Leland Stein III

Posts Tagged ‘Olympic’

In Bryant’s final All-Star game NBA rolls out red carpet

In sports column on February 17, 2016 at 3:55 am

Westbrook wins MVP, but Bryant’s legacy is also an MVP

team

Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry and others celebrate the West’s win. Gary Montgomery photo

By Leland Stein III

TORONTO – Did I just witness a NBA Ballet experience?

ap-all-star-game-basketball

Kobe Bryant and his two daughters.

From these humble eyes I would offer there never were more demonstrations of athletic movements akin to ballet than at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Canada – the first All-Star event played outside the United States.

With professional athletes’ rapid and swift action in NBA basketball, the violence and physicality of NFL football and the hand-eye-coordination of MLB baseball players, the smooth athleticism of a professional athlete’s body in action gets lost on fans without replay, because the action happens too briskly.

Leland Stein III

The annual NBA All-Star Game and its super stars, celebrity filled contingent along with 19,800, descended on Air Canada Centre in Downtown Toronto and were not dissatisfied as Western Conference outran the Eastern Conference in a record breaking score of 196 to 173.

The teams combined for a record 369 points. The previous All-Star Game record was 321 points in 2015.

After all the running and gunning, even Paul George’s 41 points – one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game record set in 1962 – and an All-Star Game record nine three-pointers, could not keep the explosive Russell Westbrook from being named All-Star MVP for the second year in a row after he tossed in 31 points (including seven three-pointers), grabbed eight rebounds, with five assists and five steals.

No matter, the day still belonged to the Lakers’ retiring Kobe Bryant.

Bryant played in his 15th All-Star Game, which tied him with Tim Duncan for second most all time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the record with 18. Bryant extended his own record by starting an All-Star Game for the 15th time and he also recorded one steal (his 38th) to break a first-place tie with Michael Jordan (37) for most steals in the games’ history.

LeBron James finished with 13 points and Bryant 10 points to become the all-time scoring leader in the Game’s history. James has 291 points and Bryant has 290.

“I do not care about being the scoring leader,” James said. “It was just bittersweet being out on the floor with him, knowing the matches between us are coming to an end. But when you get that opportunity versus a great man, you just have fun with it.”

James continued: “I know it’s been overwhelming for him over this year, but our fans across the world and here in the States and here in Toronto have been paying so much respect. It’s all well deserved. I’m happy that I’ve been along for a small piece of the ride of his journey. We’re very good friends, and I’ve been watching his journey for 20 years. When I don’t see him out there in Charlotte, I think that’s when it will sink in that it is over.”

Bryant a five-time NBA Finals champion, a two time Olympic Gold medalist, an 18-time Western Conference All-Star, a four-time All-Star Game MVP, NBA league’s MVP in 2008 and a two-time Finals MVP had the international gathering in Toronto calling his name.

After the team introductions, Magic Johnson came out to specially anoint/announce Kobe. He joyfully exclaimed the noteworthy history Bryant has put down and right after he gave the mike to him and the fans broke into a continuous Koooooobe Bryyyyyyyant chant. That was just the start of the lovefest. A tribute video featuring Bryant’s highlights, his voice and interviews with many of today’s players followed right after.

In the post-game press conference Bryant talked about his interaction with the legends of the game and today’s players. “I think it’s the stories of when I and they first came into the league,” he recalled, “and when we were matching up against each other, and just kind of the little things like an elbow here or a steal here, and then wanting to earn the legends respect at an early age and later the young ones wanting to earn my respect.

“When I heard those kinds of stories that made me feels real good. Because over the years you’re competing against each other. Those aren’t stories you’re ever going to share with somebody that you’re competing against. But at this stage, it felt absolutely wonderful to hear these things.”

Bryant brought his wife and kids to the game and he was elated to share the moments with them.

“My kids were sitting right behind the bench,” Bryant happily exclaimed, “so I was talking to them virtually the whole game. They’ve enjoyed this as much as I have, coming to these arenas. You know, they’ve seen me throughout the years get up at 4:00 in the morning and work out and train and come home and work out again. So it’s awesome, as a father, for them to be able to see all the hard work and how it pays off.”

