Yes, LeBron James’ First NBA Coach Is From Prescott, Arkansas

Paul Silas is known to most of the basketball world as a Creighton legend, two-time NBA All-Star and a three-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics. He later became a head coach at the NBA level, including with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he became LeBron James’ first pro coach in 2003.

Silas grew up in Prescott, Arkansas, and on Thursday evening I’m going to helm a panel that includes long-time sportswriter Wadie Moore and his Silas’ junior high coach Joe Hale. Hale, still fit and hale at age 92, is something of a walking encyclopedia when it comes to black sports in Arknasas before integration. He is among the living legends like Eddie Boone, Johnny Greenwood and Oliver Elders (who has told me he will also attend) who can provide the current generation (and future generations) with knowledge of a largely unrecorded history.

Here’s more about all three of us and the location, Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing.

Arkansas Author Connection
Thursday, November 30, 2017
6:00 pm
Evin Demirel
author of
African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks
& Other Forgotten Stories
 
(Paperback) $24.99
About Evin Demirel
 
A former Latin teacher and Democrat-Gazette reporter, Demirel writes often about the intersection of sports, race relations and regional history. In September, he spoke at the Clinton School of Public Service about sports and the public history gap between African-American and white communities statewide. A father of one, he graduated from Little Rock Central High School and the University of Arkansas.
Panelists Include:
Wadie Moore, Jr.
 
Moore, Jr., a 1968 graduate of Horace Mann High School, broke ground as the first black African-American sportswriter at the Arkansas Gazette that same year. He attended Philander Smith College and stayed with the Gazette through 1991. After briefly worked as the editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial, Moore went to the Arkansas Activities Association, where he retired as assistant executive director in 2017. For years he tried to track down records of all-black high schools pre-integration and summon statewide interest in chronicling their heritage.
Joe Hale
 
In 1945, Hale starred as a shooting guard on the Oak Grove High in the Prescott area. His ’45 team played in the National Basketball Tournament for Black Schools in Nashville, Tenn. He then played basketball for AM&N before coaching basketball and football at the McRae High School. Among his players was Paul Silas, who would go on to become a two-time NBA All-Star and the first professional head coach of LeBron James. Hale, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from AM&N and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas, became principal of McRae High School in 1958. In later decades, he also served as principal of Lee High School in Marianna and assistant principal at Little Rock Central High.
“Evin Demirel is one of my favorite young sportswriters… He has written for a lot of publications and websites, The New York Times, Deadspin and this newspaper among them. A graceful writer who brings seriousness and an uncommon alertness to history and culture to his work, Demirel’s chief concern is bringing fresh, under-reported stories to light. In the age of the hot take, where self-branding and marketing seem fundamental to the pursuit of any media career, Demirel stands out for his commitment to honest journalism.
So it’s not difficult to recommend his new book… It is, as advertised, a deeply compelling survey of the heretofore neglected history of black athletes in 20th-century Arkansas.”
“Going beyond the title, this book stresses the relationships between Arkansan African Americans and whites alike. Yes, the hook is sports, but the subject matter is wide-ranging, weaving together regional and national historical strands of education, religion, politics, economics and civil rights. I recommend it as a resource for all Arkansas high school (and even middle school) administrators. They should seriously look at it as a learning tool for their students.”
– Dr. John L Colbert, Associate Superintendent for Support Services, Fayetteville Public Schools
“Really well written, informative stories about the Arkansas greats and people who paved the way for my dad, Almer Lee, Martin Terry and others…. It will speak to athletes, coaches and history lovers across the state and region, and should be read by Razorback fans of all backgrounds. But its reach should be wider-it’s national history as well.”
-Fayetteville native Ronnie Brewer, two-time All-SEC Razorbacks basketball player

Preview the book here.

 

Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing | Hearne Fine Art, 1001 Wright Avenue, Ste C, Little Rock, AR 72206

What Happened to the Kneeling Razorbacks?

A look at the six Razorback basketball players more than a year after their national anthem protest.

