Saturday, September 23, 2017

J-Speaks: The Latest Play-by-Play Commentator To Break "Glass Ceiling"


Back on Dec. 27, 1987 the Seattle Seahawks lost at Arrowhead Stadium to the Kansas City Chiefs 41-20 in Week 16, to close their season at 9-6, while the home team improved to 4-11. The game was not the only story that day. That afternoon on NBC, former news/sports anchor for the NBC affiliate WFLA in Tampa Bay, FL Gayle Sierens was the play-by-play analyst, making her the first woman to do play-by-play of an NFL game ever. She would be the last to do so, until the start of this season when a native of Syracuse New York broadcast the back end of the 2017 debut Monday Night doubleheader between the American Football Conference (AFC) West rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers versus the Denver Broncos on the night of Sept. 11. This Sunday, she will make even more history. 
When the Indianapolis Colts (0-2) visit the Cleveland Browns (0-2) on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. on CBS, the play-by-play commentary of the contest will be handled by longtime College Football commentator for ESPN Beth Mowins, which will make her the first woman ever for the NFL on CBS in its 58-year history. Mowins, who has been calling college football games for ESPN since 2005, will join Sierens as just the second female play-by-play announcer to call an NFL regular season game. Longtime place kicker and CBS sideline analyst Jay Feely doing color commentary. 
Mowins, who has also called preseason games for the Oakland Raiders in recent years made history becoming the first woman to call a NFL Monday night game of the previously mentioned game between the Chargers (0-2), and Broncos (2-0), which the Broncos won 27-24. She was joined in the broadcast booth by former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan. 
“Their franchises. Everybody knows about Monday Night Football, and for my generation, we grew up watching the NFL Today Show, and then the NFL on CBS every Sunday,” Mowins said to Dana Jacobson, Lisa Leslie, Tracy Wolfson, and Summer Sanders on this past Tuesday’s edition of “We Need to Talk (WNTT),” on the CBS Sports Network. 
This latest break in the so-called “glass ceiling” got a lot of reaction both good and bad from the masses, but there was a lot of great outpouring from several NFL teams, and players in support of Mowins. 
WNTT panelist Amy Trask @AmyTrask tweeted, “I wish @bethmowins the very best for success tonight and always and I hope praise w/out regard to gender-as b/caster not fem. b/caster. 
The Broncos organization @Broncos tweeted, “We’re proud to be a part of this historic night. Congratulations, @bethmowins!” 
The Raiders, @RAIDERS tweeted, “Well deserved, @bethmowins.” 
One person who was not surprised that this moment took place is former Monday Night Football play-by-play analyst for ESPN, who is now the pregame stadium host for “Football Night in America” on NBC Mike Tirico, who predicted back in January that Mowins would be the first woman in a generation to be in the lead seat of a role he once had. 
“Beth will show up, and do a game, ad do as good a job as the men,” he said. “She is a ceiling-breaker, a pioneer, and there will be more women [calling the NFL] going forward.”
Mowins said that one big thing of that she wanted to do with her moment in the spotlight is to earn the respect of the people you have worked with, and supported you whole life, and your broadcast peers. 
She also wanted to dispel the myth that the women that are sports caster do not like each other. Some of the highest compliments she got from her work doing that Monday night clash between the Chargers and Broncos came from women in the business, who know the challenges of being a female sports journalist. 
Sanders ask Mowins how she handled that big moment, and she had family and friends in Denver, and that the ESPN crew that handled the game that night was one that she worked with before from Ryan, to the producer and director. 
“So that kind of put me at ease, and in a lot of ways if you’ve seen one press box, you’ve seen them all, and once you’re in there it’s like home,” Mowins said. “Whether it’s the pool, or the basketball court, or the sideline. It’s your comfort zone.” 
Mowins also said that when Ryan moved over into her space, she knew right away that she needed to get him back into his coach’s box, have a fun moment and once the opening kickoff happens, you let your instincts take over. 
She did say that she felt the enormity of the moment hit her when Monday Night Countdown lead host Suzy Kolber ended the postgame of the first contest between the New Orleans Saints versus the Minnesota Vikings to toss it to second game and the wide angle shot from the blimp looking down on the stadium. 
“I had to smile a little bit, just to think of the little girl that wanted to do that when I was younger to being there, and having that opportunity was fantastic,” Mowins said. 
For every praise that Mowins received for her historic moment, she also received a lot of criticism, particularly on social media. 
One of the WNTT panelist that is no stranger to this is Wolfson, who currently is the lead sideline reporter for the NFL on CBS and she said on this past Tuesday’s show that she blocks those negative tweets by blocking them completely. 
Mowins said that she tries not to get on social media until she watches the game back, seeing for herself the things she did completely right, and where she can improve. 
Whenever she has faced those moments, Mowins says she remembers a quote from Mark Twain, “Don’t argue with stupid people. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” 
She did say that how we feel about one another and how we do things, and the way we analyze each other on social media is an important conversation to have on talk shows like WNTT, on radio shows, and in studio. 
“My training as a play-by-play announcer was, ‘Stay here. Stay between the lines,’” Mowins said. “If people want to have a conversation, or actual critique on line, then that’s fine.” 
One of those critiques was raised by a host of WNTT and a former sideline commentator for NBC’s Sunday Night Football Andrea Kramer in The New York Times this past week about Mowins’ voice. 
Jacobson said that it was an example of that someone will always have something to say about something that is different from the norm. In this case the voice of a female play-by-play commentator doing football. It is also the case of the fact there have been a whole lot of female voices doing commentary of professional and collegiate sports, unless it involves women. 
