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Carlesimo also under scrutiny

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Ron Thomas

BIMBO COLES WAS in tears. Felton Spencer said, “I don’t think it’s fair.” Brian Shaw accused management of not coming to the aid of a troubled player. And the words “only two days” virtually became a mantra throughout the Golden State Warrior’s locker room.

Wednesday night, Latrell Sprewell’s teammates couldn’t believe that the Warrior’s management had gotten rid of their $32-million man just two days after he had literally gone for the throat of coach P.J. Carlesimo. But maybe that prepared them for the bigger blow yesterday, when NBA Commissioner David Stern banned Sprewell for the next year.

“I thought there would be more of an investigation,” Joe Smith, Sprewell’s best friend on the Warriors, said after the team suspended him.

Here’s my question to Smith: What was that to investigate?

The Warriors had to cut him loose once the basic facts of the incident had been confirmed – that an enraged Sprewell grabbed Carlesimo by the throat Monday, left the scene, then returned 15 minutes and threatened to kill his coach if Sprewell wasn’t traded.

In the game of real life, if you choke your boss, you’re out of the door. What Sprewell did took the phrase “Player-coach confirmation” to a new level, hopefully never to be seen again.

“I’ve heard it all, seen it all,” said Warriors guard Duane Ferrell, a to-year NBA vetran. “But I just haven’t seen anyone just grab a coach and attack him.

“I’ve seen players put their finger in a coach’s face, I’ve seen players chase a coach out of a locker room and threaten to kick a coach’s butt. I’ve seen players run at coaches and get close to them, but not actually physically touch them.”

Warriors’ management took the high road, saying dumping Sprewell was an ethical decision based on their refusal to give in to insubordination. But the fact is, they also admitted trying to trade him beforehand.

One can imagine what those conversations sounded like?

General manager Garry St. Jean: “What would you give us for Sprewell?”

Opposing GM: “How about a box of Cracker Jacks and a plastic toy to be mailed later?”

The Warriors had no bargaining power whatsoever, and they must have known that even if they worked out a trade, the NBA was going to squash it by suspending Sprewell for a long, long time. No way the NBA was going to let a player attack a coach, and then get his wish by getting traded. If Sprewell hadn’t been suspended, Stern would have been facing a coaches’ revolt.

So freeing up about $24 million on the salary cap by suspending Sprewell looked irresistibly attractive to the Warriors.

They might lose their upcoming battle with the NBA Players Association, which will file a grievance on Sprewell’s behalf. “To strip a player of his ability to pursue his livelihood for a full year based on one isolated incident is excessive and unreasonable punishment,” union head Billy Hunter said. “A $25 million forfeiture of salary and one-year expulsion is staggering.” Whatever happens, suspending Sprewell was the best option the Warriors had.

That removed one problem. Now the Warriors have to figure out what to do with another one – Carlesimo.

“(Sprewell) has a stigma that’s going to follow him for the rest of his life,” Warriors guard Muggsy Bogues said. “And so does P.J.”

Usually, Carlesimo is a chatterbox with a raspy voice, like Anthony Quinn’s portrayal of Mountain Rivera in “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” But Wednesday night, Carlesimo’s voice barely reached whisper level. He looked and sounded emotionally wrung out.

Three seasons ago, it was Don Nelson who left the Warriors for health reasons after getting stressed out over the Chris Webber ordeal: Carlesimo soon may be occupying Nelson’s old place in the coach’s rest and recuperation center.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if St. Jean, who sought several head-coaching jobs after being fired by the Sacramento Kings last season, switches jobs with Carlesimo before the season ends.

If Carlesimo remains as coach, he’s got to temper his in-your­face, confrontational style. It got him fired in Portland, even though he compiled a 137-109 record and made the playoffs three consecutive years. Even if the Warriors had a billion dollars to spend on free agents, a bunch of them won’t come here because of Carlesimo’s turbulent track record.

In less than four NBA seasons, he’s had bitter relationships with Rod Strickland; Isaiah Rider and Cliff Robinson in Portland, and now with Sprewell here. Granted, they’re not the Boy Scouts of the NBA, but coaches are paid to find a way to get along with difficult players. And they’re certainly not paid to alienate mild-mannered players, either.

Professional athletes get paid unfathomable amounts of money, but that doesn’t mean they leave their feelings at the locker room door. If a coach plays tough-guy too often, any success he achieves occurs despite him, not because of him.

Some players respond well to strident criticism, Ferrell said, but “Others go into a shell. Then other ones feel as though you’re attacking their manhood and they’re not going to stand for it. Like, ‘I’m a grown man. I’m not a kid. You don’t talk to me that way.’

“I think it’s all up to the individual.”

Now, it’s all up to P.J.

_____________________________

Ron Thomas is an IJ staff writer. Write to him care of Sports, Marin Independent Journal, P.O. Box 6150, Novato 94948-6150.

JORDAN: BULLS’ SPIRITUAL LEADER AND LEADING SCORER

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Air Jordan Lands on Oakland

Bulls’ Spunk and Dunk

By Ron Thomas

…………… Correspondent

 

If basketball superstars were …….. what would Michael Jordan’s look like? …….sparkle with a claster of …..? Would it be a …….. made of platinum?

……… who have played with the Chicago Bulls’ shining light ……………. ……….. Instead, they would ……… the nearest construction …………….. on a metal hard hat, and …………… on the head of the working ………… superstar.

Jordan, the NBA’s leading scorer at 37-3…….. per game, will make his only appearance in the Bay area this season in tonight’s 8 p.m. game against the Warriors. He already has achieved ………….. on which legends are …… of points in the season …… ……….. New York; an NBA record 10 straight points to close out another ………… against the Knicks; and ……………. A team of role players to a ……….

There are accomplishments that ……….. many stars a reprieve ……….. ………. …………. Aspects of basket……. Jordan’s willingness to …… ……. Who his teammates ……………… most to the Bulls.

“There’s a beautiful spirit …….. ….. man,” said former Warriors …… John Bach, now a Bulls ……………. …… “That’s why ……. Air Jordan. ………….. airline to be abroad.”

…………… days ago, the Warrior’s ………………… ……….. was relaxing after pract…… relishing the rare day off ……. ….. receive on Thanksgiving Day. Then several reporters wandered over asking how he would …… Jordan tonight, and Mullin tried ….. best to change the subject.

………. The type of guy who could

ruin your day ,” Mullin said.

Yet, Mullin couldn’t resist telling a few nostalgic tales about Jordan, who was Mullin’s roommate when they both played on the 1984 Olympic team.

“We used to practice three times a day for about two months,” Mullin recalled. “After the first ……… guys were tired and sore, and we’d come to the night practice………. Be sitting down until the coach …….. there.”

