A Class Act: Ryan Howard Led Phillies to a Championship While Helping to Heal Team’s Troubled Past with Black Fans

6 Oct



Ryan Howard was one of the most proflic sluggers in Phillies history and was the face of the Phillies five-year playoff run from 2007 to 2011 that included a World Series title in 2008. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report  and  the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Since 2004, I’ve had the pleasure of covering sports in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

Through that experience, I’ve gotten to talk to many of the city’s greats including former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, Phillies MVP shortstop (and World Series champ) Jimmy Rollins, and even newly minted NBA Hall-of-Famer Allen Iverson.

But one of the people I’ve enjoyed covering the most was Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard played his last game with the Phillies last Sunday.

I regret missing the chance to wish him a fond farewell due to other commitments, but I will say that covering Howard and the Phillies during the team’s run to five straight NL East titles, two National League pennants and the run to the 2008 World Series title was probably one of the best experiences of my journalism career.

On the field, Howard’s ability to hit homers and drive in runs was larger than life.  In a game against the New York Yankees during his MVP year in 2006, he drove all seven runs—including two home runs and a triple—in a 9-7 loss to the Yankees.

I remember being in the Yankees locker room where legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was so awed by Howard’s performance that he jokingly told reporters : “We battled back. … We beat Howard.”

The way Howard would carry the Phillies during those championship years almost felt as if he was a one-man wrecking crew, especially during the month of September when it was time for the Phillies needed him to close out the division. He always seemed to hit the key home run hit needed to win a crucial game.

Sure, he wasn’t alone in his efforts. Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley, (now with the Dodgers) outfielder Shane Victorino (who won another World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox)  and Cole Hamels (now pitching for the Texas Rangers) were also crucial parts of those teams.

But if you take away the “Big Piece” I  don’t think the Phillies would have been as successful.

What was memorable about Howard in 2008 was that he still led the league in home runs and RBIs and batted over .300 with runners despite a low batting average and leading the league in strikeouts. Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel used to refer to Howard as a “carrier.”

Off the field, Howard never hesitated to talk to the media whether the Phillies won or lost. He was rarely, if ever, standoffish or surly. Even when he was the in midst of hitting slumps or a bad game, Howard still came back and talked to the media.

He was a class act.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Howard’s success with the Phillies was that between he and Rollins, brought Blacks back to the ballpark. African American fans both young and old back to the ball park.

That was something that former Phillies chairman of the Board Bill Giles told me back  during an interview I did with him back in 2006.

“We’ve had a bad history in the African-American community, going way, way back long before I was around,” Giles said at the time. “To have him be successful is a plus-plus for us. The fact that he’s African-American is helpful because I do see more African-Americans in the stands.”

By becoming the face of the franchise, Howard helped to heal a longstanding rift that existed between the team and the city’s Black fans over how the Phillies had treated Jackie Robinson and Phillies icon Dick Allen.

When I interviewed Allen for the Philadelphia Tribune in 2006 during Howard’s Most Valuable Player run, he talked a little bit about that.

“A lot of the adversity has been cleared from the Jackie Robinson days to the Dick Allen days where those things have subsided and (Howard) can concentrate just doing what he’s doing now,” he said. “It’s almost a healing kind of thing, it happened back then unjustly. But it’s setting a tone where it will make it easier for your grandson or my grandson.

“It got around the world,” Allen continued. “’Oh no, we don’t want to be with the Phillies! Look what they did to over there to this person! Some of them didn’t want to be here.’ That’s the biggest change and the most important change to make players even want to come here. Howard and fellows like that can change all that.”

Allen was right. Two years later, the Phillies were on top of the baseball world thanks to Howard.

Since 2012, it’s been tough to watch Howard go through being injured and  getting old. There were times when he got some undeserved scorn from Phillies fans considering all he’s done for the franchise. I hope he can revive his career with a team that can appreciate what he brings to the table.

I’ll end with a personal Howard memory,

In 2009, I won the Sam Lacy Award from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City for my coverage of the Phillies 2008 World Series run.

In addition to other luminaries like outfielder Curtis Granderson (currently playing for the New York Mets) and Cliff Lee (who pitched for the Phillies), Howard was being honored.

I got the chance to meet Howard and his family. They were all so easy to talk to and he didn’t even mind people asking for pictures with him or autographs.

It’s often rare that “great athlete” and “nice guy” in the same sentence.