“I think it’s a different voice for most fans to hear that aren’t watching a lot of women’s sports, or who have not watch a lot of college basketball. It does take a little bit I think to get used to that,” Mowins, who described her commentary voice as part famed actress/country singer Reba McEntire, part actress Tea Leoni. 
Mowins also said that she tries to encourage those that have reservation about women doing NFL commentary to give us a quarter. Give us a half before you reserve judgement. Not focus on the pitch and tone of the lady in this case doing play-by-play, and instead pay attention to the content, and the quality. 
For those that she has impacted, particularly young girls, Mowins said that she has come to have an appreciation of those that have reached out to her in person, on Twitter, and Instagram that, especially in the last six months when she got the assignment to commentate the Chargers versus the Broncos 13 days ago and the Colts versus Browns on Sunday. She has also gotten appreciation from mothers of those young girls who played sports, or are sports fans. The brothers of those young ladies, who watched them play sports, and watched sports right next to them on the couch of their respective homes. 
One tweet from a girl named Nina that Wolfson read to Mowins on the show said, “It’s an amazing feeling to hear a female voice calling a football game my mom taught me to love.” 
“I have embraced that a little bit more, because I walk that fine line between I’m a play-by-play announcer,” Mowins said. “If you see me as a female play-by-play announcer, that’s fine. But, I’m not going to broadcast that.”
Three decades ago, Gayle Sierens made history as the first woman to ever do play-by-play commentary in NFL regular season contest. While the progression of female commentators in general has progressed very slowly, we have seen some progress. In the NBA, longtime Charlotte Hornets sideline reporter for Fox Sports Southeast Stephanie Ready two years ago became the first woman to be a color analyst full-time for an NBA team. This upcoming NBA season, the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network sideline reporter the past five seasons will be the first woman to work as the primary solo NBA game analyst at a regional sports network.  
What we have seen in recent years is a change. A change where women broadcasters are hosting sports talk shows, and now are doing commentary on more than just women’s college and pro sports. It might be new, but if we give this new normal of the likes of Beth Mowins a legitimate eye and ear, will be entertained just as good as all the men that have commentated football, and basketball forever.
Information, and quotations are courtesy of 5/15/17 www.independen.co.uk story “ESPN’s Beth Mowins To Become First Female Play-by-Play Commentators of an NFL Game in 30 Years,”  9/19/17 8 p.m. edition of “We Need to Talk,” on CBS Sports Network, with Dana Jacobson, Tracy Wolfson, Summer Sanders, Lisa Leslie, and Beth Mowins; 9/19/17 http://www.usatoday.com story, “Beth Mowins To Call Colts vs. Browns on CBS,” by Matthew VanTryon; 9/22/17 http://www.sportsvideo.org story, “Behind The Mic: YES Makes Sarah Kustok First Full-Time Solo NBA Analyst For RSN; Barber Brothers Reunite for NFL on FOX; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beth_Mowins; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gayle_Sierens; and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1987_Seattle_Seahawks_season#Regular_season.  

J-Speaks: OKC's Second Blockbuster Trade of 2017 Off-Season


Coming into last season, many thought that the Oklahoma City Thunder would take a major step backwards, especially after Kevin Durant left in free agency to join the now defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. Behind the historic season of now reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, who garnered a new single-season record 42 triple-doubles, the No. 7 Seeded Thunder won 47 games and made the postseason, but lost in five games to the Houston Rockets and MVP runner up James Harden 4-1. Coming into this off-season, it was clear that the Thunder needed to improve the team, especially if they wanted to keep Westbrook in toe beyond this season. The team acquire another four-time All-Star to join him, and on Saturday managed to acquire another, who is one of the best scorers to ever grace the NBA hardwood. 
In a shocker of all shockers, the Thunder acquired 10-time All-Star, and three-time Olympic Gold medalist Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks, in exchange for center Enes Kanter, forward Doug McDermott, and a 2018 Second-Round pick, that belongs to the Chicago Bulls, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and the Vertical. 
Earlier this summer, it was the Thunder who had the first major trade of the off-season when they acquired All-Star swingman Paul George from the Indiana Pacers for forward Domantas Sabonis, and guard Victor Oladipo. 
“I take my hat off to the Oklahoma City Thunder,” Hall of Famer and NBA on TNT, studio analyst Charles Barkley said of the two major moves that Oklahoma City’s General Manager Sam Presti made over the off-season on Saturday to NBATV’s Matt Winer, and Dennis Scott. 
“They’ve done everything humanly possible to give Russell, so that he was not a one-man band, and they still have Steven Adams, who I think is probably one of the most underrated players in the NBA.” 
This latest trade by the Thunder took place because Anthony waived his no-trade clause, which was a serious sticking point that really limited the teams that the Knicks could trade Anthony to. 
All throughout this past season, then Knicks’ President Phil Jackson made it no secret of his feelings about Anthony would being better off with another franchise. Every chance he got, Jackson chastised him about his game and ability to lead others on the court, and all that did was lower his value and made him look like damaged goods
“He’s a player that would be better off somewhere else and using his talents somewhere where he can win or chase that championship,” Jackson said.
Anthony really had hoped he be traded to the Rockets to team up with their All-Star backcourt of Harden, and the team’s new lead guard in perennial All-Star Chris Paul, who the Rockets acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this summer. 
Two main reasons did not come to fruition is that Jackson, an 11-time championship coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers was fired as President of the Knicks earlier this summer, and that the Rockets did not have anything the Knicks were looking for. 
The one specific person the Rockets wanted to move to get Anthony was sharp shooting forward Ryan Anderson, but the Knicks did not want to deal with the three years and nearly $60 million left on his contract. 
