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Black Girl Magic, LeBron James, Deaths of Sports Icons Defined 2016 Sports Year

30 Dec
simonebiles

Simon Biles won gold medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Last Hurrah for Ryan Howard and Bernard Hopkins, LeBron James-Male Athlete of the Year 

By Chris Murray                                                                                                                 

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on about 2016, it was a year where the one constant was death.

While the pop culture world got hit the hardest with the losses of such icons as Prince and David Bowie, the Sporting World got knocked around a bit as well. We lost boxing icon

ImustbetheGreatest

Muhammad Ali Shook up the world with his stunning upset of Sonny Liston in 1964. His death in 2016 highlighted was the most visible in  year when a number icons in sports and entertainment passed away.

Muhammad Ali this year. The General of Arnie’s Army, golf legend Arnold Palmer, also left us. So did basketball coach extraordinaire Pat Summit and former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan.

Even sports media felt the sting with the losses of John Saunders, host of ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” and Craig Sager, easily the most colorful man in the NBA.

Although we’re still in mourning over the loss of these shining stars, and cherishing the memories of their brilliance, the Sporting World gave us more than a few reasons to cheer in 2016. It was an up year for some and a down year for others, but one thing it wasn’t was boring.

Here’s a look at 2016 in Sports…

One Last Hurrah for the Big Piece: Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard played his last season in a Phillies uniform in 2016. Photo by Webster Riddick.

This year, we said goodbye to a man who played a big part in breaking Philadelphia’s longtime championship drought, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

Because 2016 marked the end of his contract, Howard will be a free agent and will most likely leave the team that he led with his bat from 2005 to 2016.

During his tenure with the Phillies, Howard’s ability to hit towering home runs and drive in runs helped lead the team to the 2008 World Series title, two National League pennants, and five consecutive National League East titles.  Howard was the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 National League Championship Series and was also winner of the National League Rookie of the Year, and National League MVP awards.

Unfortunately, a combination of age, injuries and a team in rebuilding mode mandated that Howard and the Phillies part ways. Howard will most likely play for someone else and while it’s a shame that he won’t be allowed to retire here, Phillies fans will always appreciate the Glory Days he brought to the franchise.

The Year of Black Girl Magic

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Claire Smith is the first woman to receive the Baseball Hall of Fame’s A.G. Spink Award and will be honored during in Hall of Fame weekend in July. Photo courtesy ESPN.com

In December, former Philadelphia Inquirer baseball columnist Claire Smith became the first woman to win the prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award from Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. She was honored for her pioneering work, which included paving the way for women to enter MLB locker rooms to do interviews, just like their male counterparts.

That Smith received the award this year makes perfect sense because 2016 was the year that the Sporting World was hit with all kinds of Black Girl Magic.

Black female athletes from Africa and the African Diaspora (which includes the United States and the Caribbean), served notice to the world that they were a force to be reckoned with, most prominently during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

There, Black women excelled in everything. And I do mean everything.

Gymnast Simone Biles was named the Associated Press’s Female Athlete of the Year.

If you watched one minute of her gymnastic performances during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the reason she won this award became obvious.

The diminutive Texan was the darling of the games, leading the Final Five—Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Aly Reisman, and 2012 Individual all-around Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas—to a team Gold Medal and also winning three individual gold medals including the individual all-around. Biles stunning performances in the floor exercise dazzled audiences around the world and her grace and athleticism were definitely a joy to watch.

But while she responsible for a nice chunk of the Black Girl Magic on display in Rio, Biles was only the beginning. Black women also showed that they could excel in places they’re not normally associated with like the swimming pool and fencing ring.

simonemanuel

Simone Manuel became the first Black American woman to win a gold medal in swimming at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,

Stanford University’s Simone Manuel became the first Black woman to win a gold medal in swimming when she tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak to win the 100-meter freestyle, setting Olympic and American records in the process. She also helped the 4X100 meter medley relay team take home a gold medal and won silver medals in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4X100 meter freestyle relay.

Elsewhere in the water, Ashleigh Johnson, the first Black woman to make the U.S. Water Polo team, helped lead the team to a gold medal. In the gold medal game against Italy, Johnson, the team’s goalie, had eight saves.

