Run the Damn Ball: Eagles Need to Establish the Run to Help Carson Wentz

12 Nov
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Eagles running back Ryan Mathews attempts to elude a Minnesota Vikings defender. Can the Eagles jump start their running game and protect quarterback Carson Wentz. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By  Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

In the last two games, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has thrown the ball over 40 times.

When that’s happening, it’s usually because you’re behind by a couple of touchdowns and a couple of interceptions have been tossed along the way.

When you’re throwing the ball that much, it means that either (a) you  don’t have much of a running game or (b)!you’ve fallen behind by so many points that you have to abandon the run.

Not having a running game can be tough on a rookie quarterback, which is why Eagles head coach Doug Pederson admits that the team needs to expand it a little.

“Obviously, I think it does help Carson where you’re not putting everything, the whole game on his shoulders. We do a lot in the run game,”  Pederson said. “We  ask Carson to do a lot with RPO [run-pass option] things, with the read options, making some checks there. So, I think going forward, yeah, probably should rely on the run just a little bit more.”

Or, in the case of the Eagles, establish a consistent running game designed to  take the pressure off Wentz at the very least. A run game would keep opposing defenders from bringing the heat to Wentz, who threw two interceptions under intense pressure  against the New York Giants.

For the last two weeks, running back Darren Sproles has gotten the most carries. As shifty and speedy as he is, the 5-foot-6 Sproles is not a lead back. On one fourth down situation against the Giants, he was taken down short of the first down marker.

The guy that should have carried the ball in that situation was Ryan Mathews, who’s a more of a power running back.  So far this season, he is averaging close to four yards per carry. He hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time in recent weeks. That might be because of a fourth-quarter fumble against the Detroit Lions in a crucial situation.

And then there’s rookie Wendell Smallwood. At some point this season, I would love to see him as the Eagles lead back.  I think he has the speed and  power to run through people. He reminds me of former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, but with more of a willingness to run between the tackles.  Like Sproles, Smallwood is a threat to hit the big play in the running game. In other words,  I like his home-run potential.

But because Smallwood had a fumble in a crucial situation against the Dallas Cowboys, the coaches aren’t trusting him. But the fumble problems can be fixed through coaching and practice.  They also need to get Kenjon Barner out there, too.

The bottom line here is that they can’t have their rookie quarterback slinging the ball all over the place at 40 times per game because, that could land him on the injured reserve list eventually. For all the things I like about Carson Wentz, the most important ability he needs to have is availability.

That’s why Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich really need to concentrate on the ground game.  Even if you don’t settle in on one lead back, figure out a way to utilize what those guys do well.

For example, Mathews is a good power back, especially in the red zone and when you need short yardage.  That’s the guy you use in third down and fourth down situations when you need to get a yard or two.

I would definitely mix in Smallwood between the 20s because I think he’s the most versatile back they have and has that big play potential.

Of course, the Eagles patchwork offensive line has to open those holes, but the offensive line is decent enough to be strong in the running game.

More importantly, you have to take the pressure off the quarterback because while Wentz has the tools to be a solid quarterback, he needs the help of a consistent running game.

And if the Eagles want to make the playoffs, they might want to get that together sooner rather than later.

 

Catch the Damn Ball: Eagles Receivers Not Making the Grade

6 Nov
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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 back in Week 3. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Last Sunday ’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys shows how badly the Philadelphia Eagles need a quality wide receiver.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Throughout Organized Team Activities and training camp, Doug Pederson was often asked about whether or not the Philadelphia Eagles would get a game-breaking wide receiver.

Pederson’s response was to say that wide receivers were going to make big plays through the Eagles scheme and then he went and added Dorial Green-Beckham in hopes that he would be that guy to stretch the field.

Seven games into the season, we are still talking about dropped passes and a lack of separation. There was talk this week that the Birds were looking for a wide receiver before Tuesday’s trade deadline, with San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith being the biggest name mentioned in possible trade talks.

Although it would be more excusable if it were, the problem with the Eagles’ passing game isn’t quarterback Carson Wentz. The rookie signal caller had an efficient game in Sunday’s 29-23 overtime loss to Dallas.

The problem is that the Birds receivers scare no one going deep. When the scariest receiver in your passing game is running back Darren Sproles, you have a problem that’s going to keep you out of the playoffs. In the last four games, the Eagles have had just one play beyond 30 yards. In fact, the team’s wideouts have made only two catches beyond 30 yards.

Were it not for a 73-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to Sproles on what turned out to be a broken play, the passing game would look even worse than it already does. Jordan Matthews, the team’s best wide receiver, is a go-to guy in the red zone and a solid possession receiver, but he’s not going to flip field position on one play for you, something the Eagles really need right now.

While doing it may make fans crazy, Pederson said that the old “dink and dunk” passes down field can work.

“Yeah, we went 9-0 in Kansas City and didn’t do it,” Pederson said. “I’ve seen it done. You can do that. It’s just we have to figure out and find ways to get the ball, obviously, down the field. You have to trust protection, you have to trust reads and progressions and you’ve got to trust the guys to get down the field.”

I guess that’s a politically correct answer to give to reporters during a press conference to mask an obvious weakness in your passing game. But let’s be honest here. In the games that the Eagles lost to their NFC East rivals—the Cowboys and the Washington Redskins— big play receivers Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson made, well, big plays.

