Perfect finish for Tamika Catchings

September/18/2016

INDIANAPOLIS – One by one, they clung to her, unwilling to let go. It was a hug-fest and a love-fest. But this was different, even for farewell.

For these weren’t Indiana Fever players hanging onto Tamika Catchings for dear life. These were Dallas Wings players. Catchings’ legacy transcends one team, one league or one sport.

In her last regular-season game, the Fever romped to an 83-60 victory Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. No one was spoiling this day.

In a postgame ceremony, Catchings reiterated her story: As a young girl with a hearing impairment and speech difficulties, she played basketball so no one would make fun of her.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be here and doing this,” she said.

She is not done. Not yet.

The No. 5-seeded Fever (17-17) open the WNBA playoffs against Phoenix in a home game at 6 p.m. Wednesday. If the Fever lose, Catchings’ career is indeed over. If they win, they will play in the second round at No. 4 Chicago.

Game statistics for the 37-year-old Catchings were Tamika-like: 16 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two steals.

“She just did everything that she’s always done,” Fever coach Stephanie White said. “She does what needs to be done on the floor when it needs to be done.”

Everything? Everything.

Carol Callan, women’s national team director for USA Basketball, recounted an incident in which Catchings hand-washed uniforms for a junior team.

The ceremony climaxed with presentation of a $100,000 check to Catchings’ foundation by Jim Morris, vice president of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, and a new Lexus for her that was driven to courtside.

Addresses were delivered by White and longtime teammate Briann January, both of whom ended in tears; former Fever coach Lin Dunn, who invoked the memory of Catchings’ college coach, the late Pat Summitt of Tennessee; Rick Fuson, president and CEO of PS&E; Fever executive Kelly Krauskopf; WNBA president Lisa Borders; Rep. Susan Brooks and Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Catchings can be volatile on the court – White remembered a seventh-grade Tamika erupting at a summer tournament and hurling a basketball against the wall – but she was composed throughout the game and afterward. Her tears were shed long ago, she said.

It wasn’t that way for teammates. Shenise Johnson said the Fever were weepy before tipoff. January conceded she has “been in denial this entire season.” She said she could not look at Erlana Larkins, who teared up at times on the court.

“You just want to make the most of all  these moments,” January said. “You know there are few. There’s not many left. So it’s tough. It was really tough today.”

Essentially, Hogsett, Krauskopf and Borders all offered jobs to Catchings. Dunn, a native Tennessean, wanted her to return to that state. Borders’ declaration that she wanted to bring the adopted Hoosier to the league’s New York office was greeted by boos.

“This is home,” Catchings assured the audience.

Catchings said more than 20 family members were in attendance. The Indiana Pacers were also represented, featuring Olympic gold medalists Reggie Miller and Paul George.

Fans wore white “#24 Forever” T-shirts in a white-out. Video tributes featured comments from some of the WNBA’s biggest stars, including former MVPs Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Diana Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne.

Although the fieldhouse held less than the announced crowd of 17,704 – George purchased 5,000 balcony tickets for free distribution – the gathering resembled that for the WNBA Finals. Fans were not disappointed.

Catchings left the bench midway through the fourth quarter for a cameo, leaving soon thereafter to an ovation. She smiled, acknowledged the crowd and sat … then stood and waved some more.

Goodbye, as inevitable as it was, might have been easy for her. It was not for anyone else.

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Tamika Catchings: A reluctant superstar

September/17/2016

Sometimes superstars need to be reminded they’re superstars. Doesn’t happen often. Actually, almost never.

But when you start out a gangly, shy, insecure girl with a wobbly self-image — not ever really fitting in — it’s hard to see a superstar in the mirror.

When you wear clunky hearing aids that kids relentlessly tease you about.

When you stop wearing those hearing aids to avoid the embarrassment and people think you’re ignoring them, that you’re rude or you’re dumb.

When your parents announce their divorce, after you’ve settled into a high school and just been named the state’s youngest Ms. Basketball in Illinois history at 15. When you should be happy about your accomplishment, but you’re devastated that your parents are splitting.

When the next year you find yourself almost 1,000 miles away in Texas trying to fit in yet again, with a whole new crowd in the city your mother moved to. When you still miss your dad and your sister, who stayed behind in Illinois.

Sometimes, it’s hard to accept you’re a superstar, to even think of yourself that way. You’re too busy trying to overcome to see any of the great things you’re doing.

Tamika Catchings was a superstar long before she knew it — long before she became, many people think, the top women’s basketball player in history, and a much honored humanitarian.

It’s hard to imagine the women’s game without Catchings in the middle of it, but we’ll soon have to. Catchings plays the final regular season game of her illustrious career with the Fever on Sunday at home against the Dallas Wings.

Her career has spanned 15 WNBA seasons and garnered many accolades:  11-time WNBA All-Star, 12-time All-WNBA, Defensive Player of the Year five times, MVP, league champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist.

It’s unfathomable to think of Catchings without a basketball in her hand.

Basketball, after all, has been the constant in her life, the equalizer that made all those insecurities vanish. Every once in a while with that basketball in her hand, Catchings believed she just might be a superstar.

***

She is out in the driveway, fighting with the grit only a little sister can, fighting to beat Tauja, the older sister by 19 months.

“Their games always got brutal and bloody,” said their dad, Harvey Catchings, who played in the NBA from 1974 to 1985. “It got ugly.”

This day it was especially ugly. Someone was going to get hurt. So Harvey went out and yanked the ball away from his daughters. There would be no more basketball.

Tauja ran into the house to play with her dolls; Tamika stayed.

“I go back out and I see Mika outside going through the imaginary motions without the ball,” he said. “She’s shooting and dribbling and rebounding. Seeing her doing those things?”