We could definitely do that when talking about Ryan Howard.

Good luck “Big Piece”…and thanks for the memories…


Eagles Defense and Rookie Carson Wentz Has Philly Buzzing After 3-0 Start

2 Oct

Eagles wide receiver and Carson Wentz shake hands after they connected on a 12-yard touchdown pass in the Birds 34-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday.


During bye week, there’s a lot for Birds fans to feel good about.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Philadelphia Eagles enter the bye-week on the kind of good note that they probably weren’t expecting at this point in the season with an untested rookie quarterback.

The Birds are 3-0 for the first time since 2014, thanks to a stout defense and an offense designed around the skills of rookie Carson Wentz and the City of Brotherly Love is buzzing with excitement again, especially after last Sunday’s 34-3 thrashing of a Pittsburgh Steelers team considered a major contender in the AFC

While it’s easy to focus on the stellar play of Wentz, the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week, the defense has managed to shut down opposing offenses.  So far, this season the Eagles defense has allowed just two touchdowns in three games.

The Eagles are fourth in the NFL in total defense, second in stopping the run, allowing just 71 yards per game, and eighth against the pass.  In fact, the Eagles defense has yet to allow a touchdown pass this season.

Yes, it’s only three games into the season, but considering that they were next-to-last in touchdown passes allowed and 28th in passing yardage allowed last season, it’s definitely an  improvement. If they can maintain this level of play, the Eagles will be tough to beat for the rest of the season.

But don’t tell the team that.

“We can still be better,” said Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who had two sacks in Sunday’s game. “We can grow. We’re not comfortable. That’s what I think about this team. Nobody is comfortable or patting themselves on the back.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz deserves credit for creating an aggressive, attacking 4-3 defense that puts pressure on opposing quarterbacks and gives very little yardage in the running game. Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said Schwartz does a good job of rotating fresh bodies on the defensive line.

“It’s a good thing because when you rotate, you do not want to drop off,” said Graham, who had a sack and a fumble recovery against the Steelers. “The backups are just as good as the one guys. When you have a good rotation, you have a good bench. You don’t want it to drop off.”

The Eagles shut down down one of the league’s best ground attacKD when they held the Steelers to just 29 yards on the ground for the game. The Birds made the Steelers a one-dimensional team and sacked Ben Rothlisberger four times and forced two turnovers.

“[The]Defense has been getting big stops whenever we get the opportunity. Getting pressure on the quarterback; doing a great job stopping the run,” said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.  “And as a team, we just are staying patient in these games and as soon as our opponents make mistakes we pile it on. Just a patient team.”

Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, Wentz is doing a good job of managing the game thanks to a short, but accurate passing game that patiently moves the ball down the field and lulls the defense to sleep to come up with the big play.

Wentz, who completed 23-of-31 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns, spread the ball around to seven different receivers. He didn’t try to force anything and didn’t make any mistakes with the football.

“He puts himself in a position where he doesn’t have to put pressure on himself,” said Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who caught a 12-yard touchdown from the rookie in Sunday’s game. “He works his butt off every day.”

It also helps that Wentz has enough mobility to buy time when rushers are on his heels.  In the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Wentz escaped the Pittsburgh rush and found a wide-open Darren Sproles, who sped into the end zone untouched for a 73-yard touchdown pass.

One of the things that will help the Eagles down the road is if they improve the running game.  Both Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner showed speed and quickness in the running game. Smallwood gained 79 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown. Barner added 42 with a touchdown as well.

“(Smallwood) is a downhill runner. A one-cut runner. He did a great job for us,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, said. “Darren, Kenjon and Wendell really stepped up and did a nice job.”

After taking this week off, the Eagles will hit the road to Motown to take on a lackluster Detroit Lions squad Oct. 9th at Ford Field.

Real Patriotism Stands and Kneels in Solidarity with Malcolm Jenkins and Colin Kaepernick

23 Sep

(From right to left) Steven Means, Malcolm Jenkins and Ron Brooks raise their fists during the national anthem in protest of unarmed killings of Black people by the Police prior to Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

By Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report and Philadelphia Sunday Sun 

This was supposed to be a column on Monday night’s Philadelphia Eagles/Chicago Bears game.

I was going to talk about how the Eagles’ defense shut down a Bears offense that has a whole host of problems. I was going to talk about how well rookie quarterback Carson Wentz had done against another below average team.

