The NBA Finals.
The footnotes, mere mortals, are role players who put up good enough numbers when the lights aren’t brightest but pretty much crumble in the biggest pressure cooker of them all.
For instance, you’ve got LA Laker guard Sasha Vujacic, who in the 2007-08 regular season shot 45.4% on field goals and 43.7% on threes. You wouldn’t have known it in the Finals against Boston, though. There, Vujacic shot 39.1% on FGs and 34.8% on threes.
Also, New Jersey Net guard Kerry Kittles, circa 2002-03. Kittles was money in the regular season, shooting 46.7% on FGs and a respectable 35.6% on threes. Against the Spurs in the Finals, those numbers plummeted to 37.7% and 30.4%.
And don’t forget Nick Anderson, the Orlando Magic guard whose shooting touch went AWOL in the 1995 Finals against Houston. Anderson shot 47.6% on FGs and 41.5% on threes in the regular season, but careened into a 36%/32.3% ditch during a 4-0 sweep by the Rockets.
Two of central Arkansas’ greatest prep running backs have also played parts in boosting a mentoring program for young, African-American males.
The national Our Kids Program is spearheaded by black officers in various cities’ police departments. It’s specifically aimed at ameliorating a socio-economic “epidemic” which program leaders say afflicts black communities around the nation.
As profiled in this Sync week’s issue, Little Rock has an affiliate program in which teens at four public schools weekly gather for mentoring sessions with police and volunteer adult males. The program’s director makes no bones about requiring everyone directly involved with the program to be African-American:
As [Donald] Northcross sees it, the problems facing many black communities in this nation add up to a full-blown epidemic.
Compared to every other race and gender group, black males are more likely to skip class, not turn in homework, drop out of high school, get arrested for drug use and serve years in prison. Indeed, according to the national O.K. Program, one in three black males will be imprisoned at some point in their lives. Lengthy jail sentences leave yet more single-parent households behind, setting the stage for the entire vicious cycle to entrap younger generations.
How to break free?
Design black male-oriented solutions for what are clearly black male-oriented problems. “I think there needs to be programs that are geared toward specific communities,” Northcross says. “We have a serious problem. We’re not very interested in how it looks — political correctness and things like that.”
Last fall, former Auburn running back Michael Dyer appeared as a guest keynote speaker during a mentoring session. Dyer, a former national championship game MVP, spoke about challenges he had to overcome during a hardknock childhood in Little Rock. Dyer’s still trying to overcome challenges: the 22-year-old spent the last school year at nearby Arkansas Baptist College after tumultuous departures from Auburn and Arkansas State.
Visit syncweekly.com for more on Dyer and D-Mac.
Former head Arkansas football coach Hugo Bezdek lived a full and innovative life. He remains the only person to coach an NFL team (Cleveland Rams) and MLB team (Pittsburgh Pirates), as I found out while researching for my new history feature on Sporting Life Arkansas.
But, before all that, he he spent 1907 through 1912 in Fayetteville pioneering in all sorts of ways. He’s credited, for instance, with changing the team name from Cardinals to Razorbacks. Of the two stories regarding this switch, my favorite comes from one of his players – Phil Huntley – in an interview with longtime columnist Orville Henry:
“We were on a trip in Texas, getting off the train for a stroll — I think in Dallas. Somebody yelled, ‘Here come the hogs.’ See, there were a lot of jokes about Arkansas at that time.
Bezdek stopped and thought a minute. He said, ‘Hmmm, boys, I like that. We’re the Razorbacks from now on.’
Bezdek also led Arkansas to its first undefeated season (and the program’s only undefeated season in its first 70 years of existence).
He spearheaded the first athletic advertising in school history, Huntley added. “He understood importance of placing his program in front of the public. He had cards printed and distributed in towns like Rogers, Springdale, and Fort Smith advertising his home games.”
Lord knows they needed the promotion, given at this time Arkansas’ home facilities consisted of a single wooden grandstand that held about 200 people.
“The field wasn’t too good even though we worked on it, graded it, carried water from the creek to wet it down before every game,” Huntley said in “The Razorbacks: A Story of Arkansas Football.”
One of the most interesting innovations Bezdek developed was an emphasis on fast play. His teams practiced extremely hard to be fit enough in games to pull this off.
As Orville Henry and Jim Bailey wrote in “The Razorbacks”: “Bezdek coached [Arkansas QB Steve] Creekmore to call plays as rapidly as possible — nobody ever huddled then — and so the Razorbacks would run a play, chase the ball, put it in play immediately when it was downed, and drive as far as they could as quickly as they could.
“I guess it was the forerunner of Oklahoma’s hurry-up style in the split-T days under Bud Wilkinson,” Steve Creekmore told an interviewer in 1960. “I know we’d often run four or five plays and then find the official had penalized us back down field for the first one. He’d catch up, and we’d have to go back. The LSU coach protested our system, but it was legal.”
Of course, nowadays, this style of play isn’t unique. College football coaches such as Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze and Chip Kelly have taken the concept to the next level to bring unprecedented scoring to the game.
