Friday, May 30, 2014

The night of Brandon Gonzales' life

May 30, 2014 Super middleweight Brandon Gonzales can't envision losing Saturday night against James DeGale. The fighters will meet in front of an expected crowd of 80,000 at London's Wembley Stadium on the undercard of an title fight between Carl Froch and George Groves. Why would Gonzales (18-0-1, 11 KO's) consider losing? As his professional record attests, Gonzales never has experienced defeat. The winner of Gonzales-DeGale in the IBF World Super Middleweight title eliminator bout is expected to face the winner of Froch-Groves. Gonzales, who lives in Sacramento and operates the Flawless Boxing and Fitness gym on T street in downtown Sacramento, has the opportunity against DeGale to put himself in line for a long-awaited title shot. Boxing is one of the world's toughest professions. When boxers train and/or practice to improve in their craft, they can take punishment sparring on a daily basis. Few people go to work and put their bodies and faces on their line every day. Gonzales spars with former Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward, now viewed as one of the sport's best boxers. Gonzales is trained by Virgil Hunter, considered to be one of the world's best. "I've been working with Virgil for the past three years and I've known him for almost a decade," Gonzales said. "I've always wanted to work with him but we couldn't work it out schedule-wise." Gonzales said he and many others believed he defeated Thomas Oosthuizen in the one draw on his record. However, we all know boxing is a crazy sport where questionable scoring is prevalent. Gonzales is considered the underdog when fighting in London against the hometown DeGale (18-1, 12 KO's). Gonzales switched promoters recently from Terry and Tommy Lane, the sons of longtime referee Mills Lane. Gonzales changed promoters to Gary Shaw and Antonio Leonard because he believed Shaw and Leonard could put him in position for a title shot. And Saturday night in London, it will be on Gonzales' fists to take the next step toward a title with a victory over DeGale. The Froch-Groves bout can be seen on HBO Saturday.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Predicting the future is one of the most difficult things to do in sports. And that’s doing so with all types of information at hand. So you look at the 2013-14 Sacramento Kings and recognize the team is undergoing a mini-makeover on the fly. Owner Vivek Ranadive, advisor Chris Mullin and general manager Pete D’Alessandro are attempting to remake the squad with quickness. Mullin and D’Alessandro couldn’t bring in Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy, Aaron Gray and Derrick Williams without Ranadive’s resources and desire. Just Monday night we saw the best Williams has to offer. He scored a career-high 31 points on 12 of 16 field-goal shooting (three of five from three-point range). Moreover, Williams had a career-high five steals in a 35-minute performance during a victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas, by the way, had won 15 of its previous 16 games against Sacramento. Now it would be foolish for us to expect Williams to consistently perform at such a high level. However, the concept of combining the athleticism with that of Gay’s exceptional ability to run and jump looms as the mark of an entirely new type of Kings. Yes, as Ranadive says, a new-era Kings. We’re talking about a first-year coach in Michael Malone with a relatively remade squad, including a key piece in Gay, who we’ve yet to see and it’s clear none of us, not even those running the joint, know what we’re about to see. The easiest change to make was the insertion of Isaiah Thomas into the starting lineup. The five-foot-nine point guard clearly has the talent, will and skill to be a player of impact. Before the recent acquisitions, the Kings were in the position of needing Thomas to perform at an extremely high level merely for a chance at victory. Thomas, as well as DeMarcus Cousins, appear in position to not feel they have to carry the weight of the world every game. The previously offense-challenged squad now has the potential to present threats at every starting position. It’ll be interesting to see how well Gay ad Williams perform together. The new NBA doesn’t command the need for a prototypical power forward. Neither of them fit that mold, but both can qualify as “stretch fours (power forwards). Look around the NBA. Virtually everything is wacky. The Kings (6-13) should not believe they are incapable of defeating any team. Yet, team-wide consistency, particularly at the defensive end, is what the Kings must establish. One Western Conference coach said he believes Cousins in the league’s best center. And that’s in a league where few centers perform as centers as we once knew them. The Kings will have to establish themselves the hard way. They are 4-8 at home. Following tonight’s home game against Utah, the Kings play seven of their next 10 games on the road. They’ll play those 10 games before the New Year. The Kings front-office likely has not made its final personnel move, but the immediate future should be interesting. It’s nice to see the Kings making moves that aren’t designed just to save a few bucks.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Kings need to share the ball - NOW!

