16
Updated: April 17, 9:17 AM ET
Legendary finishes

By Jeff Merron
Special to

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 retirement.

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 the end."

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 NFL.

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.

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