So, on the heels of the Knicks’ front office brass of new General Manager Scott Perry, and Team President Steve Mills, and head coach Jeff Hornacek saying they expected Anthony to report to training camp on Monday, they found the trading partner that took Anthony off their hands, their books, and avoided a very awkward moment if he was still a Knick. 
Throughout what he called the last 12 months “an emotional roller coaster” to NBATV/NBA on TNT Insider David Aldridge, Anthony went out on the court and played as hard as he could play. When questions came up about his future with the Knicks, he answered all the questions from the media to the best of his ability and he never once threw the organization under the bus. 
Earlier this season, Anthony said, “If they [Knicks organization] feel that my time in New York is over, then I guess that’s a conversation we should have.” 
He also said, “I would love to be back. I would love to be back, but there’s somethings that I would love to see different.” “But, I’ve to come to peace with the situation I’m in, and kind of try happiness again.”
This trade will Anthony more a chance to find happiness as he will be teaming up with one of the most electrifying lead guards in the NBA in Westbrook, and one of the best two-way players in George. 
To bring the dynamic of this new trio into context, Anthony, George, and Westbrook ranked in the Top 23 in scoring in the NBA this past season. Westbrook lead the NBA in scoring a season ago, with a 31.6 average. George’s average of 23.7 points per contest was ranked 15th, and Anthony finished tied with Toronto’s Raptors All-Star lead guard Kyle Lowry with a scoring average of 22.4. 
This trade marks an A+ off-season for Presti and the Thunder organization. If you go back a few years ago, they traded Harden to the Rockets, where he blossomed into a Top 10 player in “The Association.” They said goodbye to Durant, who moved to the Bay Area to help the Warriors win their second title in the past three seasons this past June, where he was named Finals MVP. In just one off-season, they acquired two perennial All-Stars and did not surrender and of their other top players or draft picks in the process.
“I hope Russell stays there, because Sam has done everything within his powers,” Hall of Famer and NBA on TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley said on Saturday. 
“I mean think about? There’s not a single person who though Paul George was going to end up there [in OKC]. There’s not a single person who though Carmelo Anthony was going to end up there.”  
The question now is can this new so-called “Big 3” mesh together and turn the Thunder into a serious player in the tough Western Conference? 
All three have shown in their careers that they can carry a team with them leading the charge, but in the cases of George and Anthony, they wanted to be in a better situation where they can make the playoffs and have their team be a serious player in the postseason. 
In his historic season in 2016-17 Westbrook showed that he can make his teammates better and that he can trust them, even though they did disappear a great deal in their First-Round setback to the Rockets. However, Westbrook reverted to the doing everything on his own, like he did at times with Durant, when things got tough that series and it did not help matters for the Thunder. 
If the Thunder are going to make any kind of noise this upcoming season, Westbrook will have to more than ever make it a habit of deferring to George, and Anthony to take the load off his back scoring wise. If he can become comfortable with those nights where he scores between 19, to 20-plus points, while rebounding and assisting at the level he did last season, this season has a chance of being a good one for the Thunder.
This past season for George, his now former team in the Pacers had more ups, and downs than the stock market. There were times they played up to their potential, and other times they played like they had no business being on the court against their opponent. 
While they had some moments against the back-to-back-to-back Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening round of the 2017 postseason, they were swept 4-0, and the one loss that really hurt was Game 3, where they had a 20-plus point lead and lost. 
For Anthony, he has not been in the playoffs since 2012-13 season, where the Knicks won 54 games, and their first Atlantic Division title since the 1993-94 campaign, where they made it to The Finals, but lost to Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets in seven games. They lost in the 2013 Semifinals to the East runner-up that season ironically enough to George and the Pacers 4-2. 
Since then, which was Anthony’s third in the “Big Apple,” the Knicks have not made the playoffs the last four seasons in succession, and complied a record of 117-121 in that period. When the team hired Jackson to be their president on Mar. 28, 2014, their record was an abysmal 90-171. In the 6.5 seasons Anthony was a Knicks, the team had a dismal 207-269 record.
Individually though, Anthony made a major name in the Knicks record books. This past season, he joined Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Willis Reed, and Richie Guerin, and Allan Houston, and Carl Braun as the only players to score 10,000-plus points in a Knicks uniform. Only Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo (26.7), and Bernard King (26.5) had better scoring averages in their time with the Knicks than the 24.7 average of Anthony. 
On top of that, he will bring a level of leadership to the Thunder where he as mentioned earlier can handle all the tough questions from the press, and will always take the high road. 
“As a media member I loved him,” Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News said to Winer, and Scott. “He handled himself like a pro. He treated us well. He was there after every game, good, and bad. “He was commenting on things when Phil Jackson wouldn’t comment on them.” 
Bondy described his time with the Knicks as a, “roller coaster.” When he was traded to the team on Feb. 22, 2011, the fans and the organization expected more from him than the just mentioned 54-win season and division crown four seasons back. He did say though that he is the best Knick since Ewing, and considering that Anthony did pretty well in a city that has high expectations of star athletes he more than held his own despite not living up to the expectation of bringing the team their first title since 1973.
Besides the incentive of making it back to the playoffs, Westbrook, George, and Anthony can all be free agents in the summer of 2018, with Westbrook and Anthony being able to waive the final year of their respective deals. 
Presti has done everything in his power to put the best team he can around Westbrook to make some noise coming into this season to show him that signing that five-year contract extension worth $217 million the Thunder offered back in July. 
Perhaps the biggest reason for him not signing that extension is the fact that George is not expected to stay with the Thunder beyond this season. 
It has been reported since this the middle past season that George, a Palmdale, CA native, who played his college ball at Fresno State wants to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers next off-season. 