It’s early in the NBA season, but not too early to be embarrassed. The Kings need to recognize right now they will not become winners playing like they are. The Kings are 30th in assists with 15.6 per game. That’s last in the league. That’s embarrassing. That statistic indicates a couple of factors. The most glaring indicator is that the Kings stink at moving the ball and hitting the open man. Some, if not all of their coaches believe the players are playing selfishly. Ranking last in assists suggests they don’t understand that sharing the ball is the gateway to offensive success, easier shot attempts, more pressure on opposing defenses. Moreover, if the Kings want to have individual success, acclaim and respect, it will come by playing as a team. Head coach Keith Smart points to the number of open shots his players are missing. There is a modicum of truth there. However, too many of those shots are off balance or forced. These often are attempts that can be improved by exhibiting more patience and faith that the next man will make the shot. Sacramento is tied with Detroit at 24th in scoring at 92.8. The Kings are 5th in field-goal attempts at 87.6 per game, but rank 25th in field-goal percentage at .411. Hitting the open man is a selfless concept the Kings soon need to make part of their repertoire. It’s more contagious than the flu. And it has to start with their primary scorers. DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans are most prominent when it comes to forcing shots. Each consistently draws a lot of defensive attention and can make plays for others. They have shown the ability and desire to do so. Now they do it more often. And to say players are performing selfishly does not mean they are selfish. Yes, there is some of that, but to me it’s more of a sign, that they don’t see the big picture. They don’t truly trust their brothers. Until they do, offensive mediocrity will be their calling card.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kings defend as team, play offense as individuals

Four games into the 2012-13 NBA season, we can at least say, the Kings are defending with unity, intent and focus. It has been years – perhaps back to the 2002-03 team led by Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, Jimmy Jackson, Keon Clark and Scot Pollard – since we could look at Kings team and say they gave a freak about truly defending as a team. However, head coach Keith Smart made defending the main priority for his squad. With the help of assistant coaches Alex English, Clifford Ray, Bobby Jackson and Jim Eyen, the Kings have begun to defend as a team. That is the only way for an NBA team to have defensive success. Rarely does an individual slow a top scorer. NBA scorers are too good for that to happen on a nightly basis. It’s always easy to pick out weaknesses. However, the Kings, at this early juncture, have shown the desire and dedication to limit penetration, the disease of all defenses... The Kings have challenged a higher percentage of field-goal attempts. Their increased athleticism has led to the NBA’s lowest percentage of made three-pointers by their opponents. Sacramento’s .defensive field-goal percentage against is second in the league. Before you say it’s just four games into the season, consider their percentage could be second to worst. Only Indiana has scored more than 93 points and its 106 came during a double-overtime victory. The Kings are playing hard and that’s nothing at which to sneeze. Now, all teams have strengths and weaknesses and struggles (see: Lakers and the Thunder. The Kings offense is ugly. Sacramento has yet to score 100 points. Sacramento often has little ball movement, patience or creativity. Certainly, the ability to make shots would make things look better. But Sacramento’s poor shot selection leads to poor shooting. Smart said the team has not yet worked consistently on its offense. Well, it would be even worse had this product been the effects of offensive focus. Ultimately, teams, particularly those without a star to lead them, usually need to have five or six players scoring at a consistently high level. The Kings are no exception if they want nightly success.

Friday, March 30, 2012

On and off the Kings court, questions abound

One by one, opposing teams come into Power Balance Arena (it is still Arco to me) with personnel believing Sacramento's new arena is a done deal.

That's what reports would lead many folks to believe.

I'm not one of those folks - yet.

First, there is no construction underway on this new facility. That dirt turning would go a long way towards passing the eye test.

Now, during this economic state, we've seen many a project start and then stop. So even the dirt flip wouldn't be the final step.

Granted, the planned constuction has come a long way from one year ago when most signs pointed to the Kings moving to Southern California or somewhere else.

So, things remain in a positive condition for a person like myself who believes a new facility will do wonders for downtown economic growth.

There are no guarantees, of course, but virtually all recently built sports facilities have inspired financial growth in the surrounding neighborhood.

Admittedly, I'm a cynic. Thst's fueled by 34 years in the journalism world with people telling untruths as part of their jobs.

Yet, the major reason for my cynicism on this project are the numbers of entities/people with their hands in the facility stew.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, the Sacramento City Council, the Maloof family, the AEG corporation that will operate the arena, NBA commissioner David Stern and perhaps, most importantly, their respective legal representatives.

If it was just one entity putting up the cash and another responsible for construction and arena operation, there would be fewer potential obstacles.

It's not like that here, though, and I still believe there are many egos to subjugate before this facility becomes reality.

It'a clear trust is not running amuck between all parties concerned. It'll be interesting to see if these folk can get their collective heads together.

And it wont be too long before Stern takes a more public, prominent role. Stern usually attempts to avoid embarrassment at all costs, particularly when it is pointed in his direction.

Currently, embarrassment is circling Sacramento, the Maloofs and the NBA like a group of hungry buzzards.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

There was none better than Lacy Banks - RIP

We lost a champion Wednesday when former Chicago Sun-Times writer Reverend Lacy J. Banks died.

Banks, 68, battled prostate cancer, a brain tumor and heart disease over the past few years.

However, nothing could steal his spirit. Not even the fact that few blacks covering sports, particularly major beats, when he hooked up with the Sun-Times in 1972.

He'd greet you - everyone, that is - with a smile that clearly came from the joy in his heart.

Banks was a minister, which separated him immediately from a heathen like myself.

He never attempted to pressure me to look towards his beliefs. He could put down a persuasive argument on any subject, but rarely did he try to work me.

That is, after the first time we met.

That was way back. I'm guessing it was the 1986-87 NBA season. We were in the old Chicago Stadium, the arena that preceded the current-day United Center.

I was covering the Dallas Mavericks while Rev. Banks was covering da Bulls.