On Nov 3, 2016, six female Razorback players locked arms and kneeled as the national anthem played before a home basketball game. “Recently you all know that there’s been a lot of killings from police officers of African-Americans and other minorities,” Razorback Jordan Danberry said afterward. “Me and my teammates took a kneel today during the national anthem to speak for those who are oppressed. As Razorback student-athletes we have a platform to do that.”

The protest came with significant cost. The kneeling Razorbacks and their coaches (specifically former head coach Jimmy Dykes), who publicly supported them, suffered severe public criticism mixed with support. Former athletic director Jeff Long also supported the players’ rights to free speech. Long, too, sustained public heat for that support. This event, and his initial hiring of Dykes, almost certainly played a role—albeit a small one relative to the football program’s struggles—in Long’s firing just last week.

Four of the six protesters ended up quitting the team. At least one has transferred to another program. The classifications below refer to the player as of the 2016-17 school year.

Sophomore Jordan Danberry

The Conway native quit the team within weeks of the protest, and transferred to Mississippi State. Vic Schaefer, said Danberry should be academically eligible and ready to play for MSU against Little Rock on Dec. 10.

Senior Tatiyana Smith

The Plano, TX native quit in November, 2016 due to an undisclosed medical reason. She was on track to earn a criminal justice degree by May 2017.

Sophomore Briunna Freeman

Quit the program by early January, 2017. The UA honored her scholarship through the end of the academic year.  She returned to her home state of Georgia.

Freshmen Kiara Williams and Jailyn Mason

They are the only kneeling Razorbacks still on the team in the first year of new head coach Mike Neighbors.“It hasn’t been a discussion this year,” Neighbors said early this season. “I think that was last year, they’ve all lived through it already, and I don’t think that’s been something that they talk about doing again.”

Williams, an Alexander, AR native, is averaging 7.7 points and 6 rebounds a game for the 2-1 Razorbacks. Mason, a Mason, OH native, averages 9.3 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Redshirt Freshman Yasmeen Ratliff

The Alpharetta, GA native left the program by the end of the season. Interestingly, her father, Theo Ratliff, was an NBA All-Star and the best defensive player in the history of Wyoming basketball. When it comes to college sports protests, there is another, more direct link between the Wyoming Cowboys and Arkansas.

In 1969, Pine Bluff native Ivie Moore became one of The Black 14, a group of Cowboys football players who launched one of the most significant college sports protests of the era. I write more about it in my book on Arkansas heritage, sports and race relations.

Here’s the first page of the Ivie Moore chapter:

Wyoming football

Sports & Race Talks at the Clinton House Museum & Pine Bluff historical museum

My book tour continue with talks in Fayetteville and Pine Bluff about state heritage, race relations and sports. Here are the press releases for the events this week:

  1. Interested in social justice and sports? At 6 pm on Thursday, Evin Demirel will be the featured speaker at the Clinton House Museum. Demirel is the author of African-American Athletes in Arkansas and will discuss Muhammad Ali’s visit to the UA in 1969 and sports as an agent for social change. Free cheese and wine will also be served at the free talk and signing. Go here to RSVP. Of his book, Razorback legend Ronnie Brewer says, “It will speak to athletes, coaches and history lovers across the state and region . . . But its reach should be wider–it’s national history as well.”
  2. Are you interested in social justice or sports? At 2 pm on Sunday, sports historian Evin Demirel will be the featured speaker at the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum. Demirel is the author of African-American Athletes in Arkansas and will discuss Muhammad Ali’s visit to Pine Bluff in 1969, the national championship-winning Merrill High football programs of the 1930s and sports as an agent for social change. His book, which features rarely seen photos of UAPB athletic teams from a century ago, was completed with the help of UAPB’s museum and cultural center.Here is one such photo:

Merrill High football

The Arkansas Sports Media Is Turning On Bret Bielema

Three of the state’s leading sportswriters lay into Bielema following the Coastal Carolina debacle

For years, Bret Bielema and the Arkansas sports media enjoyed a prolonged honeymoon. On the whole, columnists, reporters and broadcasters enjoyed covering him and he seemed to enjoy riffing with them. In the times I interviewed him his first couple years, his enthusiasm and swagger always made for a fun, interesting conversation.