Ibtihaj Muhammad made news when she competed with the U.S. Sabre Fencing team while wearing the hijab of her Muslim faith. The team took home a bronze medal and Muhammad’s performance showed that you can be an observant Muslim and an athlete simultaneously.

But while Black women in non-traditional sports took center stage, that didn’t mean that Black women didn’t continue to excel in places where they’ve traditionally ruled, such as in track and field. Led by the United States, the Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica and the African continent, Black women won gold medals in all but three track and field events at the Olympics.

From Michelle Carter’s gold in the shot put to Brianna Rollins, Kristi Castlin and Philadelphia’s own Nia Ali sweeping the 100-meter hurdles to the exploits of the Jamaican track team, Black women showed, to paraphrase Emmy-award winning actress Viola Davis, that all that’s needed for them to excel is opportunity. They made the most of it…and then some.

All Hail The King (James)

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)

With the Cleveland Cavaliers went down 3-1 in the NBA Finals to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, LeBron James put his Cleveland Cavaliers on his back and helped them win three-straight elimination games to give the City of Cleveland its first pro sports title since 1964.

James, the Associated Press’s Male Athlete of the Year, became the Finals Most Valuable Player by performing the historical feat of leading in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocked shots, and assists. What makes this feat even more remarkable is that it’s something that neither Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson nor the athlete James compared to most often, Michael Jordan, was able to do.

They’re all Hall of Famers. This year, his achievements put LeBron James in the same rarefied air.

No Joy In Mudville

ben-simmons

Can Ben Simmons lead the 76ers back to glory? He was the Sixers No. 1 draft pick in 2016.

Because the Philadelphia Eagles, the Phillies, the 76ers, and the Philadelphia Flyers are all in some form of rebuilding mode, the closest that Philadelphia sports fans got to the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup was the couch in front of their television sets.

While the Eagles, who will miss the NFL playoffs for the third straight year, made some noise when rookie Carson Wentz went undefeated in his first three starts, they came back to earth with a deafening thud after the bye week. Coming into the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, Wentz has completed 62 percent of his passes for 3, 537 yards with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

The Sixers also gave their fans hope by picking LSU’s Ben Simmons with their first-round lottery pick. The good news is, Simmons can handle and pass the ball like Magic Johnson.

The bad news is, and this should be no surprise to Sixers fans, he’s injured. And as if often is in Sixers World, it’s a foot injury.

But there is some hope for optimism now that Joel Embiid has finally recovered from his foot injury and has emerged as the team’s best big man.

Villanova Wins the National Championship, Penn Wins Ivy League Crown, Penn State Temple Football Bowl Bound Again

novawinsnationaltitle

Villanova won its first national championship since 1985 with a buzzer-beater win over North Carolina.

In one of the most exciting games in the history of the NCAA Tournament, the Villanova Wildcats won the men’s basketball national championship on a last-second three-point shot by Kris Jenkins.  It was probably the greatest championship game of all time and they were honored by the city with a parade down Broad Street. Although I know one Philly sports fan who thinks that parade should have gone to an actual Philly team, but the Wildcats do play some of  their games at the Wells Fargo Center and they were embraced by the entire Delaware Valley during their run to the title.

Like, for example the University of Pennsylvania Quakers and the Temple University Owls.

For the second straight season, the Quakers won a share of the Ivy League football title. They became league co-champs with Princeton by defeating Cornell University 42-40. Junior running back Tre Solomon gained 173 yards to lead the 7-3 (6-1 in the Ivy League) Quakers.

The Owls proved that the team’s 2015 football season was no fluke by winning the American Athletic Conference championship with a 34-10 win over Navy and notching it’s second straight 10-win season. The effort was enough to get head coach Matt Rhule noticed by the Big 12’s Baylor University, and he left to try and salvage a program that’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last couple of years. The Owls also lost the Military Bowl to Wake Forest when the comeback they were mounting fell short.

But this doesn’t take anything away from an outstanding year for the Owls. If anything, it gives new Temple head coach Geoff Collins something to shoot for.