As far as what happens next summer is for next summer. For now, the Thunder are focused on this season, and while the West is loaded with the defending champion Warriors, Rockets, and the five-time champion San Antonio Spurs just to start, the new trio of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony gives the team an offensive attack that could make them a serious threat. They look good on paper, but can they turn that hype on paper into reality on the court. 
They will not have to wait long to find that out as they will tip things off their season versus the Knicks at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. on TNT. 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 7/1/17 story on bleacherreport.com, “Russell Westbrook Reportedly May Delay Signing Contract After Paul George Trade,” by Adam Wells; 9/23/17 4 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” with Matt Winer, and Dennis Scott; 9/23/17 11:30 p.m. edition of WABC 7 "Eyewitness News," with Sandra Bookman, Laura Behnke with Sports, and Jeff Smith with Weather; 9/23/17 NBA.com story by its staff, “Report: New York Knicks Trade Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City Thunder;” http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/NYK/leaders_career.html;  www.espn.com/nba/statistics/player/_/stat/scoring-per-game/sort/avgPoints/year/2016-17; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_York_Knicks_seasons; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmelo_Anthony; and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_George.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

J-Speaks: McGrady Officially A Hall of Famer


A little over 20 years ago, then part owner and Executive Vice President of the Toronto Raptors Isiah Thomas drafted a relative unknown who put his name on the map after making a name for himself at a well-known basketball camp. He would go on to become one of the best scorers and game changers in the NBA. That overshadowed the fact that the teams he played on did not have a lot of success in the postseason, and he had to deal with injuries that robbed him of some even more great seasons. He had enough of an impact that he was able to receive the greatest honor one could ever have bestowed upon him. 
On Friday Sept. 8, former forward/guard Tracy McGrady, who played 16 seasons with the Raptors, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, and San Antonio Spurs was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. 
At age 37, McGrady was the youngest player in this year’s class 11-person class, that consisted of the all-time winningest boys’ high school coach Robert Hughes; Notre Dame women’s head coach Muffet McGraw; University of Kansas men’s head coach Bill Self; Nick Galis; George McGinnis; Mannie Jackson; Tom Jernstedt, and the late great Jerry Krause. 
In his 16-year career, McGrady averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. He was a seven-time All-Star; seven-time All-NBA selection, making the First-Team in 2002, 2003, Second-Team in 2001, 2004, and 2007, and the Third-Team in 2005, and 2008; two-time scoring champion (2003, 2004) and the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2001. 
The current ESPN NBA analyst found out that he was a finalist when the host on “NBA: The Jump,” Rachel Nichols said to him on the Dec. 21, 2016 taping of the show. McGrady, who nickname is T-Mac reaction was, “No way.” 
“I don’t know what to say…It’s great to be a nominee, and be on that ballot, and we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed.” 
This past April on the weekend of the Final Four, McGrady found out that he was chosen to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. 
“This is something I didn’t see happening when I first started from high school to the NBA, and look where we are now,” he said during that Friday afternoon’s addition of “NBA: The Jump.” 
“It’s a great surprise that here I am first ballot. To be mentioned with those guys. I think about all the people that’s played this game. Thousands have come through this and only 400 are inducted into this Hall of Fame. So, it’s very special.” 
This all would had not been possible if not for former sports marketing executive for Nike, Adidas, and Reebok John Paul Vincent “Sonny” Vaccaro and his wife Pam. 
He was the founder of the ABCD All America Camp, which was an elite showcase of the best high school basketball players in the country. That camp ran from 1984 to 2007.
It was here that McGrady’s name got put on the map and he went from an unknown in the basketball world to a name no one could stop talking about. 
“Nobody had a clue who Tracy McGrady was. ‘Sonny’ Vaccaro gave me that platform, and I played against the best players in the world at that time. I left that camp the No. 1 player in the nation, 175 to No. 1,” McGrady said about that moment. 
In his senior season at Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Durham, NC in 1996-97, McGrady helped lead his school to the No. 2 ranking in the country, and he was named a McDonald’s All-American, the national Player of the Year by USA Today, and North Carolina’s Mr. Basketball by the Associated Press. 
McGrady had consideration of playing collegiately for the University of Kentucky, but decided to enter the NBA draft once he learned that he was a projected lottery pick. 
That June, the Raptors and Thomas, who welcomed McGrady into the Hall of Fame selected the ‘6’8’’ swingman with the No. 9 overall pick. 
“Zeke, I don’t know what you saw brother, but back in 1997 you recognized my talent. Scrawny, 18-year-old coming out of high school. I appreciate that,” McGrady said of Thomas in his acceptance speech. “I appreciate you having me fulfill my childhood dream by drafting me ninth overall. That meant the world to me.”  
Thomas, who is now an analyst for NBATV said on their Red Carpet Show two Friday nights back that “At that time, I wanted to play position less basketball, and McGrady did not have a position. He just did everything. He scored the basketball. He rebounded the basketball, but more importantly he assisted.” 
All with his array of skills, McGrady had athleticism that scoring came to him very easily from his ability to get so high on his jump shot that it very rarely got blocked. He had an ability to put the ball down on the floor that attacking the rim was as easy as counting one, two, three. When he got to the rim and you were in his path, he did everything to come at you and posturize you. 
Now fellow Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning, class of 2014 described McGrady’s dunks that he had in his career as extremely explosive. That he had an ability to loll you to sleep, and before you knew it, he was jumping over the top of you and throwing it down. 
After a slow beginning with the Raptors in his rookie season, where he played an average of just 13 minutes per game under then head coach Darrell Walker, McGrady really shined two years later alongside cousin, and All-Star Vince Carter. He averaged 15.4 points, 6.3 boards and 1.9 blocks in helping the team win 45 games and make the playoffs for the first time in team history, but got were swept by the New York Knicks in the opening round 3-0. 
