Hank Aaron Transcended Baseball Like Few Ever Have—or Will

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Young Hank Aaron playing baseball with dates of life

By Sports Illustrated

The Hall of Fame slugger, known as much for his graciousness as his 755 home runs, died at age 86.

Baseball is but a game. The consequences of wins and losses are trivial but for the ephemeral joy and sadness they leave on our soul like footprints in the sand. Those that play it well are renowned for their acumen at this very skill-specific endeavor. They are master craftsmen.

When age and illness take them, as they have so often in

(Image credit – Sports Illustrated)

the past 12 months, we lose part of our youths and hold tight to the memories of how they could throw or hit a baseball.

Among the nearly 20,000 Major League Baseball players, Hank Aaron was one of the very few who transcended the game. He was bigger than baseball. He was a beacon of civil rights, of humility and of honest work ethic, all qualities we associate with America at its best, not just in some sporting venture. His death at age 86 was announced by the Braves on Friday.

Americans, not just baseball fans, owe a debt of gratitude to Hank Aaron. Yes, he was one of the best to ever play this game. Aaron died as the all-time home run leader, at least among all players who played the game fairly, which happens to be the very bedrock of sports. No one ever combined hitting for average and power over a more sustained period.

Aaron played 23 seasons. He came to the plate almost 14,000 times. He hit .305 with 755 home runs and 6,856 total bases—more than 700 total bases beyond everyone else. The gap between Aaron and No. 2 on the list, Stan Musial, is more than 12 miles worth of bases.

Read the full article at Sports Illustrated.

Naomi Osaka cruises to Australian Open title, claiming her FOURTH Grand Slam and second triumph at Melbourne Park

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A Herculean effort was required to stage the 2021 Australian Open and navigate many of the pandemic restrictions. But the tournament still provided high-quality matches and produced two incredible champions in Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic.

With a delayed start, quarantine woes and the reemergence of the fans (then their absence and return yet again), Tennis Australia managed the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus as best as possible and continued to build on the successes of the 2020 US Open and French Open. There were upsets, miraculous runs by unknowns and thrilling on-court battles.

If there’s one thing the tournament made perfectly clear, it’s that, much like its predecessor, the 2021 season will be full of constant change — on and off the court.

Here are some key takeaways from the year’s first major.

The 23-year-old left little doubt about her current place in women’s tennis with another dominant performance. Defeating Jennifer Brady in the final, Osaka notched her fourth major title, tying her with Kim Clijsters and trailing just Serena and Venus Williams among active players — and is now on a 21-match win streak.

While her straight-set victory over Serena Williams in the semifinals garnered most of the attention during her run in Melbourne, it was perhaps her match against two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round that was the most impressive. Pushed to the brink in the third set and down 5-3, Osaka staved off two match points and never looked back. She won the next three games and advanced, ultimately becoming the eighth woman in the Open era to win the Australian Open after saving a match point.

With her latest triumph, as well as her current activism and celebrity off the court, Osaka is unquestionably the new face of the sport. But she doesn’t seem particularly fazed.

“Honestly, I don’t really think too much about it,” she said on Sunday. “For me, I just focus on myself and what I can do. So I don’t really put too much pressure on myself in that way.”

Read the full article at ESPN.

For Diverse L.A. Businesses, A Chance To Take A Bite Of The Super Bowl Pie

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Black woman outside of her shop holding pies for super bowl

Jeanette Bolden-Pickens’ legacy should be solid gold. She won a gold medal for the United States as a sprinter in the 1984 Olympic Games, a victory for the home team.

Bolden-Pickens struck gold on the track at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. From there, head east on Martin Luther King Boulevard, then turn north on Central Avenue until reaching the corner of 27th Street. The drive takes about 10 minutes, and it takes Bolden-Pickens back to her childhood.

She grew up at the 27th Street Bakery. Her grandparents sold baked goods in the front of the store and lived in the back. If she was not in school or on the track, you could

(Image Credit – Andy Wong / Associated Press)

find her at the bakery.

The bakery opened in 1956, two years before the Dodgers arrived in Los Angeles, four years before the Lakers. It’s still there, and still in the family, with a website that embraces a different kind of legacy.

