Archive | February, 2016

New Manayunk Boxing Gym Named After Legendary Philly Fighter Harold Johnson

26 Feb
20151215_1750511

Light Heavyweight legend Harold Johnson, who grew up in the Manayunk-Roxborough section of Philadelphia, is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and is considered one of the best technical fighters in the history of the sport.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Even after his storied boxing career faded into sunset, former light-heavyweight champion Harold Johnson always made his presence felt in his old neighborhood of Manayunk-Roxborough.

Whether he was playing with his jazz band at one of the American Legion posts in the racially diverse neighborhood or just talking to the young people he’d see on the neighborhood’s corners, Johnson was a very visible part of the community.

“He cared,” said Joe Mathis, director of the Kendrick Recreation Center. “(Johnson) would ask a kid he didn’t even know, ‘Who are you and what’s your dad’s name or do I know you and who’s this guy’ to a little guy and that would influence that kid. He was the champ.”

Now thanks to a new boxing gym at Roxborough’s Kendrick Recreation Center, Johnson’s name and influence will continue to serve as inspiration for the children of Manayunk-Roxborough.

On Saturday, Johnson’s family joined Councilman Curtis Jones, and Jackie Frazier-Lyde, the daughter of another Philadelphia-based boxing champ, Joe Frazier in dedicating the new Harold Johnson Boxing Gym at the Kendrick Recreation Center. The gym, which cost $500, 000 to build, is an addition to the center.

With this boxing gym, Johnson’s involvement in Manayunk-Roxborough get a chance to hone their boxing skills while learning about a man who was an integral part of the place they called home.

“It’s a place for the youth to go and it’s a great thing,” Mathis said. “This keeps (Johnson) him involved and keeps his name alive. I’m honored to be able to do that for him and now his name is going to be here forever.”

IMG_2150

Joe Mathis, director of the Kendrick Recreation Center in Manayunk-Roxborough, and Rev. John Roberts, the son of Harold Johnson, stand inside the ring at the new Harold Johnson Boxing Gym.

The Rev. John Roberts, Johnson’s son, said he and his family are happy that his fathered is being honored by the city and his old neighborhood.

“It’s a great feeling for me and to the family because dad was a great fighter and it’s nice that Philadelphia recognizes their own,” said Roberts, who is the pastor of the Gardener of Prayer World Prayer Center. “To have this gym named after him is a great honor because this is where he grew up here in Manayunk. … There’s no place like home.”

Jones said Johnson is to Manayunk-Roxborough what basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain was to Overbrook High School and West Philadelphia.

“He was the George Washington of boxing up here,” Jones said. “Therefore, just as important as Wilt Chamberlain was to West Philly and Overbrook, Johnson was as important to Manayunk and boxing.”

IMG_2151

Rev. John Roberts points to a picture of his father Harold Johnson inside the new gym named for his father.

Boxing historian John DiSanto, who runs the website phillyboxinghistory.com, said naming the recreation center after Johnson will give young people in the community the opportunity to know who Johnson was and what he meant to this community.

“It’s way of constantly introducing him to new people and for him to be an inspiration for kids to come into train,” DiSanto said. “The more places his name can be mentioned and included the better, he needs to be remembered.”

As a fighter, Johnson is known for being one of the most technically proficient fighters of all-time. He has fought and beaten some of the best boxers in the history of the sport including Ezzard Charles and legendary light heavyweight champion Archie Moore, who he fought five times. Johnson also beat Cuba’s Nino Valdez, a heavyweight contender in the 50s and 60s, and was a sparring partner for Joe Louis, arguably one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.

The 5-foot-11 Johnson won the undisputed light heavyweight championship in 1962 only to lose it in 1963 to Willie Pastrano on a controversial split decision. He had a record of 76-11 with 32 knockouts.

DiSanto said Johnson was an underrated in his time because of his humble demeanor, his technical fighting style and because he fought as a light heavyweight at a time when all the focus in boxing was on the heavyweights.

“His fights tended to go the distance and he was in a lot of chess matches,” DiSanto said. “He’s in the Hall of Fame and you can’t get any better than that. He’s not a household name, but in this area he’s a local legend for sure.”

Allen Iverson Deserves to be a First Ballot Hall of Famer

19 Feb
OC8E0184 copy

Former Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson is a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Photo by Webster Riddick.

It’s a surprise to no one in this town that former 76ers guard Allen Iverson is a finalist for enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in
Springfield, Mass.

Throughout what was a tumultuous career in Philadelphia, Iverson was nothing short of brilliant on the court and deserves to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Despite being just under 6 feet tall, he was a four-time scoring champ and often scored over men much bigger than him.

He was an `11-time NBA All-Star, led the league in steals three times in his career and was MVP of the NBA All-Star game twice.

Sixers fans will always remember the incredible ride to the 2001 NBA Finals where he played the role of Superman and put a team of role players on his back. Even though the Sixers lost that series, people still talk about the win in Game One where Iverson hit a jumper over a falling Tyronn Lue and then casually walked over the Lakers guard.

I just hope that Hall of Fame voters will base their decision on Iverson’s Hall of Fame admission on his on the court play and not his off the court issues. As I say when it comes to the Hall of Fame of any sport, players should be judged strictly on what they’ve done in their careers during game time, and that alone.

But there’s always a tendency for more than a few voters to look at how a potential Hall of Famer got along with the media or if they were paragons of high moral virtue.  When you consider that KuKlux Klan members, pedophiles and even murderers are in the Halls of Fame of several sports, the irony of Iverson facing judgmental sportswriters is glaring.

Recently, former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens, was denied entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame not because he didn’t have the stats—he ranks in top 10 all-time in receiving yardage, touchdowns and receptions—but because of his perceived diva-like behavior that rankled coaches and teammates.

ESPN columnist Skip Bayless on several occasions called him, “Team Obliterator.”

Now I’m not going to lie. Owens had issues with teammates and coaches. When he was here in Philly, he did play a role in his own demise with the Eagles by taking shots at quarterback Donovan McNabb, something that you just don’t do.

But that said, you can’t deny that Owens played like a champion, even if, as his critics put it, he wasn’t necessarily doing it for the team. Playing in a Super Bowl on a broken leg and gaining 100 yards receiving was a remarkable achievement.  You also can’t argue with his numbers. In most cases, ranking in the Top 10 all-time in three different categories at your position makes you a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

I think Owens will eventually get into the Hall of Fame just like a number of players who were perceived as troubled during their playing days.

But what he did on the field should have been good enough to get him in this year.

And that’s why I’m concerned that Allen Iverson might meet the same fate.

During his time in Philly, Iverson left it all on the floor. Playing hurt was no big deal to him. He maxed out his talent.

But he did have more of his share of off-the court issues. He didn’t keep himself in as good of shape as he could have, something that might have kept his injuries to a minimum.

And then there was the infamous “We talking ‘bout practice,” speech. While it continues to live as a meme and occasionally shows up on social media thanks to YouTube, it didn’t endear Iverson to the local media.

Iverson was true to himself and truly kept it real. He was a great player on the court and his own man off of it.

So in his case, we need to be talking about first ballot Hall of Famer.