“T-Mac wanted to be great. He wanted to dominate, and he wanted to be the king on the court,” Carter, an eight-time All-Star and current Sacramento King said of his cousin. “Young. Athletic. Wanting to just destroy people. That’s what it was.” 
There was a time in the early stages of McGrady’s career that what lied ahead seemed like a mile away, or not even in viewing sight. That is what his first coach said of the perennial All-Star in his rookie year. 
“Firing that coach my rookie year that criticized me. Said I wasn’t going to be in the league beyond three years,” McGrady said of Walker then. 
He asked Thomas on the stage that night, “Was he wrong?” Thomas with his trademark smile said, “He was wrong.” McGrady followed by saying, “Boy was he wrong. Boy was he wrong.” 
Unfortunately, McGrady decided in the summer of 1999 to take his talents back home to the “sunshine state,” where he signed a six-year $67.5 million deal with the Orlando Magic. The team also signed All-Star Grant Hill, who now currently is an NBA Analyst for NBATV/NBA on TNT. 
Because of a lingering foot injury, Hill played in just 47 games in his tenure with the Magic, which forced McGrady into a larger leadership and scoring role than anticipated, but he emerged as one of the best scorers in the league at that time, with averages of 26.8, 25.6, 32.1 and 28.0. He also averaged in those four seasons, 7.5, a career-best 7.9, 6.5 and 6.0 rebounds; 4.6, 5.3, 5.5, and 5.5 assists, and 1.5, 1.6, 1.7 and 1.4 steals. 
“I remember playing against the [Washington] Wizards and he had 30-plus from that moment on,” Hill said of McGrady’s night that he scored a career-high, and Magic franchise record of 62 points in a win versus the Wizards late in the 2003-04 campaign. “It was like, ‘I’m on the map. I’m here. I’m in that conversation as one of the top players.” 
Future Hall of Famer, who also was drafted out of high school, five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant said of playing against McGrady was like trying to sole a puzzle. That he had to invent schemes to try and slow him down, because the regular ones failed. 
While he put great individual numbers, and won the Most Improved Player in 2001, and won two scoring titles, the Magic never got out of the First-Round, losing to the Milwaukee Bucks 3-1 in 2001; the Charlotte Hornets in 2002, and the Eastern Conference runner-up Detroit Pistons in seven games. 
On July 29, 2004, McGrady, Juwan Howard, current head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue, and Reece Gaines were dealt to the Rockets as part of a seven-player deal that sent Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato to the Magic. 
McGrady, and fellow Hall of Famer Yao Ming form a devastating partnership that had the glimmer of championships. 
So much so that McGrady signed a three-year, $63 million contract extension with the Rockets shortly after arriving in, “Clutch City.” 
In his first three seasons with the Rockets, McGrady averaged 25.7, 24.4 and 24.6 points; 6.0, 6.2 and 6.5 rebounds, and 5.7, 4.8, and a career-best 6.5 assists. 
No game showed McGrady’s out of this world ability to put the ball in the basket when he scored 13 points in 35 seconds in leading the Rockets to a historic 81-80 come from behind win versus in-state rival, and Southwest Division rival the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 9, 2005.   
While McGrady again put up great individual numbers, injuries to him and Ming robbed the Rockets of the chance to become champions. In McGrady six seasons with the team, he never got out of the opening round in five of those six. The year that he did when the Rockets defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 4-2, and lost to the eventual NBA champion Lakers in seven games, McGrady was sidelined because of microfracture surgery he had that shelved him the rest of that season. 
The next season, McGrady played in just six games still recovering from that knee surgery. The Rockets decided to shut him down again with the focus of trading him to another team. 
On Feb. 18, 2010, McGrady was traded to the Knicks, and two days later scored 26 points in his debut in an overtime loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder. 
He would spend the next two seasons playing for the Pistons and Hawks respectably, averaging eight, and a career-low 5.3 points per game respectably. 
McGrady, then signed a one-year deal with the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association, the team finished in last place, but the All-Star did average 25 points,7.2 boards, 5.1 assists, and 1.6 steals per contest. 
Shortly after the CBA campaign concluded, McGrady signed with the San Antonio Spurs in time to make their playoff roster. They advanced to the 2013 NBA Finals, where they lost to the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat in seven games to capture back-to-back titles. It provided McGrady though the chance to play his first career postseason minutes outside the First-Round. 
There have many players in the Hall of Fame that had better track records that have been selected on to be enshrined on the First-Ballot. They have championships to speak of. They played longer stretches that had sustained greatness. A lot of them even changed the game, and Tracy McGrady can be put in the category of game changers.
Before McGrady, the only player we can say that had his ability to handle the ball at ‘6’8” or taller was Hall of Famer and five-time champion with the Lakers Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Today, there are several players with the skill set that McGrady had in his career like future Hall of Famers in Wade, James, and the 2017 Finals MVP Kevin Durant, who tweeted on that Friday prior to the Hall of Fame festivities, “The game will always be about getting buckets. When it comes to buckets, there was nobody like T-Mac…. number 1 in the HOF. Respect OG.” 
Two people who believed that McGrady deserved to be in the Hall of Fame were Nichols and his wife of 20 years CleRenda Harris. 
McGrady said in his acceptance speech that when he and his wife were on an elevator heading to the HOF press conference at All-Star weekend in New Orleans this past February, she kept telling him how proud of him she was, and asked him if he was excited? 
