Leland Stein III

Posts Tagged ‘USA Basketball’

THE ROLE OF ATHLETES AND ACTIVISM HAS A STORIED HISTORY

In sports column on June 30, 2018 at 5:19 pm

 

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Iconic Black Economic Union summit (sitting l to r), Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Standing (not in order) attorney Carl Stokes, Curtis McClinton, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Jim Shorter (Redskins), Walter Beach, and John Wooten.

By Leland Stein III

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Leland Stein III

As a kid growing up – outside my family – some of the first role models I drew inspiration from were athletes.

First, there was Joe Louis, whom my father trained along side of at Detroit’s renown Brewster Recreation Center. Then there was NFL Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Gale Sayers and my friend, Lem Barney. Next, tearing up the track was two-time Olympic Gold medalist and Northwestern High’s Henry “Gray Ghost” Carr.

I know I’m not alone in this declaration. Generally, after Mom and Dad, most youth look up to the people they see and hear both in newspapers, music or on television.

Throughout the Unites States long history, there have been musicians, politicians, television personalities, actors and athletes who have used their national platforms, some understood the vehicle they have and found ways to lend their collective voices to perceived injustices in America’s society.

So, when a Fox news anchor proclaimed that LeBron James and Kevin Durant should keep their political commentary to themselves and just “shut up and dribble and stick to sports,” calling their comments “ignorant,” I just cringed!! 

Just like President Trump, this Fox news reporter was serving her own agenda, while completely whitewashing The First Amendment which guarantees the right of freedom of speech, the right of peaceable assembly, and the freedom of the press.

Trump and that Fox reporter, both have no learned understanding of history and of the things that have truly “Made America Great.”

The worlds of sports and politics are invariably intertwined in a multifaceted, complex and convoluted mixed that is in the words of jazz legend Miles Davis, a “Bitches Brew.”

On one hand, sports are entertainment, and an escape from the doldrums that permeate peoples’ everyday existence. Yet on the other hand, sports entertainment presents itself as a much too serious endeavor for too many. Politics, unquestionably, is the vehicle that generates laws and govern our everyday movements through humanity.

Still, sports are an undeniable vehicle that galvanizes entire communities, towns and even countries into a collective discourse that move many into civic, regional and national pride.

Long before America admitted, recognized or documented that its segregation policies and laws, both unwritten and written, were racist … sports took center stage.

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Jack Johnson and wife.

When Jack Johnson won the World Heavyweight boxing title in the very early 1900’s, most African Americans could not live, work, marry or compete in sports activities with their white American brethren.  So, the politics of that day passed a law that would not let him travel with his white wife over state lines. It caused him to leave the country for eight years and when he returned he was put in jail.

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Joe Louis knocked-out Max Schmeling and Hitler’s Aryan Supremacy with one punch.

In 1936 and 1938 two men changed many perceptions and some perceived prejudices – albeit not the educational, political or the economic plight of most African Americans. They were Jesse Owens and Joe Louis. Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, as Germany was on the eve of World War II.  Owens on the track debunked Hitler’s Aryan Supremacy rhetoric, making him a national icon and world figure.

Later in 1938, Louis knocked out Germany legend, Max Schmeling, moving him past just a boxer to a true American hero. Whether either of them wanted it, they became political figures that represented an entire race. Many of our white brethren in America embrace Louis and Owens – white and black, rich and poor.

Yet the politics pouring out of Washington still did not change the segregation and racist agendas of the courts or police or military.

After Louis’ and Owens’ break through, Jackie Robinson furthered the cause of the African American in the United States as he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 – a significant moment in race relations that Louis and Owens helped forged.

Like bacon and eggs, socks and shoes, grits and butter… sports and politics, like it or not, have always walked hand in hand.

So, I think it is safe to postulate that Barack Obama becoming the country’s 44th and first African-American president was cleared in part by athletes whose courage, heart, determination and talent helped the country move through the slow, violent, tedious and painful process of desegregation.

Hall of Fame slugger, Hank Aaron, who experienced first-hand the ugliness of racism as he chased Babe Ruth’s hollowed homerun record, told a reporter that he was just overwhelmed when Obama won. “Every time I see him on television I just smile because he represents me,” he said. “No matter how I look at it, he’s me. For the first time you can see this country becoming the kind of country that we all are very proud of.”

Aaron and other Black athletes broke barriers and changed the political climate before the Civil Rights Movement commenced. In fact, Aaron was among the early influx of black players to follow Robinson, breaking into the majors in 1954, a month before the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that opened the way for school integration.

Then in the 1960’s, men like Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Curt Flood and even Spencer Haywood, challenged America’s First Amendment and segregated policies and used their celebrity to force the political climate to become more inclusive.

In particular, gold medalist sprinters, Tommie Smith, along with bronze medalist John Carlos, raised black-gloved fist at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City to protest the racism and segregation overwhelming too many in the United States.

The controversial salute during the national anthem by Smith and Carlos came six months after King’s assassination. Predictably both athletes were denigrated and disparaged by white America for their actions.

“People wanted to label me a militant,” Smith, told me in an interview. “The fact of the matter is what we did was a Project for Human Rights. We needed to bring attention to the negative condition of too many in the States.”

The world’s biggest gathering of nations, the Olympics has and will always live with the politics of humanity. Sometimes it has been very good like China using the 2008 Beijing Games as a coming out party to the world showcasing its rich history, culture and creativity.

On the other hand, it has also been used to further political agendas like the Palestinians taking the Israeli athletes in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. All the hostages were killed. Then the United State boycotted the Russian Games in 1980 and Russia did likewise, boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Sports and politics go hand in hand, much to the chagrin of many; however, they will always be wedded.

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Kevin Durant and LeBron James celebrated 2012 USA Basketball Gold Medal.

James seems understand and embrace his platform saying: “When I was growing up, there were like three jobs that you looked to for inspiration. It was the president of the United States, it was whoever was the best in sports, and then it was like the greatest musician at the time. At this time right now, with the president, it’s at a bad time. We cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, but we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us, that this is not the way.”

Added Durant: “What’s going on in our country, it’s all about leadership. We need to empower people, we need to encourage people, and that’s what builds a great team. And I feel like our team, as a country, is not run by a great coach.”

Other athletes understand their political opportunities like the:

The St. Louis Rams “Hands Up” to raise their arms in awareness of the events in Ferguson, MO.

Miami Heat wearing “hoodies” to protest the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin, who was on his way home to watch his beloved Heat.

Billie Jean King’s stance for “equality” for women in tennis. Prize money for women’s tennis increased because of her advocacy.

And then there was Colin Kaepernick who took a knee during “The Star Spangled Banner.” He launched a protest that sent aftershocks everywhere.

The fact of the matter is sports and politics are married, and, after a lull, some of today’s athletes seems to grasp the enormous cultural and economic influence they possess, and it is heartening that some have started to understand how to leverage that status for something more than selling sneakers.

Leland Stein III can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and twitter @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