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Allen Iverson Deserves to be a First Ballot Hall of Famer

19 Feb
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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.

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.

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Enough Wheeling and Dealing, the Sixers need to Start Showing Progress

26 Feb
Former Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams takes the ball to the bucket against new 76ers point Isaiah Canaan. Photo from Spin.com

Former Sixers and new Milwaukee Bucks point guard Michael Carter-Williams takes the ball to the bucket against new 76ers point guard Isaiah Canaan in the Sixers Wednesday night loss to the Bucks . Photo from Spin.com

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—Now that the Philadelphia 76ers have traded 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, what’s next?

If you look at it from the viewpoint of Sixers management,Williams struggled with his outside shooting, clashed with head coach Brett Brown and wasn’t part of the Sixers’ grand vision of success.

More importantly, the Sixers got a possible top-five lottery pick from the Los Angeles Lakers in the dealConsidering the fact that the 76ers are in constant rebuilding mode, this is a good thing. Right now, the Sixers are 12-44 and will have someone hanging out in Secaucus, N.J. and looking for a magic NBA Lottery ping-pong ball.

While being in a position to land high-end draft pick is a good thing, it’s also a huge risk. For every Kobe Bryant, there’s someone who turned out to be a wasted pick. Moving forward, the Sixers and general manager Sam Hinkie had better hope that their next pick is the real deal, is ready to play upon arrival, and that there’s light at the end of this rebuilding tunnel because there’s only so much more rebuilding the fans can take.

I remember people telling me two years ago that it was necessary for the 76ers to unload point guard Jrue Holiday, who was coming off an All-Star year in 2013, by the way, to get some younger impact player.

The Sixers came away with Nerlens Noel, who didn’t play last year because of an ACL injury, and Carter-Williams, who was the 11th player taken out of Syracuse. At the time, we all gushed over Carter-Williams’ athleticism and his upside as a 6-6 point-guard.

While we all knew that Carter-Williams was a poor shooter, he played well enough to be the league’s best rookie. He averaged 15 points and 6.3 assists per game, shot at 40 percent from the floor and 26 percent from three-point range.

Before he was traded to Milwaukee, Carter-Williams shooting percentage fell to 38 percent and he was averaging just 25 percent from behind the three-point line. Yet, he was still averaging 15 points and seven assists per game.

The Sixers pulling the trigger on Carter-Williams is an example of how the 76ers and its brain trust, a title I use loosely, might not know what they’re doing. While they got rid of Carter-Williams, who could have been worked with, their two most recent lottery picksNerlens Noel and Joel Embiid were drafted when they had both had leg problems. The big question for these guys is will they eventually be good enough to make the Sixers a consistent winner.

So far, the reviews on Noel’s rookie year have been predictably mixed. The 6-foot-11 is one heck of a defensive player who really needs to develop his offensive game. He is averaging 8.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

Noel’s defensive skills landed him a spot in the NBA Rookie game during All-Star Weekend.  He is averaging 1.8 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. According to Basketball Reference.com, the last rookie to accomplish that was Hall-of-Famer David Robinson.

Offensively, Noel needs work, lots of work.  He needs to develop some moves in the low post and he also needs to put on a few pounds, especially if he’s going to float between playing the power forward and center spots.

Meanwhile, at this year’s trade deadline, Hinkie was reportedly willing to part ways with Embiid, who has yet to put on a Sixers uniform and has supposedly put on a few pounds.  

For all of his reliance on basketball’s version of sabermetrics and his endless search for the bigger and better deal, Hinkie is going to have to put a team on the floor that’s going to develop into a consistent winner.

Before investing their dollars for season tickets, fans at the very least have to see some tangible progress. If you play for the lottery too many times, you’re not winning…and you wind up being the East Coast version of the Los Angeles Clippers of the Donald Sterling years

And besides, if fans want fantasy basketball, they can get that anywhere on the Internet.

2014: A Year of Black Athletes and Social Justice-Stand Up and Protest Defeats Shut Up and Play

1 Jan

“Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights: it’s all wrong! Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild! God damn it, first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom! …Nostalgia…that’s we want….” Gil-Scot Heron.
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, "I Can't Breathe" Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

Athletes from football and basketball are donning, “I Can’t Breathe” Tee-Shirts to show support for protesters across. Photo by CBS Lov

PHILADELPHIA—When I look back on 2014, I’ll remember it as a year where sports and social justice issues intersected and African American athletes refused to “just shut up and play.”