“What’s your family legacy?” the website asks. “Ours is making Homemade Sweet Potato Pies!”

After 24 years coaching at UCLA — her alma mater — and Central Florida, Bolden-Pickens now is a third-generation proprietor of the beloved bakery, faithfully producing peach cobbler, red velvet cake, pecan pie and the signature sweet potato pie.

Her mother, Alberta, was known in the neighborhood as “the pie lady.” Bolden-Pickens, 61, is training a fourth generation of family bakers.

“It’s really a godsend to have the bakery in our family for such a long time,” she said. “I have a grandson, and he’ll be the fifth generation. We’re really trying to make sure it stays alive.”

The NFL could provide an assist. With the Super Bowl scheduled for SoFi Stadium next year, Bolden-Pickens has signed up for a league program established to promote diversity among businesses bidding for a share of the corporate dollars surrounding the game.

The Business Connect program, administered locally by the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission (LASEC), links small companies owned by minorities, women, veterans and members of the LGBTQ community with Super Bowl business opportunities — not directly with the NFL, but through events associated with the game.

Read the full article at Los Angeles Times.

Longtime NBA Reporter Sekou Smith Dies of COVID-19 at Age 48

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sekou smith wearing a suit black background with years of life

Veteran NBA reporter Sekou Smith has died, his employer Turner Sports announced Tuesday. He was 48.

The National Association of Black Journalists’ sports task force said Smith died due to COVID-19 complications and remembered him fondly. “He was more than a colleague; he was a friend and brother to us and so many others,” NABJ said in a statement.

Smith made his name as a beat writer covering the Indiana Pacers and later the Atlanta Hawks before joining Turner Sports in 2009. Since then, he was a multi-platform star, working as an analyst for NBA TV, NBA.com writer and Hand Time Podcast host. He is survived by his wife, Heather and their three children, Gabriel, Rielly and Cameron.

“His commitment to journalism and the basketball community was immense and we will miss his warm, engaging personality,” the network said. “He was beloved by his Turner Sports and NBA friends and colleagues. Our deepest condolences are with his family and loved ones.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement on Smith, calling him a “beloved member of the NBA family.”

“Sekou was one of the most affable and dedicated reporters in the NBA and a terrific friend to so many across the league,” Silver said. “He covered the game for more than two decades, including the past 11 years with Turner Sports, where he showed his full range of skills as an engaging television analyst, podcast host and writer. Sekou’s love of basketball was clear to everyone who knew him and it always shined through in his work. Our heartfelt condolences go to his wife, Heather, and their children, Gabriel, Rielly and Cameron.”

Several former and current NBA players and journalists expressed their condolences. Former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade remembered Smith on Twitter.

“I’ve never had anything but positive interactions and conversations with Sekou Smith,” Wade said. “Our prayers go out to the Smith family. We lost a good one. Rest In Heaven.”

Phoenix Suns guard and NBPA president Chris Paul tweeted about Smith, saying, “What a kind and compassionate man we just lost.”

Marc J Spears, senior NBA writer for ESPN”s The Undefeated, shared a touching photo with Smith and thanked him.

“Thank you for your brotherly friendship, humor, honesty and compassion. Glad we had a chance to tell each other we loved each other three weeks ago. You were a gift to this Earth as a friend, father and a man Sekou Smith. Rest In Peace to my brother. Prayers to your wife & family.”

Read the full article at CBS News.

“Michael Jordan never faced a superteam like LeBron James” Lakers star will be the GOAT if they beat the Nets

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Collage of LeBron James and Michael Jordan

By The Sports Rush

In the wake of the James Harden trade, the pendulum has swung decisively in LeBron James’ favor in terms of the GOAT debate with Michael Jordan.

NBA fans are suggesting on Twitter that James will be the undisputed GOAT if the Lakers beat these Nets. They definitely have a valid point. In terms of singular offensive firepower, there are few teams that compare to today’s Nets. We’ve never had 3 all-time great iso players on the same team.

(Image Credit – The Sports Rush)

In addition, the Nets are also deep in terms of their wing spots. Although their center rotation is now shaky in Jarrett Allen’s absence, they can remedy that by the trade deadline. There really are very few scenarios right now in which the Nets aren’t de facto favorites in the East.

