Leland Stein III

DETROIT SPORTS ZONE HONORS ATHLETIC ACHIEVERS

In sports column on July 31, 2021 at 2:10 am
Detroit native Gilbert Brown was one of the NFL’s best defensive lineman.

(Article was first published on 9-26-2018 for TheAfricanAmericanAthlete.com)

By Leland Stein III, For TheAfricanAmericanAthlete.com

DETROIT, Mi. – The Detroit Sports Zone recently hosted its Seventh Annual High School Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony at Bert’s Market Place Theater.

In a one-on-one interview I implemented with NFL Hall of Fame legend, Jim Brown, he told me that “we have to tell our own stories.” That is exactly what the Detroit Sports Zone organizers are striving to accomplish.

“Our music and sports histories are very important,” said Detroit Sports Zone board member, Michael Price. “Never before has All-City, All-Metro, All-State, or All-American sports legends from Detroit Public Schools been honored for their athletic and academic accomplishments, and, their productivity as citizens in Detroit, or across the globe. We are also honoring men and women so the youth can see them and maybe even emulate their efforts.”

Continuing with Price’s assertion, it is important for the young people to see others that have lived in their neighborhoods, went to their schools and fought through some of the same constraints/problems many of our youth endure still today.

Urban cities throughout America continue to yield young men and women that negotiated the negatives of their environments and uplift themselves via athletics. The 2018 Class continues this aim as it is a diverse conglomeration of achievers and educators.

Johnny Davis

The 2018 honored awardees were:

Gilbert Brown graduated from Detroit Mackenzie High and the University of Kansas. He was All-State at Mackenzie and All-Academic while at Kansas. He has been placed in the Kansas ‘Ring of Honor’ and the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. Brown played nine years with the Packers and in 1996, he started all 16 games next to Santana Dotson, Sean Jones and Reggie White, a defensive unit that allowed a league record low 19 touchdowns and went on to win Super Bowl XXXI.

“I used football to go to college,” Brown told me after the induction ceremony. “Never thought it would go this far, playing in Green Bay alongside Reggie White, winning the Super Bowl, and now getting honored at home is very special indeed. My family, coaches and friends are all here.”

Johnny Davis prepped at Detroit Murray-Wright High and the University of Dayton. He was a high school All-State and All-American. He continued his stellar play at Dayton making the U.S.A. Men’s Basketball team and helping it earn a Pan American Games gold medal. Playing 10-years in the NBA, his stellar moment came in 1977 with Portland winning the valued NBA championship. Later be became the first and only Detroit Public School League alumni to become a head coach in the NBA – he led three NBA teams.

“I grew up in the Brewster Projects and played in the PSL,” Davis recalled after leaving the stage. “Words cannot describe how I feel about being home and getting recognized by the Detroit Sports Zone. Ever since I left for college, played in a number of cities in the NBA, and, coached on even more NBA teams, no matter my travels, Detroit was and is still my home.”

Markita Aldridge

Markita Aldridge, a 1991 Detroit Martin Luther King High All-State, All-American basketball star led her school to a Michigan Class A State title. She was also named Miss Basketball in the State of Michigan. She also starred at UNC-Charlotte. Played in the WNBA and overseas. She has her own foundation and is the mother of two boys.

Jim Bibbs, an Ecorse High and Wayne State MA graduate, and high school track star, who tied a Jesses Owens world record in the 60-yard dash (1951) while at Eastern Michigan University. Transferring his history and knowledge to Michigan State University he became the first black head track coach in the Big Ten (1975-1995). He has coached 26 All-Americans, 52 Big Ten Champions, been named to three track Hall of Fames and was A. Phillip Randolph Institute Unsung Hero Awardee.

“I remember the days of the Black Bottom and Black Experience in Detroit,” Bibbs told me, “so, these Detroiters getting together to honor and recognize their own, makes this even more special for me, and, reminds me of how we had to do for ourselves.”

David “Smokey” Gaines came out of Detroit Public Schools (Miller and Northeastern High) and continued his education at LeMoyne-Owens College (BS) and Eastern Michigan (MA). The All-City basketball star left college amid the segregation era and found solace with the Harlem Globetrotters (1963-67). From there, among many endeavors, Gaines started his career passion coaching. In particular, he became an assistant coach at University of Detroit (1973-77) and head coach (1977-79). From there Gaines piloted San Diego State University as head coach (1979-87) and as Assistant Athletic Director (1987-89). He eventually went back to become Athletic Director and head coach at LeMoyne-Owens (2005).

