Eight of the Most Inspirational Moments In Basketball History

Jonathan WeinbergCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2010

These days, one must only tune into SportsCenter to see someone flying through the air slamming a basketball through a hoop, skating through four guys for a highlight reel goal, or hitting a baseball 500 feet.

These acts are discussed ad nauseam in offices, schools, and houses, for hours, days, and sometimes weeks. Usually, after being a hot topic on Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn, they are put on the back-burner and forgotten as someone else just ran back a 99 yard kickoff, breaking five tackles on the way to the endzone.

This is the American way.

What have you done for me lately?

However, every so often, we as fans are treated to a moment so unbelievable that it breeds an instant hero.

A legendary coach giving a speech so moving it brings an entire crowd to tears, a player honoring his grandfather's life through a high school game, a team manager battling autism scoring 20 points in a matter of minutes—it's moments like these that have the power to inspire people to achieve their own dreams.

I have chosen to talk about these moments as they relate to basketball. Below are eight of the most inspirational moments in the history of basketball.    


8. George Mason Patriots

In March of '06, George Mason embarked on one of the most improbable journeys in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

Led by Clair Bee Coach of the Year winner Jim Larranaga, the 11th seeded Patriots captured the imagination of Americans nationwide, outlasting perennial college powerhouses and finding themselves in Indianapolis, after earning one of the coveted spots in the Final Four.

On their journey to Indianapolis they took care of a Michigan State team that had played in the Final Four the year prior, a North Carolina Tar Heel squad with a very rich history, and a feisty Wichita State team, before meeting UConn in the Elite Eight.

In a game that came down to the final possession of overtime, a missed three-pointer by UConn's Denom Brown sent George Mason to the Final Four. The Patriots outlasted the Huskies, who were overwhelming favorites to win the entire tournament.

While the Patriots did fall to the eventual two time champion Florida Gators, their hope inducing story may be the difference in some up-and-coming high school star choosing a starting spot on a mid-major over the bench on a power conference team.


7. Air Flu

On the morning of Game Five of the NBA finals, the odds seemed very much against Phil Jackson and his Chicago Bulls. The Utah Jazz were coming off back-to-back wins evening the series at two games a piece, and appeared to be carrying all of the momentum.

To add to the Bulls misfortune, Michael Jordan had come down with a terrible case of the flu. Unable to muster the strength to get out of bed, he was advised to miss the game.

Ignoring the advice of team doctors, Michael decided to give it a shot. On one of the greatest nights of a legendary career, Jordan fought through his illness, and bested NBA legends John Stockton and Karl Malone. Michael finished with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and one block.

As the final seconds ticked away, with the game finally in hand, in what would become a timeless freeze-frame , an exhausted Jordan collapsed into the arms of teammate Scottie Pippen.

The Bulls went on to win Game Six and the NBA Championship, giving Jordan his fifth ring.


6. The Length a Teammate and Father Will Travel

Derek Fisher, in his 14 years and counting in the NBA, boasts many accolades.

He’s been a contributing member of four NBA championship teams, he has the highest three-point percentage in NBA Finals history, and his historic shot with .4 seconds (at the 1.30 mark) left on the clock that beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference semifinals, was named the No. 18 Greatest Playoff Moment by the NBA.

While Fishers' NBA resume is impressive for a 6'1" guard from Little Rock, Ark, his actions on the night of July 10, '07, as a member of the Utah Jazz, trumped any prior accomplishments.

Days before the Jazz were preparing to play Game Two of the Western Conference semifinals, Derek's 11-month old daughter Tatum, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancerous tumor in her left eye.

The condition required a three hour surgery that was to take place in New York the morning of Game Two, which was to be played in Utah. To be with his family, Fisher had already missed Game One.

After a successful surgery, doctors cleared Fisher and his family to head home to Utah. Fisher received a police escort from the airport, and arrived at the stadium during the middle of the third quarter.

He quickly changed into uniform, and as he walked out of the tunnel he was met with an ovation that has not been heard since Stockton and Malone roamed the court.

Fisher would end up making a key defensive stop on Baron Davis to send the game into overtime, where he knocked down a three-pointer that helped seal the victory.

Following the game, Fisher vowed to help families going through similar situations, but do not have the resources to receive the care given to his daughter.

Even with the annoying commercial, the short highlight video is a must watch.


5. Bo Kimble's Left Handed Tribute to Hank Gathers

Eric "Hank" Gathers and Greg "Bo" Kimble shared a bond that very few college teammates experience.

They grew up playing prep ball together at Dobbins Technical High School, signed to the University of Southern California together and then proceeded to transfer to Loyola Marymount University, together. Watch their Today Show interview where they describe their relationship.

At LMU, under Coach Paul Westhead, “The Hank and Bo Show” ran a "Gasoline on fire" offense. Three-point shots were encouraged, and the majority of their possessions lasted less then 10 seconds.

Gathers, in '88, led the country in both scoring (32.7 per game) and rebounding (13.7 per game), and in ’89, Kimble averaged 35.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

In '90, during the West Coast Conference Tournament, after a routine dunk, Gathers collapsed to the floor (this was the second time in a span of five months this happened to Hank). He passed away upon arrival at the hospital. The cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart-muscle disorder.

