Wednesday, June 22, 2016

J-Speaks: A Rose Is Coming to Madison Square Garden

After missing the playoffs for a third straight season and for the ninth time in the last 12 years, it was clear that the New York Knickerbockers, Team President Phil Jackson and General Manager Steve Mills needed to make a major move. They needed to add someone that can bring some sort of hope for better days and opportunity to make the playoffs. The Knicks took a step in that direction in hiring a new head coach earlier this month in former lead man on the sidelines for the Phoenix Suns Jeff Hornacek and on Wednesday acquired a former All-Star and MVP to go alongside perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony.

On so-called “Hump Day,” first reported by The Chicago Tribune, the Knicks acquired 2011 NBA MVP, three-time All-Star and the 2009 Rookie of the Year guard Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls along with guard Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick and sent center Robin Lopez and guards Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant to the “Windy City.”

Rose, the centerpiece of this deal fills a serious void for the Knicks who have been in need of a big time floor general and before a series of knee injuries over the past five seasons, the former No. 1 overall pick in 2009 was one of the very best point guards in “The Association.”

Ever since he sustained a tear in his left Anterior Cruciate Ligament in Game 1 of the first-round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs versus the Philadelphia 76ers, Rose has played in a total of 127 games.

Over the next three seasons, Rose has averaged just 15.9, 17.7 and 16.4 points per contest and shot just 35.4, 40.5 and 42.7 percent from the floor respectably. On top of that his three-point shooting, something he really was not known for in his career went from a respectable 34.0 percent in 2013-14 to just 28.0 and 29.3 percent over the last two seasons.

Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season, even though he was medically cleared to play in March.

While he did show some flashes of his old self a season ago for the Bulls, it was clear that he was never going to be the same player again, especially with the emergence of swingman Jimmy Butler as the team’s primary scoring option.

Despite all of that, Hornacek has total faith with a new start on a new team that Rose can get back to the form that made him one of the best lead guards and one of the best players period in the league.

“This is an exciting day for the New York and our fans,” the Knicks’ new head coach said in a statement on Wednesday. “Derrick is one of the top point guards in the NBA who is playoff battle-tested. He adds a whole new dynamic to our roster and immediately elevates our backcourt.” 

It is still hard to imagine Rose though in any other uniform except dawning the one of his hometown team. Five years ago under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls won 60 games; were the No. 1 Seed in the East and Rose as mentioned earlier MVP honors that season. While the team fell in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat of the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it seemed like this team, which had not had this kind of success since the Michael Jordan years was going to be in contention for titles for years to come.

The Bulls in December 2011 signed Rose to a five-year contract extension for $94.8 million

As mentioned earlier though, Rose damaged his knee and all of that exceptional explosiveness, quickness and uncanny ability to get to the rim was essentially gone and he was reduced to being jump shooting first guard.

The team reached a crossroads, especially after this season where the Bulls went 42-40 under first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg, who replaced Thibodeau and missed the postseason for the first time since 2008.

“Knowing Derrick as I do makes this trade a hard one,” Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said on Wednesday. “Everyone knows him as the local kid who became MVP for his hometown team, but not everyone got to know him like I did. While he is a terrific basketball player, he is even a better person with a tremendous heart.”

This situation is very similar to a big move that the Knicks made six summers ago when they signed All-Star forward Amar’e Stoudemire to a five-year deal worth approximately $100 million. Team president James Dolan boldly stated at that signing that this move was the turning point for the Knicks.

For that first season it was as Stoudemire averaged 25.3 points per contest that season along with 8.2 boards on 50.2 percent shooting from the floor.

Over the next three and a half season however, knee problems and the inability for him and Anthony to co-exist on the court saw Stoudemire’s scoring averages go to 17.5, 14.2, 11.9 and 12.0 and his rebounding averages shrink to 7.8, 5.0, 4.9 and 6.8 respectably during those seasons.

At the All-Star break last season, Stoudemire was waived and was eventually signed off waivers by the Dallas Mavericks. He played this past season with the Heat.

The hope here is though that Rose is still a young player that this risk that the Knicks are taking will have the team reaping so serious rewards next season and the many ones to follow.

