History on Christmas Eve

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

‘Tis the day before Christmas and the whole world is stirring in anticipation of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. In sports, Christmas Eve was when several historic events took place.

On this day in 1967, a gangling 7-2 center named Lew Alcindor scored 21 points to lead UCLA to a 114-63 win over Notre Dame as the Bruins varsity posted its 39th win in a row in US college basketball. Alcindor would later become the NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

UCLA’s win streak went up to 88 and was ironically snapped by Notre Dame, the same school that the Bruins victimized on Christmas Eve in 1967, in a 71-70 squeaker in South Bend, Indiana, on Jan. 19, 1974. By then, Alcindor had gone to the NBA. UCLA was still coached by John Wooden and its stars included Bill Walton, Keith (later Jamaal) Wilkes, Marques Johnson, Dave Meyers and Tommy Curtis. The Fighting Irish lineup listed Adrian Dantley, John Shumate, Gary Novak, Gary Brokaw and Dwight Clay. Notre Dame was coached by Digger Phelps.

UCLA led by as many as 17 and was ahead by 11 with 3:32 to go until Notre Dame unloaded a 12-0 bomb. Clay hit a jumper with 29 seconds to go as Notre Dame took its first lead, 71-70. The Bruins missed five attempts in the waning seconds and the Irish held on to end US men’s college basketball’s longest winning streak. The longest previous streak was 60 held by the University of San Francisco and stopped in 1956.

Walton played with no relief and finished with 24 points on 12-of-14 from the field. Shumate also hit 24. Brokaw took game scoring honors with 25. “This was great for college basketball,” said Phelps. “I’m sure everyone was rooting for us the way they used to root against the New York Yankees. The win was special for Notre Dame, for the kids, for my staff, for my mother and father and for us all.”

* * * *

With UCLA controlling the pace down the stretch, Phelps gambled by tapping freshman Ray Martin to ignite the press from the backcourt. That resulted in five UCLA turnovers as Notre Dame capitalized to trigger a closing 12-0 run. The Bruins never knew what hit them.

The longest winning streak in US college basketball, however, is 90 and that’s a record owned by the University of Connecticut women’s team. That streak ended with a loss to Stanford on Dec. 30, 2010.

Another historic event on Christmas Eve was when the Boston Celtics grabbed an all-time high 109 rebounds in crushing the Detroit Pistons, 150-106, in an NBA regular season game in 1960. The Celtics coach was Red Auerbach and his team included Bill Russell, K. C. Jones, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn and Bill Sharman. That season, Russell averaged 16.9 points and a whopping 23.9 boards a game. Detroit was coached by Dick McGuire and among the Pistons were Bailey Howell, Walter Dukes, Bob Ferry and Gene Shue. Boston won the championship that campaign.

Still another milestone was when little-known Honolulu school Chaminade University upset US college basketball’s No. 1 team Virginia, 77-72, on Christmas Eve, 1982. Chaminade campaigns in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) that would be on the level of NCAA Division III. Two of Chaminade’s former players Willie Pearson and Will Antonio, both Fil-Ams, saw action in the PBA.

Virginia’s star was 7-4 Ralph Sampson, later to play in the NBA. The Cavaliers varsity played in a tournament in Japan and on the way back to Virginia, stopped by Honolulu to face Chaminade. In the last two seasons, Virginia had no difficulty trouncing the Silverswords varsity so the Cavaliers figured to feast on the hosts once more. Chaminade, however, was determined to show up the visitors. The Silverswords raced to a 7-0 lead but Virginia stormed back to tie the count, 43-all, at the half.

* * * *

The Cavaliers began to take control in the second half and erected a seven-point cushion. But with 1:37 left, Chaminade seized back the lead, 70-68. Three free throws by Mark Wells and two more by Jim Durham in the final seconds iced the contest. Remarkably, Chaminade center Tony Randolph, eight inches shorter than Sampson, outscored the future Houston Rockets star, 19-12.

As I’m also a pop music fan, I thought of sharing some Christmas Eve milestones in music history, too. On this day in 1954, rhythm and blues singer Johnny Ace shot himself dead backstage at the City Auditorium in Houston. He was playing with a revolver during a break between sets when someone in his room warned him to be careful. Ace said, “it’s OK, the gun’s not loaded” and pointed it at himself with a smile on his face. The pistol cracked and Ace died on the spot.

On this day in 1963, The Beatles performed at the Finsbury Park Astoria in London to headline a Christmas show that also featured Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, The Fourmost, Cilla Black and Rolf Harris. And on this day in 2005, rapper Foxy Brown was handcuffed and threatened with jail after sticking out her tongue at a New York judge Melissa Jackson who asked her to stop chewing gum during a court proceeding on charges of assaulting two nail salon technicians in a squabble over payment.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

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