And most importantly, they caught the ball. That’s another problem that the Eagles receivers seem to be having right now. When it comes to dropped passes, the Eagles are among the worst teams in the NFL. In fact, the website ChartingSports.com puts them at the top of the league in dropped balls when you measure the ratio of targets to balls dropped.

One of the most glaring examples of this during Sunday’s game was when wide receiver Nelson Agholor mishandled a ball that could have converted a third down deep in Cowboys territory on the Eagles first possession of the game.

While he wasn’t the only one dropping balls, Agholor was the only one getting testy with reporters when asked about it.

Now I understand why Agholor, the number one pick in the Eagles 2015 draft, might be tired of this particular topic coming up.

But if you want us to stop asking you about dropped passes, you could, I don’t know, Stop. Dropping. Passes.

If Agholor spent as much time living up the hype that a number one draft pick is supposed to generate as he does ranting at reporters asking him why he can’t seem to do the job he was drafted to do, which is to get open and catch the ball, he might get a little further along.

You would think the Eagles would have learned something from the NFC title games the team lost during the Donovan McNabb Era. During that time, the Eagles had a group of wide receivers similar to the crop the team has now: serviceable guys who scared no one.

Once Terrell Owens came to the Eagles, however, the team had a deep threat that the league had to respect. They won the NFC Championship, and while they didn’t win the Super Bowl, at least they went.

So while Pederson can dress it up anyway he likes, his current crop of mediocre receivers has made things a lot easier for defensive coordinators.

And until the team does something about that, they’ll be watching the Super Bowl from the living room like the rest of us.

A Tale of Two Successful Rookies: Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott

28 Oct
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Carson Wentz shares a few words with Jordan Matthews during the Eagles win over the Minnesota Vikings. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carson Wentz in the first round and the Dallas Cowboys selected Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, most pro football observers thought that both rookies would have to spend time holding their team’s clipboards.

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Rookie Dak Prescott has led the Dallas Cowboys to a 5-1 record and first place in the NFC East.

But a funny thing happened on their way to their apprenticeships.

Both Wentz and Prescott became starters. Granted, the circumstances that put them there were kind of strange, but hey.

The Cowboys not only lost starting quarterback Tony Romo in the third game of the preseason, but also backup Kellen Moore. Prescott, who had a solid preseason, was thrust into the starting quarterback role.

Meanwhile. Wentz was thrown to the wolves eight days prior to the start of the regular season when the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings who had lost their starter Teddy Bridgewater to a broken leg.

Usually, rookies struggle under such conditions.

But Wentz and Prescott haven’t played like rookies.

Because of this, the two rookies will take the field for NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast to fight for control of the NFC East. The Cowboys are in first place at 5-1 with the Eagles nipping at their heels at 4-2.

Prescott has completed 68 percent of his passes and has seven touchdown passes against one interception. He has thrown for 1,486 yards and has quarterback rating of 103.9.  Wentz has eight touchdown passes with three interceptions and has completed 63.8 percent of his passes and has a 92.7 quarterback rating. He has 1,324 passing yards.

“They know how to win. They know how to lead their teams. Nothing seems to be too big for either one of them,” said Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. “They take it in stride. The ability to protect the football through these first six, seven games has been crucial.”

One of the things that both Wentz and Prescott have in common is that they are both athletic, mobile quarterbacks that can make plays with their legs.  The work that both players have put in has paid off to the point that Prescott and Wentz have looked like poised NFL veterans.

“I think in our case, how well he [Wentz] prepares himself during the week, his leadership ability,” Pederson said.  “And all that is just taught at an early age and you kind of just have it, and some guys have it, some guys don’t. Both of these guys have it.”

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett coached Wentz during the Senior Bowl and was high on him because of his work ethic and his football IQ. Even though he was the third-string quarterback, Prescott prepared for his moment on the stage.

“It’s starts with his preparation. He always ready,” Garrett said. “Always was able to handle the offense, call plays and handle himself at the line of scrimmage. You can tell he was prepared.”

At one point during this season, Wentz and Prescott were trying to break the NFL-record for the most passing attempts without an interception. Wentz went 135 pass attempts without tossing interception. Meanwhile, Prescott did eventually break Tom Brady’s NFL record, making 155 pass attempts without an interception.

Prescott and Wentz met during last year’s Senior Bowl and again during the Scouting Combine. Both players praised each other for the success they’ve had so far.

“It’s exciting to see that he’s having been have some successes as well,” Wentz said. “It’s going to be fun to go see him play.”

Prescott said he’s not surprised at how well Wentz is performing as the Eagles starting quarterback because of his intelligence and his work ethic.

“He’s a smart guy, great player, a great athlete,” Prescott said. “He’s doing exactly what I thought he would do. I figured he’d be a good player in this league. He’s been doing well.”

In an age of trash talk and obnoxious self-promotion, both Prescott and Wentz are a breath of fresh air and are humble in their approach to Sunday’s game.  When a reporter asked Prescott about going up against Wentz, he quickly deflected the question to emphasize team.

“It’s Cowboys versus Eagles.” Prescott said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

6 Oct

 

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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
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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
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(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.

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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
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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.