We asked Bryant about Allen Iverson and Shaq O’Neal being announced as finalists for the Hall of Fame.

“Shaq obviously on a more personal level, having played together for so many years and winning three championships, right, and all that he’s meant to the game, and meant to me personally. And AI as a competitor, he drove me to be as obsessive, more obsessive about the game, because I had to figure out how to solve that problem, you know? And I told him — I saw him here this weekend. I said, ‘You don’t realize how much you pushed me.’ And I don’t think people nowadays realize how great he was as a player and how big of a problem he was for defenses.”

When asked if he talked to NBA legends Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson during the weekend, Bryant noted that he did not feel the role of caretaker after Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas retired, but he did want to represent the league and himself.

“For sure there was a lot of concern voiced from the elder statesmen, including Magic,” Bryant recalled, “about what kind of caretakers AI and I were going to be for the game. Oscar and I have spoken throughout the years sporadically. Russell and I have talked more often, and he’s given me a lot of great advice on leadership and competitiveness and things of that sort.

“But as far as the league, when we first came in, it’s always the younger generation that comes in and it’s just like the elder statesmen says this younger generation has no idea what they’re doing. They’re going to absolutely kill the game. The game, when we played, was pure and all this kind of stuff. Hey, man, that’s always the case. When we came in, we were just young kids that wanted to play, and AI was aggressive. It was a newer generation, newer culture, but I think when David Stern changed the dress code somewhere in between that, that helped, I think. But, yeah, I think the game is in a beautiful place now.”

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich the winning West coach said: “It’s kind of bittersweet. You remember all the struggles against him and all the competitiveness and you respect him so much for bringing it night after night after night. You know, a lot of players don’t understand that responsibility to be able to do that at that level, and he does it fiercely for all these years. So to see him now, it’s like the passing of a generation and he’s been such an iconic figure for so long, and he passes it on to that other group of young guys that you saw out there tonight. So I’m just thrilled that I was able to be here and see that.”

Stephen Curry interjected: “The entire night was very memorable, for sure, with Kobe’s entrance during the starting lineups and the tribute video, Magic Johnson giving a speech about him and his legacy to some highlight moments. Then the curtain call at the end that you knew it was coming, but you didn’t know what part of the game and the feel that the crowd was going to give, and it was amazing. Kind of got goose bumps out there. Kobe means something to everybody individually as a basketball fan and including us, as players. So you kind of have a lot of different thoughts about what he means to the game and how he inspired others and me growing up. I’ll remember that for sure.”

It may have been Bryant’s farewell, but the NBA ballet went on. In particular, I talked to NBA Hall of Famer and Slam Dunk judge, George “Ice Man” Gervin about the slam dunk contest results. I kind of thought that Aaron Gordon’s dunks were enough to at least earn him a tie if not the win in the most talked about contest since Dominique Wilkins vs. Spud Webb.

“I have to admit that Gordon put it down,” Gervin told me, “but he had a number of misses before his great dunks. Zach LaVine nailed his on the first try. We had to give it to him based on that.”

In all it was a special weekend for me and I was elated that Bryant, a person I have known since he first came into the league was feted, but being in Canada made it even more special.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

 

USA Women dominate 2012 London Olympics

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 12:19 am

MBy Leland Stein III

LONDON – Triumph and tragedy. Stars were born, and legends were toppled. But in the end the superstars were indeed super.

The 2012 London Olympic Games, lived up to the hype and even more. What makes the Olympic Games so intriguing and captivating is that it happens only once every four years.

Just think an Olympic athlete has to peak at every four years. There is no room for mistakes and/or I‘ll get it done next year attitude if an athlete has a bad day – simply put there is no tomorrow. In the sports genre . . . the Games are the ultimate do it now or never opportunity for many.

Gold Medal winning USA 4x400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Gold Medal winning USA 4×400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Sure there are always a few superstar men and women that have the gift of ability, tenacity, courage, commitment and single mindedness that are all necessary to just compete in the Games let along win more than one title.

Well, superstar swimmer Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double that of the next highest record holders). In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four golds and two silver medals.