There is always the story of when a parent first realizes, “Hey, this kid might be something special.” This was that moment for Harvey Catchings. He’ll never forget it.

“This was something that set her apart,” he said. “She had so many issues growing up that basketball was something that allowed her to excel.”

To blend in. Which is all Tamika Catchings ever wanted to do. Which is ironic, because she became a superstar who stood out.

***

She still doesn’t believe it herself.

Catchings will go out and people come up to her. They want to get close to her, get her autograph, talk basketball. They stand in awe that they are in front of this dynamic player.

“I just don’t realize I’m ‘quote, unquote’ a superstar, whatever that means,” Catchings said Friday. “That makes for a fun life. It allows me to have more friends.”

Just like that little girl always wanted.

The hearing aids were huge and awkward. Catchings was born with a hearing impairment in both ears. Back then, in the 1980s, hearing aids were awful.

And if hearing aids didn’t cause kids to take notice, Catchings’ speech did. She slurred some words, didn’t pronounce others with the proper accents and emphasis. She couldn’t make some consonants powerful enough.

Kids taunted her for all of that.

Yet what was miserable for a young Catchings at the time, who said she just wanted to “be normal,” turned into something great. Sports.

“Sports was my outlet where I could practice and I could get really good at something,” Catchings said. ”And, literally, people couldn’t make fun of me because they wanted me on their team.”

Catchings described the hearing disability as being in a prison. Basketball was her ticket to freedom.

***

If only she knew how good she was, said Harvey Catchings.

In youth games he coached, he would have to make sure Tamika wasn’t in at the same time as Tauja. Otherwise, they would run up 60-point leads for his team. Tauja Catchings was a stellar player in her own right, going on to play at the University of Illinois, then being drafted by the WNBA and later playing pro ball in Sweden.

Harvey Catchings learned that he would have to start them together and then sit one, almost immediately.

Tamika Catchings didn’t get the fuss as she stole the ball from helpless opponents, grabbed rebound after rebound. She was just playing a game she loved.

She got just as excited to see her sister and teammates score. She wanted to be a part of something. Not someone who was the center of attention.

“People say if you look up the word teammate in the dictionary,” Harvey Catchings said, ”there is a picture of Mika.”

And, in his opinion, that spirit has cost her some in her professional game.

“That’s one of the struggles we had throughout her career,” he said. “Because of the position she was in, she had the green light to shoot whenever and wherever she wanted. I felt that she should have taken more advantage of that.” And yet Catchings is the No. 2 scorer in league history, and the all-time leader in rebounds, free throws and steals.

But Harvey Catchings said he knows that his daughter could have done even more.

“She tries to blend in,” he said. “Still.”

Or maybe it’s just her priorities. “At the end of the day, all (my records) will be broken, and all that goes away,” she said Friday, focusing instead on her Catch the Stars Foundation, which helps children going through struggles much worse than what she went through.

“But when you’re able to leave an imprint, a lasting imprint, that is amazing.”

***

Frank Mattucci first saw Tamika Catchings playing as a sixth-grader. No question about this 11-year-old.

“She could have played with our varsity team right then,” he said.

When he got her on his high school team at Adlai E. Stevenson in Lincolnshire, Ill., she became a freshman starter. And because she and Tauja, a sophomore, were so much better than everyone else, Mattucci started something he’d never done as a coach.

He brought in the boys.

Three male managers were assigned to the team so they could guard the Catchings sisters in practice.

Stevenson won 30 straight games and was a top 10 USA TODAY team. Tamika Catchings brought it all, even as a young teen, Mattucci said.

“As far as speed, agility, defensive knack, offense, she had all of that early,” he said. “Rebounding for her is kind of just like a reflex action.”

But it was in the final of the sectionals her freshman year that Mattucci saw just how special Catchings was.

She was leading the team to what looked like a sectional championship when, all of a sudden, she picked up a foul. And then another foul. And another.

“I remember it was really difficult because the two (Catchings) girls were the only two black kids on the court at the time,” Mattucci said. “A lot of people thought the officials were picking on her because she was black.”

The crowd. Her teammates. Even Mattucci thought the fouls weren’t fouls.

“Mika never once said a word about that. She just said, ‘Coach, I never touched anybody,’ ” Mattucci said. “The way she responded to that adversity, I knew this was a special young lady.”

They lost that game, but the next year Stevenson finished No. 2 in the nation and won a state championship, and Tamika Catchings became the youngest Ms. Illinois Basketball in the state’s history.

She was finally coming out of her shell. She was getting a glimpse of the superstar inside.

Mattucci was thrilled to see her blossoming, thrilled to have two more years with her. He soon learned that wasn’t to be.

***

The summer after her sophomore year, Catchings’ mother, Wanda, and Harvey Catchings, by then a well-known Chicago Bulls announcer, gave their girls life-changing news. They were getting divorced.

Harvey Catchings would stay in Chicago and so would Tauja, to finish her senior year at Stevenson. Wanda Catchings would move to Texas to be closer to family.

The weight of the world, it seemed, was on Tamika Catchings’ shoulders.

“She started talking to me about this dilemma,” Mattucci said. ” ‘What am I going to do? I want to play with my sister again. I want to play with you, and I want to stay,’ ” he recounts. ” ‘My mother is going to miss me. I miss her already. I don’t know what to do.’ ”

No doubt, Mattucci was dying inside to tell Catchings she should stay. She had to stay. They were about to embark on a basketball season with one of the greatest teams ever assembled in Illinois.

He did what any great coach would do.