Jordan would entertain himself on the court – whriling through the air for 360-degree dunks. Michael Jordan – tired of ………..? No way.

“I’m thinking I’ve got to guard this guy for two hours, and I can’t get out of my seat,” Mullin said. “This is not correct.”

Many players lose the enthusiasm for practice when they must survive the 82-game NBA grind and Jordan has the added mental prestige of performing to a star’s level every night and handling media demands.

His basketball fervor has never ……….

“It’s something rare when a star plays as hard at practice as at the game,” Bulls forward Earl Cureton said. “He works as hard as the last guy on the roster. He’s a guy who loves to play basketball.”

“I like to work hard in practice,” Jordan said before last night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. “There’s a saying: you always practice like you play.”

So when his teammate’s spirits are lagging, Jordan said he likes to churn up their competitive nature in practice.

In a scrimmage, he said he might declare that the red team’s going to get their butts kicked. Because of the natural instinct of a basketball player, he’s going to try to retaliate and work harder.

Wednesday in Denver, the Bulls suffered an emotionally draining two-point loss. The next day it was time for Jordan the motivator to take over.

“He’s like a basketball junkie,” coach Dough Collins said. “Yesterday, Earl Cureton was yelling ‘Get him his daily fix! Get him his daily fix!’ on fastbreak drills, the guy was just unbelievable.”

The Collins made darting jabs with his hands, like someone trying to describe the path of a overactive bumble bee.

“He knew we were coming off a downer,” Collins continued. “This team is an emotional team, and there was pain on their faces when they lost the other night. Michael realized it and said, I’, going to get these gyus jacked up in practice today.”

That night the Bulls had Thanksgiving dinner together at the team hotel. It’s not the best way to spend a holiday, but Jordan added a little family spirit by buying two $100 bottles o Dom Perignon champagne for his teammates.

It often is said that superstars are gifted with the rare ability to make their teammates better players and Jordan definitely has done that this seson.

In almost every …………………. …………. Cast, the Bulls were picked ……………………. Last in the Central Division. Though trades, injuries or free agent castoffs, Jordan was the only returning player among last yesr’s top six scorers. Gone were Orlando Woorlridge, Sindey Green, ………………. Delley and George Gervis, ……………… satile Gene banks broke his foot…………… in the exhibition season.

With those players, Chicago had won just 30 games and barely squeezed into the playoffs after Jordan returned from a 84-game absence caused by a broken foot.

The history of the new herd of Bulls could have been depressing. Except for Jordan, no other Bulls on the active roster has a career scoring average of more than 10 points per game, and starting center Granville Walters averaged 10 minutes and 2.7 points in three previous NBA seasons.

Yet, they have become a winning team, despite the fact that nine of their first 11 games were decided in the last 30 seconds. Credit Jordan’s impact and humility.

Guard John Paxon ranks sixth in the NBA in shooting accuracy, shooting 57.7 percent from the field. “Michael has a lot to do with it,” Paxons said. “Teams are double or triple-teaming him, and that leaves the rest of us wide open for baskets. Even though he goes up for a shot, he’s still able to find the open man.”

But Jordan, openly admits that his teammates have made him better, too, by setting picks for him, …….. almost all of the ball-handling ……. can’t be double-teamed and …………. the NBA’s third-best …………… team.

“They have relieved a lot of pressure off me, because they have stepped up and gotten some of the respect that they deserve,” he said. They haven’t sat back and said, “This is Michael Jordan. Let him do all.”

He probably could do it all if necessary, but tonight may be the first time Warrior fans see Jordan at his best. In his rookie year, they ………. Booed former coach Kevin ………… for playing Jordan only …….. minutes in Oakland. And during ….. October’s visit, he broke his left ………. early in the first half of the game.

“I remember it, but it’s in the ……. And I hate to think about it,” Jordan said. “It was just a freak accident, I went up for a long pass, I misjudged my landing and hurt my foot. I’m not even thinking about …….. going into Oakland.

“This is a whole new year. We’ve got a different team, and ………. On a roll.”

BREAKING THE NBA COLOR BARRIER

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By RON THOMAS

San Francisco Chronicle

The moment was not a media event. In no way did it rival the hubbub surrounding the entry of Jackie Robinson into major league baseball 3 ½ years earlier.

Which made perfectly good sense. Robinson, after all, was breaking a longstanding color barrier when he broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Becoming the first black to play modern big-league ball, Robinson was the object of intense scrutiny by sportswriters, fans and peers. His every step was watched and chronicled.

Earl Lloyd’s debut in the National Basketball Association created no such fuss. Sure, he was the first black to appear in an NBA game. But blacks had played­ even coached-in the professional National Basketball League, which arrived on the sporting scene in 1937-38 and weathered 12 seasons before merging with the forerunner of the NBA, the three­ season-old Basketball Association of America, in 1949-50. The BAA had been all-white and the amalgamated league, the NBA, had no blacks in ’49-50.

In some quarters, four seasons of all­white play hardly constituted an impenetrable barrier. Unless, perhaps, you happened to be black. And, considering the sociological tenor of the times and the domination that blacks eventually would attain in pro basketball, the breakthrough achieved by Lloyd-and others-obviously is more than a mere footnote to NBA history.

Pro basketball was making major strides as the NBA prepared for its 1950-51 season. With more franchises in major markets (like New York) and George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers providing some true marquee appeal, the pro game in general and the NBA in particular were clearly gaining popularity. While black players had toiled in relative obscurity in the NBL (whose outposts included such cities as Oshkosh, Wis.), they toiled not at all in the NBA. Until, that is, the night of October 31, 1950.

On that Halloween evening 40 years ago, Lloyd, a 22-year-old rookie forward, played for the Washington Capitols in the opening game of the NBA season at Rochester, N.Y. The newcomer appeared in only six more games in the 1950-51 season

On Halloween night, 1950, with the Washington Capitols, Llyod became the first black to play in the NBA.

The Sporting News 1990-91 Pro Basketball Yearbook

 

Earl Llyod                                Chuck Cooper                                         Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton

It’s easy to forget there was a time when the now 75 percent black league was 100 percent white

before being drafted into the Army. The Capitols themselves played only 34 more games before disbanding in January.

Lloyd pulled down a game-leading 10 rebounds against Rochester and had five assists, which tied for the game high. He finished with six points.

The next night, Chuck Cooper, the first black ever drafted by an NBA team, made his debut with the Boston Celtics. Three days later, Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton made his initial appearance with the New York Knicks, and in midseason Hank DeZonie played a handful of games for the Tri­ Cities Blackhawks.

Together, they integrated the NBA.

Three more black players entered the league in 1951-52: Don Barksdale and Davage (David) Minor with the Baltimore Bullets and Bob Wilson with the Milwaukee Hawks.

