The Best Athletes I’ve Ever Seen

Posted: September 4, 2016 in Opinion, Sports
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And by seen I mean seen live and in person. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my life, with a father who took me to high school, college and professional games all the time. As an adult I’ve been fortunate to be able to attend some pretty amazing games up close as well. What you’ll find below are some memories of some pretty incredible athletes.

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Wilt Chamberlain.

Dad used to take me to see the Cincinnati Royals, the old NBA team, several times a year. One of my favorite memories is watching the Royals, with Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, take on the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967, the year they won the NBA Championship. Philly had Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham and the great Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was my favorite player, and he actually shook my hand that night. Unforgettable memory.

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Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

On December 6th, 1968 (I looked it up) dad took me to Ohio State to watch a good Buckeye team take on John Wooden’s famed UCLA Bruins. We sat behind the basket, and I’ll never forget watching center Lew Alcindor and his famous sky hook. Alcindor, of course, later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Another memory of that day is my father complaining that Alcindor didn’t work hard enough.

My Dad and my Uncle Myrl used to take us to a bunch of Bengals games every year, especially when our cousin Greg Cook was the quarterback for the team. He used to take us to the locker room afterwards and it was great. We even went into the visitors locker room a couple times where I met some famous players, including Joe Namath and OJ Simpson. Yes, I shook that hand. One particular game stands out from when I was a little older though. Again, I can thank my dad for pulling through for the tix, but I was in attendance at the Bengals vs. Bills Monday Night Football Game back in 1975. During the Bengals’ 33-24 win Ken Anderson threw for 447 yards and the aforementioned O.J. Simpson slashed his way for 197 yards rushing. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

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The Pistol.

Another great memory is a Royals game we went to against the New Orleans Jazz. The Jazz had none other than Pistol Pete Maravich on their team, and he torched the Royals for 44-points that night as I recall. The Pistol was mesmerizing, and the Cincinnati Garden was electric every single time he touched the ball. I also remember that he wasn’t the high scorer that night. Unheralded Royals center Connie Dierking had 45. I could be off on those numbers but I know I’m close. Pete Rose sat a couple rows behind us that night.

I was in attendance on April 4th, 1974 when Hank Aaron hit his 714th home run off of the Red’s Jack Billingham to tie Babe Ruth’s all-time record. Now there’s something you don’t see every day. I’ll never forget the emotion in Riverfront Stadium that day. I was 18, and I knew I was witnessing history.

A few years earlier, on May 17th, 1970, I’d seen Hank get his 3000th hit at Crosley Field. It was the second game of a doubleheader, and later in the game he hit his 570th homer.

Speaking of Crosley Field, I was also at the last game played there on June 24th, 1970. I remember the great Juan Marichal pitching for the Giants and Johnny Bench and Lee May hit back-to-back home runs off him, enabling the Reds to go ahead and eventually win the game. Afterwards a helicopter came in, picked up home plate, and flew it over to Riverfront Stadium to be placed there. Pretty cool night.

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Roberto Clemente.

I also saw Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates play in old Crosley Field a few times. He was so smooth and fluid, just a joy to watch. You knew you were seeing something special as you watched him. He recorded his 3000th hit on September 30, 1972, and it would be his last regular season hit. Sadly, three months later, Clemente died in a tragic crash of a cargo plane carrying relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

I can’t tell you how many times I watched Pete Rose play. My father absolutely loved Pete because of his style of play, which was all out, all the time. Pete sprinted to first base after walks and he sprinted to and from the outfield between innings. Once my cousin Mick cut his knee walking into Crosley Field and somehow (my dad and Uncle Myrl had connections, man) we ended up in the Reds training room. There was Mick, sitting on a training table beside Pete Rose, who was getting taped up. He couldn’t have been nicer.

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Steve Francis.

This next one may surprise you, but Steve Francis in his prime was one of the best basketball I have ever seen, period. It’s sort of cool because I knew him when he was 13-years old. I was working at Gary William’s Basketball Camp at Maryland in 1990 and there was a little kid sitting in the stands at Cole Field House, crying. Since I was the camp commissioner somebody sent me over to talk to him. Turns out he was mad because some of the counselors were playing a pick-up game during lunch and wouldn’t let him play. He knew he was good enough, and he was probably right. 10-years later he came back to speak at camp as an NBA All-Star.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw North Carolina’s Vince Carter in Cole Field House either. There was a fast break, and guard Ed Cota threw a pass from mid-court. It looked like it slipped or something because it was way too high and far away from the basket. I thought for certain it was going into the crowd. All of a sudden Carter came out of nowhere, leaped up, caught the ball with one hand, behind his head and probably 3-feet over the rim, and threw down a dunk that defied logic, gravity and human belief. I’d never seen anything like it.

I also got to see Ohio State Buckeyes like Archie Griffin, Orlando Pace, Eddie George, Maurice Clarett, and Jack Tatum. You could always spot the special ones. They were just . . . different. And Tatum was called The Assassin for a reason.

Anyway, thanks to Dad, Billy, Gary, Huggs and all the other people who have hooked me up with tickets and great seats over the years.

Hopefully the ride will continue.

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