30 at 30 Lists #23: The Most Memorable Wins of My Life as a Sports Fan

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

As a sports fan, I have endured more than my fair share of heartbreak. When the Oakland Athletics faltered in the 2014 AL Wild Card game, it gave me the perfect hook for my 30 at 30 list of the most devastating losses of my life as a sports fan.  Since publishing that list I already had to amend it once to account for Michigan’s baffling punt-fumble loss to Michigan State last fall.

Meanwhile I was waiting—hoping—that one of my teams would win a signature game meaningful enough to compel me to write this list, a much happier list, which counts down the 30 most memorable wins of my life as a sports fan. Unfortunately I’ve spent the past few seasons in the doldrums as a sports fan:

  • The Athletics, who haven’t won a postseason series since 2006 went 68-94 last year and currently sit in the basement of the AL West.
  • Michigan basketball lost in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament after missing out on the 2015 tournament entirely.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers posted their worst record in franchise history and missed the playoffs for the third straight season after missing the playoffs only twice previously during my lifetime.
  • Michigan football posted a better-than-expected 10-3 record in their first year under new head coach Jim Harbaugh and expectations are high for the upcoming season but they still lost rivalry games to Michigan State and Ohio State.
  • Similarly the Oakland Raiders showed glimpses of hope last year and many experts are talking playoffs for them this season, but they still haven’t posted a winning season since 2002.

The point is I don’t want to wait any longer to write about the sunny side of my life as a sports fan. Maybe one of my teams will crack this list in the near future, but I’ll amend the list if and when that happens. For now, I’m looking fondly into the rearview mirror to highlight the most memorable wins of my life as a sports fan.

For what it’s worth, my sports memory begins in June of 1988 with the Pistons-Lakers NBA Finals (I was not quite 4 years old at the time), so I have ruled out including any games prior to that regardless of how many times I have watched Bo Jackson running over The Boz or Magic and Kareem beating the Celtics in the NBA Finals.

So what makes a win memorable? As this list will show, there are a number of criteria, but certainly some consistent themes. The most important factor here is that one of my teams was victorious. While there have been hundreds if not thousands of other memorable games involving other teams where I was uninvested in the specific outcome, this list focuses on games that had meaning to me because one of my teams was competing. Playoff games and championships certainly carry extra weight, but other factors such as the rivalry with the opponent and the closeness of the final score also impact how memorable the win was for me.

Thanks to the magic of YouTube, many of the highlights from these games—and in some cases, the full game—can be viewed online to relive these magical moments again and again.

30. Los Angeles Raiders 20, Cincinnati Bengals 10
January 13, 1991
AFC Divisional Playoffs 

After winning Super Bowls in the 70s and 80s, the Raiders were back in Super Bowl contention to begin the 90s, boasting a stout defense and a versatile running game featuring the combination of Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson. Unfortunately, there is a reason why this win comes in at number 30. Retroactively, it is one of the most bittersweet victories in franchise history. Although the Raiders won the game, they lost a legend in the making when the seemingly indestructible Bo Jackson suffered an injury on a 34-yard run. It would prove to be the final carry of his abbreviated career. Jackson finishing the game with 77 yards on just 6 carries, and the Raiders went on to lose 51-3 the following week against Buffalo, leaving every Raider fan wondering “What if Bo had stayed healthy?”

29. Los Angeles Lakers 103, Detroit Pistons 102
June 19, 1988
NBA Finals Game 6

The 1988 Lakers-Pistons series is not only my first sports memory—it is my first memory of life. I don’t know how much of that memory has been aided over the series by re-watching footage of those games, but I distinctly recall watching Magic and Kareem against the Pistons while sitting on my dad’s lap. Game 6 goes down in history as the Isiah Thomas game when the Pistons point guard delivered a gutsy 43 points despite suffering a serious ankle injury. However, in the final moments, the Lakers got a short jumper from Byron Scott and two free throws from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to escape with a one-point win and force a Game 7.