“I told Mika, ‘Wherever you go, the team you play for is going to be that much better. You’re going to be just fine,’ ” Mattucci said. ” ‘The bottom line is, I got your back, I support you, and follow your heart.’ ”

Her heart told her to go to Texas with her mother. Once again, the superstar was back in hiding.

***

Shy and reserved, Catchings walked into coach Sara Hackerott’s office at Duncanville High in Duncanville, Texas, to introduce herself. She had just moved 959 miles across the country to a school that had 4,000 kids.

“She was really trying to feel her way, and I think it took her a little while to figure things out and feel acclimated,” said Hackerott. “To feel comfortable.”

Hackerott had heard about this stellar player she was getting. People had told her Catchings was amazing. She’d heard rumors, over-the-top praise. Hackerott had no idea.

But in 1995, people didn’t Google. They didn’t read newspaper articles online.

“I was going on a lot of hearsay,” Hackerott said. “Anybody in their right mind would say, ‘OK, you’re telling me that this player is this good?’ ”

Looking back, Hackerott is pretty sure that Catchings held off a little when she first started working out with the team — almost as if she didn’t want to be seen as a showoff or let people know how good she was.

As usual, she wanted to blend in.

“There were times she would just let loose and dominate, and there were times when she also very much wanted to be accepted and fit in,” Hackerott said. “And in order to do that, she had a sense of balance, of knowing when to fit in and when to go with the flow.”

But inside a Texas gym in 1997, Catchings the superstar emerged.

***

The Duncanville High crowd was going wild. Crazy. The new girl from the year before, now a senior, was lighting up the court. She always lit up the court. But she was really lighting up the court.

Hackerott knew Catchings was having an exceptional game. She didn’t know how exceptional, not until she looked at the stat sheet after the game.

Catchings had done something no other player in the history of basketball had ever done — no man, no woman, no pro, no college or high school player.

She had officially recorded a quintuple-double — double-digit totals in all five statistical categories in a single game: 25 points, 18 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 steals and 10 blocked shots.

“It was like you’re watching someone really explode into a phenomenal game, but it was so fluid you were drawn into it,” Hackerott said. “You didn’t know what the stats would be because she makes it look easy. You literally would go, ‘OK now. Did she just do what I think she did?’ ”

Most players would have made sure everyone in that gym, including the coach, knew they were doing superstar stuff. Not Catchings. She never showboated because she never believed she was superstar status.

“I remember after the game, people told me, ‘Hey, you got (a quintuple-double),’” Catchings said. “I was like, ‘What is that? That’s cool. I didn’t realize that.’ ”

She didn’t realize what she had just done was exceptional.

“Sometimes, the superstars are the ones that need reminded,” Mattucci said. “Need reminded the reason why they’re superstars.”

Sometimes. But it’s rare. Catchings is one of the rare ones.

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Why Nike is paying Jason Day lots of money even though golf is in decline

September/14/2016

Golf is dying. Millennials don’t play. Ratings are on the wane. Several stars skipped the Olympics. The Tiger era is over, and Nike just exited the golf equipment business.

So why did the Swoosh from Beaverton, Ore., just pay a reported $10 million to the top-ranked golfer in the world, Australian Jason Day?

“We don’t comment on rumor or speculation,” Greg Rossiter, Nike’s head of global communications, said of the ESPN report. “We’re committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel.”

There’s a little more to it than that. One reason for the Day signing, according to Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst with the NPD Group,  is that Nike wants to preserve its $500 million stake in the “soft goods” side of the golf market, think golf shoes and shirts. The company recently exited the golf equipment business, which is mostly golf balls and golf clubs.

Secondly, with Tiger Woods, who has been the face of Nike golf,  no longer the story every week, Nike’s golf business lost its biggest star and a lot of luster. The point is to get the inimitable Swoosh as much television time on Sunday afternoons, when television ratings tend to spike because that’s when tournaments play their final round. Day offers insurance that Nike will be front and center on Sundays.

“Nike has gone 0-8 in the last eight Majors, and isn’t accustomed to, or excited about watching its competitors’ endorsers, particularly Under Armour’s athletes, hoisting trophies – regardless of the sport,” said Jim Tanner, president of Tandem Sports & Entertainment in Arlington, Va., in an e-mail.

Tanner said Woods and other elites like Rory McIlroy (Nike) and Jordan Spieth (Under Armour), are all believed to have shoe-and-shirt endorsement deals “in excess of $20 million” per year.

Sounds like a lot, but when you consider Nike sells $30 billion worth of sports stuff a year and has a marketing budget estimated to be more than $2 billion, the $10 million it just paid Day is a rounding error.

Besides, Day has been more consistent than McIlroy and Woods, finishing in the top 10 of six of the past eight major tournaments. He also won last year’s PGA Championship.

“Getting the world’s number one  golfer for half that may prove to be a great deal for both Nike and Day,” Tanner said.

There’s also the fact that selling golf clubs isn’t a great business any more. Nike’s total golf revenue from sales of equipment, shoes and shirts peaked at $792 million in 2013 and has been falling ever since.

John Horan of Sports Marketing Intelligence said rules changes by golf authorities like the U.S. Golf Association limiting golf club design, particularly for drivers  – “which gives the ball its boing” – cramped innovation, and, in turn, stifled sales.

“Once you sort of limit the amount of innovation you can do, your market is limited to a replacement market,” Horan said. “It used to be pretty easy for [golf club maker] Calloway to go down to the metallurgists and the engineers and say, ‘We need more boing.’ ”

Horan said the money is now in the soft goods side.

“That’s where the battle is going to be,” he said.

Under Armour, the David to Nike’s Goliath, continues to nip at the heels of its rival. This week, Under Armour this week is rolling out a new line of high-end clothing called Under Armour Sportswear that is very unlike the company’s traditional utilitarian, performance-based clothing.