Did Michael Jordan face worse competition than LeBron James?

This FiveThirtyEight article suggests that through the course of their numerous playoff campaigns, Jordan’s average competition was better than LeBron’s. Although this came out in May 2020, the comparisons are still valid since James didn’t face a great team last year.

Over the course of Jordan’s 13 playoffs, his team averaged 58.38 regular season wins. His opponents, meanwhile, averaged 53.54 wins. Through 24 playoff series in which Jordan’s Bulls were the higher seed, they never lost a series. Essentially, Jordan never blew homecourt advantage in his career.

LeBron, on the other hand, has played on inferior teams than Jordan on an average. His teams averaged 55.44 wins, while his opponents averaged 51.77. Thus, the difference in quality between James’s teams and his opponents is smaller than that in Jordan’s case.

Read the full article at The Sports Rush.

Red Sox hiring Bianca Smith as first Black female pro baseball coach

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Bianca Smith smiles wearing a baseball jersey

Bianca Smith is making baseball history.

The Red Sox are hiring Smith as a minor league coach, according to the Boston Globe.

MLB confirmed to the Globe that Smith will be the first black woman ever to coach baseball at the professional level.

Smith, who most recently was an assistant baseball coach and hitting coordinator at Carroll University (Wisc.,) will primarily work with infielders at the Red Sox’s minor league facility in Fort Meyers, Fla.

“She was a great candidate coming in,” Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett told the Globe. “She’s had some really interesting experiences and has been passionate about growing her skill set and development herself.”

Smith has interned in the baseball operations departments of the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds and worked in amateur administration for MLB. She played softball at Dartmouth from 2010-12 before working as director of baseball operations at Case Western Reserve University from 2013-17 and as an assistant coach with University of Dallas in 2018, according to the Globe.

Smith’s hiring is a barrier-breaker.

“It’s a meaningful, meaningful thing for the organization,” Crockett told the Globe.

The San Francisco Giants made Alyssa Nakken baseball’s first full-time female major league coach earlier this year, promoting her to assistant coach. She became the first woman to coach on-field in an MLB game in July, coaching first base during an exhibition game.

Continue on to The New York Post to read the complete article.

LeBron James, Naomi Osaka and Patrick Mahomes among 5 “activist athletes” honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year

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Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, U.S. Open tennis champ Naomi Osaka, Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart and Kansas City Chiefs teammates Patrick Mahomes and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff are being honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year for their athletic achievements and activism.

The five athlete-activists were honored in a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic, racial tensions, and presidential election. In a Sports Illustrated video narrated by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he described the athletes as “champions in their sport and of causes that seek to level society’s playing field.”

“In a year seemingly designed to divide physically, emotionally, politically, they found ways to unite, to inspire, to rebuild the shared experience sports usually provides, even in the most unusual circumstances,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “They are athletes, they are activists.”

Following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, James led a group of Black athletes and entertainers to form More Than A Vote, a nonprofit focusing on fighting voter suppression. The organization helped recruit more than 42,000 poll workers for the presidential election and helped nearly 300,000 people vote at arenas. The group is (Image Credit: CBS NEWS)                                                            currently involved with the Georgia Senate runoffs.

On Monday, James also won the 2020 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award in honor of his social activism, which in addition to More Than a Vote also includes opening up a school in his hometown. “It’s an honor that I will never ever forget to be linked with such a great human being in Muhammad,” James told SI. “Hopefully he’s looking down on me and saying that I’m continuing his legacy,” he added.

Read the full article at NBC NEWS.

Washington hires Jason Wright as NFL’s first Black team president

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Jason Wright headshot

Washington has hired Jason Wright as team president, making him the first Black team president in NFL history and only the fourth former player to ascend to that role.

More than any historic aspect, Wright said that what excites him is the convergence of his two worlds: football and business.

“It’s a huge moment to bring those two worlds together,” he told ESPN. “What other job would they come together at such a unique time for an organization at the point our team is? I’m just happy I landed in this role at that time. There are other reasons it’s historic, but that’s a byproduct of me being the right and qualified candidate at this time. All of that is just icing on the cake.”

But Wright said he understands the significance of his hiring.