I had planned on making this column totally and completely about football.

But, I saw the video of Terrence Crutcher getting shot in cold blood for the crime of asking for help when his car broke down by a Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer as he stood, hands raised.


Colin Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid (left) take a kneel during the national anthem to protest the unarmed killings of Black people by the police.

I saw residents of Charlotte, North Carolina take to the streets in protest due to the murder of Keith Lamont Scott by police as he sat in his car, mistaken for the subject of a fugitive warrant.

So, while it is important to note that the Eagles defeated the Bears on Monday night, giving the team a 2-0 record, I’m going to devote this column to something more important than football.

I’m going to write about how it might be time for everyone who’s tired of seeing more and more of the nation’s athletes join San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in National Anthem protests to stop complaining about how “disrespectful” you think these protests are, and start listening to the message they send because whether you like it or not, they’re not going away.

In fact, I hope they grow.

On Monday night, safety Malcolm Jenkins, corner back Ron Brooks, and defensive end Steven Means raised their gloved fists during the National Anthem. Aggrieved fans in serious need of a visit to the National Constitution Center on 5th and Market took to social media to complain about the protest and accused the trio of attention seeking.

If that was the message you got from the trio’s raised fists, you’ve missed the point, Jenkins said.

“We’re not doing this made-up thing to get attention,” Jenkins said. “Real lives are being lost. Real communities are being affected. The negativity comes from people’s unwillingness to digest the hard truth.”

What he said.

As a 50-something Black man who occasionally finds himself walking down the street, changing a tire on my car, or any of the myriad of things that seem to get Black men killed by police these days, I agree with Jenkins, Kaepernick and all of the other athletes who are protesting because, quite frankly, this persistent pattern of state-sanctioned violence against unarmed Black men has to stop.  Not only does it have to stop, the perpetrators in uniform and hiding behind their badges need to be punished for their crimes.

And despite what The Clash may have told you in the song “Know Your Rights”, murder is a crime, even if it’s done by a policeman or an aristocrat.

But until that happens, athletes in all sports and people of good conscience shouldn’t stand for the National Anthem.

And all of the people who want to get mad about that to the point of questioning people’s pattrriotism need to instead understand why so many African-Americans might feel that their life could in danger because of a routine traffic stop or because your vehicle stalls on some lonely highway.

I applaud Brooks, Jenkins and Means for raising their fists during the national anthem because they play in a city where African-American athletes are expected to just shut up and play. If they raise their fists during this Sunday’s game at Lincoln Financial field, they are going to hear a crescendo of boos and U-S-A chants.

That’s not how a true patriot would react. True patriots would recognize that we have a Constitutional amendment that governs freedom of speech.

True patriots would empathize with their fellow Americans who are having their rights violated through police brutality.

True American patriotism means that you embody the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  It also requires that you understand that the flag and the National Anthem might mean something different to those battling oppression than it does to you.

Whether it’s the right to bear arms or voicing displeasure at the police shooting unarmed African-Americans, it seems sometimes like the Constitution doesn’t necessarily apply to people of color in the minds of some of you.  It’s really easy to tell an athlete with a fat contract to “shut up and play!” when they want to protest police brutality, but it also negates the fact that being an athlete probably hasn’t been spared the indignity of being pulled over by police for Driving While Black.

But they’re not supposed to talk about that. They’re “the entertainment”.

Here’s the thing, if you truly consider yourself a “patriot” and you truly believe in principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, you’d do more for your community if you put on a Black glove, stretched out your arm, and raised your fist at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday in solidarity with Brooks, Jenkins, and Means because, in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,  “Injustice Anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Today, the injustice of police brutality is being visited upon African Americans, Latinos and other people of color.

Tomorrow, it could be you.

Think about that.

One Last Answer: AI Lifted A Generation

18 Sep
Allen Iverson

Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Allen Iverson speaks during induction ceremonies at Symphony Hall, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola). Originally appeared in the Philadelphia Sunday Sun.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Allen Iverson’s induction into the National Basketball Hall of Fame last week was the culmination of the hopes and dreams of a generation of young people whose aspirations were often snuffed out before it had a chance to really to blossom into anything special.

As a basketball star and cultural icon, AI was “The Answer” in more ways than one. 