Baltimore-based Under Armor Sportswear is selling a $349 transparent parka, a $449 sports coat, women’s leggings for $179, and a $1,400 trench coat.

But speaking of golf, UA founder and chief executive  Kevin Plank last weekend was out on the course himself, playing 18 holes in UA shirts and golf shoes at Caves Valley Golf Club in Baltimore County.

His guest? President Obama – and a pack of Secret Service agents.

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Through success + tragedy, Henderson and Ellington show meaning of friendship

September/01/2016

The bond between Gerald Henderson and Wayne Ellington was solidified on the basketball court at Episcopal Academy in the Philadelphia area.

From that point on, they were always there for each other in significant moments of their lives. High school successes. Being recruited to collegiate powerhouses Duke and North Carolina. Becoming first-round NBA draft picks.

As their game schedules had it, they also were at the same place on Nov. 9, 2014. Henderson’s Hornets were in Los Angeles to play Ellington’s Lakers. Neither could have anticipated they would be together on a night that turned tragic.

Ellington’s father, Wayne Sr., had a feeling the Lakers would get their first win of the season that evening. He sent a cross-country text to his son before the game telling him that, and encouraged him to “go to work.”

Ellington got that victory over his best friend. The two should have caught up afterward for a joyful reunion. Instead, Ellington’s world was flipped upside down when he checked his phone following the game.

“One Sunday evening we got the unfortunate call that my dad had been shot and killed here in Philadelphia,” Ellington said recently at the Philly Peace Games. “That was a very, very hard time for me and my family. We still grieve obviously.”

Wayne Sr. had been murdered in his car in Germantown.

Ellington was struck by harrowing grief inside the Staples Center. Henderson learned of the news and rushed to find his best friend.

“It’s so crazy that I played him that night it happened,” Ellington said. “He was there for me. When I got that news, he was one of the first people that had come to me. … It definitely comforted me some. There’s nothing that anybody can say to do or do to make you feel better, but to have somebody that genuinely loves you and cares about you and you have a bond like that with, to have them by your side, no question it makes it a little, little, little bit easier.”

Wins or losses, nothing else mattered in that moment except for Henderson getting to Ellington.

“It’s what friends do,” Henderson said. “It’s a thing you can never really prepare yourself for, being in Wayne’s position. You just try to support him the best way you can. As his friend, I just tried to be there for him.”

That meant flying from coast to coast to support Ellington. Henderson arrived in Philadelphia for the funeral and flew out that same day to make it to a game against the Warriors in Oakland that night.

“Wayne Sr. was a great man,” Henderson said. “More than anything, just a funny cat, a cool cat, very similar to Wayne. Seeing Wayne’s family here brings me back to how much I relied on him as a kid, going over their house, eating up all their food, his mom or dad taking us to games or practices, AAU tournaments. … You realize how much they really did for you. Wayne Sr. did a lot for me, and more than anything, was a good man for me.”

Ellington started the “Power of W.E.” initiative, named for his father’s initials, aimed to reduce youth violence in Philadelphia. When he hosted the Philly Peace Games this month at Girard College, there was no question if Henderson would be there for it. Henderson, along with NBA players Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Ed Davis, coached teams that competed in the tournament. Prior to the games, a panel of Ellington, Henderson, Philadelphia state representative Dwight Evans and CeaseFirePA executive director Shira Goodman addressed the group of 40 players to emphasize the message of preventing gun violence.

“I’m from the Philadelphia area, this is where it happened to my father. This is the place where I feel like I can touch the community and the youth,” Ellington said. “You just hope a few people walk away from here with a different attitude or are able to spread the word. [You hope] to be able to do that, just to change somebody in some way, [someone's] life and make them want to live life a little differently, take a more positive approach, realize how serious it is and not want to resort to violence.”

Wherever their careers have taken them, Ellington and Henderson have remained closely tied to Philadelphia. Ellington, who signed this offseason with the Heat, is thrilled Henderson inked a deal to return home and play for the Sixers.

“I think it’s great for him,” Ellington said. “He’s going to get to play in front of his friends and family. I think it’s going to be great for the city, too, and great for the Sixers. I think people are going to be shocked to see how big of a following he still has in the Philadelphia area. I’m excited for him.”

Ellington and Henderson have proven whether they are in the same city or opposite sides of the country, wearing the same uniform or on opposing teams, the relationship they established in high school is strong enough that they can’t be kept apart.

“Wayne’s my best friend,” Henderson said. “It’s really as simple as that.”

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The painful arc of becoming an anti-gun activist

August/24/2016

All those thousands of jump shots before breakfast, all the AAU and YMCA games where he perfected his long-range game, even the national championship he won with Roy Williams at North Carolina hadn’t prepared Wayne Ellington for this moment.

The musty mausoleum-like gym at North Philadelphia’s Girard College — where the 28-year-old Miami Heat shooting guard would feel most at home — was upstairs and empty for now. Instead, he was down in this sweltering basement on a brutal August afternoon, standing up to address about 50 young men and teens who were leaning forward on their hard metal chairs to hear the soft-spoken college standout turned NBA journeyman.

He clutched a white sheet of paper in his right hand, his shooting hand, and grasped to find the word or phrase that would persuade even one of these youths to steer clear of the gun violence that is epidemic in cities like Philadelphia – where a person is shot, on average, every six hours.

“My father was taken from me and my family by a senseless act of gun violence – a tragedy that shook up me and our family to our core,” Ellington told the players taking part in the first Philadelphia Peace Games tournament on Saturday to promote nonviolence through basketball. “I want to do anything in my power to prevent this from happening to another family. Change starts with us, and I really believe that you all have a choice, to say no to violence.”