Today, with six black head coaches in the NBA, 75 percent of its players black and the league featuring such stars as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when the NBA was 100 percent white.

“It’s really funny,” said Lloyd, now an administrator for Detroit’s Board of Education. “I was walking through the airport one day and here come the Indiana Pacers, all these young black kids. I just spoke to them-‘How you doing?’-and they don’t have any idea (who Lloyd is.)

“The black players today are very removed from that, and you’ve got to know your roots. Any player playing in this league today ought to know who opened that door for them.”

Yet Lloyd didn’t grasp his own historical significance at the time.

“You’re so young and you’re so green, you’re concerned about playing,” he said. “As I look back on it now, I can appreciate it more than I could then.”

It should be pointed out that in 1950 blacks often endured separate-and inferior-public accommodations and education in the United States. In many cities­ especially in the South-blacks could not vote and often were victims of unprovoked violence.

When the first black players entered the NBA, the league was dipping into largely untapped territory. But financial, media and competitive pressures forced

Continued

Shortly after Llyod’s debut, Clifton, a former Harlem Globetrotter, made his initial appearance with the New York Knocks.

The Sporting News 1990-91 Pro Basketball Yearbook.

Don Barksdale was the first black U.S. Olympic basketball player as well as the first black to play in an NBA All-Star Game.

the league to begin drafting and signing black players at the outset of the 1950s.

Media pressure was being exerted in large part by sportswriters at black news­ papers, such as Sam Lacy of the Balti- more Afro-American.

“The fact that the baseball experiment (with Robinson) had proved successful … was the basis for some of my writings,” Lacy said. “I used that as sort of a lever­ that baseball had undertaken it, and it was time for basketball.”

Leonard Koppett, who covered the New York Knicks for the New York Times in the 1940s and ’50s, said Robinson’s success proved that black and white teammates could get along. The popularity of basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters showed that white sports fans would attend events that included-and even featured-black players. Not only would whites attend, but they also would exhibit reasonable deportment toward the participants. Considering that fans sat within an elbow’s reach of the players in the arenas of that era, the absence of any major fan-player flareups was no small achievement.

Concerns about acts of rowdyism sound ludicrous today, but 40 years ago, such worries were prevalent among team owners, players and society.

Beyond the evidence that pro-basket­ ball integration would work in terms of human compatibility, there also were financial reasons for the racial break­ through. The Celtics had posted a 22-46 record in 1949-50 and Owner Walter Brown already was heavily in debt. Boston desperately needed an infusion of talent before the 1950-51 season, which would be Red Auerbach’s first as the Celtics’ coach.

The Capitols’ franchise was struggling, too, and the front office viewed the addition of a black player as a means to boost attendance in Washington, which had a large black population.

With some owners, such as Brown and New York’s Ned Irish, social enlightenment also was a factor.

“Irish and Walter Brown both felt the time was right, and both had a fairly progressive attitude, relative to the times, toward integration,” said sports sociologist Richard Lapchick, whose father Joe coached the Knicks from the late ’40s to the early ’50s. “Also, the coaches were pushing hard-Auerbach and my father.”

Despite those pressures to integrate, Boston journalist George Sullivan wrote that many owners still were shocked on April 25, 1950, when Brown opened the second round of the NBA draft by announcing: “Boston takes Charles Cooper of Duquesne.”

At the closed-door meeting in Chicago, there was long silence. Then one owner said, “Walter, don’t you know he’s a colored boy?”

Brown shot back: “I don’t give a damn if he’s striped or plaid or polka dot. Boston takes Charles Cooper of Duquesne!”

In the ninth round, the Capitols chose Lloyd out of West Virginia State.

“They could have picked me on the 45th round,” Lloyd said. “It wouldn’t have made any difference. Nobody else was going to pick me.”

The Capitols were confident that they had invested wisely in Lloyd, a 6-foot-6 forward from Alexandria, Va., which is just outside Washington. Lloyd obviously had local appeal. Plus, the Caps had scouted Lloyd and Harold Hunter, a guard from North Carolina College, in a black colleges tournament, and both had played well in a pre-draft tryout held at Washington’s Uline Arena.

John McLendon, Hunter’s college coach, vividly recalls preparing the two players for that tryout.

“We went up to Howard University and got the gym,” McLendon said. “‘We ran a little two-man stuff just to get the ball in their hands for about a half-hour.

“We started driving down to Uline and on the way down the hill, Earl said, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t know how to switch.’ ”

McLendon knew that Lloyd’s college coach, Mark Cardwell, hadn’t let his players switch on defense because he wanted them to fight through picks.

“As soon as Earl said it, I started looking for a playground,” McLendon said. “I turned off Georgia Avenue and the first street happened to be a dead-end street.”

All three men got out of the car and a passer-by joined them as a fourth player. Then they worked out, two on two, for about 10 minutes so Lloyd could feel somewhat comfortable at the tryout.

The rest is history.

“I can’t recall all the details (of the try­ out),” said Lloyd, who went on to play eight full seasons in the NBA and later coached the Detroit Pistons, “because I was probably scared to death.”

Hank DeZonie’s five-game NBA career “was a miserable experience” due to the segregation of balck players.

Lloyd spent the bulk of his NBA career with the Syracuse Nationals, for whom he averaged a career-high 10.2 points in 1954-55. Overall, Lloyd scored 8.4 points per game in 560 pro contests.

Syracuse teammate Dolph Schayes called Lloyd a “cop on the beat” player.

“He (Lloyd) had the dirty work to do,” Schayes said. “They called him ‘The Cat.’ He was very quick, very agile.”

While Lloyd unquestionably was the first black to play in the NBA and Cooper undeniably was the first black to be chosen in an NBA draft, considerable confusion reigns over which black was the first to sign an NBA contract. Some say it was Clifton, who went from the Globetrotters to the New York Knicks before the 1950- 51 season; others contend it actually was Hunter, who signed with Washington but was cut in the preseason; and there are those who say it was Cooper, claiming he signed immediately after the draft.

No matter. The main thing was that the color barrier was tumbling down.

Later in the 1950-51 season, the Tri­ Cities Blackhawks signed DeZonie, who had been with the storied, all-black New York Rens team.

By season’s end, Cooper had indeed helped the Celtics turn things around. He averaged 9.3 points per game and was tough on the backboards. A couple other Celtic newcomers-Ed Macauley and Bob Cousy-played even bigger roles as Boston finished nine games over 500.

While Lloyd’s season was short-circuited by Uncle Sam, Clifton played creditably for the Knicks and went on to average 10 points a game over eight pro seasons.

The NBA’s great experiment had begun. And it proved a success both on and off the court.

Cooper, who wound up playing six NBA seasons and compiling only mediocre statistics, developed a lifelong friendship with Boston star Cousy. The Celtics’ ball-handling wizard shared Cooper’s love for jazz and sense of fairness.