Bielema, after all, is a likable guy. And it helped that in his first three seasons at Arkansas, his teams clearly improved. Perhaps the culmination of the good times with local media came near the end of 2015 season, when sports radio host Bo Mattingly began producing a feel-good, behind-the-scenes mini series on Bielema and his program. No doubt, Bielema knew such a project could only help market his personality and the Razorback brand to potential recruits and fans.

Public image, after all, is so important in the entertainment industry. That’s one reason Jeff Long signed on to be the chairman of the College Football Playoff Selection Commitee, a position that for two years gave him and Arkansas much national exposure.

This year, though, as the 4-5 Hogs have seemingly regressed in every phase of the game, the local media has begun to turn on Bret Bielema. And things are getting more heated in the aftermath of Arkansas’s worst win of the modern era, a 39-38 unthinkable catastrophe-aversion against Coastal Carolina, a 1-8 Sun Belt team.

The local media doesn’t turn on coaches on a whim, like so many fans are apt to do. Media members understand that their access to covering games and interviewing players and coaches depends on maintaining a standard of professionalism and accuracy. Calling for a coach’s head after one bad game, or two or even three, is the kind of quick-trigger reaction-ism most professionals avoid.

But when enough bad efforts and worse executions happen over a long enough stretch, as they have in Arkansas football since last fall, then it becomes obvious that the issue is something systematic. And now, some big names in the Arkansas sports media landscape are calling this out. To wit:

1. Wally Hall, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist

Today, in his game recap column, Hall writers earlier this season Coastal Carolina team had lost to Arkansas State—traditionally only the second-best program in state—by 34 points and 10 of the Chanticleers’ points came against A-State subs. After lamenting the Hogs’ woeful defense, Wall also delivered this indictment:

Perhaps the biggest concern should be the leadership at the UA, and that means at the top. Who allowed a program that was in the Sugar Bowl after the 2010 season to slip to the point it has to charge back to slip by a visiting team that hasn’t won a Sun Belt game?

It should be noted that Bret Bielema wasn’t even hired until 2012. Regardless of whether “leadership” here means Bielema, or athletic director Jeff Long, or both, Hall is no longer holding back on the public criticism. That’s a bad sign for Bielema’s future at Arkansas.

2. Kurt Voigt, Associated Press Arkansas sports reporter

Speaking of Bret Bielema’s future at Arkansas, that’s a topic which in late October Voigt wanted to interview Long about. Most AP reporters strive to stay objective and report “just the facts.” But since that request Voigt hasn’t been afraid to chime in with observations and details that cause a buzz.

Continue reading The Arkansas Sports Media Is Turning On Bret Bielema

UA Alum Publishes History of African Americans in Arkansas Sports

In African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks & Other Forgotten Stories, alumnus Evin Demirel (BA’05) brings to light a little-known part of Arkansas history.

The journey from his roots in central Arkansas to historian is a bit circular. He went to Central High School in Little Rock, where he said race relations was a common topic discussed in hallways and classrooms. At the U of A, he majored in Classical Studies and taught Latin for a time.

But he got back into doing what he loved most: writing, specifically about public history.

In July, Demirel brought some of his previous essays and features together into African-American Athletes in Arkansas, a 200-page volume he seif-published. Many of the chapters, both previously published and brand new, are about the Razorbacks. “When it comes to sports in Arkansas,” Demirel said, “they are the defining brand, a unifying force for the state.”

He said that on the surface of this unifying force, there seemed to be a total exclusion of African-Americans prior to 1960. “But there were these exceptions to the strict rule of Jim Crow,” he said, “essentially all the time.”

These exceptions, and other important stories about African-
Americans in Arkansas, are often not remembered and little known. “There is a vast disparity in the public records of whites and blacks in Arkansas,” Demirel said.