Two years ago, Ellington would have had only a shared love for the hardwood in common with these young men. That was before the afternoon of Nov. 9, 2014. That’s when 57-year-old Wayne Ellington Sr., who lived in the racially mixed, middle-class Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown, sent a pregame good-luck text to his son (then a Los Angeles Laker), got into his red Oldsmobile, then got into a heated discussion with a 34-year-old man standing outside the car who took out a gun and shot him in the head.

Some 21 months later, neither Ellington’s family nor prosecutors have the slightest clue what motivated the shooter. In a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to third-degree homicide and three gun charges and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. The only way Ellington can deal with such a senseless loss is to keep his frustration on the back burner and try to prevent the same awful thing from happening to someone else.

“Please understand how much your life and our lives can all change in the blink of an eye,” he pleaded with the Peace Games attendees. Although the NBA honored Ellington with its J. Walter Kennedy Award for Citizenship this summer, his anti-gun-violence campaign – which he’s dubbed The Power of W.E., his dad’s initials, and his own – is still very much a work in progress.

In finding his top-notch 3-point shot, Ellington had a series of great coaches, starting with his dad, “the person who put a ball in my hands.” But now that Ellington is trying to find his voice as an activist, he’s largely on his own, figuring out what to say as he goes.

Many NBA ballers grow up in rough neighborhoods. Ellington even came up worshipping one of them – putting his hair in cornrows for a time and buying the shoes and the jersey so he could be just like his hometown idol, Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson. But his own upbringing was far removed from that world.

Ellington was mostly raised outside of Pottstown, a former industrial town about 40 minutes west of Philadelphia. After his freshman year at Daniel Boone High School, he was heavily recruited by city prep schools and ended up being teamed with future NBA player and best friend Gerald Henderson Jr. at the elite Episcopal Academy in an affluent Main Line suburb.

In those years, there wasn’t time for much besides basketball. “A lotof basketball,” his mother Elaine Ellington said, fanning herself in the steamy basement where her son was about to speak. “Some days there was breakfast, lunch and dinner basketball.” But another constant those years was his dad’s rich involvement in his life.

It was the senior Ellington, who’d played a little football at Pennsylvania’s Kutztown State University, who made sure as a YMCA coach that his son played point guard to develop his ballhandling skills – even though he was the tallest kid on the team. When the younger Ellington was the most valuable player on the North Carolina team that won the national championship in 2009, his dad’s beaming face was the first thing he saw through a torrent of confetti.

As a pro, Ellington has bounced around the league – the Heat will be his seventh team in nine seasons – but his dad watched every game on TV, no matter where they were. And he always texted his son – sometimes with the occasional critique, but mostly “keeping it light.”

On that Friday evening in November two years ago, “Pops” Ellington texted some encouragement to his son after the Lakers had started the season 0-5. “Tonight’s going to be your first one,” his dad wrote. “Go to work.” And Ellington did have a good night on the job. L.A. beat Henderson’s then-team, the Charlotte Hornets, 107-92, and Ellington came off the bench to score nine points with five boards. When he got back to the locker room, his phone’s screen was full of texts and emails. But before he could even begin to read them, he got a call with the news of his father’s death.

Ellington took 10 days off to be with his family. After returning to the Lakers, he decided that he needed to do something. But what? Before that night, Ellington had lived a mostly charmed life, an NCAA champion making millions to keep playing the game of his youth. Now, he says he learned to take nothing for granted, and that he wanted “to take this negative tragedy and turn it into something positive.”

His first toe in the water was a “peace march” last summer in his dad’s neighborhood of Germantown. He walked through the streets with a T-shirt bearing his father’s name, and was alarmed to see so many similar shirts with the names of so many other murder victims. “It made me kind of weep to see all these young kids, everybody involved with the T-shirts – and there was so many, so many T-shirts,” Ellington recalled. “It was senseless to me.”

A few weeks later, Ellington joined the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah – the 2015 winner of the Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award – and other NBA players and community activists for a Chicago Peace Tournament, a basketball event launched in 2012 to get gang members off the street and inside a gym. He resolved to launch the Philadelphia Peace Games that took place on Aug. 20, and slowly The Power of W.E. became more than a slogan. He taped a public service announcement for an anti-violence program at North Philadelphia’s Temple University Hospital, gave away more than 2,000 tickets to Brooklyn, New York, youth groups after joining the Nets for the 2015-16 season, and hopes to make connections in Miami now that he’s with the Heat.

Noah also gave Ellington something else that’s hard to find for a 21st-century athlete-turned-activist: A role model. One of the other speakers at Saturday’s Peace Games – Philadelphia state lawmaker Dwight Evans, who’s expected to win election to U.S. Congress in November – said pro athletes are among the few adults whom urban kids might actually listen to, if only more would get involved.

“When I grew up there was Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Tommie Smith [raising his fist with John Carlos in a black power salute] at the Olympics – we haven’t had that on a sustainable basis,” said Evans, 62. He said he feels today’s pro athletes are too wealthy and too removed from inner-city life.

“It could be better,” said the Philadelphia 76ers’ Henderson, who attended the Philadelphia Peace Games, when asked about social activism by NBA players. “Sometimes people watch TV and are like, ‘Oh, God, there’s horrible stuff going on here.’ There’s so much violence, you can’t stop it all but you can chip away, little by little … that’s where it starts.”

Indeed, while there have been some green shoots of athlete activism in 2016 – from the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx’s Black Lives Matter jerseys to Michael Jordan’s declaration that “I can no longer stay silent” about violence – everyone acknowledges the gun crisis is particularly vexing.

