Quick Takes


    Don’t count out Detroit (NHL) or Detroit (NBA) just yet. However, it does appear to me to be the NHL Penguins and the NBA Lakers at the finish line this year. I've been a Lakers fan forever, but the NBA title would be a great psychological shot in the arm for a favorite of mine, New Orleans, based on what that great city has been through.


    What do the Carolina Cougars, Denver Rockets, Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats have in common? In addition to being pro basketball teams, it’s Larry Brown. When Brown recently signed on to coach Charlotte next season, the Bobcats became his eleventh pro tour of duty. This doesn’t include his college coaching stops. Seemingly, Larry Brown has had almost as many coaching jobs as Wilt Chamberlain had women.


    There is no one in boxing whose opinions I value more than those of Bert Sugar, the veteran analyst and announcer. Sugar, soon to be 72, has forgotten more than I know about boxing. Known as "the guru of boxing,” he is one of the most flamboyant and charismatic writers ever to capture the drama of fights and fighters on paper, and now the internet. One of the most recognizable personalities in the sport, Sugar, with his trademark fedora and cigar, has been  insightful, entertaining, and colorful.
    A member of the Boxing Hall of Fame, he has edited The Ring, Boxing Illustrated and Fight Game magazines, and has authored over 60 books, including "Great Fights," "Bert Sugar on Boxing," "100 Years of Boxing," "Sting like a Bee" and his newest, "Boxing's Greatest Fighters." He has been called "The Greatest Boxing Writer of the 20th Century" by the International Veterans Boxing Association. Watch for Bert Sugar on ESPN Classics.


    As long as we’re on the subject of boxing on ESPN Classics, listen for the unmistakable voice of ring announcer Johnny Addee. Madison Square Garden was the site of most of the big time fights way back when, the old classics if you will, and Johnny Addee was the resident host at MSG.


Story of the Week


    Today’s feature story was written by Ian Begley of the New York Daily News on March 11 of this year. I reproduced it just as Ian Begley wrote it.


    It is a disturbing article to me, but what disturbs me most about it deals with the fact that I lived in St. Louis, the NBA’s deepest Southern city at the time, and my head was buried in the Mississippi River mud. How did I not know how bigoted were Hawks owner Ben Kerner, and players Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan and Clyde Lovellette? Why did it take a story I read 47 years after the fact to wake me up, especially since I knew way back then that Cleo Hill had tremendous talent?


A tip of my hat to Paul Seymour. Read on.
March 11, 2008
Ian Begley. New York Daily News


Most of the players Cleo Hill works with in the Youth Development Program at Newark Vocational High School do not know that he was a first-round NBA draft pick in 1961. They don't know that he scored 2,488 points at Winston-Salem. They don't know because Hill isn't a household name.


"They thought that I played, but, you know, I didn't want to talk too much about it," Hill said from his home in Orange, N.J. "Kids ask questions, and then it's 'What happened?' and then you try to explain that situation, and that's hard to do."

Some say he was a victim of circumstance; some say he was a victim of a vindictive team owner.


Hill's tale is one of the many players out of historically black colleges and universities captured in "Black Magic," a documentary by filmmaker Dan Klores in collaboration with ESPN Original Entertainment. The film profiles the storied basketball stars from the black schools, such as Knicks legend Dick Barnett, who led Tennessee State to three state NAIA championships for legendary coach John McLendon. The film, produced by Hall of Famer Earl (the Pearl) Monroe, who averaged 41 points his senior year at Winston-Salem, also chronicles the exploits of Pee Wee Kirkland, a Norfolk State product and Chicago Bulls draftee best known as a Harlem playground legend. ESPN will show "Black Magic" without commercial interruption in two parts, after the NCAA selection show on Sunday and on the following night.


Hill grew up in Newark playing with Al Attles, now an executive with the Golden State Warriors who was a standout guard at North Carolina A&T and the second African-American coach to win an NBA title. Hill starred at South Side High School in Newark and was recruited by Clarence (Big House) Gaines to play at Winston-Salem State (known then as Winston-Salem Teacher's College). Billy Packer, the CBS analyst, played pickup games with Hill when he was a star at Wake Forest. Packer said Hill was better than any player he'd seen in the ACC.


Hill was the first Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association player to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft. The St. Louis Hawks selected him eighth in 1961.

The 6-1 Hill, however, found himself on a team that had three established stars - Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan and Clyde Lovellette. In his first exhibition game, Hill scored 26 points against Oscar Robertson and the Cincinnati Royals. He collected 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against the Lakers. He seemed a star in the making, but an incident involving an exhibition game against the Celtics in Lexington, Ky., left him on bad terms with Hawks owner Ben Kerner.


Five Celtics players, including Bill Russell and Sam Jones, planned to boycott a Celtics-Hawks preseason game because they were refused service at a hotel lounge. Hill and St. Louis' two other black players - Si Green and Woody Sauldsberry - joined the protest.


Green and Sauldsberry were traded three weeks later.


Pettit, Hagan and Lovellette - all whites - started to freeze out Hill. Some believed the issue had more to do with points then prejudice, but Kenny Benton, his college roommate, thinks otherwise.


"He doesn't like to talk about it, but Cleo Hill got blackballed in the NBA," Benton said. "He never got a chance to project his skills - he had to watch guys who couldn't hold his jock become stars."


Hawks coach and staunch Hill supporter Paul Seymour was fired 14 games into the 1961 season. Seymour told Hill that he could have kept his job if he had benched the guard, but, Hill said, "He told me he couldn't look himself in the mirror if he did that."


Pettit took over for Seymour. Hill's average went from 10.8 points to 5.5. New coach Harry Gallatin, the former Knicks star, released him before the next season.

"He (Kerner, the owner) had two reasons for not wanting me there," Hill said. "One was the boycott and the second was (Kerner) said Coach Seymour's use of Cleo Hill tore his team up."


Hill said Seymour told him there were teams interested in him after he was cut, but his former coach called three weeks later with bad news. Nobody was calling.

"He called back and said, 'Mr. Kerner is more powerful than I thought,'" Hill said. "He did something because I know some of those teams could have used me."

Hill, who went on to coach 24 seasons and win 489 games at Essex County College, said he isn't bitter about his short-lived NBA career. But he can't help but think of what might have been.


"I went with the wrong team," Hill said. "Things would have been different. ... I think I would have been outstanding."


Last Week’s Trivia


    Who hit the first home run in New York Mets history? Gil Hodges did it on April 11, 1962 at St. Louis. My feature story on Gil Hodges was posted on 9-4-03.
    Some other fast facts about Gil Hodges: He had more RBI's than any player in the '50s, he was the first Dodger to hit four homers in a game, he managed the "Miracle Mets" to the World Series title in 1969, and he was the best defensive first baseman I've ever seen.

    This is yet another opportunity to state that Gil Hodges should be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.


Trivia Question of the Week


    Who holds the NFL career record for most interceptions? He had 81 of them. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.