Pro Football Hall of Fame member Michael Strahan talks with veteran sports broadcaster Lenny Moon about his lone season of playing with fellow HOFamer Lawrence “LT” Taylor. Both defensive stalwarts played their entire careers with the New York Giants with “LT’s” (1981-93) and Strahan’s (1993-2007) paths crossed during Taylor’s final NFL campaign and Mike’s rookie pro season. Both prolific edge rushers were dominant performers of their respective eras and led their New York Giants to several Super Bowl Championships (XXI, XXV & XLII).
Taylor was the NFL MVP in 1986 and is a member of the “NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. “LT” was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Strahan earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and is a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. The Texas Southern University product was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. (See video below)
Historically, the St Louis Cardinals have been one of Major League Baseball’s storied franchises. Certainly, during the 1960’s St Louis became the team to beat in the National League earning three appearances in the World Series (1964, 1967 and 1968) while winning those first two. Spearheading the charge were two of the greatest players the game has ever witnessed. One an intimidating fireballer that literally changed the game from the way he dominated from the hill. The other, a multi-talented speedster that raised the bar on the artistic way of exploiting opposing defenses and altering the concentration level of pitchers and catchers. Both were born the same year (1939) and ironically this duo recently passed within one month of the other.
Hurler Bob Gibson spent 17 seasons (all with St Louis) as the ace of the Red Birds staff, and evolved into one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. The 9-time all-star accrued a 251-174 record with 3117 strikeouts and a career 2.91 earned run averaged. The former versatile athlete who once played for the Harlem Globetrotters, was a 9-time Gold Glove winner to go along with his two Cy Young Awards signifying the top pitcher in baseball. Gibson peaked during the 1968 season when he posted a season not seen in MLB before or since. That campaign saw Gibson take the hill for the Cards on 34 occasions and posted a whopping 28 complete games. His 22-9 record does not nearly tell the story of his lack of run support that season. Gibby bewildered opponents by tossing 13 shutouts and a microscopic 1.12 ERA (major league record). That equates to less than 1.5 runs per 9 innings. That very next season, MLB lowered the mound to provide more of an advantage for hitters. Gibson is a member of Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team and was unanimously inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
The son of a sharecropper, Lou Brock was born in El Dorado, Arkansas and raised in Collinston, La (24 miles NW of Monroe). Brock penetrated the national baseball radar screen by leading Southern University-Baton Rouge, La to the 1960 NAIA National Baseball Championship while posting an impressive .500 batting average for the season. The 19-yr MLB veteran was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs where he spent his first 3 1/2 seasons before being traded to St Louis in the middle of the 1964 season. Once he donned the red uniform of the Cardinals, he blossomed into one of the league’s premier talents. Brock ignited a sub-.500 team to an eventual World Series champion by hitting .348 and stealing 33 bases to close out that season. They would go on to defeat the favored New York Yankees in the Fall Classic to punctuate their comeback campaign.
Although a crafty, linedrive-type hitter that safely swatted 3023 base knocks, Brock will always be known for his legs and intelligence on the base paths. The 6-time all-star led the National League in steals in 8 of 9 years from (1966-74). He exhibited his consistency on the bases by pilfering 50 or more stolen bases 9 times. The postseason was another area where the former Southern Jaguar excelled where his .391 World Series batting average and 14 stolen bases are records for players that participated in at least 20 games. Brock’s 118 stolen bases in a single season were a MLB record until protégé Rickey Henderson came along to re-establish the standard of 130 in 1982. Brock’s career stolen base record of 892 was also eclipsed by Rickey’s current standard of 1406. Baseball Hall of Fame came calling in 1985 when he was inducted on the first ballot.
The year was 1964, when a then 22-year old Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr ascended to the top of the world of sports when he defeated a heavily favored veteran Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion of the globe. The Louisville, Ky native would not convey the image of the conventional traditional Black athlete from the outset. His extreme confidence and brashness was not the composite package that America, if not the entire free world had witnessed from such a platform before him.
One might surmise that his demeanor was influenced by the turbulent decade of the 60’s in this country, where historical social unrest dominated the landscape. Sure there were high profile Black athletes that made there mark prior to Muhammad Ali. Legends such as boxing champions Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, professional baseball’s Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens from the 1936 Olympics along with Ali’s contemporaries Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Jim Brown. Well anyone that’s even remotely studied the career of the self proclaimed “The Greatest”, would clearly recognize that Ali had more impact on the 60’s than the decade could have possibly had on him. For that younger follower of sports, let’s place this theme in perspective.
During the time that the world was being introduced to this handsome, extroverted heavyweight champion of the world that was not hesitant to proclaim to anyone that was listening how pretty that he was, it was not fashionable for a Black athlete to be heard without being spoken to. The same year that Ali earned his title, the Civil Rights Act would finally be signed later on the calendar of 1964. This was before the Voting Rights Act had been legislated (1965) or the Fair Housing Act (1968) were signed into law. During the era of African Americans fight to elevate our status from second class citizenship, Ali was lifting the image of an entire race while becoming the most recognizable person on the planet. Once he became champion when the spotlight of world would follow the champion, he officially dropped his birth name (or slave name as he stated) from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali.