28. Los Angeles Lakers 96, Philadelphia 76ers 91
June 10, 2001
NBA Finals, Game 3

The 2001 Lakers team is considered my many as the best of the Shaq & Kobe era and is in the discussion among the greatest teams in NBA history because of their dominant postseason run. After sweeping through Portland, Sacramento, and San Antonio in the Western Conference, the Lakers looked unstoppable. Then, league MVP Allen Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers to an improbable Game 1 overtime victory on the road, scoring 48 points. The Lakers responded in Game 2, but it was this Game 3 thriller that really turned the momentum in what wound up being a five game series. Shaq and Kobe combined for 62 points, but it was Robert Horry who put the dagger in the hearts of Sixers fans, as he scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-clinching 3-pointer with less than a minute to play.

27. Oakland Raiders 41. Tennessee Titans 24
January 19, 2003
AFC Championship

Once again, this Raiders story does not have a happy ending as their Super Bowl performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tops my list of most devastating losses, but this is a positive list, so let me stay positive. Rich Gannon played like the NFL MVP quarterback that he was, throwing for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns and running for 41 yards and a touchdown. Gannon and the Raiders put the game away with a long, clock-consuming touchdown drive.

26. UCLA Bruins 75, Missouri Tigers 74
March 19, 1995
NCAA Tournament Second Round

I will admit it: I was a bandwagon UCLA fan. Unlike my fandom for the Lakers (because of my dad), the Raiders (Bo Jackson/Tecmo Super Bowl), Michigan (The Fab Five), and the Athletics (color scheme), my reasoning for cheering for UCLA was mostly because they were good (although I did love those baby blue and gold uniforms) and because of the final play in this game. Edney’s coast-to-coast game-winning layup was a play that every kid wanted to go out and replicate.  So with 60 percent of the Fab Five playing in the NBA, I hitched my wagon to Tyus Edney and the 1995 UCLA Bruins. When Michigan basketball later went on probation, I leaned a bit more heavily on my support of UCLA. To this day, I support UCLA as my second favorite college basketball program, but if they ever go head-to-head with Michigan, I cheer for the Wolverines.

25. Michigan Wolverines 79, Florida Gators 59
March 31, 2013
NCAA Tournament Elite Eight

Easter Sunday is always a great day, but Easter 2013 was extra special as I spent part of it decked out in my maize shirt and blue tie watching 4th-seeded Michigan throttle 3rd-seeded Florida in the South Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament, punching their ticket to the Final Four. The Wolverines scored the games first 13 points and never looked back. The game was a coming out party for the freshman Canadian sharpshooter Nik Stauskas who scored 22 points on 8 shots, including a perfect 6-6 from 3-point range. Wooden Award winner Trey Burke added 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists for the Wolverines.

24. Michigan Wolverines 28, Notre Dame Fighting Irish 24
September 11, 2010
Regular season game

A year after Tate Forcier led a Michigan comeback against Notre Dame, Wolverines sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson provided the spark Michigan needed to defeat the Irish on the road. Robinson accounted for 502 yards of total offense in the game, including an 87-yard touchdown run. Michigan led the game 21-7 at the half, but Notre Dame scored 17 unanswered points in the second half, including a 91-yard touchdown pass to put them ahead 24-21 with just 3:41 left in the game. Robinson and the Wolverines responded though, stringing together a 12-play, 72-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard Robinson touchdown run with only 27 seconds remaining.

23. Michigan Wolverines 31, Ohio State Buckeyes 3
November 23, 1991
Regular season game

I’ll admit it. I wasn’t a full fledged Michigan football fan until the Fab Five got me hooked on Michigan basketball. I (strangely) split my allegiance between Michigan and rival Notre Dame. (I have a lot of family members who root for Notre Dame, so I think young me wanted to fit in). So it’s probably safe to say that this game as well as the 1991 game against Notre Dame later on this list grew in my mind over time. Still, that doesn’t take away from the game-breaking performance from Ohio native Desmond Howard who famously demonstrated the Heisman trophy pose after returning a punt 93 yards for a touchdown to put the Wolverines up 24-3 late in the second quarter.

