Only eight days left until Christmas and I've finally taken time out of my hectic holiday season schedule to jot down a few items on my annual wish list. It's been a great 2008 so far, and while I probably fall somewhere in the middle on the whole naughty or nice thing, I'm hoping to finish off the year strong by being the person I should always strive to be.
At least for the next few weeks " hey, I'll work on my New Year's resolutions when the times comes " no cursing at my fellow drivers of the world. As for that wish list I've been putting off since Thanksgiving, well, here's the first draft. It's sort of a potpourri of local, national and worldwide " maybe even a little cosmic " people, places and things.
First of all, if you've been keeping up with our Oklahoma City Thunder lately, you're aware of two things: One, they keep losing. As of Sunday, they were 2-23 and signs of frustration in both the players and fans were starting to show. Two, they have played much harder and been much more competitive since Scott Brooks took over when P.J. Carlesimo was fired as head coach on Nov. 22.
My wish is for Brooks to be given the chance to build on what he has started. Granted, it's not like the Thunder has gone out and reeled off a bunch of wins since he grabbed the reins, but he seems to have made a connection with his young team. And that is worth plenty.
I was all ready for OKC's management to run out and hire Avery Johnson, who we all know to be a dynamic and proven coach, but now I say give Brooks some time to work with his players and build for the future.
Next up, Wayman Tisdale. I can hardly think of this gentle giant without tearing up, wondering how he manages to forge ahead each day as if he's the luckiest man on the planet.
If you are any kind of sports fan, you probably are aware Tisdale has been battling cancer over the last two-plus years. And a couple of months ago, he lost the bottom half of his right leg to the disease.
Through it all, the former University of Oklahoma and pro basketball legend " and popular jazz musician " has remained positive and continued to flash his trademark smile. Talk about a human being with deep-rooted faith and a passion for life!
I wish for him a speedy recovery, good health and many, many more happy years to come. Hero, legend, role model and survivor " Tisdale's story puts everything into perspective. His actions should make us all realize how precious life truly is and how fortunate we are to be here.
A little over two years ago, Buck O'Neil succumbed to heart failure at age 94, just a few months after failing to receive the required number of votes from the Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee needed for induction. O'Neil didn't complain " he just kept on being an ambassador for baseball until the day he died.
O'Neil was a big reason why 17 other former Negro League stars were elected to the Hall of Fame from 1981 to 2000. For years, he was a one-man road show as he tirelessly traveled the country reminding fans, media types and the powers that be about many deserving Negro League heroes who had fallen through the cracks of time. He helped raise funds that made the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., a reality.
My brother, Gary, and I met O'Neil at a memorabilia show in Dallas back in the late 1980s. His spirit shone so brightly, you could not help but become a fan almost instantly. We walked away from his booth that day feeling incredibly fortunate to have shared in his stories and a few minutes in his life.
Maybe O'Neil doesn't deserve to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame for his career numbers as a Negro League player. But for all he did to represent and advance blacks in baseball and for his overall ambassadorship to the game itself, he deserves to be enshrined.
That is my final wish, at least where sports are concerned.
Happy holidays to all. "Jay C. Upchurch