Archive | June, 2016

LeBron James: Once Upon a Time Called Right Now

24 Jun
LeBron James

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 7 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 19, 2016. The Cavaliers won 93-89. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Instead of spending so much time in the NBA’s past with Michael Jordan, fans should allow themselves to witness the greatness that is LeBron James right now.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The seven-game epic that was the 2016 NBA Finals provided a kaleidoscope of highlights and tremendous plays.

But when the dust settled in Oakland on Sunday night, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers was not only bringing the NBA Championship to a long-suffering, blue collar town used to being victimized by “The Drive” (John Elway, 1987 AFC Championship), “The Shot” (Michael Jordan, 1989 Eastern Conference Championship) and “The Fumble”(1988 AFC Championship), he was solidifying his lofty status as the best basketball player in the world.

Now, don’t get it twisted, James didn’t do it all by himself. That clutch three-point bucket by Kyrie Irving with under a minute left put the Cavaliers in the lead for good. Throughout the series, Irving played well enough to make an argument for himself as the Finals MVP. Forward/center Tristan Thompson did yeoman’s work in the low post.  Even Kevin Love played defense well enough to faze Steph Curry at the three-point line late in the game.

And for those who keep saying that James doesn’t have the “clutch gene”, you might want to pay attention to the last three games of the series. Or the last six seasons for that matter. 

Or have you not noticed that there hasn’t been an NBA Finals in the last six years in which LeBron James wasn’t a participant?

Of course, there are going to be some folks on social media who will continue to belittle James because he will never be as great as Michael Jordan, who won six NBA championships. Thanks to the cult-like deification of Jordan, people tend to forget that he didn’t do without Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr et al.

But because I’m an irreverent knucklehead, I do have an answer to those of you who still worship at the feet of his Royal Airness because there are a few things you don’t understand when making such silly comparisons.

Basketball is still a team game. That’s a concept that seems too hard to grasp for young fans that think Jordan actually invented the game and a few older fans who are probably waiting for him to be canonized by the Vatican.

Yes, Jordan was a great clutch scorer in the Finals who knew how to close the deal. But he wouldn’t have gotten into position to make those great plays without fellow Hall-of-Famers Scottie Pippin, a great scorer in his own right, Dennis Rodman, and swingman Horace Grant.

Praising Jordan’s solid supporting cast shouldn’t be used as an attempt to diminish his greatness in the same way that Jordan’s six rings shouldn’t be used to beat James over the head. If he never wins another ring, the fact that James has led two different teams to three of the last six NBA titles is truly remarkable.

In the last two years, James has taken a Cleveland team that was in last place in 2014 to two straight NBA Finals before winning the championship this year.  His mere presence made them a contender along with good players like Irving, Love and J.R. Smith.

Like Jordan, James definitely makes good players around him better. That’s the mark of a great player.

What James did in this year’s Finals was something that even Jordan didn’t accomplish in his storied career.  When the Cavaliers were down 3-1 and teetering on the verge of elimination, James put the team on his back with three straight wins. 

In that stretch of games, he scored 109 points—including two straight 40-point games, 29 assists, and 35 rebounds.

In Game 7, Not only did James have a triple-double with 27 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds—He accounted for 52 of the Cavaliers 93 points with a score or an assist. He scored seven of Cleveland’s last 10 points and he had a key shot block against former Philadelphia 76er Andre Iguodala with under two minutes left.

In the Finals, James supplied 52 percent of the Cavs offense with a bucket or an assist.  In last year’s Finals, James was responsible for 62 percent of his team’s points.

When the series ended, James led in every statistical category, points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocked shots.  No one in the history of the NBA Finals, not Jordan, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West or Larry Bird has ever done that.

That’s a clutch performance for the ages from one of the greatest all-around athletes to play the game.

Now I’m not going to say that James is greater than Jordan or vice-versa.

But I will say that you should appreciate the greatness that’s in front of you because living in the past gets old after awhile.

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His Own Man: Muhammad Ali Versus the Suppression of the Black Athlete

10 Jun

Muhammad Ali: 1942-2016

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Muhammad Ali faced harsh criticism with his membership in the Nation of Islam and his friendship with  Malcolm X.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me — black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”-Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali meant a lot to me as a young, Black man growing up and trying to find himself.

Ali will always be the athlete that I measure all other athletes by both on and off the field because he was willing to risk his career as an athlete by not only joining the Nation of Islam, but also by refusing to be drafted into the military and fighting the Vietnam War due to his religious beliefs.

When Ali died June 3 due to complication from a staph infection, he was lionized, which is easier to do now that it’s safe.

But when Ali was in his heyday, it wasn’t as acceptable to be a fan of his because of he spoke his mind about racism in America and never wavered in his beliefs at a time when it was harshly frowned upon for a Black man to be so outspoken.