Talent wise, he is a serious upgrade from Grant, the 19th overall pick out of Notre Dame in last year’s draft and Calderon, who at this point in his career is an understudy and not a leading man.

Also, with the Knicks moving to a more up-tempo, quick strike offense moving away the famed triangle offense that Jackson used to win championships in Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers, Rose will be a major upgrade and will have a serious chance to resurrect his career.

What makes this deal even better on the surface, Rose will be entering the final year of his contract, where he will be owed $21.3 million. He will be a free agent at the end of this upcoming season.

In the case of the Bulls, the get a solid man in the middle in Lopez, which will be a solid insurance policy if they decide not to sign longtime starting center Joakim Noah, who was lost to shoulder surgery in the middle of the season and in Grant they get a young player who they can hopefully groom to a major part of their future.

“As we said at the end of last season, we are committed to exploring every option to improve this team,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said on Wednesday.

“This trade is a significant step in that process. Our goal is to get younger and more athletic, and this trade moves us in that direction and allows us to start changing the structure of our team. In Robin Lopez, we are acquiring a starting center who is a good defender, good rebounder, and brings a toughness to our team. Jose Calderon is a proven veteran who can run an offense and knock down threes. Jerian Grant was high on our draft board last year as someone with a great skill set and positional size. All three players are great teammates and have tremendous work ethic, and we are excited to welcome them to the Chicago Bulls Organization.”

To put this trade into perspective, the Knicks acquired a lead guard who they hope can be a serious game changer on the floor; can be a solid 1A to Anthony and get them back to where they feel they belong, the playoffs. For the Bulls, this trade marked the end of an era of a player who brought the Bulls back into the conversation as a top tier team in not just the East, but the entire league and had his hometown dreaming of another Larry O’Brien Trophy. A serious knee injury turned that dream into a distant memory and but the team in a tough position and they said goodbye to the hometown kid who had so much promise.

The hope now for the Knicks is Rose can someway, somehow conjure up some of that magic that made him a Top 5 player in the NBA and that he turn the Knicks into a playoff perennial.

Information, statistics and quotes are courtesy of 6/22/16 article “Hometown Bulls send Derrick Rose to Knicks in Multiplayer Swap,” by Chris Broussard, Ian Begley, Marc Stein and “The Associated Press;” http://;; Http://; 6/22/16 report by “The Associated Press,” “Knicks Acquire Rose From Bulls in Five-Player Deal,” by Brian Mahoney on

Sunday, June 5, 2016

J-Speaks: Saying Farewell To "The Greatest"

He had a smile that could light up a room. A fighting style that was unlike any other. He became a game changer for all athletes of color as he took a stand for things that he believed in and was willing to risk everything for those beliefs. He coined himself the greatest and lived up to each time he stepped into the arena of the most dangerous sport in the world. That sport that made him known to the world eventually took him down physically but not spiritually or emotionally and he continued to be a champion for all. This past Friday though that champion was silenced.

Muhammad Ali, three-time Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World passed away on Friday at a hospital in Scottsdale, AZ from septic shock and natural causes. He was 74 years old.

He is survived by his third wife of 30 years Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams. His nine children Maryum, twins Jamillah and Rasheda, Muhammad Ali, Jr., Hana, Laila, Assad Amin and Miya and Khaliah.

“They got to spend quality time with him to say their final goodbyes. It was a very solemn moment,” Bob Gunnell, the Ali family spokesperson said on Friday.

Many tributes to the boxing legend came far and wide after his death was made public.

Floyd Mayweather via twitter and Instagram @FloydMayweather said, “Today my heart goes out to a pioneer, a true legend, and a hero by all means.”

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook via twitter @tim_cook quoted a famous saying of Ali’s, “He who is not courageous enough to take risk will continue to accomplish nothing in life.” Rest in peace #Muhammad Ali.

“Muhammad Ali was a man of the people. He was a fighter for the people,” well known boxing promoter Don King said. “I love Muhammad Ali. He was a friend for life and he will never die. His spirit will go on forever.”

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942 in Louisville, KY, he was directed towards boxing at the age of 12 by Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin who encountered the young Cassius over a thief taking his bicycle.

Ali would be directed to boxing cutman Chuck Bodak, who trained him for four years.

He would make his debut in the ring in 1954 and that is where the legendary journey commenced.