While organizers of the Chicago Peace Tournament say gang violence did drop in the immediate neighborhood after the games, more than 2,700 people have been shot in the city so far this year, close to the total for all of 2015. Murders in Philadelphia are up 8 percent over last year. Just four hours before Ellington’s tournament started, a domestic dispute in West Philadelphia triggered a Wild West-style gunfight among seven people.

Most of the players who showed up Saturday to play hoops in front of Ellington and Henderson said they’d lost someone to a gunshot. Four years ago, Julian Stewart of Camden, New Jersey, said, his 16-year-old cousin was sitting on his front steps when “a guy came up and put a lot of bullets into him,” killing him. Now 25, Stewart calls himself “the rose that grew out of the concrete,” because he made it to a trade school and found a job as an inspector at a Philadelphia shipyard.

But a massive jobs program for the inner city is beyond the scope of what a rookie anti-gun activist can accomplish – as is getting the thousands of guns off the streets of Philadelphia and Camden. Ellington and his allies instead did what they could do – asking the 50 or so players to rise and recite a pledge.

“I pledge to help end senseless violence in my community,” they said in ragged unison.” I will not give into violence and instead I will promote peace.”

Ellington insisted that neither the nationwide scope of gun violence nor the recent spike in some crime numbers will stop him – maybe because that’s not his nature. “You see that the killing continues, it gets a little bit discouraging,” he said. “But at the same time to not have hope … I have hope that one day it will change and that the more people that you reach, the better that it will become.”

The young players who live nearest to the gunfire agreed – that whatever signing a pledge and playing basketball for an afternoon accomplishes, it beats doing nothing.

BY Will Bunch / PUBLISHED August/24/2016 / The Undefeated

http://theundefeated.com/features/nbas-wayne-ellington-works-to-stop-gun-violence/
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Tandem Signs NBA’s Adonis Thomas For Representation

August/12/2016

NEWS RELEASE

Tandem Signs NBA’s Adonis Thomas For Full-Service Representation

Arlington, VA, August 12, 2016 Tandem Sports + Entertainment has signed Adonis Thomas for full-service representation, Tandem President Jim Tanner announced. Tandem will oversee Thomas’s basketball career, contractual agreements, personal appearances, public relations services, corporate partnerships, community relations initiatives and business opportunities.

“Adonis is a great addition to Tandem’s roster of clients,” Tanner said. “He brings the same determination and diligence we value at Tandem and we’re excited to help advance his professional ambitions.”

Thomas declared for the NBA Draft in 2013 and has played for the Orlando Magic and the Philadelphia 76ers. He has also played in the NBA’s Developmental League. Thomas earned NBA D-League All-Rookie First Team honors in 2013-14 and was a NBA D-League All Star in 2015, finishing the season averaging 18.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

Prior to the NBA, Thomas played two years for the University of Memphis. He earned third-team All-Conference USA honors his sophomore season. Thomas grew up playing in Memphis, TN where he was a McDonald’s All-American and First-team Parade All-American.

About Tandem Sports + Entertainment

Tandem’s roster of clients includes Tim Duncan, Jeremy Lin, Grant Hill, Ray Allen, John Henson, Wayne Ellington, Brandan Wright, Thaddeus Young, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Gerald Henderson, Raymond Felton, C. J. Watson, Dominique Wilkins and Tamika Catchings. Marketing and public relations clients include World Series champion pitcher Chris Young, and two-time Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt.  Public relations clients include Charles Johnson Foundation and author Jon Pessah (“THE GAME: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers”).

Contact:

Meredith Geisler

Tandem Sports & Entertainment, LLC

(703) 740-5015

mgeisler@tandemse.com

###

 

BY Tandem Sports + Entertainment / PUBLISHED August/12/2016 / Tandem Sports + Entertainment

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Olympic Runner LaShawn Merritt Aims to Break World Record

July/28/2016

Sprinter LaShawn Merritt won gold at the 2008 Olympics, taking home the top honors in the 400 and 4×400 relay. He was a favorite to win again in 2012, but injured his hamstring two weeks before the track and field events at the London Games. As a result, he didn’t qualify for the 400m final, forced out after just one round.

But Merritt is poised to make a comeback this year at the Rio Games. At the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on Sunday, he qualified for the big games, claiming a first-place victory in the men’s 400 with a 43.97-second time. That’s a whole 0.76 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Gil Roberts.

“I train 24 hours a day,” the 30-year-old told reporters, including PEOPLE, at the media summit in Los Angeles. “Training isn’t just physical out on the track. I’m on the track maybe two hours, I’m in the gym maybe an hour and a half, but mentally, I’m always locked in. It’s all day.”

“Rest is training,” Merritt continued. “You can’t keep wearing your body out without repairing it through rest. So I understand the power in rest and I sleep a lot anyways. Rest, recovery and work hard.”

On the track, the runner has been training with 82-year-old coach Brooks Johnson, who Merritt said brings “a lot of wisdom” to the process. “He’s really passionate about the sport,” he explained.

Johnson has also been riding Merritt on his diet. “My coach is always talking about going to the grocery store and getting the colors of the rainbow,” Merritt detailed. “So I eat a lot of fruit, I eat a lot of fish, vegetables, just the basic normal stuff most athletes eat to fuel their body.”

That doesn’t mean Merritt doesn’t have his cheat days – though he makes sure to indulge in moderation. “I love fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. A guilty pleasure, I guess,” he admitted. “It’s all about self-discipline. I can eat them every day if I wanted to, but for me it’s just the taste of it. Once a week, maybe, I might just throw three in the oven. And the three is just so I can get that taste of it – right before I go to bed, too. That may not be the best thing, but I burn enough energy that three cookies won’t hurt me.”