Ali’s legacy was about defying the suppression of Black athletes who dare to be their own men and be outspoken about race. His willingness to stand up for his beliefs was part of a historical pattern that has defined the African American experience in sports.

There has always been an outright hatred for Black athletes, male or female, who are outspoken and refuse to define themselves and not through the eyes of white supremacy.

When Ali took on Joe Frazier in 1971 in the fight billed as the Fight of the Century, he was seen as the villain in the eyes of white America because of this outspokenness, while many boxing fans hoped that Frazier, who was less outspoken on racial matters and seen as a good “Christian”, would put Ali in his “place” as the more “American” of the two boxers.

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Ali keeps it real about Vietnam and the treatment of African-American Athletes.

As veteran sports writer Terence Moore pointed out on MSNBC recently, it wasn’t until Ali became stricken with Parkinson’s Disease and was rendered unable to speak, that White Americans opposed to the Ali of the 1960s and the principled stands that he took felt comfortable enough to embrace him.

This attitude on the part of White Americans toward Black athletes goes back to Jack Johnson’s reign as the first Black heavyweight champion of the world. Not only did Johnson destroy the physical notion of white supremacy, his brashness inside and outside the ring offended white American sports fans and frightened some African-Americans who feared reprisals from white people.

Johnson not only beat his white opponents in the ring, he taunted them.  At a time when a Black man could be lynched at the mere accusation of looking at a white woman, Johnson married two and flaunted his relationships in public.

In the book, Bad Nigger: The National Impact of Jack Johnson, Al-Tony Gilmore quoted a white boxer who fought in the early 20th century who said: “Why, if that scoundrel would beat that white boy the niggers would never stop gloating over it and as it is we have enough trouble with them.”

While Johnson didn’t see himself as a race man or an activist, the mere fact that he was his own man and refused to bow down to the harsh restrictions of racial segregation in the early 20th century or to defer white people.

After Johnson lost the title in 1915, it would be another 18 years before a Black fighter would get a shot at the title.  And it had to be someone that was seen as more palatable to them.

For a Joe Louis to get a shot at the title, he was not allowed to raise his hands above a defeated white opponent or even smile after a win. And because of Johnson, Louis was prohibited from publicly being pictured with white women.

Because of Louis’s quiet, unassuming nature he was beloved by whites in a way that Ali or Johnson was not. White fans seemed to be more comfortable when an African-American athlete is quiet or willing to suffer fools gladly.

In Jackie Robinson’s first two years breaking baseball’s color line when he endured all the racist taunts from fans by not fighting back he was seen by the mainstream media as a sympathetic figure. When Robinson was allowed fight back on the field and stand up for himself and Black athletes off the field, the same White media that cheered him as a sympathetic figure vilified him for standing up for himself.

You can make the argument that this hasn’t changed much in America because Black athletes who speak out on social issues face racist hostility and calls for punishment and sanctions, such as in the case of the St. Louis Rams players holding up their hands in solidarity with Michael Brown, an unarmed Black shot to death by police in Ferguson, Missouri.

Being accepted on your own terms as a Black athlete is the legacy that Muhammad Ali leaves behind.

Maybe now that he’s no longer with us, America will, at long last, get used to it.

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali Transcended Boxing

10 Jun

Muhammad Ali:1942-2016

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Muhammad Ali Shook up the world with his stunning upset of Sonny Liston in 1964. He held the heavyweight title three times.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Boxing fans around the world are mourning the death of three-time heavyweight champion of the world Muhammad Ali.

Even in the city of Brotherly Love, the hometown of Joe Frazier, his fiercest rival, people are paying tribute to a fighter who transcended sports.

“Muhammad Ali was an exceptional and extraordinary individual,” said Rudy Battle, chairman of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. “He was a superlative victor and exemplified the true meaning of the “People’s Champion”. He always took time to recognize his fans.”

Ali was a force to be reckoned with both inside and outside the ring.  As a boxer, Ali had a stinging left jab along with the hand speed and lateral movement with his feet of a welterweight and a middleweight. Some boxing experts described him as a Sugar Ray Robinson at the heavyweight level.

Charlie “Mickey” Thomas was one of Ali’s sparring partners and had been friends with the champ since the two of them were teammates on the 1960 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team. Thomas gave Ali credit  for revitalizing a sport ravaged by it’s control by organized crime.

“When (Ali) was boxing, boxing sucked,” Thomas said. “It was a terrible time, It was run by the mob … and Ali put the sport back in boxing. Look at what he did for the sport.”

“None of the heavyweights fighting now have Ali’s quickness,” said former world middleweight and light middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins. “He was like the Fred Astaire of boxing.”

Outside the ring, Ali became a polarizing figure with his membership in the Nation of Islam and by refusing induction into the United States Army based on his religious beliefs and the idea that African-Americans were mistreated at home.

“I can talk all day about what Ali did inside the ring,” said former world middleweight and light middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, “but what he did outside the ring was even more profound. Thirty and 40 years from now we’re still going to be talking about Muhammad Ali.”