He said he remained nonchalant, keeping his emotions reserved. Sensing the real reason behind the hesitation, McGrady’s better half to repeat after her and say that, “I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.” 
McGrady did not say a word, but CleRenda insisted, and that time she said look in the mirror that was on the elevator wall and repeat after me, “I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.” 
McGrady said he still could not utter those words from his mouth, not because he was not excited or honored. He just did not want to let himself get too excited. 
“My wife new something about me in that elevator that I had yet to admit and say aloud,” McGrady said. “There was a reason she wanted me to look myself in that mirror and say, ‘I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame,’ and there was also a reason why I couldn’t do it.” 
He thought of all the NBA greats in the Hall before him that won titles, have their jersey retired by the team or teams they played for, and as mentioned earlier changed the game. McGrady then started to compare himself to those greats. 
It is very easy as McGrady said to focus on what you do not have and what you did not accomplish in your NBA career, especially when you are reminded of it on sports talk shows, and particularly on social media. 
What McGrady has learned in his 15-year NBA career is the power of perseverance, faith and pushing through, especially when the odds are against you. When your first head coach in “The Association” said that you would not last three years in the league. When your work ethic was criticized, and when you even make into the National Basketball Association without a record of accomplishment, or any proof that you should be given a chance. 
Well McGrady was given that chance and even he made the most of that chance. He went from a small-town person from Auburndale, FL got a chance as he said to travel to place that as he said never knew existed. Who signed a long-term partnership with Adidas, that continues today.
McGrady got a chance to play for some great head coaches in his career Butch Carter with the Raptors, along with assistant coach Jim Thomas, who worked with McGrady on his shooting. Current head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers Glenn “Doc” Rivers and Johnny Davis before him, who worked with McGrady on his footwork when he was with the Magic, and current ESPN NBA color analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who he called, “the realest coach he ever played for,” and wished he had the opportunity to play a few more years longer when he was with the Rockets. 
He played with unbelievable teammates that made him an even better basketball player like Hall of Famers Ming, Dikembe Mutombo, who attended the ceremony, Hill, Darrell Armstrong, Doug Christie, his cousin Vince Carter, Dee Brown, Charles Oakley, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, Kevin Willis, Jermaine O’Neal, Dell Curry, and Antonio Davis.
Two people that McGrady special thanks to were the two people that raised him and kept him out of trouble in a drug infested area, his mother Roberta, and his grandmother Melanise. 
McGrady said his grandmother instilled in him patience, where he would wake up in the early hours in the morning to go fishing for 12 hours. 
“Being on that lake with my grandmother taught me patience, endurance, and the ability to not sweat what I couldn’t control,” McGrady said. 
His mother, McGrady said was his biggest cheerleader, who attended all his games in high school, and being the loudest person in the gym. He also said that his mom was the loudest in the arena of 20,000 people in his pro career. 
McGrady in his closing remarks had a message for his two daughters Layla and Laycee, and two sons Layden and Laymen saying, “Your character is always much more significant than your reputation. Never forget who you are. Never forget that and that you belong to God.” 
To his wife, McGrady said that God had given him a woman that has proven to be a beautiful mother, a wonderful wife, and amazing friend that he is thankful for every single day, and person who made him say what he couldn’t say seven months prior about how he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame was able to say with no hesitation on the night of Sept. 8, 2017. 
“On this day, I can proudly say yes, I deserve to be here. I’m truly humbled. I’m grateful, and proud to be in the class of 2017. Thank you very much.” 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of the 9/1/17 NBA.com article, via The Associated Press, “Tracy McGrady, Jerry Krause, Rebecca Lobo Headline Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class;” 9/8/17 3 p.m. addition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN with Rachel Nichols and Tracy McGrady; 9/8/17 6:30 p.m. Basketball Hall of Fame Red Carpet Show in NBATV with Casey Stern, Isiah Thomas, David Aldridge, and Rick Kamla; 9/8/17 7:30 p.m. 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony, Emceed by Ahmad Rashad; www.google.com; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isiah_Thomas; and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracy_McGrady.    

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

J-Speaks: Lobo Enshrined Close to Home


While the University of Connecticut Lady Huskies today are known as a collegiate basketball powerhouse that has produced some of the best women to ever play on the hardwood, there was a time that this now great program under head coach Geno Auriemma was just another team dreaming of being in the same sentence as that of the University of Tennessee, led by the late Hall of Famer Pat Summit. That rise to greatness began with the recruitment of a Southwick, MS native who set the standard that all other Lady Huskies would follow. Her basketball career gave her the chance to achieve her dreams, but gave other little girls and young women after her the courage to dream of playing professional basketball in the United States. Two Fridays ago, this proud legend of the hardwood, who now works for ESPN received the highest honor one could ever receive for a second time. 
On Friday, Sept. 8 in Springfield, MS not too far from where she grew up, Rebecca Lobo was enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the 2017 class. The same place where she got married to Sports Illustrated writer Steve Rushin.
Lobo, who is now a women’s college basketball and WNBA studio and color analyst for ESPN, was inducted in the 11-member class that consisted of the all-time winningest boys’ high school coach Robert Hughes; two-time NBA scoring champion, and an ESPN basketball analyst Tracy McGrady; Notre Dame women’s head coach Muffet McGraw; University of Kansas men’s head coach Bill Self; Nick Galis; George McGinnis; Mannie Jackson; Tom Jernstedt, and the late great Jerry Krause. 
“I grew up 15 miles from here,” Lobo said to NBATV’s Rick Kamla on the Red Carpet that evening. 
“I came to the old Hall of Fame building. I’ve been to the new one so many times. Understanding the magnitude of what it meant for all those players to be in, I couldn’t be more excited.”