Thomas Hearns

Thomas “Hitman” Hearns prepped in Detroit schools and rose in the Sweet Science under the tutelage of legendary Detroit Kronk trainer, Emanuel Steward. Hearns became the only boxer to win five world titles in five divisions; he also, was the first to hoist eight world titles in six weight classes. He was selected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012.

Sammy Gee is a graduate of the legendary Detroit Miller High School where he earned All-City honors in football, basketball, and baseball. He was no doubt one of the greatest all-around athletes to come out of the city. Gee played with the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters for eight years, played Negro League Baseball with the New York Cubans, as well as, with the Brooklyn Dodgers Canadian American League Farm Team.

George Perles went to Detroit Western High and to Michigan State University. The United States Army veteran came back to the city to coach St Ambrose tot the Detroit City Leagues title. He then became defensive line coach at Michigan State for 12-years. He parlayed that endeavor into a defensive coordinator position with the Pittsburg Steelers from 1972-82, and, with it came four Super Bowl championships. He left the Steelers to become head coach at Michigan State (1982-94) winning two Big Ten titles and one Rose Bowl.

Ronnie Phillips prepped at Detroit Denby High and continued on to the University of Illinois. Phillips was an All-City and an All-State runner at 880-yards, one-mile run, and cross-country. At Illinois he became an All-American and All-Big Ten, setting the conference record at the 800-meters that lasted from 1972-82. He went on to become a noteworthy educator in Detroit, rising up as a counselor, department head and principal.

Dr. Robert Sims graduated from Detroit Western High as an exceptional basketball player, he went on to get a BS from Eastern Michigan, an MS from New York University and later earned his D.O. for Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery. He was very successful in private practice medicine and surgery for almost 30-years. Yet, he still gave his valuable time to give Detroit Schools athletic teams physical examinations. He was selected to the Eastern Michigan Hall of Fame basketball/track.

Not only were the “Terrific Ten” acknowledged and feted, the Detroit Sports Zone awarded four scholarships to present and former city students.

The Detroit Sports Zone’s history is featured prominently on www.detroitsportszone.org, and, it showcases the history makers and features video history with present and past inductees.

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

VIRGINIA’S PERSERVERANCE EARNS REDEMPTION, NCAA CROWN

In sports column on July 31, 2021 at 2:00 am
Virginia rallied from one of the most embarrassing losses in NCAA history to win a National title.

(Article first published 4-17-2019 in TheAfricanAmericanAthlete.com)

By Leland Stein III, For TheAfricanAmericanAthlete.com

MINNEAPOLIS – From the beginning, this Final Four was destined to be extra special for its winner, because neither the Texas Tech Red Raiders (31-7) or Virginia Cavaliers had ever hoisted the National Championship Trophy.

However, on this sunshine filled day in Minneapolis/St Paul all knew NCAA basketball history was going to be made, no matter the victor. To the surprise of many, these two grind-it-out squads went on a scoring spree and produced an entertaining 85-77 overtime thriller, with Virginia coming away with its first-ever NCAA Basketball Championship.

As has been the case for Virginia (35-3) throughout its highly controversial run through the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the biggest play in the overtime victory came down to a fingernail.

I sat there amazed as yet another unbelievable call in overtime led to a game-changing momentum swing. With 1:06 remaining in overtime in one of the greatest NCAA championships ever played, the correct call by definition on a replay review of an out-of-bounds decision robbed the end of overtime from the wild drama that preceded it.

With Virginia leading by two points, a missed shot was tipped from the frontcourt toward the half-court line. Texas Tech guard Davide Moretti sprinted between two Virginia players to corral the ball just past half court and clearly held possession.

He took one dribble near the free-throw line and appeared to get fouled from behind by Virginia’s Kyle Guy before Cavs forward De’Andre Hunter stripped the ball from him and deflected it out of bounds. After a lengthy review, the officials ruled that the ball went off Moretti.

“They didn’t call the foul,” Moretti said. “I wasn’t looking for the foul. I was looking for the possession because the guy literally took the ball from my hands and pushed it out of bounds. I was pretty confident the ball was [ours], but they overturned it. I guess I was wrong.”

The play clearly swung momentum, as Tech never cut the game back to one possession and Virginia ran away in the final minute.

To the Cavaliers credit, they minimized the awesome defensive pressure the Red Raiders had displayed throughout its tournament run, by getting to the foul line, and, that effort led to an amazing 12 for 12 from the foul line in overtime that sealed the title.

No matter what one thinks of all the referee breaks Virginia appeared to get throughout this tournament, this team showed grit and grime that has to be admired.

This public research university in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was founded by Declaration of Independence author and former President Thomas Jefferson, experienced the lowest of lows in the 2018 tournament becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed.