ESPN gives an excellent recap of the experience . This moment was named No. 62 on the list of the 100 Most Memorable Moments of the Past 25 Years.
The WCC tournament was suspended and since LMU had won the regular season Conference Title, they were rewarded the automatic bid to the NCAA tourney and given an 11th seed.

Kimble and the rest of the LMU squad made an unforgettable run to the Elite Eight before losing to the eventual champions, Larry Johnson's UNLV team.

As Dan Levitar wrote, "They couldn't bring him back, so they played with his spirit, and that carried them a little higher, above their despair. It was moving, watching that, mourning death and celebrating life all at once."

As a way to honor Gathers, Kimble, a right-hander who was known to struggle from the line, shot his free-throw attempts left handed . He made all three.


4. Chris Paul Scores 61 For Grandfather

Chris Paul, before becoming CP3 and an international icon, was a rising basketball star and Senior Class President at West Forsyth High School in Winstom-Salem, North Carolina.
Five days before beginning his senior season, and the day after he signed with Wake Forest, Paul received the news that his Grandfather had been murdered.

Nathaniel Jones came home from work to find that his house was being robbed by five teenagers. He was tied up, beaten, and left for dead. The cause of death was a heart arrhythmia caused by the stress of the incident.
Jones, Chris' biggest fan, and the first African-American man in North Carolina to own a gas station, was known to close up shop early to go watch his grandson play.
To honor his grandfather, Chris decided he would play in the team's first game. After speaking with his Aunt they found that the best way to do this was by attempting to score 61 points, one point for every year of Nathaniel's life.
Prior to that night the most Paul had ever scored in a game was 34. In that game, he scored 24 points in the second quarter alone. As the game progressed, and he inched closer to the desired number, a buzz began to filter through the crowd.

Word had gotten out.

Late in the fourth quarter, Paul drove to the hoop, put up a shot while drawing a foul, and made the bucket.

61. He had done it.

Paul walked to the free-throw line and instead of attempting the shot, he threw the ball out of bounds. He then walked off the court and right into the arms of his father.
"It was just like everything came out of him," Charles Paul said. "He just walked over to me and gave me a hug. He just fell in to my arms. It just tore me up because of what he had just done."

I dare you to try and watch this video without shedding at least one tear.


3. J—Mac

Autism is the fastest growing disability in the United States, rising at an alarming rate of 10 to 17 percent a year.

Jason McElwain, who lives with autism, was able to provide inspiration to every single individual suffering from this disability. He did this in the short span of four minutes and 19 seconds. It was an event that more than twenty film companies wanted to retell.

J—Mac was the manager of his High School varsity basketball team, when Coach Johnson approached him about suiting up for the team's final home game.

The entire world knows the rest...
Late in the game, Coach Johnson looked down the bench and gave McElwain the nod. Jason took care of the rest. His first three-point basket was met with screams of joy by the home fans. He would receive the same response on each of his next six makes.

In all, Jason scored 20 points and tied the school record with six three-pointers.

When the game ended, the fans rushed the floor and raised Jason high in the air, Rudy Rudiger style.
Watch the video that brought former President Bush to tears.


2. Texas Western Wins 1966 National Championship

The Civil Rights Era saw many African-American's make monumental history. While Martin Luther King conveyed his message with words, the '66 Texas Western Miners made their statement on the basketball court.

The '66 Miners were the first team to start five African-American players in a National Championship. In fact, only the seven African-American players on the Miners team saw the floor in the final game.

In the finals , they defeated legendary coach Adolph Rupp, who had won four National Championships, and his Kentucky team led by basketball legend Pat Riley.
Senior Harry Flournoy put it best, "Kentucky was playing for a commemorative wristwatch and the right to say they were national champions. We were out to prove that it didn't matter what color a person's skin was."

Unbeknown to them was the ripple effect their accomplishment would have on the sports landscape moving forward.

Scoop Jackson summed it up perfectly, "A (Texas Western) loss would have meant…John Thompson isn't allowed to put together those teams at Georgetown without resistance from the school or the conference…Nate Archibald never leaves NYC to follow Bobby Joe's footprints…Nolan Richardson never gets out of El Paso to coach Arkansas to become only one of three black coaches to ever win an NCAA championship."

In 2006, Disney made a film, Glory Road, about the famous '66 season.


1. Jimmy V
Jimmy V earned the No. 1 spot on this list for two separate but related moments. They occurred 10 years apart, but were similar in nature, exhibiting his passion for the game of basketball and life in general.

The first occurred in 1983 when Coach Valvano led his North Carolina State team to a National Championship win. In the finals they defeated overwhelming favorite University of Houston, powered by two eventual NBA Hall of Famers Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

After NC States Jerome Charles' late game heroics broke a 52-52 tie and the clock struck zero, Valvano could be seen running around the court frantically looking for a familiar face to share the moment with.

The second moment came in the form of a speech that Valvano gave at the ESPY awards eight weeks before succumbing to bone cancer.

He was accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. During his acceptance speech, he announced that he was starting the "Jimmy V Foundation."

All of the money donated goes directly to finding a cure for cancer. The motto for the foundation is; " Don't give up. Don't ever give up."

While there are no words to describe the gripping fashion in which he delivered the speech , I want to leave you with an excerpt that everyone should take to heart.

"To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought.

"And No. 3 is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special."


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