I don’t think there’s any explanation necessary for why this gentleman’s photo is posted at the top of this article. Photo courtesy of cocnoticias.com
HONORING GREAT BLACK ATHLETES WHO HAILED FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Being that this is Black History Month, it would be just plain wrong to not have a Mount Rushmore of honor, celebrating the African-Americans from this part of the country who made a significant mark in sports.
Let’s not waste anymore time, shall we?
The breaker of baseball’s color line as a UCLA Bruin. Photo courtesy of nydailynews.com
It would be a felony-level crime to do an article on the most outstanding black athletes who called the Los Angeles area home and not have this great man be mentioned first and foremost.
If this Pasadena-raised athlete had not been the protagonist for the single greatest moment in sports history – putting on a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform and breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947 – he would still deserve top priority here for what he did at UCLA; lettering in four different sports and either starring or setting records in three of them, including football, where he was the nation’s leading punt returner.
However, breaking baseball’s color line, the suffering he went through in the process, and the activism that he partook in post career in starting businesses in the black community and marching for civil rights is the top factor in this man being front and center on any Mount Rushmore of great African-American athletes not only from SoCal, but from anywhere in the world, period.
“Were there better players? Sure. But were there better men? No.” – Bob Costas
UCLA’s first star athlete, Kenny Washington, who would become one of four players to break the NFL’s color barrier in 1946. Photo courtesy of ergo84.com
Believe it or not…
Before Jackie, there was Kenny, who hailed from Lincoln High in Northeast L.A.
In fact, as they were teammates in Westwood in 1939, Kenny Washington was considered the big star of the Bruin football team ahead of Robinson, earning the distinction of being UCLA’s first All-American in football.
That he preceded Jackie in playing in a major sports league seven months before his teammate took his first at bat as a Dodger in Ebbets Field – and in the Los Angeles Coliseum as a member of the Rams, which was along with Yankee Stadium considered the big sports venue of that era – was quite impressive as well.
Add to that Kenny’s distinguished career as a L.A. policeman after his football days, and his place on this Mount Rushmore is more than solidified.
Bonds as a California (now Los Angeles) Angel; though he spent the majority of his baseball days as a San Francisco Giant, it wouldn’t be right for this site to have a picture of him in a NorCal sports uniform – especially in the uniform of a main SoCal rival. Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com
It’s a bit of a shame that he’s now known as Barry’s dad, because in my view this man from Riverside’s Poly High School was the greatest athlete to ever come out of the Inland Empire.
A huge star in track and field as well as baseball, winning high school All-American honors and the Southern California High School Athlete of the Year in 1964, Bonds was not only drafted by the Giants that spring, he was also an NFL draft pick before deciding to cast his lot in baseball.
Which was apparently a wise decision as Bonds had a solid career, hitting 332 home runs and stealing 461 bases over a 14-year career in earning a reputation for having a relatively rare deadly combination of power and speed.
It’s no secret that his son Barry had the more notable career, his 762 home runs breaking Henry Aaron’s sacred all-time mark amid rather (in some opinions) controversial and notorious situations.
One record that I’m sure Barry cherishes is the one for most homers by a father-son duo: 1,094
Women’s basketball great Cheryl Miller during her USC Trojan days in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of espn.go.com
If Bobby Bonds is the greatest athlete that the Inland Empire produced, this lady – along with her brother Reggie, who we’ll profile next – comes in a solid second.
An alum of Riverside Poly along with Bonds and her brother, Cheryl first gained notoriety in 1982 when she scored 105 points (no, it’s not a misprint) in a game against Norte Vista High, shattering the state record to pieces.
She then took her talents to USC, where she helped lead those Women of Troy to two national championships, the only NCAA titles that any Trojan hoops team have won, male or female, becoming a four-time All-American and a three-time Naismith Player of the Year Award winner along the way.
Though she won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, by the 1990s her energies were focused on coaching as she served at her alma mater for a time, then went on to become coach and general manager of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury for four years.
She now coaches at Langston University in Oklahoma.
Bottom Line: More than anyone else, this lady put women’s basketball on the map.
The greatest Indiana Pacer and one of the greatest UCLA basketball players of all time. Photo courtesy of iusportcom.com
It would be the most unfair and disrespectful statement ever to refer to this man as merely Cheryl’s younger brother.
Especially when his NBA and overall basketball resume is several miles long, so long that I’ll just list a few of them:
- Second all-time in three-point baskets made (only Ray Allen has made more, breaking Miller’s record in 2011)
- Only John Stockton and Karl Malone have played in more NBA games
- Won Olympic Gold as a member of the Dream Team in 1996
- All-time Indiana Pacer scoring leader with 25,279 points
- A two-time all-Pac-10 selection at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the conference title in 1987
And along with his sister, whose number was the first of any basketball player’s to be retired at USC, his #31 is retired by both UCLA and the Pacers.
LOS ANGELES – JULY 18: Lisa Leslie #9 of the Los Angeles Sparks looks to make a pass play against Barbara Farris #54 of the New York Liberty during WNBA game action at the Staples Center on July 18, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2006 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Lisa Leslie;Barbara Farris Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com
After Cheryl, there was Lisa; I think it’s quite safe to make that statement.
This native of Inglewood followed Cheryl Miller in two particular areas; she was a Trojan in the early 90s, becoming a three-time All-American and a National Player of the Year in 1994, and she once scored over 100 points in a game for Morningside High.
The areas where Leslie really shined were in the Olympics where she earned gold medals for the U.S. Women’s team in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, and Beijing, as well as in the WNBA, were she more or less put that league on the map as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks, winning two titles for that franchise and retiring as the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder in 2009.
You’ve seen a lot of this lady over the past few years, partaking in endeavors from sports commentating to modeling to acting.
Generally speaking, Lisa Leslie has been perhaps the top ambassador for women’s basketball in particular and women’s sports in general, and to not include her on this list would be an awful thing to do.
I am confident that this Mount Rushmore of African-American athletes from Southern California is to everyone’s liking.
I certainly hope that this list is enjoyed as Black History Month continues.