Maybe even greater was the effort of Jamaican phenomenon sprinter Usain Bolt. He made himself a true legend of sport with his unprecedented second gold triple triple – winning the 100-, 200- and 4×100-meter relay.

The 25-year-old Bolt in the face of stronger competitors than in Beijing, unleashed that intrinsic determination and drive that only a superior athlete processes.

London famous Tower Bridge. - Jon Gaede photo

London famous Tower Bridge. – Jon Gaede photo

USA gymnast Gabby Douglas, 17, became the first African-American to win the all-around Olympic gymnastics title in London. She later was chosen The Associated Press female athlete of the year. Her autobiography, “Grace, Gold and Glory,” became No. 4 on the New York Times’ young adult list. She, along with here gold medal teammates recently completed a 40-city gymnastics tour, in which she got to meet President Barack Obama.

Another women’s star that rocked the sports world was Serena Williams. She won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the London Games two years after her career was nearly derailed by health problems. She and her sister Venus won their third Olympic doubles title and she also won her first single’s gold medal.

Also high on my memory list is how the American women rocked the Olympic Games. Douglas and her gymnastics squad won the team gold medal. Swimmers Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt were multiple golden. There were track and field stars Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross that chewed up the track.

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

One of my favorite athletes had to have been the 800-meter runner from Kenya, David Rudisha, who set a world record in winning the gold medal. I have never seen anyone with a more beautiful stride and running gait.

Also with the Games being in London, being in the stadium to witness Great Britain’s Mo Farah win the 10,000- and 5000-meters in thrilling style, as well as watching British darling Jessica Enis win the heptathlon . . . at both events if there had been a roof on the stadium it would have come off as 80,000 people roared both to victory while waving the Union Jack.

The Olympics are a celebration of humanity and people, where for close to a month all of this earth’s brothers and sisters come together in a friendly spirit of competition that challenges not only their opponent, but themselves and us to keep the spirit of peaceful integrated humanity alive.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter at LelandSteinIII

 

USA Basketball on top of the World

In sports column on September 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm

USA Men celebrate gold in London Games. Leland Stein II photo

By Leland Stein III

LONDON – The United States Women’s and Men’s Senior National Basketball teams have proven that the round ball is truly  American’s game. In spited of the fact international men’s teams had over 20 players presently playing in the NBA, as opposed to the 1992 Dream Team having only 6 NBA players were on their  international teams.

The USA Basketball foundation and organization is now firmly planted on solid ground and during the 2012 Olympic Games it once again proved that the best basketball in the world is played every year right here in the NBA.

The linchpin behind the USA Men’s resurgence has been the inclusion of Jerry Colangelo as the Managing Director of USA Basketball Senior National team in 2005. He promptly hired Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

USA Women win 5th consecutive gold medal at the Olympic Games. Gary Montgomery photoColangelo has confidently rebuilt the program from the bottom up. Obtaining the involvement of the NBA’s top players (Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James) and naming Duke University’s Hall of Fame mentor Mike Krzyzewski as the USA National Team head coach.

In the 2004 Olympics the USA Men earned a bronze medal and in the 2006 FIBA World Championships the US Men earned another bronze.

“Coach K (Krzyzewski), LeBron (James) and I met in Las Vegas to discuss being a part of the US team,” Carmelp Anthony told me, following his joyous Gold medal victory. “He said it would take a commitment, but in the end it would be worth the effort. LeBron and I are the only one’s remaining from the original teams in 2004. We endured the ups and downs and now we have put together a system that works.”

Added James: “Coach K and I have been a part of the whole USA rebuilding process. We share the same Olympic tract and that makes this win even that more special. I made a commitment to be a part of this. It was a long journey to get to 2008 and now 2012, but eight years later we are back on top.”

Through the solidifying efforts of Colangelo and Krzyzewski along with the commitments of Anthony and James, and, the wooing of Bryant in 2007, the foundation of USA Men’s Basketball is entrenched.

In the 2012 Olympic Games Final, a rematch with Spain, young upstart Kevin Durant scored 30 points in a contest that featured 16 lead changes and six tied scores no matter, the U.S held off Spain for a 107-100 win to capture the Olympic gold medal.