While he’s focused on his Olympic glory, Merritt is also thinking of victory beyond the Rio Games – mainly, nabbing a world record. “I’ve been on top of the sport for a long time,” he said. “This is my tenth year as a professional. I’ve won some gold medals, I’ve had the undefeated season – but I haven’t got that world record yet. So that’s what we’re aiming towards these next couple of years.”

Merritt called his family, who live in his hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia, a “big support system.” While they can’t always make it to meets, he knows they’re always watching – especially his mom.

“Growing up, my mom did a lot for me, even to this day. She was always the one that would tell me, in any sport that I played, to go out and have fun. She’d always say that, ‘Just go have fun.’ So I’m having fun and living the dream.”

And when things get tough, he reminds himself of his older brother, who passed away in 1999.

“[He's] not here to do anything,” he said. “So I make the best out of every day and I’m always about forward movement. Things happen, you move forward, you enjoy life and maximize opportunities that you have.”

“My family keeps me humble. That’s where I get my sense of peace,” he said.

BY Dave Quinn / PUBLISHED July/28/2016 / People Magazine

http://www.people.com/people/package/article/0,,20996464_21016948,00.html
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Tandem Signs NBA’s Shane Larkin For Representation

NEWS RELEASE 

Tandem Signs NBA’s Shane Larkin For Full-Service Representation

Arlington, VA, July 28, 2016 Tandem Sports + Entertainment has signed Shane Larkin for full-service representation, Tandem President Jim Tanner announced. Tandem will oversee Larkin’s basketball career, contractual agreements, personal appearances, public relations services, corporate partnerships, community relations initiatives and business opportunities.

“We are thrilled to have Shane join Tandem,” Tanner said. “He’s a very passionate player and hard worker who fits in with our agency’s culture. He’s improved in each of his first three NBA seasons, and we look forward to helping Shane achieve his professional goals, on and off the court.’’

Larkin was selected 18th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2013 NBA Draft before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks. He spent his first three NBA season with the Mavericks, the Knicks and most recently, the Nets. Last season, he averaged 7.3 points and 4.4 assists for the Nets, the most productive season of his career so far.

Prior to the NBA, Larkin attended the University of Miami for two years where he was awarded the 2013 ACC Player of the Year by coaches, as well as honored with the 2013 Lute Olson Award. Larkin grew up in Orlando, FL and is the son of 12x MLB All-Star and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.

About Tandem Sports + Entertainment

Tandem’s roster of clients includes Tim Duncan, Jeremy Lin, Grant Hill, Ray Allen, John Henson, Wayne Ellington, Brandan Wright, Thaddeus Young, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Gerald Henderson, Raymond Felton, C. J. Watson, Dominique Wilkins and Tamika Catchings. Marketing and public relations clients include World Series champion pitcher Chris Young, and two-time Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt.  Public relations clients include Charles Johnson Foundation and author Jon Pessah (“THE GAME: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers”).

Contact:        

Meredith Geisler

Tandem Sports & Entertainment, LLC

(703) 740-5015

mgeisler@tandemse.com

###

BY Tandem Sports + Entertainment / PUBLISHED July/28/2016 / Tandem Sports + Entertainment

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A Career Transition, Inspired by One of NFL’s Best

July/24/2016

My role model for forceful endings was Jim Brown.

Brown was 29 years old in July 1966 when he stunned the nation by announcing his retirement from the Cleveland Browns.

I was a Cleveland Browns fan.

My high school coach, Sherman Howard, had played for the Browns, my favorite receiver was Paul Warfield and I’d learned how to run a post pattern by studying Gary Collins.

And of course, there was the great Jim Brown.

When the Browns opened camp in 1966, Brown was among the missing. He was in London, filming “The Dirty Dozen.” Shooting had been delayed because of weather, but the Browns’ owner, Art Modell, didn’t care. He wanted his star running back in training camp and made his dissatisfaction public. Modell threatened to fine Brown $100 a day if he did not show up for training camp. (Mike Freeman, in his biography “Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of an American Hero,” put the figure as high as $1,500.)

Brown responded to Modell by holding a formal news conference on the movie set and announcing his retirement from football.

Perfect. And stunning.

What impressed me about Brown, especially when I was 15, was the self-confidence he must have possessed. He was leaving a team with which he had been identified for nine seasons. He was leaving a game he loved to pursue other opportunities.

I thought about Brown last week when I decided that Monday would be my final day at The New York Times, and that this would be my final Sports of The Times offering as a full-time columnist at the paper.

Our situations are different in that there was no confrontation, no pressure for me to leave — or stay.

After nearly 35 years at The Times and 26 consecutive years writing the Sports of The Times column, I simply decided, as Brown did 50 years ago, that this has got to end at some point. I took control of the narrative, as he had.

“I wanted to definitely retire on top,” Brown said. “I wanted to go out on top, on my terms.”

I spoke with Brown on Saturday to let him know I was leaving. I also wondered how he felt 50 years ago when he walked away.

“I never wanted to be a nuisance, or to be half of my abilities or making excuses for my decline,” he said. “I never wanted to have that be part of my life.

“The last thing I wanted anybody to see was me not being able to shift gears and get the speed I had, and the quickness or the power.”

I understood the idea of wanting to go out on top and all of that. But what intrigued me about Brown was the way he left and the underlying reasons for leaving as he did.

Brown had been the league’s most valuable player in 1965. He had led Cleveland to a second N.F.L. title game and was already regarded as the greatest running back — no, one of the greatest football players — ever.

Yet Modell called Brown out. He was making a power play to assert his control, to put his star fullback, who was gaining fame as an actor, in his place.

Modell saw himself as a liberal and would always remind Brown that he gave more to the N.A.A.C.P. than Brown probably did.

