By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN (BASN) — After looking back at the last 11 months, many of us are letting out a collective sign of relief and good damn riddance to the year 2016.
While the continued shenanigans of the alleged presidential campaign coupled with the seemingly endless shootings of unarmed black man have dominated the headlines, there’s something else that can’t be ignored.
Many of our longtime icons, influences, and inspirations have left this earth during that same period of time. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve lost a lot of folks over the last few years as well.
But it just seemed that in many cases, those collective losses hit home a little more this year.
The sadness and lamenting stung a little bit more. Just when you came to grips with one loss, another one seemed to crop up immediately. The mood always seemed more melancholy than sweet.
More reflective than reactive. At times, things seemed to take on a heavy, almost breathless tone. And seemingly, all of the losses were personal. For me and many others, 2016 was truly the meanest of “The Mean Season”.
In seeing the passing of such folks like Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, Prince, or Muhammed Ali, everything and everyone was affected. Here are just a few of the sports folks we said goodbye to in 2016.
One of the many Negro League pioneers that were given the opportunity to crossover to the majors. In fact, he along with fellow Negro Leaguers Willie Mays and Hank Thompson in 1951 formed MLB’s first all-black outfield. The trio helped lead the New York Giants to the NL pennant that same season. A product of Lincoln (Pa,) University, Irvin was a two-time batting champion for the Newark Eagles. He and another fellow Hall of Famer and HBCU product — Larry Doby — would lead Newark to the Negro League title in 1946 dethroning the Kansas City Monarchs.
DWAYNE “PEARL” WASHINGTON
Back when the Big East was the dominant conference in college hoops, this product of Boys and Girls High in Brooklyn was part of must-see-TV in the early 1980′s. When “The Pearl” came to Syracuse, he helped lift the Orangeman and the league to dynamic heights. A three-time All-American and All-Big East performer, he was on of the most flamboyant point guards in NCAA history. Pop in a tape of the 1984 Big East title game between Syracuse and Georgetown and just enjoy.
Back when the New York Jets were actually a decent team to watch, this Texas Southern product had one of the most important jobs in the American Football League — guard the blind side for one Joe Willie Namath. He did that and then some. An eight-time All-Pro in both the AFL and NFL during his 14-year career, Hill played just after past greats like Jim Parker as well as contemporaries like Art Shell and Gene Upshaw. One of the most egregious omissions of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Long before the likes of Ronda Rousey and Colin McGregor came on the scene, this native Bahamian giant took the whole fighting world by storm. From his days as an underground fighter to his controversial MMA career, Slice and the hype surrounding him helped elevate the sport from a curiosity to social phenomenon. Eventually, he drifted into the boxing game and then tried his hand as an actor. Then just as quickly as his comet rose, Kimbo was gone from both scenes. He was gone at the all too young age of 42.
If there was ever a Hall of Fame player that could be described as underrated during his whole career, No. 42 was just that player. A seven-time All-Star, “Nate The Great” played during a long forgotten era when the NBA was dominated by Hall of Fame centers like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. In fact, only those two players had more career rebounds than the Bowling Green standout. A member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team, Thurmond had his number retired by both the Warriors and Cavaliers. Also while with the Chicago Bulls, Thurmond became the first player the NBA history to record a quadruple-double (22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 12 blocks) against the Atlanta Hawks in 1974.
If all you remember Coach Green for is his epic rant against the Chicago Bears, then you’re dead from the neck up. A trail-blazing college and pro coach, Green would help change the fortunes of Northwestern and Stanford before getting his pro opportunity with the Minnesota Vikings. How successful was he? Only Hall of Famer Bud Grant had more victories (151) than Green (97) in franchise history. Through his first six years with the team, Green never posted a losing record and the team failed to qualify for the playoffs only once. Sadly, only a Gary Anderson field goal miss kept him from taking the Purple People Eaters back to the Super Bowl.
To call him just a track coach would be an understatement. In a career that spanned over four decades, the Tennessee State mentor served on three Olympic teams. He was also a member of the International Women’s Track & Field Committee and a member of the U.S. Olympic Council. During his coaching career at TSU, 40 members of the famed Tigerbelle teams represented their countries in Olympic competition. Coach Temple led the team to 34 national titles, and eight Tigerbelles have been inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, including Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus, and current TSU coach Chanda Cheeseborough.
I’m sure I didn’t include everyone, but those were just some who quickly came to mind. I think I speak for a lot of folks who will have no problem telling 2016 and all the excess baggage associated with it to just get the hell outta Dodge.
Hopefully, we can use the early part of 2017 to catch our collective breath again. Someone, please hit the reset button.