Hopkins said it took tremendous courage for Ali to stand up for his principles at a time when African-Americans were getting murdered for participating in Civil Rights demonstrations across the country. Just like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were eventually assassinated, Ali faced the real danger of someone shooting him down.

“He sacrificed a lot because there was bullet out there with his name on it,” Hopkins said.

Thomas, who is white and served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, said he agreed with Ali refusing induction into the military because of his religious beliefs and felt he was being true to himself.

“Muhammad Ali was the only truly conscientious objector I knew,” Thomas said. “He believed in what he was doing. I don’t find a lot of Baptists or Catholics who do that.”

When it comes to the legacy of Black athletes who speak out on controversial issues like LeBron James wearing a hoodie as a protest against the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Hopkins said the media shuts down Black athletes who speak out on controversial issues.

“You can get the media to assassinate them now and kill them that way,” Hopkins said.

In addition to standing up for his rights with respect to his religion and for African-Americans, Ali also stood up against the exploitation of fighters by unscrupulous managers and promoters, Battle said. The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which was signed into law in 2000, is designed to protect fighters from unfair business practices by promoters.

“He fought for the equality of boxers and established the Muhammad Ali Law,’ which prevents an individual from both promoting and managing a boxer simultaneously, thereby, eliminating total control of a boxer,” Battle said.

Thomas said Ali had a big heart and his best memories of him were of his willingness to give of himself, especially when the media wasn’t present.

“It was kindness to people without the knowledge of the media. He did a lot for people and he gave a lot of money away and he helped many, many people,” Thomas said.

As someone who grew up in North Philly, Ali had a profound influence on young boxers who tried to emulate the way he fought, his trash talking and his self-confidence.  Ali was as much a hero to young people in Philadelphia as Frazier, Hopkins said.

“Part of my demeanor and attitude in the ring came from wanting to be like Muhammad Ali,” Hopkins said. “You had a lot of young North Philly talking trash against each other, doing the Ali Shuffle. He was our hero.”

 

The Contract That Broke The Color Line

3 Jun

Jackie Robinson’s history making contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers is on display at the National Constitution Center until June 5.

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Jackie Robinson’s Contract on display at the National Constitution Center. Photo by Chris Murray

 

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they did so without taking the rights and freedoms of African-Americans into consideration.

The tumultuous journey of African-Americans from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to the current cries of Black Lives Matter has been about making America live up to the lofty ideals of freedom and equality those documents imply.

When Jackie Robinson signed a contract to play Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, that contract became an influential document not only for sports fans, but also for the nation as a whole.

Even the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King took notice. In a conversation he had with Hall of Famer Don Newcomb, King expressed his appreciation for Robinson’s willingness to lead the charge.

“You’ll never know how easy you and Jackie and (Larry) Doby and Campy (Roy Campanella) made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field,” King said.

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Robinson’s signature on this contract changed the face of sports and American back in 1947. Photo by Chris Murray.

From now until June 5, you can see the original contract that Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the National Constitution Center.

While there are a lot of important documents on display at the Constitution Center, the Robinson contract is equally as compelling as all the others. Robinson’s contract symbolized the first major confrontation with a segregated America and was part of the ongoing battle to make the country live up to it’s ideas of equality and justice.

Robinson’s entry into major league baseball was met with violent hostility both on and off the field. He was spiked by his opponents and jeered by hostile white fans who were offended by the mere presence of African-Americans in what was supposed to be the American game.

In his first two years with the Dodgers, Robinson had to take affronts to his personal dignity for a cause that went beyond the box score. Eight years later, ordinary African-Americans from students to janitors were peacefully sitting in at lunch counters, boycotting segregated public transportation and education facilities.

When you think about it, Robinson striking down baseball’s color barrier preceded President Harry S. Truman’s executive order to integrate the military, Brown versus Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Rides, lunch counter sit-ins, Birmingham movement, the March from Selma to Montgomery and the March on Washington. Dr. King described what Robinson went through:

“A pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”

It’s actually kind of fitting that Robinson’s contract is hanging out here in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia didn’t live up to that name when it came to him. Robinson had to deal with racism and hatred, he couldn’t stay in the same hotels as his teammates, and that’s on top of having to deal with a hostile Phillies squad led by manager Ben Chapman.

Black folks didn’t forget that hostility. An entire generation of African-American baseball fans refused to root for the Phillies even when they started signing Black players to the team and Black players, including free agency pioneer Curt Flood, didn’t want to play here either.

Recently, the Philadelphia City Council issued a resolution apologizing to Robinson and his family for the harsh treatment he received here as a baseball player.

So like the Constitution, Robinson’s contract is a piece of paper that symbolizes how far we’ve come and how far we’ve got to go in race relations in America.

The National Constitution Center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $14.50 for adults, $13 for seniors, students and youngsters 13-18, and $8 for children aged 4-12.