There was very little for the Clippers’ fans to get excited about in the mid to late 1980s. However, on this day 29 years ago, one Clipper delivered a remarkable performance which the 8,157 spectators at the Sports Arena would remember for the rest of their lives.
By Mick Minas
Michael Cage entered the final game of the 1987-88 season in second spot on the NBA’s list of leading rebounders, just 0.2 rebounds a game behind Chicago forward Charles Oakley. The Bulls had already completed their regular season earlier that same evening, so the Clippers knew exactly how many rebounds Cage needed to overtake Oakley. When Cage arrived at the Sports Arena, he found a sign in his locker that read- “29 rebounds to be 1. Do it Michael.”
Grabbing 29 rebounds was not going to be easy. Cage’s career high for rebounds in a single game was 23, so the rest of the Clippers made a decision to try and help their teammate reach this lofty target. “We wanted something positive to come out of that season,” said Earl Cureton, Cage’s back-up at the power forward position. “If the rebound came my way, I kind of batted it to the other side of the board so that (Michael) could get it. I was just trying to make sure he got his numbers that night.”
The early signs were promising, as Cage finished the first half with 14 boards. By the end of the third quarter he had 25 and the title seemed to be his for the taking. However, over the first seven and half minutes of the final period, Cage only managed to grab a single rebound and it was beginning to look like he might fall agonizingly short.
The next two minutes saw Cage seize two boards, placing him in a tie with Oakley. Then, with just 1:51 on the clock, Seattle’s Sedale Threatt missed. It looked like Clipper guard Mike Woodson might have control of the defensive rebound but he bobbled the ball and it ended up in Cage’s firm hands. Cage secured one more rebound, giving him a total of 30, which was enough for a 0.03 edge on Oakley and the honor of being recognized as the NBA’s best rebounder. Cage finished with an average of 13.03 rebounds to Oakley’s 13.00.
Despite Cage's extraordinary performance, the Clippers lost to Seattle by nine points, giving them a 17-65 record for the season. After the game, Cage hosted a “Summer’s Here” themed party, so he could celebrate the rebounding title with his teammates. And while summer may have been a few months away, the Clippers were about to head off on another early vacation, after missing the playoffs for an 11th consecutive year. Sounds like as good a time as any to throw a party.
You can read more about Michael Cage in "THE CURSE: The Colorful & Chaotic History of the LA Clippers" by visiting Amazon or clicking here.
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