The much-maligned James Franklin became the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year by leading the Nittany Lions of Penn State to the Big Ten Football Championship. The team scored a come from behind win against Wisconsin thanks to the performance of running back Saquon Barkley and a stout defense. While many thought that Penn State should have gotten into the College  Football Playoff thanks to its victory over Ohio State, the teams two losses mean they’ll be going to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day against the University of Southern California.

Bernard Hopkins Falls to Father Time

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Bernard Hopkins looked as old as the 51-year-old man he is in his loss to Joe Smith Jr. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

After getting literally knocked out of the ring by Joe Smith Jr. in his most recent fight, some say it should be.

From the moment he turned 40, Hopkins has waged a valiant and sometimes successful against Father Time.  But in the end, the 51-year-old Hopkins found out what every athlete eventually does: time is undefeated.

While Hopkins hasn’t said whether or not he’ll retire, the prevailing hope is that he will. To do otherwise will probably do him more harm than good long term.

Like I said, 2016 has been an up and down year. But now that it’s over, it’ll be interesting to see what 2017 will bring to the Sporting World.

No matter what it is, I’ll have it for you.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Serena Williams Wimbledon Triumph Puts Her One Step Closer to Tennis Grand-Slam

12 Jul

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Serena Williams Wins her sixth Wimbledon singles title and her 21st overall. Footage courtesy of ESPN.

Serena Williams Wins her sixth Wimbledon singles title and her 21st overall. Footage courtesy of ESPN. Photo by Chris Murray.

PHILADELPHIA—Serena Williams didn’t play her best match against Garbine Muguruza in the Ladies Singles Final at Wimbledon. She lost the first two games of the first set, had eight double faults and withstood the storm of tumultuous rally by her Spanish opponent.

Throughout the fortnight at Wimbledon, Williams has overcome losing the first set in matches and even survived an opponent’s match point in the quarterfinals. But fighting through those obstacles further magnified her legend as one of the greatest tennis players of all-time—man or woman.

In the end, Williams was the only one left standing and came away with a 6-4, 6-4 win over the game 21-year-old Muguruza. The win puts Williams one step closer to the calendar year Grand-Slam. It was her sixth singles titles at Wimbledon. At 33-years-old, Williams is the oldest winner of a Grand-Slam title and has 28 Grand-Slam matches in a row.

If she wins the U.S. Open in September, Williams will be the first single-season Grand-Slam winner since Steffi Graf did it in 1988. For the second time in her career, the 33-year-old Williams holds all four Grand-Slam titles at once. The last time she did it was back in 2002-2003. This latest run on Grand Slam titles dates back to September when she won the 2014 U.S. Open.

Williams latest Grand-Slam singles title pushed her career total to 21, one behind Graf, who has 22 (the most in the Open era) and three behind Margaret Court, who has 24.

Somehow for all the attention that was focused on a lackluster fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, LeBron James quest to take an average Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, and the recent triumph of the U.S. Women’s soccer team at the World Cup, Williams quest to win the Grand Slam has seemingly been on the periphery of events.

Maybe it’s because Williams has been such a dominant force in tennis that it’s become routine and so boring that some may feel she’s winning too much. After all, she doesn’t have a main rival that Martina Navaratilova had in Chris Evert.

The closest thing to a rivalry for Williams has been her sister Venus and Maria Sharapova, whom she’s beaten 18 straight times. All Williams does is beat whoever they put in front of her.

To be honest, I think if Williams was a slender blond, white American woman with all her accomplishments, she would be a media darling and the whole country would be following her quest for tennis immortality in the same way the country embraced the U.S. women’s soccer team at the World Cup.

On social media and even in the mainstream media the focus has been on whether or not her body is too masculine. Williams’ body type clashes with classic notions of Western beauty and she often gets her share of vilification for it.

Maybe that’s an explanation for why Sharapova makes more money in commercial endorsements off the tennis court than Williams. She’s an assertive Black woman who is comfortable with herself and is not the self-effacing “mammy” type who goes out of her way to seek the acceptance of white people.