For Lobo, who is also a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as part of their 2010 class, adds another honor to a that took her from her home in Massachusetts; to Storrs, Mansfield, CT; to New York City, where she played for the Women’s Basketball Association’s New York Liberty from 1997-01; to the then Houston Comets in summer of 2002 and ending her playing career with the Connecticut Sun in 2003. 
This journey of Lobo playing basketball came from her wanting to be like her older siblings that she adored very much. Her brother Jason, who played collegiately at Dartmouth College, and is now a judge in Connecticut, and her older sister Rachel, who she played with for two years at Southwick-Tolland Regional High School, played collegiately at Salem State College. 
Lobo in her high school career playing for Jim Vincent scored at the time a Massachusetts record 2,740 points. 
Lobo said in her acceptance speech that she learned from Vincent and her middle school head coach taught her how to play, and that the people in her town helped raised her to be the person that she is today, and she hoped that they take a great deal of pride in this proud moment. 
She also gave thanks to the people that did help raise her and drove her to basketball practice and sacrificed for her to achieve her dream were in her father Joseph, who is of Cuban descent and her late mother RuthAnn, who is of German and Irish heritage. 
When it came time to choose where to go to college, Lobo chose to attend the University of Connecticut, because it was close to home and that the institution matched her belief in academic excellence. 
She also went because she wanted to play for Auriemma, and Associate Head Coach Chris Dailey. 
Lobo called it the best decision of her life, and that when she is in an arena calling games now or doing studio work, she gets text messages from Dailey, with half of them that said, “I just pressed mute.” 
Her reply on stage that evening to that was, “So C.D., whose here tonight, you can’t press mute tonight. Thank you so much for the role you had in getting me here and the role you’ve had in my life.” 
After three solid seasons of individual success where she accumulated averages of 14.3, 16.7 and 19.2 points and 7.9, 11.2 and 11.2 rebounds, she and UConn broke through in the 1994-95 with a perfect 35-0 season, which was capped off with a 70-64 win in the National Championship. 
Lobo was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four that season, and it was one of many honors she received that season. She became the first basketball player ever to win the ESPY for Outstanding Female Athlete; was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year; the NCAA’s Women’s Basketball Player of the Year; won the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year; won the Wade Trophy, and received the Honda Sports Award for basketball. 
While Lobo was the headliner of that title team a little over two decades ago, she gave a lot of credit to the rest of her teammates in Jamelle Elliott, Jennifer Rizzotti, Pam Webber, Kara Wolters, and Carla Berube. 
 “Thanks for making that such a fun ride,” Lobo said about her teammates. 
She also gave a special shout out to Rizzotti, who attended the festivities, and Lobo said that she is one of her best friends and teammates she ever had and thanked her for being by her side for a great deal of her basketball career. 
“She was the first nationally known player that we were fortunate enough to get,” Auriemma said. “Next thing you know, everybody in America is talking about University of Connecticut Women and Rebecca Lobo.” 
That UConn team also became just the fifth Division I women’s basketball program to go undefeated on their way to a title; just the second team to do it in the NCAA era, dating back to 1982, and the first NCAA team, men or women of all divisions to go unbeaten and win 35 games in the process.  
Prior to that season, the UConn Women’s team had made just one Final Four appearance and never won a National Championship. Since that first title, the Lady Huskies have added 10 more championships to that one. 
While Lobo made a solid name for herself in the WNBA, she will always be remembered for what she did at UConn taking a team that had just one Final Four appearance prior to her arrival to a team that under Auriemma has won 11 National titles and a produced some of the greatest players, not just women to ever play on the collegiate, professional, and international hardwood. That is all because of him and Lobo, who said that and then some of her former college coach at the end of her induction speech.  
“When you recruited me, you knew I belonged at UConn. You knew I was meant to play for you, and fortunately I knew that too, and I followed my heart. You have completely changed my life, and for that I thank you. You have changed my life, and I’m here tonight completely because of you. Thank you.”
After an outstanding career at UConn, Lobo was part of the 1996 Olympic team, that captured Gold in Atlanta, GA. Lobo teamed with basketball legends like Teresa Edwards, new Women’s National team head coach Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Jennifer Azzi, Ruthie Bolton, Katrina McClain, Carla McGhee, and Katy Steading.
“Rebecca was the youngest one on the team, and I remember a young kid that was willing to do whatever it took,” Edwards, a member of the 2011 Hall of Fame class said
One year later, the WNBA was formed and began its inaugural season, and Lobo was assigned to the New York Liberty during the league’s first player allocations on Jan. 22, 1997. 
Former WNBA President Val Ackerman, from 1996-05 said that the signing of Lobo to the WNBA gave this new women’s league was legitimate and one that was going to be special and long lasting. 
“She was a phenomenon in many ways, and she played a key role in the surge that brought women’s basketball into primetime,” Ackerman said.
One of the lasting images from that inaugural campaign, that has become iconic was a promo that featured Lobo, and fellow Hall of Famers Leslie, and Swoopes walking down a tunnel with WNBA bags with the slogan at the end saying, “We Got Next.” 
Another lasting promo from that time was one of Lobo working out on the floor of Madison Square Garden in New York, NY. During that promo, Lobo can be heard saying that when she in sixth grade, she wrote a letter to the late great Hall of Fame multi-winning championship head coach, and executive of the Boston Celtics Arnold “Red” Auerbach that she would be the first girl to play for the C’s. The promo ended with her with her hands on her knees looking up into the sky with sweat coming down her face and she said, “Sorry Red. I’m booked.” 
While that dream did not become a reality right away, thanks to former NBA Commissioner David Stern, current Commissioner Adam Silver, who was the Deputy Commissioner then, Ackerman, Lobo was able to realize her dream of playing professional basketball in the WNBA.