Ali won six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Glove championships and an Amateur Athletic Union national title.

He would rise to worldwide prominence at the 1960 Summer Olympics capturing gold in the Light Heavyweight division. His record as an amateur was 100-5.

Ali however threw that gold medal into the Ohio River shortly after returning from the Rome Olympics saying in his 1975 autobiography that he and a friend were refused service at a “white’s only” restaurant.

Ali’s first professional match came on Oct. 29, 1960 and he won a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker.

For the next three years, Ali would amass a pro record of 19-0 defeating the likes of Tony Esperti, Jim Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, Doug Jones, Henry Cooper and his former trainer veteran boxer Archie Moon in a 1962 match.

His first true fight came on Feb. 25, 1964 against Heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in Miami Beach, FL. Ali used his superior speed and mobility to elude Liston’s punches for five rounds. In the sixth round Ali hit Liston time and time again and by the seventh round he wore Liston down so bad he did not even answer the bell for the seventh and Ali was declared a winner by a technical knockout (TKO).

Following the victory, Ali rushed to the edge of the ring, pointed to the ringside press and shouted: “Eat your words! I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”

In winning the fight Ali became at the age of 22 the youngest boxer to take the title from a reigning heavyweight champion.

On Mar. 6, 1964, Clay officially changed his name to Muhammad Ali upon converting to Islam and affiliating with the Nation of Islam.

When a reporter said to him that Clay is gone, Ali said, “Yes sir. It’s Muhammad Ali. Muhammad means worthy of all praises and Ali means most kind.”

Kind he was not and became worth a lot of praise when he defended his title on May 25, 1965 in Lewiston, ME, with a controversial first-round knockout. Midway through the opening round, Liston was knocked down by a difficult-to-see blow by Ali, which the press dubbed a “phantom punch.”

Newsday reporter Bob Waters wrote, “It seemed that the race has just started when it ended. Had his back to the ropes when he feinted with his left glove and brought the right hand across and downright flush on Liston’s jaw. Liston fell backward slowly. He hit the canvas with the seat of his pants, then the small of his back, his shoulders and his head. It seemed to be almost in slow motion.”

Ali would bring his pro record to 29-0 by defeating Zora Folley, but he was stripped out his title due to his refusal to be drafted into the army during the Vietnam War on Mar. 22, 1967.

Ali was also arrested, stripped of his boxing licenses; his passport was revoked, which resulted in him not being able to fight for nearly 3 ½ years.

Something like this would bring the greatest of all men, especially one that was at the height Ali was on. Ali was not like anyone else. He proved he was more than just a boxer. He stood up to what he was facing and even doubled down.

“You are my opposer when I want freedom. You are my opposer when I want justice and you want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won’t even stand up for me here at home.”

It was really the first time that a well-known African American athlete took a stand at a time when his native country struggled with equality and poverty.

The opposition to the War grew across the U.S. and Ali’s stance gained sympathy amongst the public. He spoke at colleges across the nation as well as advocating for American pride and racial justice.

Thanks to then State Senator Leroy R. Johnson (D-GA), Ali was granted a license to box by the city of Atlanta’s Athletic Commission and he won his bought against Jerry Quarry on Oct. 6, 1970.

A month earlier, a victory in federal court forced the New York State Boxing Commission to reinstate Ali’s license and he defeated Oscar Bonavena with a TKO in the 15th round.

That set up the “Fight of the Century” between the undefeated Ali (31-0) and the undefeated Joe Frazier (26-0) on Mar. 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY.

To put how big this match was, it was broadcasted to 35 foreign countries; 760 press passes were granted and veteran boxing writer John Condon called the Ali vs. Frazier bout, “the greatest event I’ve ever worked on in my life.”

The pre-fight war of words brought even more life to the fight as Ali portrayed Frazier as a, “dumb tool of white establishment.”

“Frazier is too ugly to be champ,” Ali said. “Frazier is too dumb to be champ.”

Ali even called Frazier an, “Uncle Tom” and that the only people rooting for Frazier according a member of his camp Dave Wolf are white folks in suits, Alabama sheriffs and members of the Ku Klux Klan. Ali also said that he is fighting for the little man in the ghetto.

