By Anthony McClean, Editor-In-Chief Emeritus
As the year slowly begins to wind down, BASN will devote the final 12 days of 2020 to look back at the pioneers, contributors, and innovators we lost during the last 12 months. The specter of Covid-19 has been prevalent all year and the sports world was no different.
Today, we focus on the month of March.
Roger Mayweather, boxer/trainer (3/17)
Mayweather, who was a world champion boxer in two weight classes but became better known as the trainer of his nephew Floyd Mayweather Jr., died in Las Vegas. He was 58. Floyd announced the death in a statement. He did not specify the cause, but said his uncle’s “health was failing him for several years.” Roger had a number of long-term health problems, including diabetes. Nicknamed “Black Mamba”, Roger had a record of 59-13, with 35 knockouts. He won titles at 130 and 140 pounds in an 18-year career that began in 1981. He fought well-known opponents like Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker. He won the World Boxing Association junior lightweight title in 1983 with an eighth-round knockout of Samuel Serrano; in 1987, he earned the World Boxing Council junior welterweight title with a sixth-round knockout of René Arredondo. The Mayweathers were one of boxing’s most celebrated families: Roger’s brothers, Floyd Sr. and Jeff, who survive him, were also professional fighters, and Floyd Jr., who won world titles in multiple weight classes, was named “fighter of the decade” by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 2010.
Eugene “Gene” Brown, basketball star (3/22)
A teammate of Hall of Famers Bill Russell and K.C. Jones at the University of San Francisco, Brown was a cornerstone member of the Dons’ 1956 National Championship team, earning All-American accolades and NCAA All-Tournament honors as well. Brown was one of the keys to the Dons’ 60-game win streak and its 1955-56 NCAA championship. Lauded for his favorite fade-away jump shot, he was also an excellent dribbler, and despite his 6-foot-3 frame, a fine rebounder. Brown first made sports headlines during 1956 postseason tournament play when he drove USF to the NCAA Championship averaging 20 points per game. A native of San Francisco, Brown arrived at The Hilltop from Washington High School where he was a three-time all-city player. Fast and cat-like, Brown was a tremendous jumper and could dunk the ball with ease. It was his floor play, however, that was the real eye-catcher. While at USF, he averaged four to five steals per game. In his last two games of regular-season play in 1957, the quick-handed Brown intercepted 14 passes. A converted forward, he moved onto varsity after playing for Ross Guidice’s freshman team. With K.C. Jones on the starting quintet, head coach Phil Woolpert used Brown sparingly until post-season play in the Western Regionals. There, he took control of UCLA, scoring 23 points in the tournament opener. Three wins later, the Dons had snared their second consecutive NCAA Championship and Brown earned the first of three all-tournament selections in his brilliant career.
Fred “Curly” Neal, basketball star (3/26)
Neal, the face of the Harlem Globetrotters for 22 years, died in Houston at the age of 77, the team announced on Twitter. Neal, with his slick ball handling skills, recognizable shaved head and playful banter, in 2008 became just the fifth Globetrotter to have his jersey retired, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon and Goose Tatum. His jersey was raised to the rafters of Madison Square Garden during a special ceremony. He also was presented with the Globetrotters’ prestigious “Legends” ring in 1993 for making “a major contribution to the success and the development of the Globetrotters organization.” He had continued to make appearances for the team as an “Ambassador of Goodwill.” Neal played in more than 6,000 games in 97 countries for the barnstorming Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985, when the team appeared in numerous televised specials, talk shows, television shows and even cartoons that included the team’s own animated series.
Jimmy Wynn, MLB star (3/26)
Wynn, the diminutive Houston slugger whose monster shots in the 1960s and ’70s earned him the popular nickname “The Toy Cannon,” has died at age 78. The Astros said the three-time All-Star outfielder died in Houston, but did not provide further details. Just 5-foot-9, Wynn was packed with power. He hit more than 30 homers twice with Houston, including a career-high 37 in 1967 at the pitcher-friendly Astrodome. At the time of his death Wynn worked in the Astros’ front office as a community outreach executive. Celebrated everywhere he went, Wynn often was seen around the ballpark interacting with players and fans alike. Wynn became known for his long home runs and two became particularly famous. The first came on June 10, 1967, when he knocked one out of Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, over the scoreboard in left-center and onto the highway outside the stadium. Almost three years later, on April 12, 1970, he became the first player to hit a home run into the upper deck of the cavernous Astrodome when he sent a pitch from Phil Niekro more than 500 feet down the left field line. Wynn spent his first 11 seasons in Houston, first with the Colt .45s and then with the Astros before making stops with the Dodgers, Braves, Brewers and Yankees in a 15-year major league career. Wynn left the team as the franchise leader in hits, home runs, RBIs and walks. Overall, he finished with 291 homers with 964 RBIs and 225 stolen bases in his career. He led the majors with 148 walks in 1969 and stole a career-high 43 bases in 1965. Wynn scored 100 runs or more three times with Houston. Wynn’s No. 24 jersey was retired by the Astros on June 25, 2005, and he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Astros’ Hall of Fame on Aug. 3, 2019. Born in Cincinnati on March 12, 1942, Wynn grew up there before attending Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. He made his MLB debut on July 10, 1963, at 21 and hit four homers with 27 RBIs in 70 games that season.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.