While Anthony and James earned a second gold medal in a third Olympic appearance; three more were members of the gold-medal winning team in 2008, Bryant, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Playing in their first Olympics were Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis, Durant, James Harden, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala.

“It was very emotional,” Bryant said starring at his 2012 gold medal. “You just kind of think back on the journey, so to speak. Being here for your last go-round, wearing USA on your chest, it’s very emotional.”

Meanwhile, for the USA Women it was business as usual. Since the inclusion of the women in Olympic Basketball in 1976, where the Soviet Union won the first two Games, the US Women captured its unprecedented fifth-straight Olympic gold (dating back to 1996), a feat never before accomplished in any women’s traditional team sport, the USA women have compiled a 41-game Olympic winning streak that began with the 1992 bronze medal game.

This time around the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team posted a 86-50 win over France at North Greenwich Arena in London, England.

“You know, you go into every game thinking that there’s going to be some things that you have to do, and if you do those things you’re going to have a chance you can win it,” said Geno Auriemma, USA and University of Connecticut head coach. “France was probably playing as well as anytime I’ve ever seen them, since I’ve been the coach.”

Said Candace Parker: “I think that this is just so sweet to get the second one. You can stumble on a championship once, but it’s really hard to do it twice. And for USA Basketball to do it five times in a row, that’s truly special.”

The gold medal is a third for Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings. While Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Swin Cash, and Parker also earned their second gold. Tina Charles, Asjha Jones, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen all got their first gold.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

USA Boxing down and struggling

In sports column on September 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm

 

Clarissa Shields and Michigan Chronicle, sports editor, Leland Stein III in London at the USA House after her gold medal victory.

Ali, Frazier, Foreman, De la Hoya, Patterson and now Shields all have succeeded at Olympic Games.

By Leland Stein III

LONDON – US men’s Olympic boxers have won a record 108 medals. But since David Reid took gold at Atlanta in 1996, only one US man — Andre Ward, in 2004 — has taken the Olympic title.

The list of pugilist that has taken the sweet science by storm over the years after achieving Olympic glory is simply legendary.

Any list will have to start with Floyd Patterson (1952), Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) in 1960, Joe Frazier (1964), George Foreman (1968), Sugar Ray Leonard (1976), Leon Spinks (1976), Michael Spinks (1976), Pernell Whitaker (1984), Mark Breland (1984), Evander Holyfield (1984), Riddick Bowe (1988), Roy Jones Jr. (1988) Oscar de la Hoya (1992), and David Reid (1996).

There are others that found noteworthy success as professional fighters like Ray Seales (1972), John Tate (1976), Howard Davis (1976), Leo Randolph (1976), Steve McCrory (1984), Frank Tate (1984), Meldrick Taylor (1984), Tyrell Biggs (1984), Henry Tillman (1984), Michael Carbajal (1988), Ray Mercer (1988), Andrew Maynard (1988), Chris Byrd (1992), and Antonio Tarver 1996).

All of the above mentioned Olympians medaled at their Olympic Games and went on to successful professional careers.

Fast forward into the 2000 and anyone can see something has happened to USA Boxing. In fact, the 2012 Olympic Games is the first in history where the US men did not medal in any of the weight classes.

It took the US women to hold the boxing torch. In the first Games where women were allowed to participate in boxing, out of the three weight classes US women won two medals. Marlen Esparza won a bronze medal as a flyweight and Claressa Shields won the USA’s only boxing gold medal.

Shields’ historic gold was the first US gold since Ward. Olympic boxing gold has been hard to obtain for the US. That makes 17-year-old Shield’s remarkable win over two world champion women on her way to gold even that more impressive.

How does USA boxing get back on track? Are the mix martial arts diluting the talent pool? Surly the allure of college and professional football has taken away the Ali’s, Frazier’s and Foreman’s in US Boxing.

Another problem is that the USA Boxing names trainers, but the trainers that have worked with the fighters cannot be in their corners at the Games. Who knows the fighters better than the men and women that train them? No one!! And as the sweet science continues to grow internationally the fighters are getting better and better.

For example, I was watching a young lady from Ireland (Katie Taylor) fight for lightweight gold and in her corner was her father, who has trained her since she started boxing. The Irish Olympic officials told me, “Why would we put anyone else in her corner?”