“What it tries to signal is that, at least in this organization, the hindrances that tend to be in place around Black talent in other places are breaking down,” he said, “and that should send a signal more broadly to the shift in culture that Dan and Tanya Snyder, Coach Rivera and myself are now trying to make.”

Washington had been without a president since Bruce Allen was fired after the 2019 season. The team hired coach Ron Rivera and gave him full power, as owner Dan Snyder said he wanted a coach-centric approach.

Wright’s hiring won’t change that, as he won’t be involved in the football side like Allen was during his 10-year reign. Wright, 38, will focus only on the business side, including operations, finance, sales and marketing. Like Rivera, he will report directly to Snyder.

“[Rivera] is the chief executive of everything that happens on the football side, and I run the business side,” Wright said. “It’s super clear.”

Wright said he began talking with Snyder fairly recently about the job and called it a whirlwind.

“You could say there’s a lot going on, you sure you want to take this on? Yeah, absolutely,” Wright said. “Their actions] made me really confident I could come in here and effect change, that I’d have the ability and autonomy to make real change.”

He also embraces the challenge of coming to the NFL while facing the obstacles of a pandemic and at a time when “the Washington Football Team is at a unique moment, and the NFL, for better or worse, is at the center of so much important dialogue around the role of sport, the players finding their voice about the things they care about.”

Wright will be tasked with helping to change the culture in Washington. Another challenge will be to help locate an area to build a new stadium. Washington has been trying to find a spot in Virginia, Maryland or the District of Columbia for several years. The lease on the land at FedEx Field expires after the 2027 season.

Continue on to ESPN to read the complete article.

The I PROMISE Village: How Lebron James is Helping His Hometown

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LeBron James wearing #23 jersey standing on basketball court smiling

Despite the current circumstances of the world and the approaching NBA season, professional basketball star Lebron James has found another way to give back to his hometown of Akron.

Citing his hometown as an essential part of his success, James founded “The Lebron James Family Foundation” to give back some of his success to his Ohio hometown. For years, the organization has utilized tools in education to help the citizens of Akron, but as of late, has taken on one of its most ambitious projects yet: to help the disadvantaged families of the city.

On July 22, The Lebron James Foundation opened up the I PROMISE village, a transitional building set to provide families of an immediate home in the case of abuse, homelessness or other emergencies. The building will finally be opening after six months of refurbishing in partnership with 23 other companies.

Besides providing a space where families can feel safety of having a roof over their heads, the village will also be providing meals, community engagement, and life skill classes to help their tenants get back on their feet.

“This is about more than just getting kids to school,” the foundation executive director, Michele Campbell announced. “This is about keeping them alive. We’re seeing families struggling every day with very real and oftentimes unexpected issues that turn their worlds upside down. This will allow the family time and opportunities to grow while not worrying if they’ll have a roof over their heads.”

Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes now part owner of Royals

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Patrick Mahomes on football wearing the red #15 jersey smiling

Patrick Mahomes, the star quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs and reigning Super Bowl MVP, has become a member of the new ownership group of the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals announced Mahomes’ partial ownership Tuesday, noting that he “spent a lot of time in clubhouses as a kid.”

“He loves football, but he also grew up loving the game of baseball,” said John Sherman, principal owner of the Royals. “We look forward to many years of a winning partnership.”

Mahomes is the son of former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes, who pitched in more than 300 big league games, mostly as a reliever.

“I’m honored to become a part-owner of the Kansas City Royals,” Mahomes said in a statement released by the team.

“I love this city and the people of this great town. This opportunity allows me to deepen my roots in this community, which is something I’m excited to do.”

Earlier this month, Mahomes signed a 10-year extension with the Chiefs that ties him to Kansas City through the 2031 season. League sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the deal is worth $450 million over the 10-year period and could be worth up to $503 million.

The extension includes a $140 million injury guarantee, as well as a no-trade clause.

Continue on to ESPN to read the complete article.

Meet UCLA’s First African American Athletic Director

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Martin Jarmond in a suit speaking at a conference

Martin Jarmond, the first and most recent athletic director at Boston College and the youngest director to ever be in the Power Five Conferences, will be breaking another record with his newest position.

