You’ve got to figure that anything connected to Michael Jordan is big news.
Let it be known that Jordan’s “Last Dance” documentary had two very interesting ⎯ and, yes, local ⎯ participants in his Chicago Bulls’ farewell. It was all right there in front of us on Sunday, May 17, night’s final two episodes. If you missed any of the previous episodes they are available on demand.
First up was Reggie Miller, sharpshooting guard from the Indiana Pacers, a lethal team that could’ve easily KO’d Jordan’s final Bulls’ season in the 1998 Eastern Conference championship.
Miller was a high-scoring baller from nearby Riverside Poly, who spent time at UCLA before playing his entire career with the Pacers. He was the three-point magician before Steph Curry showed up in Golden State.
In the ensuing NBA finals: There’s Bryon Russell, the heads-up guard-forward swingman who was famously guarding Jordan in his game-winning shot ⎯ Game 6, Delta Center, Jazz winning by one at the time, 5.2 seconds remaining ⎯ in Salt Lake City.
Russell was the “big man” on some of San Bernardino High’s best teams from the 1980s. Off to Long Beach State before the Jazz took him in the second round (1993).
This guy played in all of this area’s local gyms ⎯ San Gorgonio, Cajon, spots in Rialto and Fontana ⎯ and took part in the Cardinals’ 1989 CIF championship, the one coached by Scott Kay.
Doug Howard, Carlos Dew and 6-foot-8 Ray Owes were a few other players off that unbeaten Cardinals’ team that knocked off Glendora for the title.
For the record, it was Glendora’s Tracy Murray that copped that year’s Div. 4-A Player of the Year honors. Russell had to be second in that year’s voting.
The Cardinals, who had an opening round bye that year, beat Arroyo in double OT, Torrance by 12 and Riverside Poly (Miller, long gone) by 10 in leading up to the championship game against Glendora, a 72-69 outcome.
Throw one more NBA championship finals in Russell’s folder ⎯ 2004. Phil Jackson, coach. Lost to Detroit in five. One of his Lakers’ teammates, Karl Malone, was on the floor at the time Jordan hit the 1998 game-winner.
Last we heard, Russell was living in Woodland Hills.
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Would you believe that San Gorgonio High baseball coach Bill Eatinger, who’s well on his way to 600 career prep victories, is in Aquinas High School’s Hall of Fame.
It happened in 2018. This guy started his coaching career on the other side of the crosstown 30. Obviously, most of his work came on the Spartans’ diamond.
Kind of cool that a rival school ⎯ if you want to call it a rivalry since those schools rarely compete against each other ⎯ would honor someone from the “other” campus.
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Undrafted free agent signings are nothing new in pro football.
“I’ve had four guys get picked up as [undrafted free agents],” said Citrus Valley High coach Kurt Bruich, rattling off the names of Andrew Hudson (Buffalo), David Peterson and Gary Walker (both Baltimore) and Chris Polk (Philadelphia).
Polk, whose ball-carrying skills lifted Redlands East Valley High School into a prominent playoff spot in 2006-08, made the Eagles’ roster in 2012 after a brilliant collegiate career at Washington.
Polk, however, had a major disadvantage in the NFL draft. Since the first draft in 1936, the league has gone from nine rounds to 20, eventually to 30, winding down to the current number of seven.
Teams tap into a number of undrafted players, likely saving money in the process by picking up free agents.
All of which makes Fitts’ selection, perhaps, even more impressive. The onetime University of Utah defensive end-outside linebacker was a pass rushing phenom that seemed to fit into the Bears’ scheme.
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I guess the most moving nugget on reading about retiring Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw was that she was supposed to be on board United Flight 175 from Boston to LA on September. 11, 2001.
An assistant coach convinced her to take another flight so they could compare notes on recruiting stops.
McGraw’s other big message is how strongly she feels that more women need to be in leadership roles — especially in sports.
She wants to see more women in coaching roles, as athletic directors and wherever men currently sit as sports leaders.
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Footnote Last Dance: Isn’t it interesting that San Gorgonio legendary basketball player Steve Johnson played on Michael Jordan’s 1984 rookie season with the Bulls? Johnson, who averaged 10 points that season, started 54 games.
Johnson ⎯ not to be confused with Redlands High’s Steve Johnson from virtually the same era (1970s, early 1980s) ⎯ was the Kansas City Kings’ seventh pick in the first round back in 1981.
The Bulls, Spurs, Blazers, Sonics, Wolves and Warriors followed on his nomadic 11-year career.
There are prep coaches from those years that remembered the 6-10 Johnson as unstoppable.