Whether folks like it or not, Williams is the greatest tennis player of her generation and arguably the greatest of all time. She’s got the trophies to prove it.

If you’re eyes aren’t focused on Williams now, they should be now because she is on the verge of accomplishing a rare feat in sports that’s only been accomplished just three times in the last 46 years-and just once by the men.

What will make Williams run to history compelling is that it won’t be easy, especially considering some of the tough matches she’s had at Wimbledon and the French Open. Williams has perilously come close to losing matches the closer she gets to pulling off a major milestone.

At this year’s French Open, Williams was involved in three-set matches five times, four came after she lost the first set.

In the third round at Wimbledon this year, Britain’s Heather Watson won the first three games of the third set, was up 5-4, and had Williams at match point. The young Brit was on the verge of a historic upset. But a fired-up Williams stormed back to win the last three games to close out the match.

Then Serena had to take on her sister Venus in a tough emotional match in the round of 16. In the quarterfinal against Victoria Azarenka, Williams dropped the first set and came back to win the next two sets.

And so the stage for the 2015 U.S. Open is set, Serena will be battling to add another chapter to her legend as one of the greatest-if not the greatest tennis players of all time.

So grab your popcorn and your favorite beverage, but please leave your racism and sexism outside and enjoy Williams’ quest for tennis immortality.

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.

Dawn Staley Carves Her Own Basketball Legacy Coaching in Her First Final Four

3 Apr
Dawn Staley has been a winner throughout her basketball career.

South Carolina Dawn Staley has been a winner throughout her basketball career. She will be making her first appearance as a coach in the 2015 Final Four when her Gamecocks take on Notre Dame in Sunday’s national semifinal contest in Tampa.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When we think of iconic figures in Philadelphia basketball, we almost always point to male basketball players like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Allen Iverson, three guys that would be atop a roundball Mount Rushmore if it existed here.

But, there’s one more person you need to add to that list of Philadelphia basketball royalty and her name is Dawn Staley.

Staley, who will be taking her University of South Carolina women’s basketball squad to the Women’s Final Four in Tampa, Florida, has done just about everything in basketball and is just as worthy as her legendary male counterparts.

When Staley’s South Carolina women’s squad takes the floor against Notre Dame in Tampa, it’ll be her first trip to the national semifinals as a head coach and her first visit since her collegiate days when she was leading the Virginia Cavaliers to three straight Final Four appearances.

Transforming a once dormant Gamecocks women’s basketball program into a national powerhouse is a testament to her North Philly roots and a rock-hard determination to succeed in the face of enormous odds, something she reflected on during a conference call with Final Four coaches earlier this week.

“I’m most proud of being able to cut the bottom of a milk crate out, nail it to a piece of wood, and put it on that electrical pole,” said Staley, a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist. “And I used to really‑‑ I perfected a bank shot off of a wooden basket in a crate.

“So I know I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my life and my basketball career, but that’s truly hard.  I won a lot of horse games on the streets of Philly learning how to perfect the bank shot under those circumstances.”

It was that competitive fire that helped her turn a struggling Temple’s women’s basketball program into a force to be reckoned with in the Atlantic-10. From 2000 to 2008, Staley’s teams won 172 games and captured four A-10 titles and made six NCAA Tournament appearances.

Quite a few of her players from those Owls teams have gone to play well at the professional level in this country and internationally. Most notably, Candice Dupree who helped lead the Phoenix Mercury to a WNBA title.

Coming to South Carolina and coaching in a tough Southeastern Conference that includes perennial powerhouse Tennessee, winners of seven national championships, was an even tougher task for Staley than reviving Temple’s program.

In her first year, Staley’s squad won just 10 games. Four years later, the Gamecocks went to the Sweet 16.

But Staley said it wasn’t easy. She needed to get talent good enough to make South Carolina into a national powerhouse. Some of that talent is homegrown from the state of South Carolina.

One of those best players is junior guard Tiffany Mitchell, a two-time SEC Player-of-the-Year who is averaging 14 points per game and she landed a Parade national high school player of the year in 6-foot-5-inch freshman A’ja Wilson, who is averaging 13 points per game.