A left hook that connected in the 11th round gave Frazier the advantage over Ali and a vicious left hook in the 15th round put him over the top and he handed Ali his first professional loss.

Ali would won his next six fights in 1972 and overall won his next 10 matches before he lost to Ken Norton on Mar. 11, 1973 to Ken Norton who broke his jaw in handing Ali just the second loss of his career. He would win a controversial rematch five months later.

On Jan. 28, 1974, Ali would get his rematch with Frazier, who recently lost his heavyweight title to George Foreman.

This time around, Ali was able to avoid that vicious left hook that Frazier used to win the first time and tied him up when he was cornered. The judges awarded Ali with a unanimous victory in 12 rounds.

Ali’s victory set the stage for a fight for the heavyweight title between him and Foreman (40-0) in Kinshasa, Zaire on Oct. 30, 1974, which came to be nicknamed “The Rumble in the Jungle.”

At the time, Foreman was considered one of the hardest punchers among heavyweights in history.

According to many analysts, Frazier and Norton who went toe-to-toe with Ali in their combined four bouts, winning two, their power along with the fact that Ali at age 32 had lost his uncanny speed which lowered his chances of beating Foreman, who was an intimidating presence as compared to now.

Ali said to interviewer David Frost before his bout with Foreman, “If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait ‘til I whup Foreman’s behind! I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, and hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

It showed in the early going of the fight as Ali threw right cross after right cross to the head of Foreman. He then employed what would become known as the “Rope-A-Dope” strategy where Ali withdrew to the ropes and invited Foreman to hit him while covering up clinching and counter-punching while verbally taunting Foreman.

Foreman grew more and more angry as every punch he threw was being deflected and not evening landed on Ali.

As Foreman began to wear down midway through the fight, Ali countered with a flurry of punches which brought the crowd to their feet. In the eighth round, Ali dropped an exhausted Foreman with combination punches in the center of the ring and against all odds regained the heavyweight title.

“Never seen that kind of presence in a human being. I don’t think our sport will ever be the same again,” Foreman said when Ali passed on over the weekend.

On Oct. 1, 1975, the Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year” for 1974 took on Frazier for the third time in Manila in the Philippines, which became known as the “Thrilla in Manila,” as the match took place in temperatures close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the opening stage of the match, Ali and Frazier exchanged blow after blow after blow, until Ali went to the “rope-a-dope” strategy and landed some effective counter-punches and absorbed the punishment Frazier was relentlessly dishing out.

In the 12th round, Frazier began to tire and Ali scored a number of sharp blows closing his opponent’s left eye and opening a cut over the right eye.

Ali dominated the next two rounds hitting Frazier’s head like it was a boxing bag. The fight was stopped on the count when Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch refused to let his fighter to answer the bell for the 15th and final round as his eyes were very swollen shut.

Ali slumped on his stool in his corner was declared the winner of his second heavyweight title by TKO. He said of the match, “This must be what death feels like.”

Ali would continue to win beating the likes of Jean-Pierre Coopman, Jimmy Young and Richard Dunn.

After defeating Alfredo Evangelista in May of 1977 to bring his record to 54-2, Ali struggled against Earnie Shavers who pummeled the champ a few times in the head. Ali won the match by unanimous decision, but his longtime doctor Ferdie Pacheco quit after he told Ali that he should retire.

Pacheco was quoted as saying, “the New York State Athletic Commission gave me a report that showed Ali’s kidneys were falling apart. I wrote to Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer, his wife [Veronica Porsche] and Ali himself. I got nothing back in response. That’s when I decided enough is enough.”

In February 1978, Ali faced relative new comer to boxing Leon Spinks at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, NV.

Ali, who really did not put much preparation for the bout lost in a split decision, but did win the rematch seven months later in New Orleans, LA to become the first three-time heavyweight champion of the world.

Ali announced his retirement from boxing on July 27, 1979, but announced his comeback to fight Larry Holmes for the WBC crown in an attempt to be the first four-time heavyweight title winner.

The fight though was largely motivated by Ali’s need for money and boxing writer Richie Giachetti said that Holmes did not want to fight Ali.”

“He knew Ali had nothing left; he knew it would be a horror,” Giachetti said.

