Archive | June, 2015

Forty Years After Arthur Ashe’s Milestone Win at Wimbledon, Serena Williams Looks to Add to Her Legacy

25 Jun

By Chris Murray

Serena Williams is halfway to tennis's Grand Slam.  She renews her chase for immortality at Wimbledon.

Serena Williams is halfway to tennis’s Grand Slam. She renews her chase for immortality at Wimbledon.

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—This year’s Wimbledon Championships will spotlight the both the 40th anniversary of a significant milestone in the tournament’s history and a player’s attempt to achieve a rare feat in the history of tennis.
In 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first African-American male tennis player to win a professional singles title when he came away with a four-set victory over Jimmy Connors, at that time the world’s No. 1 player. It was a crowning achievement for Ashe, who went on to become as recognized for his leadership in the movement to end apartheid in South Africa, and his advocacy for more research dollars for HIV/AIDS research.

Arthur Ashe was the first Black male tennis player to win a Wimbledon singles title.

Arthur Ashe was the first Black male tennis player to win a Wimbledon singles title.

Now, 40 years after Ashe’s triumphant, color-line breaking win at Wimbledon, another African-American tennis player, Serena Williams, is looking to accomplish a rare feat that would make her one of the greatest female tennis players of all-time without question.
Williams is trying to become first tennis player since Steffi Graff to win the game’s Grand Slam– the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open—in a single season. So far, she’s won the Australian and the French. Because she ended 2014 with a win at the U.S. Open, a win at Wimbledon would give Williams a calendar year Grand-Slam.

But while winning a calendar year Grand Slam may take doing, winning a single season Grand Slam is a lot easier said than done, even for someone with Williams’s talent. To give some perspective on how difficult a task she faces, you need only look at the numbers.

Since the start of the Open Era in 1968, only three people have ever won it. Australian Rod Laver, who won all four events in 1969, is the last male tennis player to accomplish the feat. Considering that a whole raft of tennis greats such as Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer have all stints where they were the most dominant players in the sport, and yet none of them was able to do it, that’s significant.

On the women’s side, Margaret Court was the first to do it in 1970. It took another 18 years before Steffi Graf won the Grand Slam and no one else has done it since. Jennifer Capriati came close, winning the Australian and French Opens in 2001, but by winning Wimbledon that year, Venus Williams stopped her from accomplishing the milestone.

Right now, no one in the world is playing better than Serena Williams and that’s why some tennis experts believe that the Grand Slam is within her grasp. In an article on Wimbledon.com, former women’s tennis star and ESPN tennis analyst Chris Evert said she likes Williams’ chances to pull it off.

“When she is at her best she is better than anybody,” Evert said. “She’s got a great shot. To me her game is better suited to the grass courts than it is to the clay… But her game, just because of her serve, she’s going to get free aces. … It should be one of the easier Grand Slams for her.”

Williams would probably tell you herself that it’s not going to be easy at all. Even though she came away victorious in Paris, Williams had a tough time at Roland Garros, battling the flu and opponents Timea Bacsinszky and Lucie Safarova.

Still, despite looking like she was ready to pass out, using cold compresses during the changeovers, and guzzling water to stay hydrated, Williams managed to win the French Open and serve notice that she’s better than much of the women’s draw even when she’s sick.

With the win at the French, Williams has won 20 major singles, two away from Steffi Graff (22) and four away from Margaret Court who has 24. She has won 21 straight matches and is on the verge of making history as the fortnight at Wimbledon begins.
Like Arthur Ashe, Serena Williams learned how to play tennis on public courts in the inner city.

When he won the All-England title 40 years ago, Ashe made history.

Williams manages to get one step closer to winning the Grand Slam by winning the Wimbledon title, she stands a chance of making history as well.

And somewhere, Arthur Ashe will be smiling.

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How Ya Like Me Now: Former Sixer Andre Iguodala Basks in the Glow of a Championship

18 Jun
NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala takes questions from reporters after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games for the NBA crown.  Photo by New York Daily News.com

NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala takes questions from reporters after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games for the NBA crown. Photo by New York Daily News.com

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—When Andre Iguodala was traded to the Denver Nuggets in 2012 as a part of the four-way deal that landed the 76ers Andrew Bynum, most Philly fans said good riddance.

