Archive | May, 2015

LeBron James and his Young Cavs Hope to Bring Home a Championship to Cleveland

30 May
LeBron James celebrates with his teammates after the Cavaliers punched their ticket to the NBA Finals.

LeBron James celebrates with his teammates after the Cavaliers punched their ticket to the NBA Finals.

Can the Prodigal Son Bring Home an Title to a City That Hasn’t Experienced a Pro Title in 51 Years

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

For the first time in a long time, I’m actually looking forward to the NBA Finals.

In fact, I believe that the series has the potential to be an instant classic.

The series between the Cleveland Cavaliers, champions of the Eastern Conference and the Golden State Warriors, the Western Conference Champions, will feature two Most Valuable Players—Cavaliers superstar LeBron James and Stephan Curry, winner of this year’s MVP award—that have the ability to put their teams on their backs.

But while there will certainly be a lot of overarching storylines emerging from this potential series, the one that will surely stand out is actually based on something that happened last summer: LeBron James’s Return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Or put another way, Will the return of the prodigal son lead to Cleveland’s first championship parade in 51 years?

Last summer, with much of the fanfare that went with his departure, James decided to return to his hometown Cavaliers. Because of this, a town that was so angry when he left that they burned his jersey and an owner in Dan Gilbert who is probably still trying to digest the prodigious amounts of crow he had to eat in order to get him back, found themselves having to cheer for James again.

To his credit, James didn’t take the nonsense coming out of his hometown personally upon his return.

“It’s a hardworking city and if you work hard, they work hard for you,” James said. “They give everything back. … We’re just trying to work hard for the city and they give it all back to us.”

James, who is playing in his fifth straight NBA Finals, has another opportunity to add to an already outstanding legacy.

“For us to be sitting at this point today being able to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals, this is special. Very special,” James said after the Cavalier series-clinching win over the Atlanta Hawks.

It’s not a position that a lot of us, myself included, expected the Cavaliers to be in. I personally thought it would take a lot longer to go from a 33-win season that kept it out of the playoffs to the top of the mountain. But if it happens, and the Cavaliers win the NBA championship, James, accompanied by all-stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, would have led one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of the league.

The team struggled at various times throughout the season and added a few players along the way to make them better. They started the season 19-20, but finished 33-9 the rest of the way. Cavaliers head coach David Blatt credited James and the team rallying around each other for the turnaround to their season.

“We’ve got a group of players that have a lot of grit and a lot of character,” Blatt said. “And we have a champion (James) who leads them in the right way, a guy who is not only a fabulous basketball player, but he’s an experienced winner who’s about the right things and who leads his guys in a way that empowers them and does not belittle them, in a way that lifts them.”

The key acquisitions the Cavaliers made during the season have come up huge in the playoffs. Imam Shumpert and J.R. Smith were a couple of players who were not happy playing for a God-awful New York Knicks team. Shumpert scored 16 points in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals and held Atlanta’s Kyle Korver to 4-of-11 shooting. Smith dropped 28 points in the Cavaliers win in Game 1.

There have also been outstanding performances from journeyman Matthew Dellavedova, who subbed for an injured Irving in the second half of the Cavaliers series-clinching win over the Chicago Bulls. He scored a team-high 19 points.

Forward Tristan Thompson has been all over the boards for the Cavaliers, averaging 9.9 rebounds per game. He has also been a top-notch defender.

But, the one constant, of course, has been James, who is averaging close to a triple double in the playoffs, scoring 27.6 points per game while pulling down 10.4 and 8.3 assists per game. Thompson said James has been a motivating force for the team ever since he decided to come back to Cleveland.

“Once he decided to come back, the first thing I did was call the coach and get in the gym and get ready because I know how serious (James) is about being successful and doing something special here in Cleveland,” Thompson said. “It just motivated myself, and I think it motivated all the guys on the team to just get better.”

While it isn’t going to be an easy road to the championship, a Cavaliers win could cement James’s legacy within the NBA.

At the very least, it’ll give a city that hasn’t seen a championship in 51 years something to shout about.

Birds Add Depth at Key Positions, But Not A Super Bowl Contender Just Yet

12 May
Rowe has the ability to play corner and safety for the Birds.

Second-Round Draft Choice Eric Rowe has the ability to play corner and safety for the Birds.

Eagles top draft choice Nelson Agholor hopes to make a big impact in his rookie season with the Birds.