While the numbers she did not have the kind of impact she had at UConn, Lobo was a big part along with her then teammates like Teresa Weatherspoon, Sue Wicks, Kym Hampton, Sophia Witherspoon, and Coquese Washington in helping the Liberty to get to the WNBA Finals in 1997, 1999, and 2000. Their championships were dashed at the hands of the then Houston Comets and Swoopes, Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and Tina Thompson. 
“In the infancy of the WNBA, we needed to make our fans feel like they were family and Rebecca was the perfect person for that,” Cooper-Dyke, member of the 2010 class said. 
While those Liberty teams never won a title, they brought to fruition a dream for all young girls that there was a professional basketball league for them to watch on television, and to be drafted in one day if they were good enough in college. 
One person that Lobo and Weatherspoon left that aspirational impression on Lauren Thomas, the daughter of Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas, who is now the President of the Liberty. 
“Rebecca Lobo and Teresa Weatherspoon. They gave my daughter a dream,” the two-time NBA champion with the Pistons said to Kamla during the Hall of Fame Red Carpet Show on NBATV that night. 
“Because my daughter couldn’t dream of playing professional basketball in the WNBA, until they came along. They gave a whole generation of women the dream to be professional basketball players, and they did it with such class. They did it with such grace.” 
That dream became realized by fellow UConn legends, champions, Gold medalists and future Hall of Famers in All-Stars Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury, who played at UConn from 2000-04, and Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm. 
“She started that waive of passion, and of winning,” Taurasi, the WNBA all-time leading scorer said of Lobo. 
Bird, the WNBA all-time leader in assists said that Lobo and the 1996 Gold Medal winning Women’s team that, “inspired this whole generation of women’s basketball players.” 
Lobo also said in her acceptance speech that she can watch her oldest daughter light up when she talks about some of the young rising stars in the WNBA like All-Star Breanna Stewart of the Storm, a former UConn star and champion, or her 11-year-old daughter beam when she sports her jersey of Liberty All-Star center and former Lady Husky Tina Charles, who also played at UConn. 
“I have three daughters, who play basketball. So, the WNBA means even more to me now, then it did when I was playing in it,” Lobo said of her children Siobhan, Maeve, Thomas and Rose.
Over the next two seasons, Lobo would play for the Comets, and Connecticut Sun, where she would retire in 2003. 
After retiring from playing basketball, Lobo began the next chapter of her life as her kids put it, “talk ballgames,” as a broadcaster, working as a reporter and color analyst for ESPN, where her focus on Women’s College Basketball and the WNBA. 
“I’m thankful to Pat Lowry and Tina Thornton for giving me the opportunity to do this job that I love,” Lobo said. 
That journey began as a sideline reporter working UConn Women’s games. One time she saw her old head coach and Auriemma said to her that when she interviews him could she wear high heels. She gladly obliged that request every time that she has interviewed him. 
When Lobo asked Auriemma over the summer if he would be her presenter for her induction into the Hall of Fame, she promised to take off her heels. Auriemma said that he would present her if he let him wear her heels. 
She went on to also say that no one tells you how to become a broadcaster, except for everyone with a twitter account. 
For Lobo, she had the advantage of having who she calls two great mentors in her corner, who she also calls her friends in Holly Rowe and Doris Burke.  
“You are great friends, who’ve been with me along this ride, and I thank you for being her tonight,” she said about two of the best side line reporters in the game today. 
One of the great things about becoming a Hall of Famer is that is gives you a chance to put your critics in their place. For Lobo, one of those critics early in her career was her now husband Steve Rushin of Sports Illustrated. 
The two first met at dive Irish bar in New York, NY in 2001. Lobo said that she reade all of her now husband’s columns, but about two weeks before they met, he wrote this article in SI, which featured what she called a throwaway line that said, “Much like Wilt Chamberlin, I too slept with 8,000 women last night. I was at a New York Liberty game.”
That night when Lobo met Rushin she said, “I know who you are. Are you the guy that wrote that joke about the New York Liberty?” 
He blushed and said that he was. Lobo asked him how many games have you been too? Rushin said none. 
Lobo said in response about the attendants at MSG games for Liberty games, “Well obviously, or else you would have been sleeping with 12,000 women, cause that’s how many fans we average.” 
Lobo then invited him to one of her Liberty games and they have been together ever, when they got married 23 months after that. Rushin, Lobo said has been to hundreds of WNBA and women’s college games, and most exciting for their family 10-year-old girls AAU basketball games.   
Lobo however would not have reached this pinnacle of her basketball journey had it not been for her late mother advocating for her to play on the boy’s team back when she was in third grade when only two girls signed. 
Her mom said no, and that means she would have to let her play on the boy’s team. Lobo’s mother brought her down, but the other girl dropped out making Lobo the only girl on the squad. Mrs. Lobo said to the coach that he wanted her daughter treated the same as all the other boys. 
That meant if she had to run sprints, she had to run sprints. If they were getting yelled at, she needed to be yelled at. 
The one exception was that if the team was divided into shirts and skins, Lobo always had to be on the shirts team. 
“No one would have appreciated this hall of fame honor more than my mother,” Lobo said of her late mom. 
Nearly three decades ago, a young lady by the name of Rebecca Lobo went from being a high school star in Southwick, MS to Storrs, CT and became a star, champion, and trail blazer. She then became an Olympic Gold medalist, a WNBA All-Star and legend, and today is an in-studio and color basketball analyst for “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” at ESPN. You can also call her as her tv partner for WNBA games the past few years in Ryan Ruocco at the start of each broadcast, “The Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo.”