Iverson’s road to the Hall of Fame, to be sure, came from his dynamic basketball prowess. Yes, pound-for-pound he was one of the greatest little men, if not the greatest to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. Iverson’s blinding ferocity on the court against the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal made him popular players in the sport. His jersey sales rivaled that of his aforementioned contemporaries.

Between the 2001 NBA MVP Award, the scoring titles, the All-Star appearances including two MVP Awards in that game and leading an unlikely Philadelphia 76ers team on an improbable run to the 2001 NBA Finals, Iverson deserved to be in the company of the game’s legends. What he did on the court in his career was truly unforgettable.

Along with his legendary skills as a basketball, Iverson was a transcendent icon of an often misunderstood group of young people. Iverson defiantly wore his braids and tattoos much to the chagrin and distaste of the media that covered him. 

To a maligned group of young people who listened to Tupac, Biggie Smalls and Nas while they were being chastised by overly sanctimonious old heads, Iverson was their “folk” hero.  Iverson truly kept it real through the times he was right and through the times he was wrong.  To me, Iverson was the rebel that the late James Dean was to teenagers and young people of the 1950s.

Sometimes words like loyalty to the hood and never forgetting the brothers you met on the way up are not often meant or are thrown around like a punch line from a hood movie or a lyric in a rap song.

Throughout his career, Iverson took those who loved and nurtured him before he became a household name with him on his journey. Iverson was truly loyal to his friends and relatives from the Norfolk,Va.-Hampton roads area — sometimes to a fault.

During his Hall of Fame speech in Springfield, Mass., Iverson mentioned the names of all those friends and family members that put a few dollars in his pocket when he or his mom didn’t have it. That’s true loyalty and true love. That’s not just talking, that’s truly keeping it real.

For those of us here in Philly, Iverson now breathes the same air as the great basketball legends whose statures overshadow the city. As I have always said if you had to build a Mount Rushmore of Philadelphia basketball icons, you would include AI, Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, Earl Monroe and John Chaney.

The memories of Iverson crossing Jordan, scoring and stepping over Tyronn Lue in the NBA Finals, outdueling Vince Carter in Game 7 of the 2001 East Conference finals will be stamped indelibly on the hearts and minds of Sixers fans everywhere.

For the young people who grew up in the midst of the crack epidemic and mass incarceration, Iverson was the Answer those who hoped to make out of their predicament whether it was jail or just the devastation of poverty.

Like Tupac and Biggie, Iverson wasn’t afraid to keep it real and tell his truth for a misrepresented generation of young people.  And so now the final Answer is … a Hall of Famer.

Freedom of Speech For Some, But Not for Black Athletes

30 Aug




San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick explains to reporters why he refused to stand for the national anthem during last Friday’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the latest Black athlete to learn that to certain sports fans, he lost his First Amendment rights when he picked up a football.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem during the Niners preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, he was harshly criticized on social media, especially Twitter, for being unpatriotic.

Even worse, Kaepernick’s Twitter mentions were filled with the kind of invective that always seems to come up when a Black athlete dares to speak out on a social issue involving the African American community such as the N-word,“go back to Africa,” or my personal favorite, “shut up and play”..

Some of the visceral hatred such as the videotaped burning of Kaepernick’s jersey, kind of made his point regarding the racism that still exists in America and why people tend to lose their minds when anyone, especially millionaire athletes like himself speaks out against it.

When African-American athletes dare to show solidarity with groups like Black Lives Matter, they’re often criticized for their participation because it is seen as being ungrateful. You’re making more than I’ll ever see at my factory job by playing a game. How dare you talk about racism, police brutality and inequality?!

Now the fallacy in this line of thinking is that it overlooks the fact that  Kaepernick, like other Black athletes, have friends and relatives who look like Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and know that something could happen to them or their children at the hands of police. They know that doesn’t insulate you from racism.

It’s something that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out in his famous, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

When you go back to listen or read what Kaepernick was saying, it definitely runs counter to the charges of being unpatriotic and unAmerican.  If anything, Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem is in keeping with the principles of freedom and justice outlined in the Constitution.

“I have family, friends who have fought for this country that have gone and fought for this country and they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice for everyone,” Kaepernick said. “And that’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain as far as giving freedom and justice and Liberty to everybody. It’s something that’s not happening.”

What’s un-American about that? Seems like it’s in keeping with the Founding Fathers and how they felt about tyranny and oppression to me.