In his introduction, he says the history of pre-integration African-American communities is vanishing as the people who lived through those times die. To that end, he created heritageofsports.com. One of the site’s purposes is to support an ongoing online project to commemorate people and events relating to sports and race in the South.

He said he wants to inject these “forgotten stories” into the sphere of public history. “I want it to become part of our states history and part of the curriculum at high schools and at the U of A,” he said.

“I don’t see this as the end of something,” he said, “but the start of something.”

The above originally published in the October 2017 issue of Arkansas, an alumni magazine produced by the University of Arkansas.  Delani Bartlette is the author.

The Future of NFL National Anthem Protests & Powerful White Men

The silver lining in filtering dialogue about national anthem kneeling and raised fists through a white perspective.

In today’s episode of Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast, host Stefan Fatsis explained the difficulty which modern NFL players find themselves in:

“They’re being asked to figure out a bunch of things — where they stand on racial injustice, freedom of expression, the right to push back against the president, how they feel about the anthem and flag. It puts a lot of unfair pressure on them, and now the way they react is interpreted politically.

If kneeling and raised fists and hands on shoulders diminishes over the subsequent weeks, well, then, people will just say ‘Well the NFL won. These guys are backing down. The players are wrong’ and this… conversation about race and justice gets filtered by how white people think about it.”

The show’s guest, former NFL Films producer Jamil Smith, then points out there’s a silver lining in that.

It’s a good thing, he says, because it means that a conversation about these issues—and the persistent menace of white supremacy in the U.S.—has at least started. The key, Smith says, is to press the issue with powerful white males. It is a minority of such men, after all, who enable white supremacy to fester in the 21st century, after all. And often they will listen to other powerful white males (e.g. NFL owners) more readily than anybody else.

“I think it’s OK it press these guys about the realities that [NFL] teammates have to endure when they leave the locker room. Because when they take those uniforms off, they are big black dudes in big, nice vehicles getting targeted.

And, sorry, it’s not too much to ask those guys to step up, to have an opinion.

You don’t necessarily have to put a hand on a shoulder, to kneel or to speak out. You can say ‘I understand. This is inspiring me to learn more about this issue. I’m trying to become a more educated citizen and I encourage everyone who’s listening to do the same.’

You don’t have to become a freedom fighter—it’s welcome—but you just have to become a more educated citizen. You have to exercise critical thinking and given how smart these guys are—and I know, I’ve interviewed a bunch of them—they can handle that task.

 

The Most Awesome Mayweather-McGregor Fight Prop Bets Known to Man

BetPhoenix.ag Releases More Betting Options For Mayweather-McGregor Super Fight

San Jose, Costa Rica: Today, BetPhoenix.ag, a major online sportsbook, announced they have released new proposition bets on the Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor fight.  They run the gamut from whether Mayweather will walk into the arena with gospel music blaring, to whether McGregor will bite Mayweather’s ear,

In line with the expectations this fight has created and the millions of dollars wagered on this event, BetPhoenix.ag is offering bettors more unusual prop bets not available at any other sportsbook.

Company representative Thomas Hughes, commenting on the interest this fight has sparked, said: “Since the infamous Tyson-Holyfield “Bite Fight,” there’s never been another event like this one. We’re expecting the fight may even bring in more money in bets than the Super Bowl. But, we want to push the envelope much further than usual by offering some new prop bets we believe will attract bettor’s attention.”

Continue reading The Most Awesome Mayweather-McGregor Fight Prop Bets Known to Man

Jimmy Johnson On Janis Joplin and Her (Apparent) Lack of Underwear

After a recent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can now expect to see his bust shown at that hall of fame’s headquarters in Akron, Ohio. Not so for Jimmy Johnson, the former head coach who with Jones led the Cowboys to two NFL championships in the mid 1990s.

While Johnson hasn’t yet been inducted into that particular hall of fame, he still has a bust on display — in the library of his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas. For more than 25 years now, that bust has stood near a bust of famed rock and roller Janis Joplin, who attended Port Arthur High School with Johnson. Joplin died in 1970 and didn’t leave anything regarding Johnson in her interviews. But Johnson has spoken about Joplin a few times.