It was exactly that as on Oct. 2, 1980 in Las Vegas Valley, Holmes dominated the champ and Dundee stopped the fight in the 11th round. It was the only match Ali lost by knockout.

Giachetti called the fight, “…the worst sporting event I ever had to cover.”

Actor Sylvester Stallone, a.k.a Rocky Balboa was ringside and said of seeing Ali being taken down by Holmes was like watching an autopsy on a man who is still alive.

While many pleaded for Ali to officially retire, he fought one final time on Dec. 11, 1981 in Nassau, Bahamas and lost to Trevor Berbick in ten rounds.

Ali retired after that fight and finished with a record of 56-5 with 37 victories by knockout.

While Ali may have been brash, he was also someone that cared about others. That was put on display for the world to see back on Jan. 19, 1981 in Los Angeles, CA when he talked a man from the brink of committing suicide by jumping from a ninth-floor ledge. This event made national headlines.

The news was not as good in 1984 when Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which at times can result from head trauma from activities such as boxing and football.

While he remained active during this time, including being a guest referee at Wrestlemania.

The disease led to a gradual decline in the health of the legendary championship boxer, but he did find ways to be active, make a difference in the lives of others and be recognized for what he did in his sport.

At Gleason’s Gym now in Brooklyn, there are pictures of Ali, some even autographed all across the gym. In fact at the old location in the Bronx many years ago, Ali would train at the gym 8-10 weeks at a time before a match in New York City, including the aforementioned “Fight of the Century” against Frazier and his 1964 bout against Liston.

Over the weekend, owner Bruce Silverglade, 69 told Jennifer Bain of New York Post that he remembers Ali as a larger than life figure that was as humble as one can be.

“Muhammad Ali was a very unusual person. As much fame that he received and becoming the most famous person in the world, he never left being Cassius Clay or Muhammad Ali,” Silverglade said. “When he would come in here he was down-to-earth. He never let his fame or fortune get to his head.”

In 1990, Ali was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY.

In 1996, he lit the torch at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA.

The greatest honor any person could have happened for Ali in 2001 when a biopic of his life was released in movie theaters in 2001 when the movie of his life “Ali” was released and the actor that portrayed him in the movie was Will Smith.

On Nov 9, 2005, Ali is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President George W. Bush and 10 days later the Muhammad Ali Center opens in his hometown of Louisville, KY. Also on this day, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award by Amnesty International and the citation of United Nations Messenger of Peace. On top of that, Ali received the 2005 Otto Han Pace Medal in Germany for his involvement in the U.S. civil rights movement and the United Nations.

It is one thing to be a great athlete and perform at a level where you gain respect from the fans and your opponent’s. It is another thing to have the respect of the world, even when in the beginning people may not seem to understand you.

Muhammad Ali was a person of principle, values, love and respect. He made a commitment to being a great person to all as well as a relentless, dedicated and legendary boxer. He called himself the greatest and he lived up to it in the ring and out. He took a stand for human rights at a time when it could cost you everything and it did for Ali, but it did not deter him nor his beliefs.

He was not perfect. When he has something to say, no matter what you thought about it he said it and stood by it. He also stood for others and he showed all of us, especially pro athletes, particularly those of color that you can make change.

“The whole world isn’t stopping today to celebrate just a person with boxing skills, but he used those skills to promote peace and love and racial interaction to show the world that we could stand for something, even if it we have to risk it all,” National Action Network founder and host Politics Nation Sundays on MSNBC Rev. Al Sharpton said at NAN headquarters yesterday.
Information and quotations are courtesy of 6/4/16 6 a.m. WABC 7 Eyewitness: Saturday Morning with Michelle Charlesworth, Toni Yates and Amy Freeze, reports from sports anchor Rob Powers and Marcus Solis; 6/5/16 6 a.m. edition of WABC 7 Eyewitness News: Sunday Morning with Michelle Charlesworth, Toni Yates and Amy Freeze; 6/5/16 10 a.m. addition of ABC News “This Week,” with George Stephanopoulos, report from Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas; 6/5/16 10:30 a.m. edition of CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” with John Dickerson; 6/5/16 New York Post, Remembering The Greatest "Ali Through The Years: An Everlasting Legacy; A Fighter and a 'Force For Peace';