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The Day in Sports | COUNTDOWN TO 2000 / A day-by-day
recap of some of the most important sports moments
of the 20th Century: JULY 18, 1996

It Was a Big Deal, but Something's Missing

July 18, 1999|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Lakers Hit the Shaqpot," read the headline in the next day's paper.

Three years ago today, after playing chicken with tens of millions of dollars with Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos, Jerry Buss acquired 7-foot-1, 320-pound center Shaquille O'Neal for the biggest contract ever in American team sports.

The deal: $120 million for seven years.

It was Buss' money and Jerry West's midwifery skills.

The Lakers' first move in the transaction was to trade starting center Vlade Divac on draft day, June 26, to make room under the NBA salary cap if the deal amounted to $95 million.

It didn't. DeVos bid more, sending West back to his roster for another long look. He sent Anthony Peeler and George Lynch to Vancouver, enabling the Lakers to bid up to $120 million.

The Magic's bid went to $115 million . . . and stopped. And the Lakers had a 24-year-old center they believed fit well with the franchise's history of dominant post players--George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But at what cost?

The contract broke down to $209,959 per game, $18,942 per rebound or $5,801 per minute played . . . or $43,073 per missed free throw.

Three years later, the Lakers haven't come close to winning an NBA championship, and Shaq still can't shoot free throws.

Also on this date: In 1962, Minnesota's Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew each hit a grand slam in the first inning against Cleveland. The Twins won, 14-3. . . . In 1961, baseball Commissioner Ford Frick announced that Babe Ruth's single-season record of 60 home runs must be broken in 154 games, or an asterisk would be put in the record book. At the time, the New York Yankees' Roger Maris was 19 games ahead of Ruth's 1927 pace. . . . In 1987, the Yankees' Don Mattingly tied Dale Long's record with his eighth home run in eight games. . . . In 1989, former Angel relief pitcher Donnie Moore committed suicide, an act some linked to lingering depression over his yielding the Dave Henderson home run that helped the Boston Red Sox knock the Angels out of the 1986 playoffs.

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