After all, the Sixers were getting a legitimate impact center in Bynum and Iguodala never really panned out as a No. 1 scoring option. At the time, the 76ers and their fans were so giddy about Bynum that they threw him a big party at the National Constitution Center. It was like Andre-who?

It’s funny how things turned out.

Bynum, a man with bum knees, never played a minute in a Sixers uniform. Iguodala, who got traded to the Golden State Warriors a year later, ended up having the last laugh.

On Tuesday night, there was Iguodala holding two trophies—the NBA Finals trophy and the Bill Russell Finals MVP Trophy. The guy the Sixers sent packing a few years ago is now on top of the world with Golden State while his old team has struggled to put out reputable starting five on a nightly basis.

Oddly enough, Iguodala said it was his time with the Sixers prepared for him for his championship run with the Warriors.

“I think all those years and going through everything I went through, the good and the bad, can prepare you for this moment.  Being in Philly I had some teams‑‑ we were a very close group.  I think we maximized our talent,” Iguodala said. “I’ve been on teams that we’ve been close knit and it helped us just getting to the playoffs because we weren’t the most talented, but we got there because we played so hard together.”

What makes this Finals MVP award special for Iguodala is that he didn’t have to be the top scorer for his team. That’s Stephen Curry’s job to put the offense on his shoulder and he certainly did that, especially in the fourth quarter of the Warriors last three wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the title.

Iguodala had the most important job in this series—slow down Cleveland’s LeBron James. He held James to 38. 1 percent shooting after Game 3. No, Iguodala didn’t complete shutdown James, who was having an MVP series, but he kept him from having one for the ages.

“LeBron doesn’t have any weaknesses, or he doesn’t have a glaring weakness,” Iguodala said. “ So you’ve got to pick up on the smaller things to try to make him uncomfortable.  Like knowing which side he likes to shoot threes off the dribble, which side he likes to drive.  One side he’ll drive left more often, and the other side he’ll drive right more often.”

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he admired Iguodala’s willingness to contribute as the sixth man was important to Golden State’s run to the NBA title.

“You could make an argument that it could have gone to Steph, it could have gone to LeBron,” Kerr said.  “But for us, it’s really fitting that the award went to Andre because he sacrificed his starting role from the first game of the season.

“He had never come off the bench once in his entire career, and he sacrificed that job to make Harrison better, to make our bench better, and that set the tone for our whole season.  An All‑Star, an Olympian saying, okay, I’ll come off the bench.”

Iquodala also came up with some big three-point buckets in both Game 5 and Game 6 of the series that halted the Cavaliers attempt to comeback in the game. In the series finale, Iguodala scored 25 points, pulled down five rebounds and added five assists. For the series, Iguodala averaged 16 points per game.

Not bad for a guy who was supposedly a 100-1 shot to win the Finals MVP over 2015 league MVP Curry and a four-time MVP in James.

Iguodala is proof that you don’t have to be the leading scorer or the star to be valuable to your team. Playing your role-whether you are a defensive stopper, scorer off the bench, or a rebounder like Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman—is just as important to your team’s success as being the superstar.

Curry, whose scoring led the Warriors to the NBA’s best record, said he definitely appreciated Iguodala’s efforts.

“Obviously he deserved that Finals MVP for the way he impacted the game on both ends and was always ready,” Curry said. “Andre stepped up to that challenge every single night and a huge reason why we’re celebrating right now.”

 

Lack of Progress on Injured Right Foot Could Sideline Sixers Embiid for Next Season

18 Jun
Joel Embiid's foot has yet to heal and he could be out for next year.  Photo by Sixers.com

Joel Embiid’s foot has yet to heal and he could be out for next year. Photo by Sixers.com

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—Three weeks before the 2015 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers and their fans had visions of the team using the third pick in the draft to pick up Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell or China league sensation Emmanuel Mundiay to run the offense with Nerlens Noel and 7-foot center Joel Embiid at the Wells Fargo Center.

But the bad news on Embiid’s lack of progress on the injured right foot that forced him to miss all of what should have been his rookie season has Sixers fans shaking their heads instead.