In fact, the Declaration of Independence says: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”

Being critical of your government doesn’t make you un-American. The ability to dissent is perhaps the most American thing you can do. Kaepernick, like others before him, wants his country to live up to the promise of justice for all.

The backlash Kaepernick has received from white fans using racial slurs further illustrates the idea that Black athletes in particular and Black men, in general, are to be seen and not heard, especially when they strike at the heart of white privilege.

While White gun rights advocates are seen as patriotic when they brandish their pistols and assault rifles in the name of standing up for the right to bear arms, Black men, especially athletes, are seen as ingrates when they challenge police brutality and the all too American tradition of systemic racism in America.

If nothing else, the hateful messages on Kaepernick’s Twitter feed are proof positive that the phrase “the land of the free and the home of the brave” only applies to certain people.

It appears that Black athletes like Colin Kaepernick aren’t included in that group.



Social Media Haterade of Athletes during 2016 Olympics was Downright Shameful

21 Aug


American gymnast Gabby Douglas was criticized on Twitter for not putting her hand on her heart during the national anthem. American shot putters Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs did not put their hands on their hearts but was not attacked on social media the way Douglas was during her ceremony.


By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Let me start by saying that I’ve enjoyed all the athletic performances at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. I only wish I were there to cover them.

Whether it’s the dazzling performances of Black women athletes like Simone Biles, Simone Manuel, or Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce or watching Michael Phelps and the American swim team rack up gold medals in the pool or Usain Bolt powering his way into Olympic immortality with his blinding speed, the Olympics have been a true celebration of sport.

But what I haven’t liked about the Olympics has nothing to do with the activities on the field or in the arena.

What’s really bothered me about this year’s games in Rio has been the noise and haterade flowing  from social media.

Instead of just enjoying the performances of the athletes, the noise from social media has been a symphony of disparaging remarks, insults, and accusations without any merit. People have taken to social media, Twitter in particular, turning it into a sounding board for sour grapes when your favorite athlete doesn’t win or critique of how the winner looked.

The recipient of the ugliest, most vicious attacks by social media hacks has been gymnast Gabby Douglas, who was, as she was in 2012, ridiculed because her hair wasn’t perfect in the midst of competition.  Oddly enough, the critique came from Black women that probably have their own issues with hair who felt the need to take to Twitter.

Now my question is, does Douglas’s hair help her stay on the balance beam? Does it help her get more height on her vault?

Would a perfect coif have gotten Gabby Douglas a Gold Medal on the parallel bars?

The answer is no on all counts.

Never mind the fact that Douglas is a three-time gold medalist or that she contributed to the Final Five’s big team gold medal in Rio. Let’s trash this champion in social media because of her hair.

To those people, I say get a life and worry about your own hair issues.

It’s sports people! The object is to work your behind off to win come disheveled hair or fried perm. The last thing an athlete worries about during the heat of competition is whether or not a hair is out of place.  If you want a fashion show, change the channel!

The hair flap wasn’t’ the only reason folks were attacking Douglass.  She also got flak for not putting her hands over heart as the national anthem played during the medal ceremony.

Now if you saw the ceremony, Douglas stood at attention. I’ve been watching the Olympics since 1972 and the way that Douglas was standing was the norm. There’s no rule that says you have to put your hands over your heart. The attack on her was just petty and cowardly, especially since no one attacked Michael Phelps for laughing while the national anthem played during his gold medal ceremony.

There were no snide remarks about American shot put gold-medalist Ryan Crouser and silver medalists Joe Kovacs, who like Douglas, did not put their hands over their heart during the playing of the national anthem.  No one called them spoiled or ungrateful.

But the social media acrimony didn’t stop there.

Fans upset by Bahamas sprinter Shaunae Miller stunning win over American Allyson Felix in the women’s 400-meter dash took to Twitter to protest how she gained the victory.

Millerdivesfor gold

Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas held off American Allyson Felix with a controversial dive at the finish line of the 400-Meter dash at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. Photo by USAToday.com

In a spectacular race that it looked like Felix was going to win, Miller wound up with the gold by diving across the finish line.

Twitter was not amused.Fans cried foul, accusing Miller of cheating.

However, as someone who has not only covered, but has participated in high school track, I can say that Miller didn’t cheat, she just wanted it more.