Kelly, in particular, has gotten a lion’s share of credit for innovating a frenetic, no-huddle approach on the major college football level. By 2011, his tactics had fueled the University of Oregon’s first appearance in a national championship.
To date, this is the biggest splash on the national football scene the Ducks have made. Their first splash? Signs point to around 1917, when Oregon made – and won – its first Rose Bowl appearance.
Their coach was none other than Hugo Bezdek.
For more on his career, check this.
On June 8, 1963, Sheridan native Earl “Oil” Smith, a three-time World Series champion catcher, died. Smith played for minor league teams in Waxachachie (Texas), Fort Smith, Tulsa and Rochester (N.Y.) before breaking into the National League with the New York Giants in 1919. In 1921-22, Smith helped the Giants beat the Yankees in consecutive World Series and then headed to Pittsburgh where he help the Pirates win the 1925 World Series and batted a career-high .346 the next year. Four seasons in the majors, he batted over .300.
All the while, Smith developed a reputation as an extremely temperamental player.
“Smith probably was involved in as many fights as any player in the game,” according to a 1963 obituary in the Pine Bluff Commercial. Unfortunately, no reasons are provided as why, exactly, Msr. Smith was so angry but here’s a guess: He was frustrated as hell. You would be, too, if the people you were around all the time COULDN”T PRONOUNCE YOUR VERY EASY-TO-PRONOUNCE AND NOT-AT-ALL-COMPLICATED NAME.
According to the Commercial, Midwest sports columnist Westbrook Pegler nicknamed Smith Oil “because, Pegler said, easterners had a hard time saying Earl.”
Fortunately for Smith, he returned to friendlier phonetic climes when he went to St. Louis in 1928 and there played in another World Series.
After his playing career ended in 1930, Smith showed Easterners it wasn’t anything personal against them by choosing to start work as a minor league manager in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He then retired to Hot Springs, Ark. with one brief exception: a one-year turn as coach of the Hot Springs Bathers in the Cotton States League.
Smith, who died at age 66 from a lengthy illness not specified in his obituary, is buried at Little Rock National Cemetery.
Pop music has the Grammys. Cinema has the Oscars. Literature’s got the Pulitzer. And now, in the world of local high school sports: the All Arkansas Preps Awards.
More than 1,000 people attended the inaugural awards ceremony on Saturday night in Little Rock that honored top male and female athletes and coaches in eight sports, as chosen by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Awards were also given for academic achievement, community service and perseverance through sickness or injury.
The banquet’s signature event was an appearance by four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning. The Denver Broncos quarterback gave a keynote speech and fielded questions from emcee Keith Jackson, a color commentator for Razorbacks football who runs the Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids program in his native Little Rock.
Manning, who’s entering his 15th NFL season, encouraged the 300 student-athletes in the Statehouse Convention Center ballroom to work hard and not see their upcoming college years as only a stepping stone but to “enjoy the experience, enjoy the journey.”
Manning retraced much of his own journey as the second son of Hall of Fame quarterback Archie Manning growing up in Lousiana to Super Bowl MVP with the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton, who never lost to Arkansas during his University of Tennessee career, sprinkled Razorback-related anecdotes throughout the 45-minute Q & A with Jackson.
Below are edited excerpts:
Q: What are some of your memorable moments playing against the Razorbacks 1994-1997?
A: … I remember my senior year here in Little Rock. I always enjoy talking to my dad about the great old college stadiums … He got to play Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, but he never got to play at War Memorial … The the thing I remember about that game, we put a trick play in that week. We put in the ol’ pitch to the running back, throw it to the quarterback, right, and I remember we ran it in practice all week just about perfect. I schooled ‘em every time. I had been dreaming all week about catching a touchdown – I’d never done that before.
And sure enough, during the game we got a perfect look … and I pitch it to [running back] Jamal Lewis and he throws it back to me – a perfect pass – and I caught it and I got two yards. Their defense was a lot faster than our scout team’s.
Q: Talk some about Broncos rookie running back Montee Ball, who played for Bret Bielema.
A: Montee Ball was a four-year running back at Wisconsin. He led the NCAA in touchdowns, so we’re excited to have him on the Broncos. We had a little team function the other day and I was asking him about Coach Bielema and he was saying how [instrumental] he was for him and his career, and how lucky he was to play for him. He just thought the world of him, so I could tell [Bielema] is gonna make a great transition to Arkansas.
Q: What do you treasure most about the South?
A: I think Southern hospitality. My parents are from Mississippi, I grew up in New Orleans … Just the people, I really enjoy getting back to New Orleans, getting back to Tennessee. I’ve been here to Little Rock a number of times. Everybody’s been so nice to me here. The Arkansas secondary was always so nice to me.
Q: We normally see you so serious, but there’s a funny side to you. You had a chance to host Saturday Night Live.
A: … The one that people always talk about is the United Way skit, where I’m throwing the football at the kids. A lot of people have asked “Peyton, please tell me you weren’t really hurting those kids.” And I promise you folks, that was a Nerf football … and all these kids, they were all child actors which is a kind of disturbing field in its own way. And all the parents were there the entire time when we were doing that skit and the director said ‘You gotta hit them in the face, you gotta do it.’ And I had to have a little talk with myself before I could do it.