“Joel and Sixers personnel travelled to Los Angeles for a series of routine exams with a number of physicians who have been actively involved throughout this process,” Sixers owner Sam Hinkie said in a statement issued to fans. “During his visit with Dr. Richard Ferkel, a standard CT scan on Joel’s right foot revealed less healing than anticipated at this point …Discussions regarding the appropriate next steps are currently ongoing and we will share an update once it becomes available.”

According to some reports, there’s a distinct possibility that the Embiid may not play next season. That’s really bad considering that Embiid reportedly missed rehab sessions, has had weight issues and has argued with the team’s trainers.

It’s also a bad thing with considering the YouTube videos of Embiid that show that he was getting better and starting to look good on the court during workouts. One of the videos shows Embiid dunking the ball from between his legs at the end of the team’s pre-game shoot-around.

Should he have been doing that given the state of his foot? Especially since now it looks like he could be facing more surgery and thus another year off the court?

For a fan base that’s not only had to endure some of the worst basketball ever played at the Wells Fargo Center, but has also had to watch in horror as former Sixer Andre Iguodala not only picked up a championship ring with the Golden State Warriors, but was also crowned the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, this latest setback to the team’s rebuilding efforts might be the one that makes folks start giving Hinkie the side-eye.

But we won’t know just how bad Embiid’s lack of progress in terms of his injury is until Draft Night. What the Sixers do with the third pick will tell the tale.

According to some recent mock drafts, the Sixers could go after a big man like Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Karl Anthony Towns or Latvian power forwards Kristaps Porzingis if neither of their first two choices is available. The team could also take a look at Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein.

But since the Sixers traded former Rookie of the Year point guard Michael Carter-Williams, that might be the need they meet first. They liked Ohio State’s Russell and Hinkie won’t want to let a fan base that’s finally starting to get a little skeptical and a media that always was think that the organization changed its way of draft thinking due to the lack of progress on Embiid’s injured right foot.

The bottom line is that the Sixers need to show that all of the tanking they did to get these lottery picks is going to lead to something. All that the team has gotten in the last two drafts for all of its losses is one healthy player in Noel, and he spent his rookie season riding the pine due to injury and one in Carter-Williams that they traded away before he had a chance to develop.

For those who are enamored by the unconventional thinking of Hinkie and company, it’s all about patience and letting things work themselves out. Hinkie apparently has his own timeline and in his mind, the gumbo is going to be done when he thinks it’s done.

After all, these are merely the quirks of a genius at work. Right? (crickets)

But in the course of getting things done, 76ers fans want to see some semblance of light of what has been a very dark tunnel for a franchise that’s made it to the NBA Finals just twice in the last 32 years.

Especially since foot injuries, specifically the kind that come with shooting yourself in the foot, seem to be this team’s forte.

 

South Philly Forty: Eagles Purge Continues with the Release of Evan Mathis

12 Jun
Two-time Pro Bowl offensive guard Evan Mathis is free to negotiate with other teams after he was released by the Eagles.

Two-time Pro Bowl offensive guard Evan Mathis is free to negotiate with other teams after he was released by the Eagles.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—Just when you thought the drama at NovaCare had kind of subsided just a wee bit, the Eagles head coach Chip Kelly made another eye-raising move on Thursday by giving the heave-ho to two-time Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis.

While the team hasn’t made an official announcement just yet, Mathis himself made the announcement on Twitter: “Thanks for the memories Philly.”

I guess the first thing that should jump out at you in the midst of Kelly’s purge of the team’s best veteran players is that being outspoken or even looking like you’re a critic of this regime will get you fired. Since assuming command of the team’s football operations, Kelly has made it clear that while a player maybe good, no one is above being kicked to the curb.

You can’t say that move was about race or any of his moves including the trade of running back LeSean McCoy. Kelly has made it emphatically clear that this is his team, ride or die.

The Eagles have become the real-life version of the 1970s football movie, “North Dallas 40.” Kelly, who makes all the personnel decisions, has become B.A. Strothers, the demanding coach played by G.D Spradling, who likened a football team to a well-oiled machine. In one scene the coach in the film if one of those gears from that machine flies off on its own, he would pull it.

Kelly has definitely done that when anyone dared to be a critic of his football ideology. McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Cary Williams have all been shown the door in one way or the other.   The latest casualty of Kelly’s totalitarian rule is their malcontent Pro Bowl offensive lineman.