“Cousy is about as free of the affliction of racism as any white person I’ve ever known,” Cooper once said.

Minor, who averaged 7.6 points as a fancy-passing point guard over two seasons with Baltimore and Milwaukee, and Wilson both became close friends with Mel Hutchins, who starred with the Milwaukee Hawks, and Wilson also remembers Cal Christensen, Don Otten and Kevin O’Shea with affection.

“These were pretty solid guys and I don’t think (race) was an issue with them,” Wilson said.

And as much as Clifton enjoyed his teammates-he called them “a great bunch of guys”-they probably had even greater fondness for him. His roommate, Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe (father of the Knicks’ Kiki Vandeweghe), called Clifton “a gentle giant …just a sweet person.”

Vince Boryla, another teammate, said he had wonderful memories of Clifton, a Chicago cab driver for the last 30 years.

“A terrible card player,” Boryla recalled with a chuckle. “Paid all his bills. A little late sometimes, but paid all his bills.”

While things may have gone smoothly within one team, there were occasional confrontations with opponents. Clifton’s old teammates still laugh about his one­ punch knockout of Boston’s Bob Harris. There are different versions of why the fight occurred, but Clifton and Vandeweghe agree that Harris called Sweet­ water a “nigger.” Then the action started. “It was like being in the ring during a Joe Louis fight,” Vandeweghe said.

Clifton faked a right, then socked Harris with a left cross “and knocked him on his ass,” Boryla said. “The whole Boston team ran out and came to a brake. Sweets was there with two fists at his side and there wasn’t one (Celtic) that touched Sweets. You never wanted to get Sweets riled up.”

Life on the road-particularly Southern exhibition swings but also jaunts to not-so­ progressive Northern cities-could be very difficult for black players in those days. Blacks often were banned from white-owned hotels and restaurants.

“It was degrading,” Lloyd said.

DeZonie, reflecting on an NBA career that consisted of only five games, said: “It was a miserable experience because all the fun was out of the game. The accommodations, the segregation-I wasn’t interested in it.”

The black players frequently stayed with black families or at black hotels. Sometimes that worked out: Wilson recalls staying with “very fine families” and meeting Jackie Robinson and Clifton at a

Continued

Davage Minor averaged 7.6 points over two seasons as a fancy-passing point guard for Baltimore and Milwaukee.

black Baltimore hotel.

Whatever good occasionally came out of such a separated society was far out­ weighed by the indignities that went along with it

Some of the black players’ housing was terrible. Lloyd once was stuck in a Paducah, Ky., rooming house in which the closet was a nail hammered into the door. Cooper, then with the St. Louis Hawks, once bad to sleep in a reform school in Shreveport, La.

One of the most humiliating incidents occurred in 1952 when Boston played a neutral-site game in Raleigh, N.C.

The Celtics refused to play there until Raleigh lifted a ban against black players. Getting the go-ahead to play was of little consolation to Cooper, who wasn’t allowed to stay at the team’s hotel. After the game, Cooper decided to take a train home. Cousy insisted on riding with him, and Auerbach and Macauley accompanied them to the train station.

“We all were hungry and thought we could grab a bite at the station’s snack counter,” Auerbach told Sullivan. “But they wouldn’t serve Chuck, so I ordered a mess of sandwiches, and we went out to the platform and desegregated an empty baggage truck.”

Cousy became highly embarrassed when he realized the station had separate bathrooms for blacks and whites.

“I didn’t know what to say,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to say anything trivial or light because I was sure Chuck was experiencing emotional trauma. I was just completely embarrassed by the whole thing because I (as a white person) was part of the establishment that did those things.”

Those incidents left Cooper with such bitter memories that some of his friends believe the mental anguish hastened his death at age 57 in 1984.

“People say I look pretty good for 50,” Cooper told Pittsburgh magazine in 1976. “But all the damage done to me is inside. That’s where it hurts.”

As Cooper and others tried to cope, they and their brethren had mixed feelings about the league’s coaches and team management

Barksdale had a terrible relationship with Baltimore management, which paid him $20,850 in 1951-52, one of the top salaries in the NBA. The team got off to a slow start and Barksdale, a forward playing out of position as a 6–6, 195-pound center, believes he was unfairly blamed. In addition, he says two of his teammates were jealous of his salary, so management was “looking for a way to mess with me.”

Club officials apparently found a way just two months into Barksdale’s NBA career when a front-office operative accused him of breaking a curfew that Barksdale says didn’t exist, then suspended him for two games. Eventually, the team fined Barksdale $5,000, which was almost 25 percent of his salary. Remember, this was long before the players had a union to protect them.

“I said, ‘OK, you’ve got it, but I’ll never play for you again,’ ” said Barksdale, who in 1948 had become the first black U.S. Olympic basketball player. He completed his Baltimore contract in 1952-53 and, in the process, became the first black to play in an NBA All-Star Game. Baltimore then granted his wish to be traded, dealing him to Boston.

Although the black players had a reasonably good relationship with most of their coaches, they voiced a common complaint: Management wanted them to be mainly defenders and rebounders-not scorers.

”I was always setting up (a play) or cutting off or picking,” said Wilson, who averaged 3.7 points as a Milwaukee reserve in 1951-52. “On occasion … they’d give you the ball, but that (passing and defending) was your role.”

Clifton recalls the same situations.

“I couldn’t do anything people would notice,” Clifton said. “So I had to play their type of game-straight, nothing fancy. No backhand passes. It kept me from doing things people might enjoy. My job was to play the toughest guy and get rebounds….”

Wilson took particular delight when those days passed for black players.

“The first black I ever saw shooting was Elgin Baylor,” Wilson said, “and I was so pleased.”

Baylor, who averaged 31.2 points in his 54-game career at Seattle University, joined the Minneapolis Lakers for the 1958-59 season and proceeded to score 24.9 points per game in his rookie campaign. It was the fourth-best average in the league.

 

 

 

Bob Wilson says management wanted blacks to be mainly defenders and rebounders – not scorers.

Baylor, without question, was part of the next era of black players, one in which conditions were somewhat improved but far from ideal.

Zelmo Beaty, an NBA and American Basketball Association center for 12 seasons, said that when he entered the NBA in 1962 some team officials were afraid that if they had too many black starters or black stars, attendance would plummet. To avoid that, he said some coaches would start more black players on the road than at home games.

Wayne Embry, general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, played with the Cincinnati Royals, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks in an 11-year NBA career that ended in 1968-69. He said officials of those teams didn’t discourage blacks from scoring (Embry fashioned a 19.8-point average one season). But he also said that black players, himself included, generally felt they were underpaid compared with equally skilled whites. They also believed that the number of black players was limited by an unwritten quota.