 22. Los Angeles Lakers 116, Indiana Pacers 111
June 19, 2000
NBA Finals, Game 6

Shaquille O’Neal would not be denied this time. After O’Neal’s Orlando Magic were swept in the Finals in 1996, he raised his game to another level with the Lakers to ensure that his first return trip to the NBA Finals would have a happier ending. O’Neal, who was named Finals MVP, helped the Lakers close out the series in Game 6 by scoring 41 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and blocking 4 shots.

21. Los Angeles Lakers 91, Boston Celtics 84
June 9, 2010
NBA Finals, Game 3

Two years after losing the 2008 NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics in six games, the Lakers were back in the Finals and returning to Boston for Game 3 with the series tied 1-1. The Lakers led big in the first half, but the Celtics had come back from 24 points down against the Lakers in the Finals in 2008, so Los Angeles knew no lead was safe. Just when it seemed like the Celtics might add another Finals comeback to their franchise’s legacy, Lakers veteran point guard Derek Fisher stepped up. Fisher made several clutch baskets and scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to help the Lakers stave off a Celtics comeback, including a highlight reel fastbreak layup on which he was knocked to the ground by three Celtics defenders.

20. Michigan Wolverines 24, Notre Dame Fighting Irish 14
September 14, 1991
Regular season game

Desmond Howard’s Heisman pose against Ohio State was legendary, but his best play as a Wolverine arguably happened earlier that same season when Michigan hosted Notre Dame. On a 4th-and-1 from the Notre Dame 25-yard-line Elvis Grbac threw to Howard who made a diving catch in the end zone to put Michigan ahead 24-14 with less than 10 minutes to play in the game.

19. UCLA Bruins 73, Gonzaga Bulldogs 71
March 23, 2006
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

Gonzaga controlled most of the game and led by as many as 17, but then everything fell apart. Gonzaga led by 9 with 3:26 remaining only to be outscored 11-0 down the stretch. The final minite As a UCLA fan who also picked them to win the title in my bracket, my heart was racing. Having Gus Johnson as the play-by-play announcer was the icing on the cake as the final minute of play was wildly unpredictable. His final, ear-rattling call of “Batista WITH THE CAAAAAATCH!” is one of my all-time favorite calls from one of the best big game announcers.

18. Cathedral Prep Ramblers 24, Archbishop Wood Vikings 14
December 14, 2012
Pennsylvania AAA State Championship 

In my first full year as a faculty member at Cathedral Prep, I was fortunate enough to travel to Hershey as a chaperone to help cheer on the 2012 Rambler football team. Twelve years earlier I was a student cheering in those same bleachers when Prep won its first football state championship. On this night, Prep quarterback Damion Terry led the Ramblers’ offensive attack, finishing 13-24 passing for 317 yards and two touchdowns while adding 60 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Meanwhile Prep played timely defense, managing to limit Archbishop Wood to 14 points despite giving up some big yardage on the ground.

17. Michigan Wolverines 21, Washington State Cougars 16
January 1, 1998
Rose Bowl

In hindsight, beating a Ryan Leaf-led Washington State doesn’t sound historic, but the Cougars entered the game as a top ten team in the nation. The win capped off an undefeated season for Michigan and earned them the Associated Press national championship (Michigan split the national title with undefeated Nebraska who was voted #1 in the coaches’ poll. This would be the final year before the BCS system was implemented.) The game ended controversially as Leaf appeared to spike the ball at the Michigan 16-yard-line with one second left on the clock, but the referees ruled that time had expired.

16. Los Angeles Lakers 120, Indiana Pacers 118 OT
June 14, 2000
NBA Finals, Game 4

This was arguably the the first signature moment in Kobe Bryant’s legendary NBA career. After missing most of Game 2 and all of Game 3 in the series with a sprained ankle, the 21-year-old Bryant played 47 minutes in Game 4 and took over down the stretch after Shaquille O’Neal fouled out. Bryant finished with 28 points and scored 6 of the Lakers’ final 8 points in overtime to give L.A. a 3-1 series lead.