“She wasn’t real fond of the jocks because we kind of teased her,” Johnson said in the 2016 SEC Network documentary “Before They Were Cowboys.”  I actually gave her a nickname, “Beat Weeds.” This was the late 1950s, and the “hippie movement” with which Joplin would become linked had not yet started.

Locally, the teenage Joplin was known as a talented painter and folk singer. Johnson, meanwhile, “could solve algebra problems at a glance and write term papers worthy of A’s the night before they were due,” Sports Illustrated’s Ed Hinton wrote in 1992. “He was a football lineman with the scars of childhood street ball showing through his burr haircut and was called Scar Head.”

“By a quirk in scheduling, Janis [class of 1960] and Jimmy [c/o 1961] once had to put up with each other in a history class for an entire school year, she seated behind him. He would tease the weirdo, “give her a hard time, irritate her,” he remembers; she would scoff at the jock and ignore him as best she could.”

“It was like oil and water mixing,” recalled Jim Maxfield, Johnson’s childhood friend, in “Before They Were Cowboys.” (Maxfield recalls the two actually sat side by side.) “Both of ’em knew that the other one was bright, and neither one of ’em could really get the upper hand. She would not invite him over for a glass of tea, I don’t think,” he added.

Was there any flirtatious edge to all this teasing? Johnson stiff-armed the notion with smile in the Sports Illustrated interview when his girlfriend brought up the fact that the Port Arthur library had a display case with Joplin’s panties in it. “Beat Weeds’ panties,” Jimmy scoffed. “She never wore any panties.*” And to raised eyebrows all around, he adds, “From what I understand.”

The two talented teenagers both left Texas to make their marks on the national stage. Johnson left for Arkansas, where he helped lead the Razorbacks to a national championship in 1964 and then embarked on a college coaching career  culminating in a national championship at Miami.

Joplin lingered in the Port Arthur area and Austin until early 1963, and then again in the mid 1960s, before breaking through in California.

 

* The chances that Janis Joplin never wore panties at all are pretty slim. Far slimmer, it’s safe to say, than the 500-to-1 odds of the Razorbacks winning the 2016 national college championship according to the latest betting lines

That Time the Razorbacks Football Team Went On Strike: Part 1

In other states, Arkansans have played major roles in some of the biggest team protest/strikes in college football history. In 1969, for instance, Sparkman native Fred Milton precipitated an Oregon State football protest generating national headlines by simply refusing to cut his hair.

Later that same year, Pine Bluff native Ivie Moore became one of Wyoming’s “Black 14” who boycotted an upcoming game against BYU.

In 2015, of course, the entire Missouri football team went on strike in advance of a game against BYU — though for different reasons than the Wyoming players. Russellville native Mitch Hall* was on that Mizzou squad.

Far less known than the above incidents is the time practically the entire University of Arkansas football team went on strike. In happened in January, 1912, and before diving into specifics, let’s take a wide-lens look at some of the most dramatic ways Razorback football was then so different:

  • Under the leadership of Hugo Bezdek, the program was coming off the most statistically dominant stretch in its history. From the start of 1909 to halfway through the 1911 season, Arkansas went 17-1 and outscored its combined opposition 617-42.
  • Touchdowns were then worth five points each.  Not only the 1912 were they worth six points.
  • It would be another two years before Arkansas joined the SWC as a charter member.
  • Its captain-elect, Dan Estes, would go on to coach at what’s now called UCA for 17 years. Today, Estes Stadium in Conway is named after him.

So, back to the strike: What exactly happened?

Just like with the strikes at Wyoming and Missouri, this student protest started with non-athletes. In Arkansas’ case, it started with the university administrators trying to put the clamps on an underground student-run newspaper called The X-Ray. This publication, helmed by 36 students, aimed “to correct university failings by condemning everything from campus litter to favoritism among discipline and scholarship committees,” Brady Tackett wrote for The Arkansas Traveler in 2012.