After 136 attempts by No. 16 seeds in NCAA tournament history versus No. 1’s, No. 16 seed UMBC (Maryland-Baltimore County) stunned Virginia in the 2018 NCAA’s. Before 2018, 16-seeded teams were 0-135 against 1-seeds. It was an epic failure and embarrassment.

Yet, here we are one year later, Virginia makes a historic turnaround. Virginia just outlasts you. They grind and grind and never looks worried and their play reflected the cool of its 10-year coach, Tony Bennett.

“I think it was a terrific game, to see how these guys played,” said Bennett in the post-game press conference. “The one thing I said to them before in the locker room, I said, ‘You guys faced pressure that no team in the history of the game has faced, well, really all year, but being down 14 against Gardner Webb, and you did not panic at that moment, and you fought, and you found a way out. That, I think, has prepared you for this moment to be able to handle the pressure or the intensity of a National Championship Game.’ My guys stepped up. Look at De’Andre getting a career-high, 27, what a game to have it.”

Indeed, Bennett was on point, because covering my 25th Final Four I have never seen a team traverse the tournament as the Cavaliers have.

In the Elite 8, they won after trailing Purdue 70 to 67 with 5 seconds left in the game. In the Final 4, they trailed Auburn 61 to 57 with 17 seconds left in the game. In the title game, Texas Tech led Virginia 68 to 65 with 12 seconds left in the game.

In particular, the semi-final against Auburn forced the NCAA to issue a press release explaining the foul called with 0.6 seconds left in the game and the Auburn faithful screaming and cheering a seemingly hard-won victory. But, after the called foul, Guy stepped up and sank three free throws. The official NCAA statement said, “A defender may not ‘belly up’ or use the lower part of the body or arms to cause contact outside his vertical plane or inside the opponent’s vertical plane.”

Wow! What a run! What luck! What a team! What resiliency!

“I was about to say don’t ask me about last year, because I can’t yet,” exclaimed Ty Jerome. “Forget last year, this is everything you dream of since you’re a little kid. I’m not even thinking about UMBC right now. I’m just thinking this is a dream come true, and it’s even more than that because you never even imagine you’ll be able to spend a year with people you actually love, your teammates and your coaches.”

Added Guy: “As soon as the buzzer sounded and we were done (last year), we knew all had the same goal in mind for next year and that was to win a national championship. We’ve all had our own battles. Absolutely. I think we’ve taken every experience that we’ve been through together and tried to use it in a way that could propel us to a National Championship. All those close games and all the practices where we practiced late-game situations, we tried to execute, and we’re very disciplined, and I think that got us through a lot of games, along with just trying to leave it all on the floor, and I think we succeeded at those things.”

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, lamented his team saying: “We’ve got good future fathers in there, good future husbands. These guys are legit. … I’m just so proud to be these guys’ coach. I just told my guys I loved them. Our relationship will keep growing, I’ll be at their weddings. As for Virginia, they have a really, really good team. So much poise and I just have a lot of respect for them.”

This was Virginia’s third time in the Final Four, previously it made it to the last four in 1981 and 1984. Ralph Sampson, who led the Cavs to the 1981 Final Four was in the house and firing up the Cavaliers’ faithful.

The finality of the Final Four is real. Look no further than the Texas Tech locker room where one could see Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney clasped hands and cry together. Brandone Francis walked over and fell on the floor, joining the other players as a few more tears fell.

Lightening the mood, Francis said he might wait until he got back to the team hotel before taking off his uniform for the last time of his college career. “That was a helluva ride,’’ he said.

Chimed in Owens, “I wouldn’t trade it for nothing. Priceless.’’

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

THE ROLE OF ATHLETES AND ACTIVISM HAS A STORIED HISTORY

In sports column on July 31, 2021 at 1:49 am
The iconic picture from the 1967 ‘Cleveland Meeting’ that brought the black sports stars together.

By Leland Stein III, For TheAfricanAmericanAthlete

As a kid growing up – outside of my family – some of the first role models I drew inspiration from were athletes. First, there was Joe Louis, whom my father trained alongside at Detroit’s renown Brewster Recreation Center. Then there was NFL Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, and 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 youths look up to the people they see and hear both in newspapers, music or on television.


Throughout the United 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 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 genuinely “Made America Great.”

Durant and James

The worlds of sports and politics are 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. 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 governs 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.

Jack Johnson.

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


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 jailed.

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 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.

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’ breakthrough, 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 forge.


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.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

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 terrific 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 hostage in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, and killed them all.

The United States 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.

James seems to 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 on“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 seem 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