15. Michigan Wolverines 75, Ohio State Buckeyes 71 OT
March 29, 1992
NCAA Tournament Elite Eight

When people ask me why I became a fan of the University of Michigan, my answer is simple: the Fab Five. In the spring of 1992, five freshmen—Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson—led sixth seeded Michigan all the way to the national championship game before falling to Duke, all the while sporting bald heads, baggy shorts and a teenage swagger that caught my eye. On their march toward the title game, Michigan met Big Ten rival Ohio State in the Southeast regional final. The Buckeyes were the region’s top seed, and they had swept Michigan in the regular season, winning both previous games by double digits. The third time proved to be the charm for the Wolverines, however. Chris Webber tipped in a Jalen Rose miss with 30 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 63, and the young Wolverines prevailed in overtime.

14. Michigan Wolverines 61, Syracuse Orange 56
April 6, 2013
NCAA Tournament Final Four

This was a dream matchup for me and my brother Mike, a longtime Syracuse fan. When our favorite teams go head-to-head, it always makes the game more interesting, but this time the stakes were even higher as our favorite teams clashed with a trip to the national championship game on the line. Both teams had up-and-down seasons and entered the tournament as the 4-seed in their respective regions. Michigan led 36-25 at the half, but Syracuse battled back. Syracuse had the ball trailing 58-56 with less than 30 seconds remaining when Brandon Triche made an aggressive drive toward the basket. Michigan’s Jordan Morgan slid over in help position and took the contact. The referee ruled it a charging foul on Triche, his fifth. It was a very close call that could have gone either way like so many block/charge calls. Michigan fans breathed a sigh of relief, and Syracuse fans likely still can’t believe the call (sorry, Mike!)

13. Oakland Raiders 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 24
December 6, 2009
Regular season game

It is a pretty telling sign of how rough Raiders fans have had it during my lifetime that only three Raiders wins made this lis. This game is the highest ranking win, a regular season victory against Pittsburgh for a Raiders team that finished 5-11. One of the reasons it ranks so high is that my brother Mike is a Steelers fan, so again the brotherly rivalry factored in. However, the added significance of this game was that it was the day after the apartment fire that came in at #20 on my list of life experiences. I needed a pick-me-up after a scary, emotional night, and Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native, made it happen against the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers. After the Steelers scored the go-ahead touchdown with only two minutes left on the clock, it seemed like the Raiders’ upset bid was going to fall short. Then Gradkowski orchestrated an unlikely 10-play, 88-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with only 9 seconds remaining. The Pittsburgh crowd was stunned, and I had something to smile about when I really needed it.

12. Michigan Wolverines 81, Kentucky Wildcats 78 OT
April 3, 1993
NCAA Tournament Final Four

A year after bursting onto the scene as freshmen, the Fab Five returned to the Final Four as a powerhouse number one seed. Their opponent in the national semifinal was another top seed, Kentucky. Michigan trailed 78-75 with 1:12 left in overtime, but they closed the game on a 6-0 run to advance to the championship game. Chris Webber led the way for the Wolverines with 27 points and 13 rebounds. His layup with 42 seconds left in overtime put Michigan ahead for good.

11. Michigan Wolverines 38, vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 34
September 12, 2009
Regular season game

Not only was this a rivalry game versus one of Mike’s teams, I was in attendance for this memorable game. My second trip to the Big House was unforgettable thanks to Michigan’s freshman quarterback Tate Forcier in what proved to be the best game of his abbreviated Michigan career. Michigan took a 31-20 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 31-yard Forcier touchdown run. Notre Dame answered with 14 straight points. Finally, Michigan got the ball one last time at their own 42-yard-line with 1:35 left trailing 34-31. Forcier marched the Wolverines down the field and found Greg Matthews from 5 yards out with 11 seconds remaining. Those final 11 seconds are a sore spot for Notre Dame. On the ensuing kickoff, it was unclear whether the squib kick was touched by the Notre Dame kick returner or not. Instead of 11 seconds on first down, the Irish began with 9 seconds. Losing those two extra seconds proved costly as Fighting Irish receiver Golden Tate was tackled in the field of play as time expired while fighting toward the sideline. With those two extra seconds Notre Dame would’ve had a chance to throw a 53-yard Hail Mary pass, but alas, they did not (sorry, Mike—again!)