What was the maximum allowed per team? “Back then, we thought it was three,” Embry said.

Bill Russell thought the quota system could be spelled out in easy-to-understand language.

“The general rule,” the longtime Celtics great said, “is you’re allowed to play two blacks at home, three on the road and five when you’re behind.”

Russell is quick to point out that among the two rosters matched in the 1957 NBA Finals-his Celtics and the St. Louis Hawks-only Russell himself was black. The next spring, the St. Louis Hawks became the last all-white team to win the NBA championship.

The racial incidents in the South had lessened in some places by then-but not everywhere.

In 1959, when the Lakers played a neutral-site game in Charleston, W.Va., Baylor refused to play after being told he and two teammates couldn’t stay in the team hotel. Baylor said Lakers officials had promised they wouldn’t play in such segregated cities after a similar incident had occurred two weeks earlier.

Paducah still was a dreaded spot on the exhibition trail. Unlike the time Lloyd had to stay at a rundown black rooming house there in 1957, Beaty and the entire St. Louis Hawks team stayed at a white­ owned hotel in the early 1960s.

Still, black players knew they were unwelcome at many restaurants and business establishments in Paducah. In an effort to avoid incidents, “We didn’t go anywhere, not even to the laundry,” Beaty said.

By this time, the Boston Celtics were really going places-particularly in the standings. And the racial makeup of the Boston club was not lost on the league’s other front offices.

From 1958-59 through 1968-69, Boston won 10 of 11 NBA Finals. Russell, on hand since 1956-57, was joined in that run of success by such fellow black standouts as Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Tom Sanders, Willie Naulls and Embry.

“What Red (Auerbach) did, basically, was get the best people for the job, period,” said Russell, alluding to the fact that the Celtics would play as many as four blacks at a time in those days. “He might have ended up with an all-white team, or an all-black team… Is the team any good? That’s what it’s all about for Red.”

Boston, never known as a city of great racial harmony, was colorblind as it took to its championship basketball team. Oh, the power of winning.

With other clubs taking note of the Celtics’ success and the civil-rights movement of the mid-to-late ’60s also having impact in terms of tearing down many racial barriers, integration of the NBA came steadily after its slow start. As early as 1960-61, the All-NBA team included three blacks­ Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson. By 1967-68, four members of the all-league team were black. In each of the last two seasons, the All-NBA team was entirely black.

To be sure, things have changed drastically in the NBA and in society at large for minority groups. It’s not the ’50s any­ more. But the battle still goes on.

“We were high-profile people and felt if we were successful, it would be a great step toward bridging the (racial) gap,” said Embry, reflecting on his contributions and those of Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton and others. “Perhaps it shouldn’t have been that way, but we were growing up in a country in which racism was prevalent-and we haven’t conquered it yet.”

 

 

Bird on One of His Rolls

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By Ron Thomas

If deity could frown, ….. and fret collectively, then Boston must have been in a funk from June until December.

Favorite ………… ……………..

During ………………………….. . ………………………………..

“There was great concern,” said Bob Woolf, Bird’s agent, friend and next door neighbor. X-rays revealed foreign bodies in the elbow but rest was the prescribed cure. “The elbow is so delicate that if you…. In there (surgically) you could serve ………….” Woolf said.

Then during this preseason Bird – who will lead the Boston Celtics against the Warriors in tonight’s game at the Coliseum Arena (Channel 36, 7:30) – tried to play with recurring back pain that began during the offseason.

“One day I woke up with a minor pain that I thought was just like other injury – a bruise that will go away.” Bird said after yesterday’s practice. “A week later it started bothering me a little more. Two weeks later, I had some problems. A month later, I was in bed and this if from just shooting and playing ball. I waited too long to see a therapist that knew what he was doing.”

When training camp began, Bird says he was “struggling real bad.” Bird missed practice time and exhibition games. If he came out of a game for a few minutes, his back stiffens and sometimes he had to go to the locker room to stretch before he could play again.

When the regular session began, Bird could pass and rebounds as well as ever, but he lacked quick acceleration to the ……. …. Shot was off, he couldn’t …….. over to pick up the ball. ………….. …………

“I struggled for a month to two months,” Bird said, “When (the back pain) quit, my game just started coming.”

“All of a sudden,” B…… coach K.C. Jones said, “he was moving and fluid and he was the old Larry Bird. Everything was there. The flow on the shot, the cuts, the moves and the pass.”

That was mid-December and Bird’s game has soared ever since. ……. Even to new heights, which is not easy for someone who has won the NBA’s last two Most Valuable Player awards.

The past two months, he played as well as I’ve seen anyone play ……… Danny A……………. …………………

BIRD ON ONE OF THOSE ROLLS – UNSTOPPABLE

points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, even though he was ejected (with two technical fouls) with 10 minutes left to play in Monday’s loss in Phoenix.

The streak began with back-to-back ripple-double against Seattle and Portland. The latter was a dreamland performance that included 47 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists, 21 for 34 shooting, at least eight baskets with his left hand, the game-tying basket that forced over time and the game winning jumper with Trail Blasers hanging all over him for a one-point victory.

“He was awesome,” Ainge said that night. “On the last shot, I saw him go up and I said to myself, ‘No no,’ but he made it, I couldn’t believe it and I think he even got fouled on the play.”

“Three times,” Bird said. “I got fouled three times before I finally hit the shot.”

That was no surprise. “Bird is maybe the greatest clutch player that ever played the game,” said Portland coach Jack Ramsay, usually a master of understatement.

“There’s a lot of guys who can shoot it if they’re up by one or it’s a tie score,” Bird said. “There aren’t many guys in this league who are going to take the shot. If they’re down by one – especially the last second shot.

“That’s a tough shot to take. To tell you every time I would like to do that, that would be ridiculous.”

But Bird takes it – and makes it – again and again.

I shot so much, by the time you get the ball and start moving, when you go up for the shot you don’t think about being scared or missing,” he said.

“I just do what I always do. After it leaves my hand and I watch it, that’s when I start thinking about it.”

Has he ever played better than he is now?

“I don’t know,” said Bird, who has excelled despite feeling pain in his elbow again the past month. “Some days you go in Spurts and you wonder why you do so. Some day you struggle a little bit and you wonder why you struggle.

“I play the game the same way every night, and some nights, you’re a little better than others. It’s hard to say if I’m on top of my game.”

There are technical reasons why bird even betters himself sometimes. He doesn’t know why, but shooting a lot of free throws during a game seems to help his outside shot. And recently, his teammates have been looking for him near the basket more than usual.

“Usually, if I start out hitting my inside shots, my outside shots fall too,” Bird said. “In this past two weeks, everything inside and outside has been going.”

Sometimes there is an extra special night when the game belongs to Larry Bird.