Eagles top draft choice Nelson Agholor hopes to make a big impact in his rookie season with the Birds.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—So now that the Philadelphia Eagles have made their picks in 2015 NFL Draft, the question fans are asking themselves is if the team is better now than it was before head coach Chip Kelly made some highly publicized moves to make over the team in his image.

To be honest, I don’t think so at this point. There are too many unanswered questions on both sides of the ball to drink the “Philadelphia Eagles are a Super Bowl Contender” Kool-Aid at this point.

Let’s look at the draft picks.

Former University of Southern California star Nelson Agholor, the wide receiver the Eagles picked at number oneis almost a clone of the wide receiver Kelly let go to the Kansas City Chiefs, Jeremy Maclin.

At 6-foot, 190 pounds, he is almost the same as Maclin from a physical standpointAgholor is also a speedy wide out with a reputation running good routes and being a deep threat. He’s coming off a season in which he caught 104 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I have the ability to compete and do things I need to do to get open and in blocking,” Agholor said. “I’d like to go where I can help the team and manipulate the coverage.”

Agholor will join a receiving corps that will include veteran Miles Austin, Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper and Josh Huff.  It’s a decent group of pass-catchers—Matthews is coming off a pretty good rookie season with 67 receptions for 872 yards and eight touchdowns.

At the same, it’s not a crew that strikes fear into anyone. While Kelly thinks that Agholor can stretch opposing defenses, he’s not going to make anyone forget that DeSean Jackson is no longer in Eagles Green.

“I think he’s got good linear speed that can get down the field and I think people will have to be leery about that,” Kelly said. “He’s got excellent speed, outstanding hands, catches the ball away from his body. Outstanding route runner, real student of the game.”

But the real issue for the Birds is at quarterback. In Sam Bradford, the team has a couple of question mark: Can he learn the system, and can he stay off of Injured Reserve for 16 weeks? That last one is something he hasn’t done since 2012, although he’s saying that he’ll be ready for training camp, meaning that he’ll be healed from his most recent ACL repair. The one edge that he does have is that he ran a similar spread-option offense at Oklahoma.  

Kelly believes that Bradford’s ability to make quick decisions make him an ideal fit for the Eagles fast-paced no-huddle offense. The burden won’t be all on Bradford with running back DeMarco Murray in the Eagles backfield.

But the Birds are a bit shaky on the offensive line.  They got rid of Todd Herremans and have been trying to move guard Evan MathisThe offensive line could be the difference between the Eagles making the playoffs and having to watch from home, especially since the line will not only be protecting a quarterback with a newly repaired knee, but making holes for a running back that has his own fragility issues.

On the defensive side of the football, the draft enabled the Eagles to have some depth in the secondary.  In the second round, the Eagles drafted Utah defensive back Eric Rowe.   At 6-1, 205 pounds, Rowe has the kind of versatility that Kelly likes for his defense, similar to safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has also played cornerback and safety.

Rowe said he studies film of NFL stars like New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and Cleveland’s Joe Haden.

I love to hit, I love to come on the blitz and tackle,” Rowe said. “On the press man, l love to take charges on the line of scrimmage. I would say I’m an aggressive corner.”

Prior to his senior year, Rowe played 36 games at the safety position. He played cornerback in his final season with the Utes and had 13 passes defended with one interception. Rowe runs a 4.4 40-yard dash so he has the speed to keep up opposing receivers.

“We’re looking for safeties that can cover and this kid has actually played corner so he’s got those skills,” Kelly said. “He’s a taller and longer guy, so you hope those are things, but we’ll get him in here and look at everything he can do. The fact that he’s got that many starts under his belt at safety but then really excelled at corner this last year is very intriguing to us.”

The Birds further bolstered their defense in the third round by drafting former University of Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks, who had 147 tackles during his senior year. In the sixth round, the Birds picked up two more defensive backs in cornerbacks former Kansas star JaCorey Shepherd and Kansas State’s Randall Evans, who also has played both safety and corner.  

The Eagles closed out the draft with seventh round pick with Boston College defensive end Brian Mihalik, who 4.5 sacks during his senior year.

For the Birds to even be consider a Super Bowl contender, the defense, which gave up 30 touchdown passes last season, has nowhere to go but up.  It also has to stay healthy. Newly acquired inside linebacker Kiko Alsonso and DeMeco Ryans have to show that they are 100 percent ready to go.  

The rookies on both sides of the ball have to grow up quick because they’re not going to have too much margin for error.  

