SPORTING THANKS This is a week -- more than any other -- when we need to count our blessings. After family and friends, there are a few sports-related gifts Id like to pause and appreciate.
Im thankful for Memphis high school basketball. From Treadwell to Hamilton, from Ridgeway to White Station . . . if the local sports scene can be described as a machine, prep hoops is certainly the engine.
Im thankful for the Kroger St. Jude, FedEx St. Jude Classic, and AXA Liberty Bowl Football Classic. I dont care much for title sponsors but, hey, this is the 21st century and these three organizations are as professional as they come. Year in, year out, Memphis puts on a week-long sports festival . . . three times a year. No, we dont have Wimbledon, the Masters, or the Rose Bowl. But find another city our size that can match these three events.
Im thankful to have Shane Battier in Memphis. It can be hard -- very hard -- to root for NBA players these days. Somehow the percentage of miscreants in the NBA seems to dwarf those in the NFL, NHL, or major league baseball. Not only do I enjoy pulling for Mr. Battier, but Id be happy for him to babysit my daughters.
Im thankful for the leftfield bluff at AutoZone Park.
Im thankful that my 3-year-old daughter, Sofia, can name two baseball players, and they happen to be Albert Pujols and Stubby Clapp. (And Im thankful that she describes -- without provocation -- the San Francisco slugger who wears a dangling earring as a silly man.)
Im thankful for Larry Finch. All due respect to Keith Lee, Andre Turner, Penny Hardaway, Lorenzen Wright, and the many other Tiger hoop studs. Larry Finch IS University of Memphis basketball . . . always will be. The U of M was right on in giving his name to its new training facility. All theyre missing now is the statue. Get well soon, Coach.
Im thankful for Shyrone Chatman. Playing out of position at point guard, Chatman got the absolute most out of his abilities in leading the over-achieving 2000-01 University of Memphis Tigers to the NIT semifinals. Making the most of his abilities off the court, Chatman became the first Tiger basketball player in years to earn his degree last spring. Dajuan Wagner has a fat NBA contract and Penny Hardaway has a banner hanging from the Pyramid rafters. The fact is, the U of M needs more players like Shy Chatman.
Im thankful for Tuesday Night Boxing on Beale. Where would we be without the New Daisy?
Im thankful for memories of Darryl Kiles curveball. You know how certain songs, certain smells will take you back to a special time, place, or person? Anytime I see a big-league curveball break three feet -- straight down -- Im going to remember number 57.
Im thankful for Joye Lee-McNelis. Shes been at the helm of an under-appreciated U of M womens basketball program for more than a decade. Shes won five conference championships and sent two players to the WNBA. And shes been wooed by outsiders year after year. How nice to have a familiar face build a local program, keep it clean as a whistle, and stick around to enjoy the fruits.
Im thankful for C-USA basketball. No, its not the ACC, Big East, or SEC. And its struggling to establish its identity as a top flight hoops league. But you can do a lot worse than a group that includes Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul, Houston, Memphis, and Louisville. Think about naming an all-time team, selecting only from those six schools. Heres hoping DePaul and Houston find their way back toward the national elite. For that matter, heres hoping the same for the U of M.
Im thankful for East High football. Coach Wayne Randall has built one of the Mid-Souths finest programs and won a state championship . . . without a home field! Hollywood makes movies about this kind of stuff.
Im thankful for 10 years with the prettiest calico cat youll ever see. We watched countless ballgames together, my lap as her box seat. And she was a terrific fan . . . never seemed to mind who won or lost. Rest in peace, Beale.