This won’t be a post about GOATs or Ghosts. Just appreciation for a sport and one particular player. I have two distinct memories of Tennis. One is of my dad trying to teach me and my siblings how to play the sport. We all gave it a half hearted try but we weren’t interested. The other memory is of Wimbledon. During my childhood I spent many summer mornings watching Wimbledon on HBO. I looked forward to the Tournament every summer. In the time spent watching Wimbledon I was able to learn the rules of Tennis and the great history of this particular tournament.
Wimbledon is one of the four major events – Grand Slams – in professional tennis. The other 3 are the Australian Open played in Melbourne, Australia; the French Open played in Paris, France; the US Open played in New York City. Wimbledon which is played in London, is the oldest of the four Slams and was founded in 1877. The competition in London is played on a grass surface while the French Open is played on clay and the Australian Open and US Open are played on hard court. I’ve had many fond memories of Wimbledon like the first time the Williams Sisters played each other in the final or that time Serena “C-walked” after winning a Gold Medal there during the 2012 London Olympics. Another great memory is from 2010 when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest match in Wimbledon and tennis history. The match started on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 and ended on Thursday, June 24, 2010 lasting 11 hours 5 minutes.
Far and above all of those memories is watching Roger Federer play. Four years ago, I was asking for Fed to retire – as if we know each other personally – via Twitter. My exact words were “Don’t want to see him out there flabby and sick.” Cause at that point he was. 2013 marked the first time he had failed to reach at least one Grand Slam Final since 2002. He regained a bit of form in 2014 and 2015 to reach 3 finals out of the 8 Grand Slams he played. But in 2016 he again failed to reach a final. He skipped the French Open and US Open while reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Many fans (myself included) felt that we wouldn’t see him win another Slam Championship. Tennis has always been seen as a young person’s sport and now with Roger in his mid-30s it looked like his playing career was nearing an end. Roger has found a way to amaze us once again despite the negativity around him. He started the year by winning the Australian Open and then skipped the French Open. Then on yesterday he won the 19th Grand Slam title (most amongst Men) of his career. Federer put himself at the top of the list for most Men’s Singles titles won (8) at Wimbledon. He has long been seen as one of the best to play on grass and he didn’t disappoint this year by winning every set he played in the tournament. In the Open Era, Federer has not only won the most Grand Slam titles but has also appeared in the most finals (29), semifinals (42), quarterfinals (50), match wins (321), and appearances (70). He has a winning percentage of 86.3 which puts him 3rd. To put that in perspective, from 2004-2010 Federer played in 21 Grand Slam finals and won 15 of them.
If you watch a tennis match that features Roger Federer you will often hear the announcers speak about his grace and elegance on and off of the court. There is a ball of fierce competition that powers Roger when he steps on the court. Without it there’s no way he would’ve turned around his game at this point in his career. Tennis is an individual sport but after winning yesterday Roger was quick to thank – his team, family, opponents, fans – everyone. I took solace in the fact that even for a player at Federer’s level there has to be joy in what he’s doing. We should all keep that in mind.
So last night I got a text about “Top 5 JPS Basketball Players” that I’ve seen play. I’ve been asked this question a few times over the years and as each year passes it gets harder for me to answer. The difficulty isn’t that I don’t remember “players” but it is because I’ve seen so much JPS Basketball. My dive into “Jackson’s HS” basketball circuit started in 1992-1993 when my dad would take me along to see Murrah play in front of standing room crowds. At the time I was wowed by these guys – Othella Harrington, Ronnie Henderson, Jesse Pate – being that I was only in the 3rd grade. I would’ve never imagined that years later I’d walk the same halls as those guys when I reached high school. The dominance by JPS in basketball shows when you look at the string of years (since 1995) that at least one – either Boy’s or Girl’s – team represented the school district in a State Championship basketball game.
The history in basketball for JPS goes a long way. From the times when Lanier High School was winning National Championships in the 1950s and 1960s to the days when no one was able to stop “The Dynasty” that Coach Anna Jackson built at Murrah. We saw Provine & Lanier battle it out on the court so many times. My favorite was in 1997 when a scrappy Provine team made their way to the 5A Championship game and played the favored Bulldogs. The game was an overtime thriller that set the tone for the rivalry that followed year after year. We watched as Jim Hill made a historic run to “The Big House” under late coach Fred Harris. They fell short to Lanier that time but years later we watched as one of Coach Harris’s former players Stanford Speech led the Tigers to the State Championship. We’ve seen Callaway have their taste of success over the last 10 years. We’ve seen Forest Hill come close a few times on the boys side but not be able to finish. While the girls team got there and won. Even Bailey – now only a Middle School for APAC – made a run in the State Tournament in 2006. Wingfield is the only school that I haven’t seen have that moment of glory. It’s not because of a shortage of talent. The Falcons have been subject to some bad luck. I recall Wingfield having the best team in the state about 5 or 6 years ago. They had an undefeated regular season and ended up having to travel to Meridian for an “elimination” game. They ended up losing and finished without making it to the Coliseum. I can tell stories for days about the games I’ve seen and heard about.