From challenging outdated stereotypes of sexual orientation to throwing a spotlight on issues such as police brutality, Black athletes decided that their membership in the Black Community was more important than endorsement deals or anything else designed to induce their silence.

“I Can’t Breathe…”

(from left to right):  Stedman  Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.  Photo by Huffington Post.

(from left to right): Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Photo by Huffington Post.

The failure of Grand Juries in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the deaths of Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Akai Gurley sparked protests against police brutality coast-to-coast.

Prominent African-American athletes like NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant joined Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush and Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi in sporting “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to express their solidarity with the demonstrators.

But the athletes protest definitely did not come without pushback. When members of the St. Louis Rams came out for a game with their hands up days after the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson was announced, the police union in St. Louis demanded an apology (and suspensions from the NFL) from the players, a tactic also employed Cleveland’s police union for the “I Can’t Breathe” shirt worn by Bademosi and a shirt calling for justice for Tamir Rice  and John Crawford worn by Browns wide receiver Andrew Hankins. Rather than righteous indignation, the police union’s moves vilifying looked more like intimidation.

Of course, more than a few more sports talk pundits and conservative talk radio hosts came out in an unveiled assault of bigotry against the football players.

To their credit, the players and the League refused to bow to the demands of the police unions and loud-mouth conservative talking heads. Police officers, whose salaries are paid by our taxes, are not above the law.

Bryant reminded those who tried to shout the athletes down that they live in the United States of America:

“The beauty of our country lies in its democracy. I think if we ever lose the courage to be able to speak up for things that we believe in, I really think we really lose the value that our country stands for.”

Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Muhammad Ali and Vera Caslavska, the Czech gymnast who protested the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by turning away from the Soviet flag during the medal ceremony—can definitely understand what today’s athletes are experiencing.

Michael Sam Comes Out.

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social firestorm.

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social firestorm.

It wasn’t so much that former University of Missouri star Michael Sam announced to the world that he was gay prior to the NFL Draft, it was the long kiss he gave to his lover Vito Commissano on hearing the news he was draft by the St. Louis Rams that threw the social media world into a frenzy.

Most of the vitriol centered on the perception that Sam was trying to impose his “gay lifestyle” upon us heterosexual folks. But while Sam ended up getting cut from the Rams and releases by the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, his presence reminded us that, in the words of gay rights activists, gay athletes are “here, they’re queer…”

And society needs to get used to it…because it’s difference that makes us stronger.

LA Clippers Protest Racist Remarks by Donald Sterling.

LA Clippers protest racist remarks by  thent team owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Indystar.com

LA Clippers protest racist remarks by thent team owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Indystar.com

The NBA was a hotbed of social justice action in 2014.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling found himself in hot water when a recording of a conversation he had with his bi-lfriend V. Stiviano hit the TMZ airwaves.

In this conversation Sterling, who was hit with a record-breaking fine by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing discrimination based on race, chastised Stiviano for bringing Black people to Clippers games and taking an Instagram photo with NBA Hall-of-Famer and owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Magic Johnson.

Once the tape hit the street, Clippers players including All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin held a 45 minute meeting to discuss a response prior to the team’s playoff game against the Golden State Warriors that night.

Although there was talk of the Clippers boycotting the game to get back at Sterling, the players opted to protest by removing their warm-up shirts and leaving them at center court and wearing black arm or wrist bands and black socks instead, something that players from the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers also did to show solidarity.

It was the first real test of new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s leadership. When he banned Sterling from the league for life and forced him to sell the team, everyone agreed Silver had passed it.

But Sterling got $2 billion out of the deal, so you’ll have to forgive me for thinking that in this case racism, like crime, paid.

When “You Throw Like a Girl” Became a Compliment

Mo'ne Davis' 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Mo’ne Davis’ 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Thanks to pitcher Mo’Ne Davis of South Philly’s Taney Dragons, 2014 became the year we all wanted to “throw like a girl”.

The 13-year-old with the 70-mile per hour fastball led the Dragons to the Little League World Series, a first for a Philadelphia team. Mo’Ne also became the first girl to pitch a shutout in a LLWS game, and scored the cover of Sports Illustrated, threw wiffle balls at Jimmy Fallon with battery mate Scott Bandura and met one of her idols, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Although the Dragons finished 2-2 during their trip to Williamsport, they, and the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago that went on to become U.S. Champions, served notice that city-based baseball was back, that kids of color knew how to play…

And that unless you’re hurling a 70-mile-an-hour fastball, don’t tell us you “throw like a girl”…