10. Los Angeles Lakers 112, Sacramento Kings 106 OT
June 2, 2002
Western Conference Finals, Game 7

In the three-year championship run of the Shaq & Kobe Lakers, no one pushed the Lakers to the brink quite like the 2002 Sacramento Kings. Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Game 6 was bad. It’s arguably the most controversial game in NBA history as the referees seemed to call things in favor of the Lakers. But this paragraph isn’t about Game 6; it’s about Game 7. Regardless of what happened in Game 6, the Kings had a chance to close out the de facto NBA Finals at home in Game 7. (The Lakers would go on to sweep the New Jersey Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals.)  Whereas Game 6 was decided by the whistle, Game 7 was decided at the free throw line. The Lakers shot 27-33 from the free throw line, including a perfect 8-8 in overtime. Meanwhile the Kings shot just 16-30 from the line in a game that was tight throughout.

9. Cathedral Prep Ramblers 41, Central Bucks West Bucks 35 OT
December 9, 2000
PIAA Class AAAA state championship

These same two teams met in the state championship a year earlier, a thrilling game that CB West won 14-13.  The Ramblers entered the rematch determined to enact revenge. CB West was seeking to extend their state-record 59-game winning streak and their fourth consecutive state title. More than 10,000 fans packed Hersheypark Stadium in 2000, including me—a then sophomore at Prep—just as I had the previous year only to have to endure the long bus ride home digesting the bitter taste of defeat. But 2000 was different. It was a high scoring, back-and-forth game. The Ramblers scored three times on huge plays—runs of 67 and 61 yards from Jawan Walker and a 90-yard kickoff return by Tim Dance—and got another huge play in overtime when Dale Williams blocked CB West’s 24-yard field goal attempt. Prep capitalized on the opportunity as Walker scored his third touchdown of the game to give the Ramblers the victory and their first state championship in football.

8. Michigan Wolverines 20, Ohio State Buckeyes 14
November 22, 1997
Regular season game

The Game added another classic chapter in 1997 as undefeated and top-ranked Michigan hosted #4 Ohio State. Heisman trophy winner Charles Woodson echoed Desmond Howard from six years earlier by returning a punt 78 yards for a touchdown that put Michigan up 13-0. An interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter made it 20-0 in favor of the Wolverines, and it looked like the game might get out of hand. However, Ohio State battled back. After a long touchdown reception by David Boston cut the lead to 20-7, the Buckeyes defense stepped up and forced a fumble deep in Michigan territory early in the fourth quarter. Ohio State punched it in to make it 20-14 with 13:08 remaining. Michigan’s offense was stymied the rest of the way, so they would have to rely on their defense led by Woodson. Ohio State had one last chance, taking over with 1:35 remaining from their own 16-yard-line, but the Wolverines defense was up to the task, preserving the victory and earning a trip to the Rose Bowl.

7. Los Angeles Lakers 108, Detroit Pistons 105
June 21, 1988
NBA Finals, Game 7

Although the controversy perils in comparison to the aforementioned 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings, the Lakers’ 1988 NBA championship is tinged with a bit of controversy as well.  At the end of Game 7, the Lakers’ A.C. Green scores a fastbreak layup with 2 seconds remaining. As Detroit’s Bill Laimbeer attempts to make a final inbounds pass, the Lakers bench players and fans are already spilling onto the court. Isiah Thomas catches the ball just past midcourt when he appears to be bumped by Magic Johnson. Thomas falls to the court and loses the ball, no call is made, and the time runs out for the Pistons, giving L.A. back-to-back championships. Now, even if the foul had been whistled, Thomas would have had to have made the first shot, missed the second and had a teammate tip-in the miss just to force overtime, so it is unlikely that Detroit would have won. Nonetheless it was a wild, frenetic finish unlike anything I have ever seen, and is probably the best example for why rushing the court can be problematic.

