Archive for January, 2011

When I was asked to write an article about great black athletes I was a little hesitant. I didn’t want it to be a list of the most popular athletes of all time. It would be too easy to include Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or LeBron James.

I wanted to honor those athletes who not only changed the face of their respective sports but also contributed to the community around them. I wanted to honor athletes that transcended sports and helped change the culture of this country. These are people who I feel who embodied what Dr. King was all about.

5. Jackie Robinson: He was the first black player in Major League baseball. In ten seasons he played in six World Series, was named to six consecutive All Star Games and was the first person to win the MLB Rookie of the Year Award. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired is number, 42, across all teams.

 We have all heard stories of what he was forced to endure during his career, fans threatened his life and called him every racial epithet in the book during games. Some players threatened to strike if he was allowed to play. Even some member of his own teammates didn’t want him there. Through it all he kept his poise and dignity and became a legend.

After his death, his wife, Rachel, founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which provides scholarships for minority youths for higher education. So far, over 1,400 individuals have received scholarships.

4. Jesse Owens: During the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Jesse Owens won four gold medals. But that was just part of the story. Adolph Hitler wanted to use the games promote the Nazi party and his theory of Aryan supremacy. With every gold medal he won, Jesse Owens stuck it Hitler and every white supremist in Germany.

When he returned to the United States he was celebrated with a ticker-tape parade in New York City. Unfortunately, he was forced to ride a freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria to attend a reception in his honor. He was never invited to the White House or given any honors by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Owens was quoted as saying, “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”

3. Hank Aaron: Aaron played 23 years in the Major league and was an All Star 21 times. He is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s all time home run record.  At the end of the 1973 season Aaron was one homerun short of tying the record. During the off season he was besieged by hate mail and death threats from people who did not want to see a black man break Ruth’s record.  Even writers who were supportive of Aaron were receiving death threats.

During that time Hank Aaron stated that his only fear was that he might not live to see the 1974 season. His home run record stood for 31 years until Barry Bonds (with a little help from BALCO) broke it in 2007.

2. Muhammad Ali: Muhammad Ali is arguably the greatest boxer of all time. He is an Olympic gold medalist and a three-time World Champion.

Brash and outspoken, he is the godfather of every larger than life sports personality out today. Without Ali there would be no Floyd Mayweather or Terrell Owens. But his legacy is far greater than titles or sound bites.

He spoke out against an unjust war in Vietnam. He endured having is championship stripped from him and being banned from boxing for refusing to fight in Vietnam. A large part of America started to view him as a villain. He faced 5 years in prison for his protest. His case went all the way to the US Supreme Court where a lower court conviction was overturned.

1. Jim Brown: Jim Brown played in the NFL for nine years. When he retired he held records for single season and career rushing, the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and all purpose yards. He has a career average of 104.3 rushing yards per game. For my money, he is the greatest football player ever. He is a member of the Pro Football Hal of Fame, the College Football Hall of fame and the Lacrosse hall of Fame (he was All American at Syracuse University).

But he is more than just a football player. He was a civil rights activist. During his early years in the NFL he helped found the Black Economic Union, which helped in the establishment of black-run businesses. He also helped establish urban athletic clubs and youth motivation programs. In 1988 he founded the Amer-I-Can program which works with kids involved in gangs.

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Do you remember LeBron James’ “What Should I do?” Nike commercial? In one scene he is dressed up like a desperado from the Wild West. He asks, “Should I accept my role as a villain?” That may have been a bit of foreshadowing because LeBron has certainly been relishing his role as the villain lately.

He took a lot of heat for “The Decision” last summer. Most of it was warranted but some of it just piling on. And LeBron took notice. And he took down names. “Don’t think for one min that I haven’t been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!” he tweeted. (I have to confess, I was one of the people taking shots at him last summer. And I hope I am not on his list. I figure I am already on the Fox News hit list and I don’t need to be on another.)

LeBron as “The Villain” may not be a role any of us though he would play, but I have to admit, he’s doing a pretty good job.

During a recent game against the Portland Trailblazers he seemed to be egging on the crowd as they booed and jeered him after he led the Heat to an overtime win. The only thing that was missing was him cupping a hand to his ear in that “What’s that you’re saying? I can’t hear you,” pose. That’s classic Villain.

After the Cavaliers got a 54 point beat down by the Los Angeles Lakers he took a shot at his former team via Twitter. “Crazy. Karma is a bitch. Gets you every time. Its not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!” he said. That’s the Social Media Villain.

The only problem is, I can’t tell if he is just acting or if he is really pissed off and taking it out on the whole league. Up until now his whole persona has so manufactured and predictable. I hope that this is real because I don’t think I can take another pre-packaged LeBron personality.

I don’t want him to go into the stands and punch out some fans like Ron Artest or kick a cameraman in the crotch like Dennis Rodman, but I do want to see him get angry. I want to see 19,000 rabib fans boo and jeer him from the opening tip off to the final buzzer. And I want to see him take all of the negative energy and use it as inspiration. I want to see him develop a mean streak. Because I think he needs that mean streak.