By this time, just as many American boxing fans would pay to see him lose as to cheer him to victory. This would only fuel his performances that would evolve to predicting the round he would stop his opponent in the ring along with penning poetic narratives that would accompany his events. When he refused the military draft in 1967 and stripped of his title for over 3 years (as an undefeated champion), his legend grew larger when he took advantage of his legal fight with the U.S. government and his exile to lecture colleges nationwide. He opened eyes by stating “I have no quarrel with the Viet Namese, it’s in America where I’m called the “N” word”. Instead of ostracizing the champ, he became larger than life. When his boxing license was restored, Ali would win the world championship two more times before retiring in 1981. Ali’s boxing career was the launching of high profile athletes utilizing their platform for issues much larger than sports.
Now that we’ve entered our third decade of the 21st Century, and in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, we’re witnessing similar activity from contemporary athletes that are utilizing their respective platforms to enhance social awareness. Leading the way is the National Basketball Association which is approximately 75% Black, coupled with a globally popular product and world-wide social media accessibility, they have fully realized their leverage in the modern scheme of things. When they speak, people around the world listen. In the 21st Century, NBA players are the most visible athletes in the world, and to their credit they have evolved to effectively utilize their muscle to impact communities from whence they came. As opposed to be resigned to “shut up and dribble”, they are demanding social change such as police reform, voter education, justice for the murders of unarmed Blacks by police among other pertinent social issues. Modern day Black NBA athletes are also realizing that billionaire owners are accruing their wealth on the labor of their extraordinary athletic prowess. In essence it has always been a partnership (one can’t succeed without the other) but not necessarily executed as such. In the spirit of Muhammad Ali, these athletes are carving new paths in the sports arena and along the way, the status quo might become a little uncomfortable.
Reflecting on the highly charged 1968 Olympic Games during the turbulent 60s, one could only anticipate that at some point during this exhibition of the world’s greatest athletes on this global stage, fireworks were inevitable. These games were staged in the midst of a decade that witnessed the assassinations of Dr Martin L King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and both Kennedy brothers John and Robert. Major US cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago and others were burning as a result of the aforementioned murders as well as police brutality, social injustice and other fundamental issues that are prevalent even 50 plus years later. Added to this toxic climate, the unpopular Viet Nam War was being met with strong resistance on a national scale adding to the tension.
There was serious discussion that the Black athletes that qualified to compete in the Olympic Games would not participate. Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Jabbar) the top amateur roundballer in the country, if not the world, opted not to make the trip. This of course predated the NBA stars assuming the reins of Olympic dominance in the Games. Alcindor’s withdrawal created a tremendous void while making a resounding statement in the process. The climate also included the recent signings of the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Voting Rights Act (1965) and the Fair Housing Act (1968) the result of years of successful protesting.
Enter Tommy Smith and John Carlos, two of the USA premier sprinters. Although they are on record as realizing the career risk involved prior to their decision, they steadfastly moved forward with the historic demonstration. Although representing the USA royally by adding to their country’s medal total, they were banned from the Games and ostracized from being gainfully employed upon their return home. The courage and commitment by Smith and Carlos symbolized the athletes of that era that were willing to sacrifice for a mission that was larger than any personal gain.
Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson talks with veteran sports broadcaster Lenny Moon about the evolution of SMU’s vaunted Pony Express featuring he and Craig James. Additionally, the 6-3, 220 upright style speedster discusses his breaking the NFL single season rushing record eclipsing O.J. Simpson 2003 with the standard setting 2105.
When the sports bar conversation centers around the NBA’s greatest athlete, most would concur that the selection would quickly be settled with the Michael Jordan resolution. With all due respect, “MJ” would be safe if the criteria centers around the ability to dominate for a sustained period of time while adding the optimal amount of flair to his presentation. But if the conversation is expanded to discussing the game’s biggest winner in NBA history then a different sheriff has to be implemented by the name of Bill Russell.
For those roundball fans born during the evolution of Jordan’s Nike “JumpMan” era, perhaps those individuals receive a pass. The flip side of this equation creates a “teachable” moment that bridges the two eras. William Felton Russell was a 6-10 low post wizard that revolutionized the game of basketball on multiple levels. The Oakland, Ca native utilized his vast mental capability to directly impact the flow of a basketball game from the defensive end of the court that led to higher percentage baskets for his offense. Bill has exhibited an uncanny ability to win at every conceivable level. Not only were his team usually the last one standing, but the Celtic star willingly accepted the leadership role while amassing unprecedented success.