“It takes talent.  It takes great people, and it takes a commitment, a commitment of discipline,” Staley said.  “So once we got those things in place, our program started to move in the right direction.  We didn’t always have that.  Seven years ago, we didn’t have that.”

For all the times Staley has been a part of winning traditions as both a player and a coach at the collegiate level, she has yet to win a national championship. As a player, she came close in 1991 when her Virginia squad he experienced a heartbreaking overtime loss to Tennessee.

Staley said if South Carolina wins the women’s national championship this weekend, the trophy is not just for her, but for all the people who shaped her playing and coaching career along the way including former Temple head coach John Chaney.

“So I take all of those people who helped me along the way and who also experienced that awful feeling of not‑‑ you know, that void of not winning a National Championship,” Staley said. “Hopefully, the cards are in our favor this year, and hopefully I’ll be able for all of those people who played an integral role in my life.”

 

 

 

Serena Williams’ Drive to Immortality in Women’s Tennis

2 Feb Serena Williams holds the 2015 Australia Open Trophy. Photo by Yahoo.com

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Serena Williams holds the 2015 Australia Open Trophy. Photo by Yahoo.com

Serena Williams holds the 2015 Australia Open Trophy. Photo by Yahoo.com.

As the rest of the world was sleeping with visions of Seahawks and Patriots dancing in their heads, Serena Williams was in Melbourne, Australia moving closer and closer to tennis immortality with yet another dominant performance in a Grand-Slam event.

In a sport where you’re considered elderly in your late 20s, the 33-year-old Williams became the oldest female tennis player to win the Australian Open with her victory over an overmatched, but game Maria Sharapova in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6.

Williams won her 19th Grand-Slam singles title, the second most in the Open-era behind Steffi Graf who won 22. She moved past Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who both have 18. If she keeps playing at this high level, the she could do it this year—which means Williams would win the tennis Grand-Slam, something that hasn’t happened since Graf did it in 1988. Since turning 30, Williams has won six Grand-Slam singles titles.

Williams said while the goal to catch Graf is within reach, she’s just focused on winning her next Grand-Slam event, which doesn’t take place until May at the French Open.

“I would love to get to 22. I mean 19 was very difficult to get to,” said Williams, who won her first major single title in 1999 when she was 17. “But I have to get to 20 first and then I have to get to 21. It will be a very big task.”

Serena Williams and her sister Venus (seven Grand-Slam singles titles) have dominated the tennis scene so much over the last 15 years that you expect to see one of them in a Grand-Slam singles final whether it’s the French Open, the U.S Open  or Wimbledon. The sisters are considered to be one of the greatest doubles-tandems ever with 13 titles. They have never lost in a major final.

After the match, ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver said Williams is the greatest women’s tennis player of all-time when you consider those 13 doubles titles she won playing with Venus.

“It’s the complete package of an all-time great tennis player,” Shriver said.

But wouldn’t it be great to see Williams catch up with Graf and win the Grand Slam in the process? To be sure, it’s going to be tough given her age and the youth of her competition. I’d like to see her go after it and become the greatest women’s test player ever in spectacular fashion.

As long as Williams stays healthy and keeps that blistering serve, she has a good shot at running the table with wins in the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S Open.

From what I saw in Williams match against Sharapova on Saturday, it could definitely happen. Fighting through the match with a respiratory illness, Williams powerful serve kept Sharapova off balance throughout the match.

Williams had 18 aces in the match, including 15 in a tough, second- set tiebreaker in which both she and Sharapova held serve. Williams ended the match with a powerful ace to put her name in the record books.

If she were to retire today, Serena Williams with her 19 singles titles and 13 doubles crowns would definitely go down as one of the all-time greats in tennis or arguably the best ever. Not bad for a young woman who first learned her tennis, not in some stuffy, rich country club, but on the public courts in the poor Los Angeles suburb of Compton.

I don’t know how much Williams has left in the tank in her quest to catch up to and eventually pass Graf, but I would tell you to take every opportunity to see her try with her blistering serves and overall power because athletes like Williams don’t come along too often.

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”…