I believe it was the third quarter when this young dude - Michael Jordan - goes down with a sprained ankle and writhes around in pain on the floor.

I was on deadline, which rapidly was approaching while MJ flopped on the court.

So I say out loud to anyone who can hear, "Yo, I don't care who this dude is. Either help him on his feet or get him a stretcher and take his ass off the floor."

Immediately, Reverend Banks says across the hockey press box where reporters sat for games, "My brother, my brother," speaking to me although we'd never met.

"That brother laying on the court is the future of the NBA," Banks said of Jordan. "So let him lay there until he's ready to get up."

It didn't make a difference to Banks that he didn't know me. He delivered his message with a smile.

I'd been aware of Jordan's talents since before his freshman year at Carolina, thanks to Mark Gonzales, now covering the Chicago White Sox for the Tribune.

So I knew he was a bad boy long before most, thanks to Gonzales, whom I'm sure remains a Carolina freak.

However, Banks' portrayal of Jordan as "the future of league" couldn't have been more accurate.

Remember, this was four seasons before the Bulls' first championship and long before observers began referring to Jordan as the greatest in NBA history.

I recounted that story long time ago for Boston Herald reporter Steve Bulpett and every time we saw each other, including last Friday, Bulpett would say, 'Give me a little Lacy.' and I'd know what he meant.

Just Tuesday, for some reason, I was telling the story in the company of columnist Scott Howard-Cooper and Memphis Commercial-Appeal beat writer Ron Tillery.

A day later, Brother Banks is gone.

If I had it like that, I'd get a comment from Jordan. I'd love to hear his recollections. Banks actually watched him grow up, whether Jordan would admit or not.

And when you cover a team daily, a reporter gets as close as a player lets him. Jordan used to love talking trash to Banks, perhaps if only to show he didn't just like to go at defenders.

It was all love, if I can speak for MJ.

I've been trying to think of someone who was more loved than Banks.

I'm still thinking.

Jordan's got his championships, but he's no more a champ than Reverend Lacy J. Banks ever was.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ego, idiocy mar Mullin jersey retirement in Oaktown

Had to check out Monday night's Chris Mullin Golden State Warriors jersey retirement ceremony in Oakland.

I've been watching the mercurial, soulful lefty since his pre-St. John's University days on jaunts through Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.

And those experiences provided quite a few indelible memories.

Yet, nothing prepared me for the amazingly, shocking, rude, disrespectful behavior exhibited by a large portion of the sellout crowd at Oracle Arena.

Allegedly, those folks were there, in part, to celebrate the classy and determined excellence nightly displayed by Mullin.

Instead, some morons used the occasion to boo Golden State majority owner Joe Lacob during the ceremony.

Eventually, Mullin and former W's great Rick Barry had to come onto the floor and attempt to calm the restless natives.

For a little perspective, back in the day, Mullin was playing in a tournament I was covering at New York's Madison Square Boys Club. His teammates were some of the best high-school hoopers had to offer. One was Easy Ed Pinckney, who went on to help engineer Villanova's 1985 national championship victory over highly-favored Georgetown and then an 11-year NBA career.

Pinckney, now a Chicago Bulls assistant coach, along with Freddy Brown (later of Georgetown University) and a solid defensive small forward named Clarence Moss all played for the public school champion squad Stevenson.

Mullin and Pinckney's squad was doing work, as usual, but throughout the game, Moss was engaged in conversation with some one in the stands. It didn't seem to be a big thing. During games in NYC (and many other locales at various venues, it's common place for people in the stands to talk trash.

It's not common place to see Moss run up in the stands, deliver a karate kick to the body of the trash-talker. Moss came right back on the court and tried to keep hooping until the referees stopped him.

It's still one of the funniest, most surprising things I've ever seen in life.

Yet, the Oracle Boo Squad attacking Lacob was even more shocking because it came out of nowhere. Did the crowd boo because the Warriors last week traded Monta Ellis? Did they boo Lacob because upon buying the team he proclaimed they'd make the playoffs - this season?

Did they boo because the Warriors have made just one playoff appearance in 18 seasons?

Did they boo because they are idiots and didn't care that they were dogging Mullin's night more so than going at Lacob?

The owner clearly is a bit egotistical and couldn't understand that he did his job by retiring the jersey. He should have just sat there.

The Warriors main representative should have been Al Attles, who has been with the organization for 50 years.

The organizers never should have allowed Lacob to take the floor, particularly not toward the end of the festivities.

Shoot, they'd have been better off having me pump up Mullin. I covered the kid at his first press conference with the W's. I've been with him off and on throughout his adult life. I knew his late pops and moms, one of the world's sweetest ladies.

I watched him hurt his knee in the first round in the 1991 upset of the San Antonio Spurs, miss the first game of the second round against the Los Angeles Lakers and then make something like his first 15 or 16 shots (nearly all jumpers) en route to a 41-point road performance.

Golden State, unfortunately, will look back on the retirement ceremony remembering the portion that bombed so hard, Barry, who is in the Hard-To-Get-Along-With Hall of Fame, felt moved to come to Lacob's aid.