The long and the short of the narrative pertaining to the greatest winner in the history of American team sports is the author of 11 championships during his 13 total seasons as the integral component is Bill Russell. He led his team to eight consecutive NBA titles (1959-66) in addition to leading his team to two NCAA titles (1955 & 56) and the anchor on the 1956 USA Olympic basketball championship. With all due respect, Jordan outdistanced himself from all of his contemporaries by leading his Chicago teams to two separate “3-peats” (1991-93 & 1996-98). The Wilmington, NC native procured the NBA Finals MVP during each of the aforementioned titles. We will not go into the hypothetical discussion about eras that neither legendary player had control. But what we do know is that the facts are the litmus test. Leading your team to championships in 85% of the seasons that you participated at the games’ highest level (won two as a player/coach in 1968 & 69) then the numbers easily provide the conclusion. In this author’s humble opinion, Mr Russell is the greatest winner in American team sports.
When Major League Baseball legislated that each April 15th would be recognized as “Jackie Robinson Day” back in 2005, no one could have possibly foreseen that “America’s Pastime” would be out of commission along with most of the world. Then MLB commissioner Bud Selig mandated that Mr Robinson’s number 42 jersey would be permanently retired. Additionally, on that date (when there is no pandemic of course) all of the players would honor Jackie by wearing that same jersey number 42.
LennyMoonSports caught up with Houston, Tx mayor Sylvester Turner, who threw the ceremonial first pitch on “Jackie Robinson Day” a couple of seasons back. The Houston native also shared his thoughts about the significance of the landmark occurrence when the Brooklyn Dodgers inserted Robinson onto their roster and starting lineup in 1947. This represented the first African American to don the uniform of a major league baseball team. Shortly afterwards several other clubs granted other Blacks opportunities to apply their craft. Jackie’s resolve to withstand the abuse for a mission larger than himself represented a landmark accomplishment in American history. He went on to become Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player (1949), 6 time all-star (1949-54) and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1962) in his first year of eligibility.
Before the vaunted “Killer B’s” (Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Bergman) a dynamo housed in a 5-9 frame and weighed a mere 160 pounds named Jimmy Wynn became the first breakout star for the Houston Colt 45s and later the Houston Astros. Although drafted by the Cincinnati Reds back in 1962, the Colt 45s acquired the promising infielder at the conclusion of that same year admiring his raw athleticism that included exceptional speed and surprising power for his anatomy. The Houston club along with the New York Mets arrived on the MLB scene as expansion teams the season prior to the Wynn transaction.
After spending a short stint in the minors, the Hamilton, Ohio native was prepared when the team rolled out the “Eighth Wonder of the World” aka the Astrodome in 1965 as their fulltime starting centerfielder. The “Toy Cannon” was born, blasting 22 home runs, 73 RBI, 43 stolen bases, and 84 BB with a solid .275 BA. Additionally, Jimmy was a splendid defensive outfielder with a great arm rounding out the proverbial “five-tool” player indicative of a bonafide MLB star. Wynn would go on post 20 plus round-trippers in seven of his nine seasons for the Stros as a starter, including 37 in 1967 and 33 in 1969. He was a league MVP candidate both seasons.
The Toy Cannon held his bat high and came through the hitting zone with a big sweeping swing. As with most power hitters, he struck out his fair share of the time but contrasted that trait with a penchant to draw walks enhancing his on base percentage (led the league in 1967 with 148 BBs). What made Wynn “box office” was not only his being the team’s premier slugger in the middle of the lineup, but the distance that his blasts would travel. He and teammate Doug Rader were the only players to ever hit home runs in the upper deck at the pitcher-friendly Astrodome. Another of his blasts went viral at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati when the power hitter lauched one that left the ballpark completely and landed in the middle of the freeway.
Wynn was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers ahead of the 1974 season and again became a MVP candidate, depositing 32 home runs, 108 RBI, scoring 104 runs and drawing 108 walks. The three time all-star, teamed with resident stalwarts Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Dusty Baker to participate in his only World Series where the Dodgers lost to the Oakland As. He would wrap his major league career with stints in Atlanta, New York (Yankees) and Milwaukee. Wynn finished with 291 roundtrippers and 964 runs batted in. His jersey no 24 was retired by the Houston Astros in 2005 and is a member of their hall of fame. The Toy Cannon was employed by the ‘Stros until his death on March 26 2020….Thanks “Toy” for all of the great moments.
Legendary pro basketball leaping sensation David Thompson was a contemporary of Julius “Dr J” Erving and George “Iceman” Gervin of the ABA prior to the merger with the NBA. Although standing only 6-3, the North Carolina State product consistently found a home at the rim with the ability to elevate above even the tallest defenders.
He penetrated the national roundball radar screen by leading his Wolfpack to the 1974 NCAA National Championship, including dethroning defending titlist UCLA led by Bill Walton in the semi-final round. As a pro, Thompson is one of only six players to score 70 or more points in a single NBA game and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1996.