“I’ve been in a lot of games where I knew I had complete control of the game,” Bird said.

“It’s a cocky feeling. I had it (Monday) night. When the game started, I really thought I could have scored 50 points – easy.”

Bird scored 18 points against Phoenix in the first quarter, but sat out a few minutes in the second period, never regained his rhythm and finished with 24.

But the power to control a game is always there, and neither Bird not his opponent knows when it will surface.

For the Warriors, tonight may be one of those nights.

(Tomorrow: the Beginnings of Larry Bird)

 

Portfolio | A’s First Black Player Is Subject of Tribute

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A’s first black player is subject of tribute

By Ron Thomas

Independent Journal reporter

Mention Jackie Robinson and even the most casual baseball fan will know that in 1947 he became the first black major leaguer in modern times. Not only did his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers change his sport, but it also had a dramatic impact upon all of Amari­ can society.

But mention Bob Trice, and even the most ardent baseball fan likely will draw a blank. Yet he, too, is an important figure in the integration of America’s most revered sport, for Trice was the first black player to perform in an Athletics’ uniform.

Trice, who died in 1988, and the overall integration of major league baseball will be honored tomorrow during the Oakland A’s annual FanFest. A variety of discussion sessions will be held in Jack London Square beginning at noon, including one about players such as Trice who were racial pioneers like Robinson, but whose stories largely are untold.

A 6-foot-3, 190-pound right­ handed pitcher, Trice broke into the majors on Sept. 13, 1953, when the A’s were located in Philadelphia and the owner was the famed Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as Connie Mack. Trice pitched in Philadelphia in parts of the 1953 and ’54 seasons, then ac-

See Trice, page C3

 

INSIDE:

Complete schedule of events for tomorrow’s Oakland A’s FanFest at Jack London Square

 

 

 

Trice

From page C1

companied the franchise’s move to Kansas City in 1955, where he ended his big-league career with four appearances. The A’s moved to Oakland in 1968.

Altogether, Trice was 9-9 with a 5.80 ERA in 26 games with the A’s, 21 as a starter. Not an enviable record, but he certainly had legitimate excuses. Trice was playing for one of the worst teams in baseball, one that averaged 58 wins and 96 losses during his tenure. Plus, he had to deal with discrimination that became so aggravating in 1954 that he asked to return to the minor leagues because he enjoyed playing there more.

Trice was born in 1926 in Newton, Ga., and began playing baseball in Weirton, W. Va. Although he preferred football and basketball, he lucked into a professional baseball career in 1948. Trice’s son, a middle school teacher in Detroit also named Bob, said his father earned a roster spot on the Negro Leagues’ Homestead Grays after a friend bet the team’s owner that Trice could make the roster.

He was an infielder-outfielder at the time, playing for one of the most famous teams in Negro League history. Trice seldom played in his first two years, not with future Baseball Hall of Famers such as Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard on his team.

Instead, Trice told his son he was in charge of the duffle bag players put their wallet in during a game, passed a hat through the crowd to collect extra money from fans, and carried and packed the team’s bats and balls.

The Grays traveled by bus, and Trice recalled that, “Many nights, I slept on the equipment. When you’re a rookie, the veterans have grabbed the seats. What are you going to do – tell Josh Gibson you want his seat?”

The younger Trice isn’t sure when his dad was converted into a pitcher. But he knows Trice received tips from one of the best ever, the legendary Satchel Paige. They were teammates on barnstorming teams and Paige once told Trice: “You can call yourself a pitcher when you’ve got a full count on the batter, the bases are loaded, it’s the bottom of the ninth and you throw the man a changeup. Everybody in the ballpark, including the man at the plate, expects you to throw the heat.

“Basically, it’s a fool’s play. But it’s so foolish, it’s the best thing to do.”

An encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues lists Trice as a pitcher­ outfielder with the Grays from 1948-50, before he joined integrated baseball in 1951 with Farnham in the Provincial League in Canada. In 1953, he was the Triple-A International League’s Rookie of the Year after compiling a 21-10 record with Ottawa.

The younger Trice doesn’t know how and why his father was signed by the A’s, but Philadelphia promoted him to the big leagues that September. According to his son, on Trice’s first day with the A’s, he was ignored by all of his new teammates except pitcher Bobby Shantz.

Trice put on his uniform in the locker room. “Not one person would speak to me,” he told his son. Then he ran to the outfield just to get a feel for his surroundings. Shantz later came out of the dugout, ran out to center field, introduced himself and said, “Trice, I’m glad that you’re here.”

More than 43 years have passed since then, yet Shantz still remembers that scene.

“I just went out and just talked to him a little,” said Shantz, now 71 and retired in suburban Philadelphia. “These other guys were trying to act indifferent. I didn’t want it to bother him, and I don’t think it did bother him.”

Trice lost his big-league debut, 5-2, against the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles) on Sept. 13, 1953, but Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Art Morrow praised his performance, writing “… he flashed a fastball and slider that promised brighter things to come.”

A week later, Trice picked up his first win, 13-9, over the Washington Senators (the current Minnesota Twins). He finished that season with a 2-1 record and a 5.48 ERA.

His teammates’ rude welcome was the first of many racially-based aggravations Trice had to tolerate.

The A’s added two more black players the next season, Joe Taylor and Vic Power, and true to the segregation customs of the South, they often were not allowed to stay at the team hotel during spring training. Instead, Trice lived with a black family in Florida.

“The only thing I remember about that prejudice crap was dropping them off in colored neighborhoods to change clothes,” Shantz said. “They’d take us (the white players) to the hotel, and when we’d go back to the ballpark they’d pick him up. And then after the game, drop him off again.

“I felt a little uncomfortable about it. I never said anything. Nothing I could not do about it.”

Restaurants also discriminated against black players, and once Trice became very upset about A’s management’s lack of sensitivity to his situation. The team bus had stopped at a restaurant in the South, and when they refused to let Trice enter, he went back to the bus by himself and read a book.”

“All of his team went in and had dinner,” the younger Trice said.

Afterwards, they brought Trice three hot dogs in a doggie bag. Trice merely put the bag on the floor of the bus and kept on reading, but inside he was seething.

“Nobody apologized for this,” his son said. “My father was so upset when he went in and spoke to management, and said in the future I’ll go to my side of town to eat. You                 will arrange for me to have enough        money to eat where I feel comfortable, and arrange for a cab so I can come back to the bus and sit there read my book.”

But there were good people and good times, too. That year another player, first baseman Lou Limmer, aIso befriended Trice. And Shantz laughed about the time when, “At the beginning of one of those seasons, we opened in New York and Bob and I and Vic Power were on the ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ (a top-rated television show) and we sang ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’

“I think they gave us $500 apiece. That was a lot of money; not like today. And none of us could sing.”