6. Los Angeles Lakers 74, Spurs 73
May 13, 2004
Western Conference Semifinals, Game 5

“One lucky shot deserves another.” Those were the words of Shaquille O’Neal immediately following Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, an ugly game with a beautiful ending. As the low final score indicates, this was not a pretty game. The Lakers shot 43 percent while the Spurs shot 38 percent for the game. Not many shots went in, but the last two shots miraculously did. Prior to the two “lucky” shots, Kobe Bryant hit a leaner from the left elbow to put the Lakers ahead 72-71 with 11.5 seconds to play. The Lakers had a foul to give and Derek Fisher committed it with 5.4 seconds remaining. Tim Duncan caught the inbound pass with O’Neal draped all over him. He dribbled twice to his left and shot a high arching fadeaway from the top of the key over the outstretched arms of O’Neal and drilled it, putting the Spurs up 73-72 and sending the San Antonio crowd into a frenzy. As a Lakers fan, I was crushed. The Lakers were staring at a 3-2 series hole. But the Spurs left 0.4 seconds on the clock. And that was all Derek Fisher needed to pull off a miracle and steal this win away from the Spurs. The Lakers lined up in a staggered stack at the free throw line facing the sideline where Gary Payton was inbounding. O’Neal circled back toward the rim for a lob but he was covered. Kobe Bryant broke toward the 3-point line and attracted two defenders. Karl Malone took a step back. Fisher sprinted down the foul line toward Payton, caught, turned and flung a shot all in one fluid motion and the ball hit nothing but net. The Spurs and their fans were left stunned. Meanwhile I lost my mind celebrating like Fisher who sprinted off the court straight into the tunnel. The only reason this game doesn’t rank higher on the list is because the Lakers went on to lose the 2004 NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons.

5. Michigan Wolverines 35, Notre Dame Fighting Irish 31
September 10, 2011
Regular season game

After back-to-back thrillers between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish in 2009 and 2010, it would not have been a surprise if their 2011 encounter did not live up to the hype of Michigan’s first ever night game at home. Michigan entered the game 1-0 under first-year head coach Brady Hoke while Notre Dame entered the Big House 0-1 after a disappointing season opening loss against South Flordia. With both teams wearing flashy throwback uniforms under the lights of Michigan Stadium, this game exceeded the hype and has to be included in any discussion of the rivalry’s most exciting games. The game was full of big plays, especially in the fourth quarter. The two teams combined for more than 900 yards of offense as well as 8 turnovers that contributed significanly to the erratic pace of the game. Notre Dame led 24-7 entering the final 15 minutes, but Michigan exploded for 28 points in one of the wildest back-and-forth fourth quarters I have ever seen. The lead changed hands three times in the final 1:12, taking both fan bases on an emotional roller coaster ride. Michigan scored the final go-ahead touchdown with just two seconds remaining as Denard Robinson completed a 16-yard fade to Roy Roundtree to help Michigan secure the spectacular win. Hail to the Victors!

4. Los Angeles Lakers 83, Boston Celtics 79
June 17, 2010
NBA Finals, Game 7

The Lakers lost the 2008 championship to the Celtics, and even though they won the title in 2009 against Orlando, the Lakers felt like they had unfinished business with Boston. After falling behind in the series 3-2, the Lakers returned home and delivered a masterful performance in Game 6 to set up the winner-take-all Game 7, also in L.A. Game 7 was the ultimate ugly win. The Lakers shot only 32.5 percent from the field, including a 6-24 performance from Finals MVP Kobe Bryant. The Celtics led at the end of each of the first three quarters, but the Lakers rode a 20-rebound advantage, including 18 from Pau Gasol to fight back. In the final minute, unlikely hero Ron Artest hit a clutch 3-pointer to extend the Laker lead to 6 points. The Celtics responded and cut it to a 2-point game with 16 seconds left. Little-used Lakers reserve Sasha Vujacic then hit the two biggest free throws of his life to ice the game for the Lakers and clinch the franchise’s 16th NBA championship.