Mathis did not show up for the team’s “voluntary” organized team activities mainly because he dared to not be happy with his contract. He wanted more money and he wanted it guaranteed. The Eagles response to Mathis was stay home and don’t ya come back no more.

What makes this move even more painful for Mathis was that he was scheduled to make $5.5 million and $6 million next season. Despite his accomplishments on the field for the last couple years, some observers around the league are saying that it is highly doubtful that’s he going to make that kind of money at 33-years-old—he turns 34 in November.

Throughout the offseason, the Eagles had been looking to trade Mathis, but could find no takers. Given Kelly’s penchant for putting the kybosh on guys who don’t buy into the system, general managers around the league figured why give up a draft choice or a player to be named later when you can sign him as a free agent, possibly at a cheaper price.

The irony of this was that Mathis bought into Kelly’s holistic approach to the football which involves proper diet and nutrition along with getting plenty of sleep. I guess in Kelly’s mind Mathis wanting more money is a violation of a team that he wants to carve into his own image.

And so even with the departure of former head coach Andy Reid and former team president Joe Banner, the Birds are still the Logan’s Run of pro football where turning 30-something can be hazardous to your job security no matter how good you were the past couple of seasons.

Somewhere in the state of Ohio, Banner is smiling at Kelly’s handiwork.

Meanwhile, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner will be vying to replace Matthew. My caveat to Kelly is that if you’re going to cut guys they have to be better than the guy being let go.

Running back DeMarco Murray had better have the kind of season to make fans say, LeSean who? Quarterback Sam Bradford needs to stay healthy and be productive enough to make people forget Nick Foles. The Eagles defense with its young defensive backs needs to stop people.

In other words, the end-result of all the offseason moves had better translate into a division title and a run deep into the playoffs. If it doesn’t, Kelly will find out in no uncertain terms that he, too, is expendable as the players he’s cut or traded.

23 /23 Hype-sight: Comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan Has Become a Tired Conversation

4 Jun
NBA fans enjoy comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan.

NBA fans enjoy comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

As the 2015 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors continues this weekend, conversations at a sports bars, man caves and your local sports talk station will undoubtedly turn to the subject of LeBron James, his place among the NBA’s greats, and whether or not a series loss from the Cavaliers changes things.

But there’s one name that I’m tired of hearing as a part of that discussion.

Michael Jordan.

Jordan vs. LeBron is one of those discussions that I try to avoid because it’s one that really makes no sense. It often disintegrates into a bizarre intergenerational fight between two cults of personality that has nothing to do with basketball.

Because James was seen as the “NBA’s Golden Child, “The Chosen One, the ”Messiah” or the “Son of Basketball” and a bunch of other goofy names when he came to the NBA, Jordan partisans show James no love despite his numerous accomplishments. To suggest that James’s name should be spoken in the same breath with their basketball immortal is heresy to them.

For example, Jordan partisans are always quick to point out that because James has only two rings to Jordan’s six, he will never be as great. Of course, Jordan didn’t play all five positions on the court to get those rings, but that logic always seems to get lost in these discussions.

(Now I could point out that if greatness is measured by NBA Championship rings, Jordan needs to bow down at the feet of Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell. Russell led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA titles, something that neither James nor Jordan could ever accomplish. But did I mention that most of the folks having this particular argument have any knowledge of basketball history, and thus have never heard of Bill Russell?)

I was just on Facebook and someone posted a stat that compared Jordan and James scoring averages after the first 141 playoff games in their careers. Jordan had the better scoring average which reassured his followers.

Then someone posted Jordan’s and James record in the NBA Finals—which was …you guessed it advantage Jordan. Of course, everything I’m saying I’ve seen LBJ parishioners do the same thing with their man coming out on top.

To be honest, I don’t care either way. But the comparisons between the two are totally and utterly ridiculous, especially considering that they play different positions and have their own unique qualities that make them great players.

Jordan was a great clutch scorer who made his teammates better and played defense. James is a versatile player who can score, rebound and share the ball. He’s taken three different teams to the NBA Finals and has made other guys around him even better by his leadership and will to win.

Both James and Jordan were the best of their time.

So do me a favor okay?

Let’s keep this in perspective. We got to enjoy the ups and downs of Michael Jordan’s career and the championship years, not-so-championship years and everything in between.

How about letting the LeBron James Era unfold the same way?