I looked at the Americans and they have people in their fighter’s corner that simply do not know the fighters they are charged to cajole.

The US Olympic Committee is also disappointed by boxing’s medal-less men’s team. USOC CEO Scott Blackmun offered no specifics, but it’s clear the governing body expected more from US fighters, who left the Olympics empty handed for the first time in team history.

‘‘We’re going to sit down and take a hard look at why we are where we are, and make some changes,’’ Blackmun said. ‘‘I don’t want to say anything beyond that.’’

The US men’s team, the most successful in Olympic history, lost nine of its last 10 bouts in London. USA Boxing has been criticized for a sharp decline in recent years, along with the fact that the coaching staff was not in place until just about a month before the games opened.

‘‘We’re disappointed in boxing,’’ Blackmun said. ‘‘We want to do better, particularly in men’s boxing. By saying disappointed in boxing, I don’t mean in the people. I mean, we’re disappointed that we didn’t do better in boxing, because I know that we can do better and we have to focus on how we do that.’’

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

Olympic pioneer, activist Dr. LeRoy Walker

In sports column on August 28, 2012 at 1:07 am

By Leland Stein III

I remember having a one-on-one interview with NFL legend Jim Brown in his Hollywood Hills home. He invited me to his house and gave me unexpected access to him and his life.

I asked him why, he said: “We have to tell and document our own history.”

That interjection from Brown has stuck with me my entire writing career, and, with the recent passing of Dr. LeRoy Tashreau Walker, 93, it only reaffirmed the objective of the Black press to me.

People all know about Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, so why isn’t Dr. Walker’s name mentioned in the same category? As the London 2012 Games continue to unfold, I continually hear in the Olympic circles the legend of this exceptional man.

Walker, who was born in a poor area of Atlanta in 1918, was taken to Harlem at the age of nine by his brother, Joe, after his father, a railroad fireman, died. According to historical writings, he worked in Joe’s barbeque restaurants and window cleaning business to earn money during the Great Depression.

Leland Stein III

Being the youngest of 13 children he was the one sent away because they could not feed that many mouths. When he got sent to Harlem at about 9 years old, he became the only one in his family to go to college.

In his long life, he overcame poverty and discrimination to earn honors as an athlete and coach, but he also was an academic. He was the first African-American to earn a doctorate in biomechanics, and he went on to become chancellor of N.C. Central University from 1983 to 1986.

Amid all of his other accomplishments, all his firsts, all the ground he broke and trails he blazed, it was the connections Walker made, for himself and for others, that really define his legacy.

As the first black coach of an U.S. Olympic track team, the first black president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the track coach who would one day become university chancellor, Walker became an international figure knowing everyone, and everyone knew him. He could move in any crowd, the kind of person who knew Jesse Owens as well as George Steinbrenner. His funeral, at Duke Chapel drew a crowd from all corners of the world.

When Dr. Walker became present of the U.S. Olympic Committee he quickly noticed that the powers that be were all white males. So in his educated manner he did not attack the USOC; instead, he put together a business plan to a grant foundation and they gave him money.

Walker took that money and cajoled the USOC to match the contribution. He created the Project GOLD Initiative that selected 100 men and women throughout America to come to the USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs to create a talent pool of people for possible selection on the USOC Committee or a National governing body (i.e. USA Basketball, Gymnastics, Swimming or Track and Field).

For some reason I was chosen from the nation-wide search for the Project GOLD Initiative. There I got to meet and know people from all over the country. However, the one the stood out to me was Dr. Walker.

He took advantage of his status as the USOC President and pushed all for inclusion, and, fortunately out of thousands of Americans I was included in the process.

From Dr. Walkers’ outreach I eventually was appointed to an US Olympic Committee.

The Olympics are a one of a kind international event. It embodies all that is good with humanity, competition, dedication, nationalism, and human excellent in a given genre.

Sure the terrorist in our world recognize that the Olympic Games is the biggest collective of humanity it our world, so there have been Olympic moments where politics turned to violence.

No matter, since Dr Walker selected me as a worthy candidate for an USCO appointment in 1996, I have covered every Olympic Games since, and, what an eye opener to the world it has been for me. That is exactly what Dr. Walker told me about what he wanted Project GOLD to accomplish.