3. Los Angeles Lakers 89 vs. Portland Trail Blazers 84
June 4, 2000
Western Conference Finals, Game 7

A theme of the early 2000s was that the Western Conference Finals were more challenging than the NBA Finals, and that certainly proved true in 2000 when the Lakers squared off against a stacked Portland Trail Blazers team that included Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, and Steve Smith. The Lakers trailed by 16 points entering the fourth quarter, but the fourth quarter turnaround marked the beginning of a Laker dynasty. The Lakers outscored the Blazers 31-13 in the fourth quarter. The exclamation point on the Lakers’ stunning comeback was an alley oop dunk from Kobe to Shaq, which is arguably the duo’s most famous highlight. Their chemistry issues would fracture the Lakers in future years, but on this night, on that play, Shaq & Kobe were completely in sync with each other to create a moment that encapsulated the impressive come-from-behind win for the Lakers.

2. Michigan Wolverines 85, Kansas Jayhawks 83 OT
March 29, 2013
NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen

The Lakers comeback in 2000 was topped 13 years later by another comeback. Fourth-seeded Michigan trailed top-seeded Kansas by 14 with less than 7 minutes left. A Trey Burke layup with 14 seconds remaining made it a 3-point game, but the Wolverines still needed a little help. Kansas obliged, missing the front-end of a one-and-one. What followed was one of the all-time great shots in NCAA Tournament history. Trey Burke used a screen from Mitch McGary to free himself just enough to launch and make a game-tying 3-pointer from about midway between the 3-point line and half court. When the shot went in, I jumped out of my seat in excitement. Kansas got a decent look at a 3-pointer to win it, but it clanked off the front rim sending the game into overtime. After a seesaw overtime period that saw the lead change five times, Kansas forced a shot clock violation to earn the game’s final possession with 9.4 seconds trailing by 2. The Jayhawks were unable to provide a highlight to upstage Burke’s shot, though, as Naadir Tharpe’s 3-point runner missed at the buzzer.

1. Los Angeles Lakers 100, Sacramento Kings 99
May 31, 2002
2002 Western Conference Finals, Game 4

Without this game, without Robert Horry standing in the right place at the right time, this series likely never makes it to that controversial Game 6, let alone a Game 7. After the Lakers won Game 1, the Kings bounced back and won the next two games. Game 4 was crucial for the Lakers. They could not afford to fall behind 3-1 and travel to Arco Arena for an elimination game. If momentum is a thing in sports, the Kings had all of it entering Game 4. They pounced on the Lakers in the opening quarter, jumping out to a 40-20 lead. The Lakers trimmed the deficit to 14 at the half and 7 after three quarters, but the Kings still led by 8 with under four minutes to play and by 5 with 1:16 remaining. Then, Kobe Bryant connected on a difficult shot in the lane despite being surrounded by Kings to cut the lead to 3. Doug Christie missed a 3 for Sacramento. On the next possession for the Lakers, Vlade Divac fouled Shaquille O’Neal, a 61 percent free throw shooter for the playoffs, who made both of his free throws. At the other end, the Lakers fouled Divac, who was shooting free throws at 83 percent in the postseason, hit only one of two at the line, setting the scene for Big Shot Bob to save the day for L.A. Sacramento led 99-97 with 11.8 seconds left. The Lakers got the ball to Kobe Bryant in the middle of the floor and cleared out. As he drove to his right past Doug Christie, Divac stepped up to help and challenge Bryant’s attempt, which missed off the rim. Divac’s help left O’Neal unguarded under the rim. O’Neal collected the offensive rebound with 3.8 seconds left, but he rushed his putback attempt, which was also challenged by a recovering Divac. As O’Neal’s layup came off the rim, Divac slapped the ball out toward the top of the key where Robert Horry stood fortuitously all alone. The ball bounced once—right into Horry’s hands with one second remaining. He was quoted after the game saying, “Oh, look what I got.” In one motion, Horry scooped up the loose ball and fired a straightaway 3 that he buried like a dagger into the heart of Sacramento. The Lakers fans at Staples Center erupted like I have never heard before or since. I still get goosebumps re-watching this highlight today and legitimately just watched the replay a dozen times while writing this paragraph. Thank you, Robert Horry!

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