Trice was 7-8 in 19 games in 1954, a very good record considering that the A’s finished 51-103 that year, but in mid-season he asked to return to Ottawa in the minor leagues. In addition to the spring-training hassles, he had become convinced that the team had hired detectives to follow him.

Trice never confronted management about it, but eventually he asked to go back to the minor leagues “for more seasoning,” his son said. Shantz, who remembers Trice having good control and a good changeup, was shocked when Trice was demoted.

“He pitched three or four good ballgames,” Shantz said. “Then he had a couple when he couldn’t get anybody out, and next thing you know he was back in the minors and somebody said he asked Mr. Mack to send him back to work on some things. I couldn’t understand why.”

Shantz didn’t know about the frustrations trice had endured.

“My father explained that when he first got there, there was novelty to being in the major leagues,” said Trice’s son. “It was like an adrenaline rush, a surge, a moment of making it to the top of the mountain.”

As time went on, however, Trice felt he was under too much scrutiny. The younger Trice said his father became “disgusted” with management “because other things dealing with race took precedence over the game.” He just felt that playing in the minor leagues was more fun, and the salary wasn’t appreciably less.

Trice played four more games with the A’s in 1955 and finished his career with the Mexico City Reds from 1956-58. After he retired from the game, he worked for a steel company in Weirton.

“I lost him in ’88, and I still miss that man,” Trice’s son said. “He is the only man’s man I know.”

 

FanFest schedule

The Oakland A’s FanFest is set for tomorrow at Jack London Square, with panel discussions about the integration of baseball held at Jackie Robinson Pavilion in the square. Topics include:

12 p.m.                   – Baseball prior to 1947

1 p.m. – Jackie Robinson and breaking the color line

2 p.m. – How the game was changed, both immediate and long term

3 p.m. – Minorities in sports reporting, barriers and breakthroughs

4 p.m. – Crossing the line: beyond Jackie Robinson

The FanFest includes a baseball memorabilia and card show

 

 

My Take On: Obama’s Emancipation Day

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Image Caption: President Barack Obama spoke with unprecedented candor as he eulogized Rev. Clementa Pinckney/Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By Ron Thomas

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves when he issued his Emancipation Proclamation.

One hundred and fifth-two years later, on June 26, 2015, President Barack Obama experienced his own Emancipation Day.

It was a day in which the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision declared same-sex marriage Constitutional, thus freeing millions of gay people to participate in that most revered of institutions. At the same time, the Court justified Obama’s contention that marriage should be legal for all Americans. No longer must the LGBT community fear being denied the opportunity to express their commitment to another person or fear crossing state lines and simultaneously morphing from a spouse into an untethered single person.

“Sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt,” the president said following the 5-4 court decision. “This morning the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality. In doing so, they have reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the laws, that all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love.”

Blind to injustice no more

June 26th also was a day in which Obama himself was emancipated from his image as a coldly calculating politician who deftly rode the rail between frustrated conservatives and disappointed progressives – completely pleasing neither one.

As he delivered his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney – one of nine black Americans who were shot to death on June 17 during a prayer meeting at their church in Charleston, S.C. – Obama shed the shackles of political practicality before a largely black audience.

With his voice and tempo sounding more like a pastor than the Constitutional law professor he was, Obama unmasked many examples of institutional racism’s repugnant trail.

“For too long we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present,” Obama declared. “ . . . Maybe, we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview, but not Jamal.”

Obama cloaked himself in the protection of God’s “Amazing Grace” as he led the singing of that powerful hymn written by a redeemed slave owner. Thus, Obama unashamedly revealed to the world that yes, this black president does indeed have soul.

My Take On: My Fellow Altar Boy, Newly Elected Leader of the Episcopal Church

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Image Caption: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (center), my brother Rev. Laughton “Denny” Thomas, and me/Photo by Charlene Clinton

By Ron Thomas

Many articles soon will be written about Bishop Michael Curry, who was overwhelmingly elected on June 27 as the first black presiding bishop of all Episcopal churches in the U.S. His priestly roots began as an altar boy at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo, and I’m proud to say that I knelt alongside him during many services there in the 1950s and ’60s. He will be installed as presiding bishop on Nov. 1.

Curry’s dad, Father Kenneth Curry, became the priest at St. Philip’s in 1957, when Michael was 4. My older brother Denny and I both were acolytes there when little Michael began joining us on Sunday mornings. I was the “boat boy” who carried incense in a container shaped like an ancient sailors’ vessel; Michael carried the spoon. As he grew, he was given more important roles.

During Saturday morning altar boy practice, we all frustrated our instructor, Mr. Godfrey, with our short attention spans, and afterward we chased each other and wrestled on the parish hall floor. A summer highlight was the annual paper drive, when we would scramble onto a rickety truck and drive to parishioners’ homes to pick up their discarded newspapers (and occasional naughty Playboy magazines).

His career has soared like an angel

Michael got no special treatment from us; he was in the middle of all of the action and mischief. But eventually he was attracted to the priesthood. He earned his Master of Divinity degree from the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale in 1978, and his career has soared like an angel ever since. He had been the Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina for 15 years when he was elected to head this nation’s Episcopal Church by two landslide votes: he received 121 of 174 votes cast by the House of Bishops, then the House of Deputies affirmed their judgment with a vote of 800-12. Known as a dynamic speaker and progressive thinker, in Curry the church’s leaders chose wisely.

Although St. Philip’s is a very small church in Buffalo, it has produced at least a half-dozen priests, including my brother, who retired in 2014 after 35 years of wearing the vestments. But our fellow altar boy, Bishop Michael Curry, has nine more years of work to do as the leader of the nation’s nearly two million Episcopalians.

My Take On: The Brains Behind Serena – Her Own

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Image Captions: Serena Williams trailed 4-2 in her Wimbledon championship match against Garbine Muguruza, but solved the puzzle to become champion again./Photo by Julian Figgins/Getty Images

Serena Williams is such a dynamic, powerful, beautiful, black Superwoman athlete that everything she does and is hits society like an exploding firecracker. That’s five reasons why her fans – especially her black fans – are so protective of her.

That was obvious when the New York Times got beaten up so badly by its readers over focusing its article “Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image With Ambition” around Serena’s physique. Even the Times’ Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, apologized for the article’s lack of depth.

As ESPN Wimbledon commentator LZ Granderson said, “So many different conversations come from the simple fact that this dark-skinned, impactful successful black woman is at the top of what has been known as a privileged white sport.”

Another hovering controversy about Serena was handled with much grace by ESPN analysts on July 12, the day after she won her sixth Wimbledon crown and 21st Grand Slam. Her detractors – some of whom clearly are racists or sexists – often dismiss her by claiming she merely bludgeons foes into defeat with her awesome power. It’s the classic “blacks win with brawn; whites win with brains” argument, but before the men’s final, ESPN’s tennis analysts – all exceptional pros in their day – struck blow after blow against that stereotype.