First of all, there are no rules on the books that forbid diving at the finish line. I’ve seen athletes dive across the line from time-to-time in an attempt to win a close race. Runners aren’t coached to do that, but in the heat of competition, it happens. It’s not advisable because of the possibility of injury, but in a close race instinct and the desire to win takes over.

Miller gave so much effort to hold off a hard-charging Felix that she fell forward just enough to allow her to win the race by a razor-thin margin.  It was a gutsy effort by Miller and you’ve gotta give her props for going all out and hanging on to win a tough race.


Usain Bolt won three gold medals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. Photo by the Mail UK.com.

Finally, I came across a Facebook thread accusing Jamaican sprinter extraordinaire Usain Bolt of using performance enhancing drugs after another spectacular win in the 100-meter dash. Never mind the fact that he has never tested positive for any performance-enhancing drugs in any of his gold-medal winning performances, the accusation is out there because let’s face it, a good conspiracy theory is always going to trump the facts.

With the Olympics coming to a close this weekend, I’m hoping that the memory of the great performances we’ve seen will override the memory of social media shenanigans that have gone on over the last two weeks.

Because despite the hairdos, dives and speculation, these performances have been pretty awesome.

A Glimmer of Hope for the Sixers? Brett Brown Excited About Upcoming Season

21 Aug

Sixers head coach Brett Brown can’t wait for the season to start. Photo courtesy of Philly.com

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Because he hasn’t had much of a team to work with, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown hasn’t had a lot of reasons to feel optimistic about an upcoming season.

In fact, the Sixers have been so bad that the only thing they’ve had to look forward to is possibly getting enough ping-pong balls to get the No. 1 draft pick.

But if you bump into Brown these days, there seems to be a little bit of pep in his step.

About two weeks ago, Brown shared his enthusiasm about the Sixers upcoming season with reporters while hanging out at Philadelphia Eagles’ training camp.

And much of that enthusiasm is spelled B-E-N  S-I-M-M-O-N-S

“Just that there’s a real delineated feeling of hope,” Brown said. “I feel that we all ought to look at people and players that we believe can be with this organization and in this city for a long time.  That although they are young and they are still 20-years-old, they’re talented.”

Simmons, the team’s No. 1 draft choice, showed glimpses of his tremendous potential during the games he played in the NBA’s summer league. If you got a chance to watch Simmons play, you saw a kid who made his teammates better by his court vision and passing ability.

When Simmons did score, he proved that he could use his athleticism to take the ball to the bucket, but he still needs to work on his jump shot.

With center Joel Embiid apparently 100 percent after his longtime foot injury and the recent addition of Dario Saric, who shot 40 percent from three-point range, and the team’s big men, including Jahlil Okafor and Nerlins Noel, the Sixers are looking like they have the beginnings of what could be a decent team.

Granted, no one is expecting to see the Sixers in the NBA Finals or even the playoffs, but there are some good young pieces that could really make some noise if a veteran is added through a trade or via free agency or another strong player can be added through next year’s draft.

At the very least, the motor is running for the Sixers, but how fast this car will go is anybody’s guess at this point.

“We’ve got a team that we’re excited about, that we think can put more wins on the board,” Brown said. “We understand that’s become more a part of our blueprint in our judgment day and it should.”

During his impromptu confab with reporters, Brown talked about the potential of Embiid despite not yet taking the floor in an NBA game. The former Kansas star is on pace to play this season even though he did not participate in summer league competition, Brown said.

“(Embiid’s) summer is going to the way we hoped,” Brown said. “We’ve crafted a plan, we’ve scripted a plan from him that he is following religiously. When we start talking about all these different pieces, the city is going to see something very unique in a seven-foot-two that has a skill package that is exceptional.”

Brown’s excitement about the upcoming season is about the potential of Simmons with his size and the playmaking ability of a point guard.  He said how Simmons plays on the court will determine what position he will play with the team.

“(Simmons) is going to have some taste of that for sure. You know he will dictate that himself when he rebounds and leads the break,” Brown said. “The NBA point guard is the hardest position in the NBA. He’s never played a point guard, let alone an NBA point guard. … Initially, we’re going to play him in different positions and (point guard) will be one of them.”

With his 6-10 and 240-pound frame, Simmons can play multiple positions to help the Sixers, Brown said.

The Sixers will need to add some additional pieces and if they win more than 10 games next season, it will be seen as progress, especially considering how badly this team has been for the last few years. Any movement upward for the 76ers should be considered a step in the right direction.