Black college products producing on world's biggest stages
Avery Johnson and Shaka Hislop are about as worlds apart as they can be. After all, one is a coach, the other is a player. One is from New Orleans, the other from Trinidad. One plays soccer and the other coaches basketball.
And this week, one is in Miami and the other in Germany, competing in what is for each, and perhaps is for the rest of the world, among the biggest sports prizes on the planet.
What they have in common is quite simple. They are both black college products taking the world by storm.
Johnson, 41, a journeyman 16-year professional point guard out of Southern University in his first full year as a professional basketball coach, has the upstart Dallas Mavericks up two games to none on the venerable Miami Heat in the finals of the National Basketball Association playoffs.
This is the stage that made Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar world famous and household names. The third game was to be Tuesday night in Miami.
Hislop, 37, a veteran professional soccer goalie out of Howard University competing for his native Trinidad and Tobago in the FIFA World Cup, provided the heroics as his upstart squad battled the powerful Swedish team to a 0-0 tie Saturday in the tiny Caribbean nation's first appearance in the event.
The World Cup, being staged in several cities throughout Germany, is the biggest soccer competition in the world's most popular sport. Trinidad and Tobago was scheduled to meet another soccer biggie, England on Thursday.
Both events are said to be drawing an estimated 3 billion TV viewers worldwide. While the NBA Finals has better ratings in the U.S., the World Cup has far better numbers across the world.
Hislop, who was born in London but raised in Trinidad, had a storied career at Howard but a somewhat reluctant entry to professional soccer.
As a freshman, the Bison soccer team was ranked No. 6 in the nation and he was named Rookie of the Year by Soccer America Magazine and shared the Most Valuable Defensive Player Award in the 1988 NCAA Tournament. Howard lost in the championship game of that tournament to Indiana 1-0 on a penalty kick following a questionable and controversial foul.
Hislop was team captain his junior and senior years before graduating cum laude in 1992 from Howard with a degree in mechanical engineering. During an internship at NASA headquarters the summer before graduation, a mentor advised him to give professional soccer a try. He started playing for the Baltimore Blast and was seen by a scout from the Reading Football Club in England who offered him a two-month trial that turned into his first professional contract. The club moved up two divisions in three years while Hislop earned all-star and player of the year status.
In 1995 he was traded to Newcastle in a deal that garnered over $2 million, still a record for a goalie. Last season he played for Portsmouth before moving this season to West Ham.
In the match against Sweden, Hislop, normally a back-up goalie for T&T, was pressed into service when starter Kelvin Jack was injured in pre-match warmups. Hislop responded by turning away the powerful Swedes time after time and preserving the "Soca Warriors" tie in their first World Cup match. At tie earns each team one point in World Cup scoring.
Hislop and his mates held strong despite going a man down in the first minute of the second half when left back Avery John was sent off for a harsh challenge on a Swedish midfielder. Of all the first round matches in the World Cup, the Trinidad/Sweden outcome has been the most shocking to soccer fans.
Hislop, who was inducted into the Howard Athletic Hall of Fame last year, has been the focus of frenzied media attention since last weekend's upset.
"Over the last 72 hours since Shaka's spectacular performance in the World Cup, I have received numerous requests from various media for contacts, names, numbers, biographical and statistical data," said Howard Sports Information Director, Ed Hill. "It has given the university tremendous publicity and more exposure to our soccer program."
The Avery Influence
Johnson has taken a blue-collar, hard hat route to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
He attended two colleges before landing at Southern as a hard-nosed point guard that led all of NCAA Div. I in assists his final two years. But he had no direct route to the NBA.
As a 5-11, 175-pound undrafted point guard, he had to fight every inch of the way and was cut by three NBA teams before landing a spot on the 1988-89 Seattle Supersonics squad. That tenacity payed off in a 16-year career capped by his role as lead guard and one of the team leaders in the San Antonio Spurs' 1999 NBA championship.
Despite playing with seven-footers Tim Duncan and David Robinson during that title run, Johnson became known as the "Little General" for his ability to run the team and get his points across. Two years later he was gone from the Spurs and played for three more teams, including Dallas, before his retirement following the 2003-04 season to devote full time to coaching.
It took the Dallas brain trust less than a year to see that Johnson was the man to take the Mavericks to places they had never been, namely, the NBA Finals.
He led them to a 16-2 mark after taking the reins late last season. He then guided them to a 60-22 regular season mark this year, tied for the best record in the Western Division. That accomplishment was enough to earn him the NBA Coach of the Year award in his first full season.
He now has the Mavs up 2-0 against a team led by coach Pat Riley, who earned four championship rings coaching the ShowTime Los Angeles Lakers led by Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar, and Heat center Shaquille O'Neal, the biggest name in the sport who already has three rings from his own stint with the Lakers.
Johnson leads a rag-tag bunch of upstarts _ a motley crew of youngsters (Josh Howard, Devin Harris), castoffs (Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Eric Dampier, Keith Van Horn) and foreigners (Dirk Nowitzki, Sagana Diop) who have befuddled the defending champion Spurs and high-scoring Phoenix Suns en route to the finals, where they're now doing the same to O'Neal, Dwayne Wade and the Heat.
© 2006 Azeez Communications, Inc.