Early in the Wimbledon final, Serena seemed to be thinking, "Oh, oh. I'd better change my strategy."
Early in the Wimbledon final, Serena seemed to be thinking, “Oh, oh. I’d better change my strategy.”

Winning with head and heart

Chris Evert raved about her with the loyalty of a twin sister, praising Serena’s competitiveness that has left her within one title – the U.S. Open – of only the fourth calendar year Grand Slam in women’s tennis history, and the first since Steffi Graf achieved it in 1988.

Cliff Drysdale pointed out that Serena made a critical adjustment three years ago when she changed to the same kind of racket Roger Federer uses, thus gaining control over her sometimes erratic forehand.

Then Mary Joe Fernandez hit the “brains vs. brawn” bull’s-eye, buttressed by Granderson praising Serena’s problem-solving skills.

“What’s impressed me the most, LZ, about Serena throughout these Slams this season is the way she hasn’t panicked,” Fernandez said. “She hasn’t played her best. She’s been down a set and a break, two points from losing to Heather Watson here. And she figures things out.

“It’s not just about the serve; she got broken three times yesterday. She’s got other things to fall back on and she’s thinking out there. She’s finding ways to win.”

For an article that appreciates the totality of Serena’s achievements, read BBC Sport’s Tom Fordyce.http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/tennis/33484728

My Take On: Becky Hammon, Spurs Future Head Coach?

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Image Caption: Becky Hammon and her players celebrate her coaching the Spurs to the Las Vegas Summer League championship, a historic basketball achievement. /Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

By Ron Thomas

The scene looked so familiar to NBA fans. With only 2.5 seconds left in a tied postseason game, San Antonio inbounded the ball, a Spur dribbled toward the basket and then sank the winning 20-foot floater to stun Boston in a quarterfinal playoff game.

It looked like the Spurs’ iconic coach, Gregg Popovich, the winner of five NBA titles, had worked his magic again. Except that after the winning play a commentator said, “Just like coach Hammon drew it up.”

Who? He was referring to Becky Hammon, who on July 11 became the first woman to be the head coach of an NBA Summer League team. Saturday’s winning shot by her player, Shannon Scott, raised her team’s record in the Las Vegas Summer League to 4-1 and qualified them to face Atlanta in Sunday’s semifinal.

They overcame a 12-point deficit to win that game, and then squeezed past Phoenix 93-90 on Monday to win the Las Vegas Summer League championship in Hammon’s head-coaching debut. After losing her first game, Hammon led the Spurs to six straight victories.

Becky Hammon's encouragement helped Kyle Anderson become MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League.
Becky Hammon’s encouragement helped Kyle Anderson become MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League./Photo by Ronda Churchill/AP

Those last three games were perfect examples of  why Popovich hired her as the NBA’s first full-time female assistant coach last season. He has highly praised Hammon, a longtime WNBA star guard, while comparing her to three excellent NBA coaches he helped groom.

“She talks the game,” Popovich said. “She understands the game. So for all of those reasons, you really know she’s got that same sort of Avery Johnson, Steve Kerr, (Mike) Budenholzer type thing.”

Gregg Popovich talks wine at the Rex Hill Vineyards that produce his label./Photo by Karly Imus/The Oregonian
Gregg Popovich talks wine at the Rex Hill Vineyards that produce his label./Photo by Karly Imus/The Oregonian

At the age of 66, Popovich soon will start his 20th season as the Spurs’ head coach. He has said he will complete the remaining four years on his contract. Maybe by then, or before then, the noted wine connoisseur will be ready to retire to spend more time sipping his private wine label Rock & Hammer Pinot Noir.

Despite all of his championships, the boldest and most unique part of Popovich’s legacy would occur if he hands the head-coaching reins to Hammon.

Hammon is fortunate to have the strongest advocate she could ever wish for, a future Hall of Fame coach who commands so much respect that if any Spurs player balks at taking orders from a woman, he should just keep that thought to himself. As all of us who grew up with a strong father figure remember, there are some things you just don’t want “Pop” to know.

My Take On: Bill McMoore, Always Looking Out for His Brothers and Sisters

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Image caption: Bill McMoore carried a menacing right hand when he entered the ring, just waiting for a jaw to be exposed. This falling San Jose State boxer felt McMoore’s power in their 1951 match. 

By Ron Thomas

(The following is the introduction I read before presenting McMoore with a Pioneer Award from the National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force on August 7.)

When Bill McMoore graduated from the University of Minnesota, Harry Truman was president, “I Love Lucy” had not debuted on TV yet, and the NBA still was playing without a shot clock.

It was 1951, and if Bill wanted to view the university’s black representation on the football and boxing teams, and in the Education Department, all he needed was a mirror. In all three cases, he was the entire brotherhood. Yet, he persevered.

As a boxer, succeeding was a breeze because his coach was so supportive. “He was more of a father-like coach, so I didn’t feel discriminated against,” McMoore, now 89, recalled. “Ray Chisholm was a very nice guy.”

McMoore responded to his support by becoming the No. 2-ranked lightheavyweight in NCAA rankings, back when boxing was a sanctioned sport.

“I had a good right hand,” Bill said. “You had to worry about that…. Straight right hand to the chops.”

However, McMoore seldom played in a football game. He believes that he was discriminated against, but he refused to quit the team. “That was just ingrained in me,” he said. “I didn’t want to give up in anything.”

A One-Man Employment Agency

Bill began his teaching career in 1958 at Minnesota South High from where he graduated, and in the early 1980s he became the district’s director of health, physical education and athletics. He used that authority to add color to the sidelines, including giving Sports Task Force member Charles Hallman his first coaching job.

Charles was teaching young kids basketball one day when a parent complimented him and asked if he coached high school ball. When Charles said no, the parent said he knew someone who could hire him. A few days later, Bill called and asked for his resume.

“I didn’t know he was the AD,” Charles recalled. “I just thought he was somebody working for the schools. I didn’t know he was THE MAN.”

That was in 1984, and soon Charles was an assistant coach. Today, he’s still coaching in Minneapolis schools and so are both of his sons – all part of McMoore’s legacy.

images-1

But Bill is most proud of how hard he fought to get women hired as coaches. “If a man could find benefits from coaching in sports, why shouldn’t women?” he said.

Bill retired from the school district in 1989 and became director of community relations for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, where he started an internship for minorities by recruiting from HBCUs. One of his finds was Terrell Battle from Winston-Salem State, who now is General Manager of Lifetime Fitness in Minneapolis.

So Bill, please come to the podium to accept our award for being a black pioneer in so many ways for so many people for so long.