Another specific complaint levied by The X-Ray editors: “While we are too poor to keep our campus look neat at a nominal cost, we are able to build ten thousand dollar tracks and football fields that are never used.” Notably, the editors (who included their names on the paper’s masthead) included sons of members of the board of trustees, UA baseball stars and, apparently, Dan Estes himself.

This publication infuriated UA administrators, especially UA president John Tillman. It violated a 1905 law, prompted by the board of trustees, banning “unauthorized publications and assemblages.”


This was Part 1 of a two-part series. Go here to read the rest.


*The 2015 Missouri football team strike was inspired by a black student organization’s protests against racially charged incidents on campus and a cut to health insurance for graduate students. I don’t know if Hall, who is white, supported the protest or not. Not all the Mizzou players did, after all. One white player anonymously told ESPN: “As much as we want to say everyone is united, half the team and coaches — black and white — are pissed. If we were 9-0, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Missouri football has struggled mightily since the start of the 2015 football season, winning only three SEC games in that span and producing terrible Tweets like the below. It’s has about 1000-to-1 odds of winning the 2018 national championship according to some betting lines.

 

The 5-10 Philander Smith Guard Who Led the Nation in Field Goal Percentage: Part 1

It’s not common to find high-volume shooters who connect on more than 75% of their field goal attempts over the course of a full college season. Rarer still are those players who can also connect on more than 90% of their free throws.

Rarest of all is the player who does all the above while standing less than six feet tall.

And yet, nearly 50 years, a Philander Smith College guard named Robert Thompson pulled off this possibly unmatched trifecta. In 1968-69, this 5-10 Texas native finished:

  • 8th in the nation in scoring with a 29.1 average per game
  • 1st nationally in field goal percentage at 77.8 %, completing 257 out of 330 field goals attempted
  • 1st nationally in free throw percentage at 97.1 %, completing 104 out of 107 free throws attempts

These are amazing statistics. In the NBA, the kinds of players who can shoot more than 70% from the field while also shooting at high volumes are in the Wilt Chamberlin realm—unstoppable giants camped out close to the rim. Yet those same giants often struggle with their free throws, shooting under 60%.

At the Division I NCAA level, the two highest field goal shooters have been:

  1. Davontae Cacok (UNC Wilmington): Shot 80% for 12.3 PPG in 2016-17
  2. Steve Johnson (Oregon State*): Shot 74.6% for 21 PPG in 1980-81

Yet both of these guys were fairly large dudes operating around the rim. Cacok stands 6-7, 240 pounds, while Johnson played at 6-10, 235 pounds. And both shot under 69% from the free throw line.

Meanwhile, the Division I record-holder in season free throw percentage is Missouri State guard Blake Ahearn, who hit 97.5% in 2003-4. But he also shot under 40% from the field.

Philander Smith plays in the NAIA, so how does Thompson’s feat stack up within that association’s all-time records? Well, it turns out his free throw record still stands today.  The runner-up is Klay Knueppel (Wisconsin Lutheran), who made 95% of his free throw attempts in 1989-1992.

The listed season field goal leader is James Cason, a Birmingham-Southern forward who made 78.2% of his 280 attempted field goal attempts in 1995-96. Cason, however, stood 6-5, making him one of the tallest players on the court during most NAIA games. Robert Thompson may hold the No. 2 ranking here. According to the NAIA record book, the No. 2 spot goes to Paul Peterson (Westbrook [Maine]), who shot 76.2% from the field in 1994-95. But Thompson’s 77.8% is superior, of course.

Of course, since the NAIA official record keepers didn’t include Thompson’s record, it’s possible they have missed others as well. But regardless of how high Thompson’s 77.8% ranks, it’s fair to say it’s an extremely impressive for any player—especially a 5-10, 158 pound guard.

I’ve found some old articles which delve deeper into Thompson’s historically great season. Stay tuned for those upcoming posts.

 

*My oh my how the Oregon State basketball program has fallen, going from No. 1 throughout much of that 1980-81 season to around 500-to-1 odds to win the 2018 national championship according to some betting lines.