 

Baltimore Riots Symbolize Politicians Neglect of the Poor and Disenfranchised

1 May
Civil unrest in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray's death at the hands of the police. Photo courtesy of Salon.com

Civil unrest in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of the police. Photo courtesy of Salon.com

The CVS Pharmacy at Pennsylvania and North Avenue in Baltimore after was burned down Monday night by rioters.  Photo courtesy of Newsweek.com

The CVS Pharmacy at Pennsylvania and North Avenue in Baltimore after was burned down Monday night by rioters. Photo courtesy of Newsweek.com

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Few things are worse than watching as your home burns to the ground, knowing that you’re powerless to do anything about it and that the people who could have prevented this have decided that it wasn’t in their best interest to do it.

It’s a feeling that I’ve been experiencing most of this week as I’ve watched hours and hours of news coverage of the riots in Baltimore that have followed the protests of the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the city’s police.

You see, for me Baltimore is home. It’s where I was born and raised. I went to the city’s schools. I graduated from Morgan State University. I used to sell beer and hot dogs at the old Memorial Stadium.

So seeing my home burn to the ground, and watching the coverage on television and social media, has saddened me.

It’s also pissed me off.

But my anger isn’t necessarily directed at the young people who are burning police cars and looting stores. It’s not even really directed at news outlets like Fox and CNN that didn’t think the peaceful protests that were also going on was all that important because there wasn’t sufficient Black dysfunction to hold their interest.

My issue was with the respectability politics that seemed to rise with the fires, providing its own foul stench. Baltimore’s politicians and regular citizens, almost all of whom are Black, seemed to care more about the destruction of property and appearances that they seemed to forget the reason why these kids were so mad in the first place.

Freddie Gray is dead. And while insurance will cover the costs of rebuilding the CVS, no amount of insurance is going to bring him back.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone the rioting that often destroys Black communities and does nothing to solve the problem. But I also don’t condone the fact that people would rather not acknowledge that this unrest from our youth is a cry for help from a community of poor, Black, human beings who have been long neglected by the politicians and other adults who were supposed to look out for them.

Oddly enough, someone you wouldn’t have expected to have noticed this pointed it out. Although his team was forced to cancel two games due to the unrest, John Angelos, the chief operating officer of the Baltimore Orioles, still managed to keep what was happening in the city in perspective.

He tweeted the following:

“We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S. and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights and this makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”

Or, in other words, the riots in my hometown are the result of long-time neglect of problems associated with poverty, lack of education funding and the criminalization of poverty.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s the recipe for every bout of civil unrest that’s taken place over the last few years.

For example, in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Sandtown where Gray’s funeral was held, the unemployment rate is at 52 percent.

And the death of Gray, who had his spinal cord crushed, was the tipping point of a problem that has been festering for a long time. According to an investigation by the Baltimore Sun, the city has had to pay out more than $5.7 million in awards and settlements in 100 cases of police brutality since 2011.

It’s funny that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake failed to call the cops “thugs” like she did the kids who were rioting and looting. If severing someone’s neck isn’t part of the definition of “thuggery”, you need to tell me what is.

Part of the reason why I’ve always felt at home in Philadelphia is because of how similar it is to my hometown of Baltimore.

Because of that, I find myself asking the same questions of the elected officials in my hometown, most of whom are Black, that I’m asking in my new home as the May Primary approaches.

What have you done, Mayor Blake and your fellow Black office holders, to provide jobs, fix a broken education system, stop institutional racism or improve the overall quality of life for your constituents? My guess is, not much.

So it’s time to bring up the “A” word: accountability.

It’s about time that we, and when I say “we” I mean the politicians in both my ancestral home and my new home, to hold all our politicians accountable without regard to race or party affiliation. It’s time to fervently push them to solve the issues of our cities.

Because if we don’t, we’ll be having the conversation that President Barack Obama talked about when he addressed the riots in the Rose Garden on Tuesday.

“If we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could,” he said. “It’s just that it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We’re paying attention because we consider those kids our kids and we think they’re important and they shouldn’t be living in poverty and violence.”

The CVS Pharmacy on Pennsylvania and North will be fine thanks to insurance and the largess of a multi-billion dollar corporation, but there will always be a void in the Gray family and for that matter in the Black community in my hometown.

But if what’s going on in Baltimore causes us to pay more attention to what’s going on in cities like it across the country, another city might be able to avoid The Fire Next Time.