“That plantation type of attitude, I hated that,” Brown said. “I was fortunate to have enough talent that allowed me to have an attitude that they would accept.

“They had to decide whether they wanted to use the talent or whether they wanted to teach me a lesson. They decided to use the talent and let me just look like a guy who was never smiling and always grumpy.”

Brown was the first in a succession of highly visible black athletes who helped shape my attitude toward power and the need to challenge and resist authority.

In 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted. In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos celebrated winning gold and bronze medals at the 1968 Mexico City Games with a silent protest on the victory stand. In 1969, Curt Flood took on Major League Baseball by refusing a trade. In 1970, Oscar Robertson filed a class-action suit against the N.B.A.

Brown’s retirement stands out because he defied a wealthy white owner who insisted on controlling the narrative.

Players always say that what they miss most about the game when they leave are their teammates.

I have certainly savored my relationships with my co-workers, conversations with editors about column ideas and their execution, and press box interactions with colleagues from across the country and throughout the world.

What I have appreciated more than anything has been the interaction with readers. Times readers in particular are sophisticated, insightful, critical and curious. I’m grateful to all who over the years have taken time to read, respond and, of course, critique.

When I spoke to Brown about our respective decisions to move on — his in 1966, mine in 2016, he pointed out a critical difference.

“You still have your mind, and it’s as sharp as ever and for the next 10 years it might be the same way,” he said. Brown said he knew that had he continued playing, “it was only a matter of time before the physicality of the game would have caught up with me.”

“If I had the chance to play football and just use my mind, I might be trying to play now,” he said.

In July 1966, the sense I got from Brown as he announced his retirement was that he was merely moving from one stage to another. And he was. Brown would become an actor, an activist and an author.

So it is with me.

There are more games to play.

Rather than say goodbye, let me simply say: “To be continued.”

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Alana Beard to Host Swim Safety Event in Hometown

July/20/2016

NEWS RELEASE

WNBA Star and Louisiana Native Alana Beard to Host Swim Safety Event in Hometown Shreveport, LA

The event is scheduled for July 25-28 with support from the YMCA, USA Swimming Foundation and the American Red Cross.

Shreveport, LA, July 20, 2016 – WNBA star and Louisiana native Alana Beard will host a four-day educational swim safety event at the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana on July 25-28. Beard will participate in the swim program with children 7-12 years old. The event will also include an out of water safety demonstration from the Shreveport Fire Department.

“Swimming and water safety are important skills every kid should know, and unfortunately they are often ignored,” Beard said. “I realize I have a lot to learn and I am beyond excited to learn with the kids to show them that learning water skills is important at all ages.  Anything I can do to help prevent a tragedy in this community, and all communities, is important to me. We must understand it is never too late to learn and I hope that families will be inspired to help their children acquire the skills to safely enjoy swimming and water sports.”

A member of the WNBA’s LA Sparks, Beard wants to use her position as a professional athlete to show the community that water safety is important, regardless of your age or athleticism. A tragedy in 2010 where six teens drowned in Shreveport’s Red River sparked Beard’s passion for water safety. From that point on, she has wanted to host an event emphasizing its importance.

The event has been planned with the support and guidance of the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana, USA Swimming Foundation and the American Red Cross. All of the organizations provided input and helped identify the most effective way for Beard to make a difference in this community. After this event, Beard plans to participate in USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative, a national child-focused water safety campaign, which aims to provide the opportunity for every child in America to learn to swim. Through Make a Splash, the USA Swimming Foundation partners with learn-to-swim providers and water safety advocates across the country and has given over $4 million in grants to provide 4 million children swimming lessons.

For information on the partner organizations, visit:

For media requests around the event in Shreveport, LA, please contact Meredith Geisler at mgeisler@tandemse.com or (703) 740-5015, or Gary Lash at glash@ymcanwla.org or (318) 470-6351.

ABOUT THE AMERICAN RED CROSS:

It is the mission of the Red Cross to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Today, the Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety program helps fulfill that mission by teaching people to be safe in, on and around the water through water safety courses, water-orientation classes for infants and toddlers and comprehensive Learn-to-Swim courses for individuals of different ages and abilities. The American Red Cross has been the gold standard in lifesaving, water safety and swimming instruction since 1914. The Red Cross and its partners train about two million people a year in swimming and water safety.

ABOUT USA SWIMMING FOUNDATION:

The USA Swimming Foundation serves as the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming.  Established in 2004, the Foundation works to strengthen the sport by saving lives and building champions— in the pool and in life. Whether we’re equipping our children with the life-saving skill of learn-to-swim through our Make a Splash initiative, or providing financial support to our heroes on the U.S. National Team, the USA Swimming Foundation aims to provide the wonderful experience of swimming to kids at all levels across the country. To learn more, visit www.usaswimmingfoundation.org.

ABOUT YMCA OF NORTHWEST LOUISIANA:

We know that lasting personal and social change comes about when we all work together. At the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana strengthening community is our cause.  Every day, we work side-by-side with our neighbors to make sure that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. Our mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.

ABOUT TANDEM SPORTS + ENTERTAINMENT:

In addition to Alana Beard, Tandem’s roster of clients includes Tim Duncan, Jeremy Lin, Grant Hill, Ray Allen, John Henson, Brandan Wright, Thaddeus Young, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Gerald Henderson, Raymond Felton, C. J. Watson, Dominique Wilkins and Tamika Catchings. Marketing and public relations clients include World Series champion pitcher Chris Young, and two-time Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt.  Public relations clients include Charles Johnson Foundation, and author Jon Pessah (“THE GAME: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers”).

 

###

BY Tandem Sports + Entertainment / PUBLISHED July/20/2016 / Tandem Sports + Entertainment

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