There’s NO WAY that I can give a “Top 5”. I don’t like doing it and as I mentioned above there are too many names that race through my mind. At one point it seemed like every school had a standout player to watch for. Speaking of names, I started to list some from each school but stopped because that was too difficult. Also I couldn’t limit it to just “boys”. I saw some of the best HS Girl’s Basketball that the State of Mississippi had to offer many a day at good ole 1400 Murrah Drive. The coaches that have roamed the sidelines at the schools have been top notch. JPS has produced numerous State Champions, State and Metro Player’s of the Year, McDonald’s All-Americans, All-State and All-Metro recipients and so on… We’ve dreaded going to “Da Dawg Pound” over at “833” (both Old and New Gym). Seen and heard it all from “Westside Al”. Gotten over to Forest Hill for a “big game” only to be told it’s already sold out. Folks have been pepper sprayed, bottles have been thrown on the court, we’ve seen high flying dunks and buzzer beating 3s. Somehow Pepsi is still sponsoring the “Christmas” Tournament and despite being told to “get your hat-your coat-and leeeaaavveee!!!” we still returned. 25 years later I’m still being wowed.
It had to be the summer of 2005 or 2006. I walked into the City Gear at Metro Center Mall and saw an interesting shirt. The shirt was black and had an image of the iconic moment from the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Me being a fan of sports I knew of the image but had never really looked into the significance of “that moment”. I knew it was during the 1960s and had something to do with Civil Rights for people of color but that was about it. But my knowledge and appreciation of the moment would change soon after a casual discussion and the help of some great friends.
So the discussion was very random at first but then again it wasn’t. From 1999-2007 I worked at the Chick-fil-A in the Metro. And on one of the days I went in to pick up my check, I happened to be wearing that shirt. This is where my history lesson – on that moment in 1968 – began. I had an older coworker named Carlton that was from California. He had a pretty good memory and knowledge of all types of history. He couldn’t remember how many nuggets to drop during a rush but he remembered my shirt! Lol anyways the next time I went into work he was – waiting on me – to ask about the shirt. Carlton’s go to phrase was “yo homeboy” when he wanted to talk about something and with that, my history lesson started. Carlton began by reminding me that he was from California and lived there during the late 60s (think he mentioned being there during the Watts Riots too). He made it clear that both Tommie Smith and John Carlos were some great athletes. Both were drafted by NFL teams. He also emphasized that there was no doubt about who was going to win Gold in the 200 m race at the 1968 Olympics. He raved about how Smith had been running lights out in events leading up to the Olympics. He also talked about John Carlos being very good and that he would finish in the top 3. After that he fast forwarded to the medal ceremony and the moment that Smith and Carlos left us with a demonstration that will last forever. He mentioned how it was not just a big moment but a bold one too. Especially considering the backlash that both sprinters faced afterwards. At the time of our discussion, neither of us was aware of what was taking place at San Jose State University and little did I know that in October 2009 I’d find out.
At some point I posted the picture above on Facebook. Then some time after I planned a trip to California to see some friends. As time approached, my friends told me that a statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos had been built and was located on the campus of San Jose State University. Both men went to college there and after many years had passed, their moment in history was recognized on October 16, 2005. My friends being the great people that they are decided to help me see the statue in person. It was a busy weekend but on the Monday morning that I was set to fly out, they made it happen. First off we were lucky that I flew into and out of the San Jose Airport. Unfortunately we had to get up very early due to my flight time and the distance we had to travel to get to San Jose. After conquering those two hurdles we were there with plenty of time to spare. I remember it was an overcast morning and kind of windy. Despite the time of morning, students were already moving about the campus. The statue is located in a good spot on the campus so I didn’t have to walk too far and didn’t stick out much. We also avoided getting a ticket for parking in “no parking zone”. It was a great experience and it made me think about how funny life can be. Just a few years earlier I was in my hometown buying a shirt that led to a history lesson. Then on that October morning in 2009 there I was “standing” next to history. I can’t thank my friends Anthony and Jayka enough for making that moment happen.
I still have my shirt and I throw it on every now and then. Standing up on that statue was a cool moment and it gave me a greater appreciation of the stand the Olympians made. It was bigger than winning the race and the medals around their necks. October 16th will mark the 47th anniversary of that night in Mexico City and the 10th anniversary of the statue to honor Tommie Smith and John Carlos. 1968 marked the end of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Today in 2015, we’re still fighting some of the same battles. Yes, things have improved but we still have a long way to go. I only hope that we all are ready to be brave and stand tall for what we believe in when our medal ceremony comes.