Weekend Column: “The people’s champ must be everything the people can’t be”


By Leon Hargrove Jr. - Sports Editor



ROCKINGHAM — I know everyone is going crazy over the NBA Finals right now — trust me, I am too. But I’m itching for the NBA Draft to roll around next Thursday.

I just love this time of year. Especially when this year’s draft is expected to be a strong one — unlike when Anthony Bennett went first back in 2013.

Of course, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are at the top of board, but I’m eager to see who will be the sleeper pick.

Last year, in my eyes, Devin Booker was the sleeper. His production this past season surprised me — and I watched him drop 42 points at the Holiday Invitational in Raleigh back in 2013.

I knew he could create his own shot and shoot the lights out, but I had no idea his game would translate that fast in the league. I’m not saying he’s an all-star caliber player, but you can’t overlook him having six 30-point games as a rookie.

Now, back to this year’s draft pool, I believe people should watch out for Malcolm Brogdon and Denzel Valentine. Brogdon is arguably the best two-way guard in this class — which should translate into a long career for him, while Valentine can just do it all at the forward position. There’s no doubt in my mind that Valentine can be just as productive as his Michigan State brother, Draymond Green, on the NBA level.

THE FINALS

“The NBA is rigged.”

If you’ve opened up Twitter or Facebook while watching a game during this year’s Finals, I am 100 percent sure you saw a tweet or status update that read those exact words. I’ve heard people say the league was fixed plenty of times before, but never as much as I have during the 2016 playoffs.

You can believe that the refs are dictating the outcome, but at the end of the day, those 10 guys on the court are the only ones that can control the ball going into the basket.

Game 5, LeBron James scored 41 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out seven assists.

Game 6, LeBron James scored 41 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 11 assists.

No matter how you slice it, you can’t “rig” greatness.

Yes, half of Steph Curry’s fouls in Game 6 were horrible calls. I probably would’ve tossed my mouthpiece too — and hit the Cleveland fan on purpose.

However, as the back-to-back MVP, Steph has to know better. If you know you have four fouls, don’t push up on Kyrie Irving and reach across his body for the steal. And if you just got called for your fifth foul, why would you run under LeBron to try and steal a backcourt pass?

Those were ticky-tack fouls, but there’s no reason to gamble in those situations.

I said all of that, just to remind you guys that I predicted the Cavs to win in six or seven. I chose Cleveland because I couldn’t see LeBron going down in another NBA Finals before getting his third ring.

I was scared for a little while, but so far, he’s proving me right.

THE GOAT

I remember being a third-grader and standing in front of my homeroom class with a robe over my clothes and some oversized boxing gloves.

I don’t remember the occasion, what I said or my classmates’ reactions. The only thing I remember is that I was Muhammad Ali for the day. And nobody could take that away from me.

A couple of weeks ago, I placed an article in the paper about Ali being in the hospital right before I left work. When I read that article, I thought to myself, “I wonder how the world will react when he’s gone?” Little did I know, the people’s champ would actually pass away two hours later.

I watched about 10 minutes of his funeral service that was held last Friday. I expected to see a huge crowd line the streets of Louisville and a lot of crying — which I saw. What I didn’t expect to see, was people running up and touching the limousine that carried Ali’s body.

Seeing the joy on the faces of those who got to touch the vehicle really made me take a step back and appreciate the person who was being celebrated on the TV screen.

Not only did Ali teach us how to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee and make it to the bed before the light switch made the room dark, he also taught us to stand up for what we believe in — even if you’re going up against the government of the United States.

Ali was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of human being. His impact, his legacy went beyond boxing and I’m just glad I was able to realize that — to some capacity — as a young boy.

Rest in peace to the “Greatest of All-Time.”

Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow him on Twitter @_UncleLeon.

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By Leon Hargrove Jr.

Sports Editor

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