Walker became a member of more than a dozen halls of fame, but his most impressive legacy maybe not in what he accomplished, but in what he inspired and enabled others to achieve.

Walker was an inspiration for me and is the main reason I will be headed to London for the 2012 Games as one of only four members of the USA Black Press.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

Segregation handcuffed Jesse Owens

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2012 at 1:00 am

2012 Olympics fresh in our minds, PBS recalls Owens’ run through America’s segregation policies

By Leland Stein III

ImageWith the 2012 London Olympic Games in our rear view mirrors, it seems appropriate to revisit one of the great legends of the Olympic Games.

Leland Stein III

Doing my usual channel surfing, I came up on a PBS documentary an “American Experience: Jesse Owens.”

Most sports aficionados, and history buffs, know of the legend of Owens; however, his compete and dehumanizing degradation delivered by America’s intense racial separation kind of got lost in the real picture of this oxymoron of a man.

Even today, over 70 years later, many Americans take pride in recalling how Owens undermined Adolf Hitler’s theory of Aryan racial superiority by winning four gold medals (100-, 200- , 4×100-meter relay, and, long jump) at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

“Jesse Owens,” directed by Laurens Grant and written by the frequent PBS collaborator Stanley Nelson (“Freedom Riders”), is a level and striking production that suffers from its shortness: about 52 minutes. There’s not much time to get below the surface, and Owens’s troubled post-Olympic life gets particularly abrupt treatment.

The triumph of this “American Experience” documentary on Owens, who died in 1980, is that it enshrined his Hitler greatness without ignoring the depressing extent to which Owens’ own country also treated him as second class citizen.

As an Olympian in that time, he was under the authority of U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) chief Avery Brundage (an acknowledged racist), who admired Hitler and infamously replaced two Jewish sprinters on the 4×100 relay team because it could have further embarrassed Hitler if they won.

After embarrassing Hitler in his own stadium in 1936, Brundage stripped Owens of his amateur standing, effectively depriving him of the chance to make a living from his skill. For years after the Olympics, this superb athlete was relegated to a sideshow — until finally, in 1955, President Eisenhower made him a national “goodwill ambassador” promoting the high ideals of America.

However, before Eisenhower’s benevolent spirit, Owens had to race against horses and other degrading actions to support his family.

Just like Joe Louis, who knocked out German champion Maximillian Adolph Otto Siegfried Schmeling, and in spite of their color each became an American hero; however, like Owens it did not carryover to life in America. Louis was attacked by the IRS and it destroyed his life. Owens fared no better.

But the irony of both their lives in segregated America was that they did not outwardly complain. Maybe it was the times, where many thought it was better to go along to get along. The fact of the matter is it was life threatening to oppose the status quo.

In fact, Owens in the 1968 Olympics of the African-American’s discontent with how they were being treated at home, spilled over into one of the most famous protest in USOC history, the Tommy Smith and John Carlos black gloved raise fist during the American national anthem.

No matter how badly treated Owens was by the establishment, his nemesis Brundage, help recruit him to talk to the African-American athletes while at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The threat of protest was in the air and the USOC wanted Owens to help defuse it. In fact, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar brought the discontent to the forefront, by refusing to join the USOC Basketball team.

With American cities smoldering in discontent and hungering for change and equal rights, the athletes ignored Owens’ cajoling, all but George Foreman, who won the heavyweight Olympic title and pranced around the ring with two American flags. He was scorned by the black community on his return home.

Foreman told me in an interview that he was a young country boy that had no understanding of the complexity of life and the anger of his fellow African-American Olympians. He said he was just happy to be there and out of his situation at home in Houston.

Carlos and Smith became the poster boys of standing up to the injustice that was permeating American society, while Foreman and Owens took on the appearance of Uncle Toms.

For me Owens is an almost preternaturally graceful and heroic figure, asserting his will despite isolation and scorn even greater than Jackie Robinson had to face. But he also represents the power of segregation at that time, when a man of his caliber was so beat down he was afraid to challenge inequality face-to-face.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and Twitter at LelandSteinIII