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both have that mean streak in them. When they get pissed off and you see that look in their eye, you know they are about to take over a game and crush the opposing team. And they have eleven championship rings between them.

This is the probably the first time in his life where he has encountered this level of hatred and ill will. Think back to the pre-Decision LeBron. He was welcome in every arena the Cavs played in. Now, anywhere outside of South Beach he is public enemy number one.

This backlash may be exactly what LeBron needs to take his game to the next level. And by that I mean winning a championship. All this hate may be bringing out the killer instinct in LeBron. And that’s the one thing he has been missing. I think he is finally starting to enjoy crushing the hopes and dreams not only of his opponents, but of all their fans as well.

And that is bad news for the rest of the league.

When I first heard the news that Tiger Woods was being dropped from the cover of his own video game I wasn’t sure what to think. It took a minute to sink in. The game is called “Tiger Woods PGA Tour.” How can you have a video game Called Tiger Woods PGA Tour without Tiger Woods on the cover?

It didn’t make sense. If I play Pac Man I know there is going to be a picture of Pac Man on the cover. That’s how I know what game I am playing. You’re not going to see an Italian flag on the cover of Super Mario Brothers, are you?

Instead, EA Sports is putting a picture of the Masters flag on the cover. That’s right; a picture of a yellow flag will be on the cover of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. Just to be clear, the game is NOT called The Masters Golf 12, it’s called Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. I know playing the course at Augusta is a big deal because it’s so hard to get into (especially if you’re a woman). But it doesn’t warrant dropping the greatest golfer of this generation. But I think I know what’s going on here.

EA Sports says it has nothing to do with Tiger’s problems off the course and his dismal showing last season. Sure it doesn’t. The game has been going strong for over a decade and you just happen to drop the namesake the year after he tanks in on the Tour? Please.

No one is buying that.

And don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone what Tiger did. I think cheating on your wife is wrong. But its none of my business. And if that’s the reason EA Sports dropped Tiger why didn’t they do it right after all this stuff came out Thanksgiving 2009? Why wait over a year to make this decision? Which makes me think that they could forgive him for cheating and becoming tabloid fodder, but they can’t forgive him for not winning on tour. And that makes them the biggest hypocrites, in my opinion.

I know EA Sports is running a business and has to think about their image and all that, but Tiger is still the biggest name in golf. He’s possibly the biggest name in all of sports ever since LeBron James committed partial suicide on national TV during “The Decision.” And if this is just a business decision I think it is a bad one.

My prediction is that Tiger will have a great 2011 season, win a couple of Majors and be back on the cover of Tiger Woods PGA Golf 13. After all it’s not personal, it’s only business.

The Los Angeles Clippers may have lost out on the LeBron Sweepstakes last summer but I think they wound up with something even better; Blake Griffin.

After he missed all of last season after blowing out his knee in the final pre-season game, but now he is back with a vengeance. The fact that he has survived the Clipper Curse is reason enough to give him the MVP right now. I know there are some of you out there that do not believe in the Clipper Curse but I am here to tell you that it is real. Just ask Norm Nixon, Derek Smith, Marques Johnson, and Danny Manning.

Blake is doing the things on the court that LeBron does. Only better. And he is also not doing the things that LeBron does off the court. There is no runaway ego in Blake Griffin. He is the Anti-LeBron. He is never going to appoint himself The King, or throw eleven birthday parties for himself or even have a horrible one-hour show on ESPN announcing where he is going the play next. I think he and Kevin Durant are the future of the NBA. They play the game with joy and passion and leave all the ego stuff to others.

I think Blake has a legitimate shot to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. How great would that be?

Let’s look at the stats Mr. Griffin has put together so far this season: 21.7 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game and he’s shooting 66% from the three point line! (That last stat is a little misleading since he has only attempted like nine 3-pointers so far. But that percentage is still impressive!) He is putting up all these great numbers but he is also doing one other thing; shaking every arena to its foundation with his monster dunks! You can see some of his handy work here.

Plus he’s doing all of this while playing for the worst owner in professional sports; Donald Sterling. This is a guy who literally heckles his players during a game from his court-side seats. You don’t see the owner of the Miami Heat telling LeBron he needs to work on his jump shot or bringing up Delonte West’s name, do you?

Blake Griffin is the only bright spot in yet another dismal Clipper season (they are currently 10-24). He is the only reason to go watch a Clipper game. Unless they are playing the Lakers or the Heat. How he gets psyched up to play every night for that team and that owner is beyond me. But he does it. And any player like that is extremely valuable.

So all of you can have your fashionable picks for MVP the year; your LeBron’s and Durant’s and even Amare Stoudemire (good luck with that one) but I’m going with Blake Griffin. How can you not? His uniform is red, white and blue.

Blake Griffin is an unbeleivable talent…can’t wait til he comes to the Lakers!!