But I felt a little more comfortable when I heard one of the parents yelling at the director ‘I want him to hit my kid in the face!’”
In pro basketball the term “twin towers” conjures up images of two hulking behemoths, typically in the seven feet range, who dominate the sport in the most elemental way possible – sheer, physical superiority. Olajuwon and Sampson, along with Duncan and Robinson, are likely the most famous examples.
But there have also been a few devastating combos in which both big men are under seven feet. Most recently, the best example is Rasheed and Ben Wallace, who formed the defensive backbone of the elite Detroit Piston teams of the mid 2000s.
In the mid South, it’s hard to avoid thinking about Michael Cage and Keith Lee, the cornerstones of a West Memphis High team* which won an Arkansas-record 60 straight games.
We’ll never know how Cage and Lee would have fared together at the NBA level since bad knees caused Lee’s career to end prematurely. Had Lee stayed healthy, and teamed with Cage, they might have joined the list below.
Sport’s is all about winning, and players get their all-time cred from performances in the postseason. so I’ve focused on how the twin tower combo performed in the playoffs. The stats you find are per-game averages from the combo’s most dominant postseason.
Rasheed Wallace (6’11″) & Ben Wallace (6’9″)
Played in 23 playoff games in 2003-04; won NBA title
PPG RPG BPG APG SPG TOG (turnovers per game)
Rasheed 13.0 7.8 2.0 1.6 0.6 1.9
Ben 10.3 14.3 2.4 1.9 1.9 1.6
Total 23.3 22.1 4.4 3.5 2.5 3.5
Win Shares/48 minutes
True Shooting Percentage %
Player Efficiency Rating*
*all statistics from basketball-reference.com
Moses Malone (6’10″) and Charles Barkley (6’4″)
Played in 13 playoff games in 1984-85; Lost in Eastern Conference Finals 4-1 to Boston
PPG RPG BPG APG SPG TOG (turnovers per game)
Malone 20.2 10.6 1.7 1.8 1.3 1.8
Barkley 14.9 11.1 1.2 2.0 1.8 2.7
Total 35.1 21.7 2.9 3.8 3.1 4.5
Win Shares/48 minutes
True Shooting Percentage %
Player Efficiency Rating
There has been a recent wellspring of news pieces extolling the benefits of a proposed regional sports complex east of Hot Springs.
The basic idea, espoused by the city’s advertising and promotion commission, is to buy at least 175 acres previously owned by a vanadium mining company (UMETCO) and turn the area off U.S. 270 into a gleaming citadel of youth sports.
How gleaming? Talk is it would be one of the finest sports complexes in the South.
Tentative plans, according to Hot Springs Sentinel Record, include “a signature youth baseball field with ‘spectacular views’ at the top of the site; two multipurpose fields that would accommodate four regulation fields; a ‘fourplex’ youth baseball area that would be the central focus of the complex, with four youth baseball fields; a group gathering area next to a heavily wooded area that could contain soft trails and accommodate mountain biking, interpretive stations, wildlife blinds, day camp activities, small pavilions and picnicking; and a high-point lookout.”
I agree: this sounds awesome. And – wait – it gets even more awesome/new fangle-y.
According to THV 11, this complex would include fields for flag football and lacrosse. Lacrosse? That sport which struggles to attract more than 31 Twitter followers in the state’s largest city? Expect any lacrosse fields to be used much more by lacrosse-saavy Tennesseans and Texans than Arkansans.
The complex would cater to visitors from out of state, after all. It would serve a conduit or these potential tourists to be funneled to nearby activities and sites such as the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail, a collection of historic markers commemorating the city’s early role in spring training for professional baseball.
Let’s assume the Garland County powers that be get what they want and this regional sports mecca gets underway.
A major question looms: what does it portend for North Little Rock’s Burns Park?
The 1,700-acre park already includes a few sports complexes which host regional events.
Not to mention a 36-hole golf course, 36-hole disc golf course, soccer complex, tennis, trails, seasonal amusement park, archery range and a dog park.
The Burns Park baseball complex, just completed in 2012, includes nine fields. Its soccer complex includes 17 irrigated fields, 1,500 parking spaces, tournament lighting on one quadrant, pavilions, 135 acres of preserved wetland, a three-mile hike/bike trail and is home to the UALR women’s soccer team.
It has hosted the nation’s biggest events in youth soccer: the 2006 & 2002 US Youth Soccer Southern Regional Championships as well as the 2008 US Youth Soccer National Championships.
And let’s not forget about the softball complex, which throws some serious heat with:
- 20/30 regular play lighting
- 30/50 tournament play lighting
- Three window concession stand
- Five scorekeeper rooms
- Sports medicine room
- Over 1,000 lighted parking spaces with concrete walkways.
If the Hot Springs sports complex is built, will that town’s leaders start locking horns with their NLR counterparts in attempts to attract top regional youth sports tournaments?
Consider that in 2005 alone, more than 182,000 participants and spectators came to the Burns Park soccer complex. That’s a lot of tourist dollars – money that may soon go to Hot Springs instead of Little Rock and North Little Rock.