Friday, February 25, 2011

This Day in Black Sports History: February 24, 1998

Although she suffered a season-ending injury in the penultimate game of her college basketball career, Nykesha Simone Sales left the University of Connecticut (UConn) as the Huskies’ all-time leading scorer.

In her first three seasons, Sales helped lead UConn to a NCAA Championship and two Elite Eight appearances, while winning the Rookie of the Year Award in her freshman campaign and Big East Player of the Year honors during her junior season.

Sales also distinguished herself on the defensive end of the court, capturing the Defensive Player of the Year Award in a stellar junior campaign as well.

As she evolved into a more prolific scoring threat, UConn’s all-time scoring record, held by Kerry Bascom, was within reach at the start of Sales’ senior season.

However, needing only two points to break Bascom’s seven-year mark, Sales’ collegiate playing career ended when she tore her Achilles tendon with one game left to play in the regular season.

But feeling remorseful that Sales didn’t already have the record, as he had to bench her to avoid running up the score in a multitude of games, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma drew up a play to make it up to his All-American forward.

Upon obtaining approval from Villanova head coach Harry Perretta, UConn’s season finale opponent, the Big East Commissioner and Kerry Bascom, Sales was allowed to hobble on to the court at the start of the game to make an uncontested layup, giving her 2,178 career points and the UConn all-time scoring record.

"Honest to God, if she [Bascom] would have said, 'Coach, I mean, that's not right.' Then it would have been over," Auriemma would later say.

UConn returned the favor by permitting Villanova to score an uncontested layup of its own, so that serious play would begin with the score tied at 2-2.

But what was supposed to be a celebrated event came under tremendous scrutiny when many sports columnists argued that Sales’ basket violated the integrity of the game.

The basket became even more controversial when ESPN The Magazine discovered Sales had been incorrectly credited with two extra points in a previous game at Seton Hall.

Nevertheless, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, Seton Hall announced they wouldn’t alter the box score of the game, thus keeping Sales’ point total at 2,178.

Similarly, Sales showed the same type of respect to the woman whose record she broke, choosing to wear #42 on her jersey coming out of high school instead of asking to wear the #24 jersey that Bascom wore at UConn.

Sales would go on to become a six-time WNBA All-Star for the Orlando Miracle, later the Connecticut Sun, leading the team to the WNBA Finals in 2004 and 2005.

Until she missed 12 games in the 2006 season, Sales had started 248 consecutive regular season games, the second longest such streak in WNBA history.

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