On May 17, it was announced that Martin Jarmond will become the new athletic director of UCLA. This will make Jarmond the first African American man to hold the position in the school’s 101-year history.

Having an extensive background in sports both on the court and in his studies, Jarmond has quickly been able to move up the ladder of sports administration and is speculated to be the perfect fit to help UCLA fix the financial debt of the previous year’s $18.9 million deficit.

Continue on to the L.A. Times’ Website to read the complete article.

Photo Credit: Stephen Senne/Associated Press

Kia NBA All-Star Game MVP Award named for Kobe Bryant

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NBA Award All Star Game is shown on a table during announcement by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

CHICAGO – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently announced that the Kia NBA All-Star Game MVP Award has been permanently named for the late Kobe Bryant, an 18-time All-Star who won a record-tying four All-Star Game MVP awards.

The Kia NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP Award will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 16 at the conclusion of the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, where the league is celebrating the lives of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people who tragically passed away in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

“Kobe Bryant is synonymous with NBA All-Star and embodies the spirit of this global celebration of our game,” said Silver. “He always relished the opportunity to compete with the best of the best and perform at the highest level for millions of fans around the world.”

Bryant made his NBA All-Star Game debut in 1998 at age 19 – the youngest player to ever play in an All-Star Game. That appearance marked the first of his 18 All-Star selections, second most in NBA history behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19). Bryant holds the NBA record for consecutive All-Star selections as he was honored 18 straight times from 1998-2016.

Bryant was named the NBA All-Star Game MVP in 2002, 2007, 2009 (co-winner with Shaquille O’Neal) and 2011. The only other player to win four NBA All-Star Game MVP awards is Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Pettit.

A five-time NBA champion, Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He earned the 2007-08 Kia NBA MVP Award, two Bill Russell Finals MVP awards and 15 All-NBA Team selections. Bryant ranks fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 33,643 points.

Continue on to NBA.com to read the complete article

MVP Patrick Mahomes is now part of the legendary black quarterback fraternity

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Patrick Mahomes Chiefs Quarteback Super Bowl

Patrick Mahomes capped a breakthrough season for himself and African-American quarterbacks Saturday night when he was named the NFL’s MVP.

In accepting his award, Mahomes thanked his team, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the team’s organization and told fans, “This is just the beginning, we got a long way to go.”

He could easily have been talking about the continuing evolution of African-American quarterbacks in the NFL.

A record five African-American quarterbacks led their teams into this postseason, though none of them reached the Super Bowl.

Most experts predict that the style and flair with which they play will become a staple in the NFL over the next 10 years.

Mahomes, 23, became the second African-American quarterback to win the NFL’s MVP award outright. Steve McNair shared the award with Peyton Manning in 2003.

He is the youngest quarterback to throw for 50 touchdowns in a season and tied for the youngest to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season.

Quarterback legends Warren Moon, Doug Williams and James Harris discussed the significance of Mahomes winning the award. They represent three important pillars of the African-American quarterback evolution in the NFL.

In 1969, Harris became the first black quarterback to start the regular season at quarterback; in 1974, he became the first to start a playoff game. Williams became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl championship on Jan. 31, 1988.

In 2006, Moon became the first black quarterback to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1990 and the AFC Offensive Player of the Year that same year.

Moon, Williams and Harris shared some of what they think about Mahomes’ play this season.

THOUGHTS ABOUT MAHOMES WINNING the MVP AWARD

DOUG WILLIAMS:

“When you think about this league and the quarterbacks who are in this league, for a guy that young to have the season he’s had — and to be consistent. That’s the key: He’s not inconsistent at all. He might have had a bad spot here and there, but you’re talking about a young guy who has picked up on this game probably quicker than anybody I’ve seen in this league — in his second year. … To do what he’s done, it’s incredible.”

WARREN MOON:

“For a kid to be in his first year as a starter and to do something only three guys have done — throw 50 touchdown passes — throw for over 5,000 yards, then lead his team to the AFC championship game, that pretty amazing. Everybody was looking for him to have that rookie nosedive during the season — it never happened. The kid just kept playing. He was consistent the whole year. The sky’s the limit for him. He’s special.”

Continue on to The Undefeated to read the complete article.

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