Welcome to Tom Talks, the sports talk show of the printed page. I’ll be gone the next two Sundays, so if you turn to this space you’ll get nothing but dead air. I suggested running Tom Talks’ greatest hits, and a team of us researched the subject for three weeks. Alas, it’s tough to justify running a 2 1/2-inch column. Let’s go to the phones.
Tom, Duke from Earl. What did you think of Caitlyn Jenner winning the ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award?
Jenner’s acceptance speech was powerful, and perhaps the people who love to make life difficult for those who are different will think before they act, which is to say they won’t act. Transitioning from man to woman as Jenner has and telling the world about it would, I think, require tremendous courage. Jenner, however, has not been an athlete since, what, the mid-1970s? She’s a former athlete. But I don’t think awards are terribly important, and if her speech changes minds I have no complaints.
Tom, Fred from Faith. Do you have any?
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Faith? Of course. I believe in me.
Are you honestly excited about the 2015-16 edition of the Charlotte Hornets, or are you just taking the company line?
I’m curious and interested about the coming together of the old and the new. Obviously I respect the games of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the work they put in to attain it. I want to see the big guys (Big Al excluded) on the perimeter. I want to see Big Al’s dust-covered old-school moves. I want to see Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin. And I want to see the surprise. There’s always a surprise. Jeremy Lamb, maybe? Training camp will be compelling.
Tom, Barbara from Bunn.
Whoa now. A little rusty, are we? Don’t you think Charlotte made a terrible mistake by helping the Charlotte Knights build a minor-league ballpark when the major leagues want to expand to Charlotte?
Four Charlotte urban sports myths: Kobe Bryant was a Hornet (the trade was arranged before the 1996 NBA draft); owner Jerry Richardson is the de facto Carolina Panthers general manager (the last pick on which he insisted was Julius Peppers in 2002); fans cared when the Hornets left for New Orleans (there was nothing but apathy); Charlotte can support Major League Baseball.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred envisions expansion and Charlotte has lots of people but lacks a Major League Baseball team. So get on board. Or don’t. We can’t support one. On weekends, fans from Greensboro and Charleston would fill the seats. On weeknights, unless there’s a glamour match-up, we’d be a testament to empty sections. If you’re hard up for the majors, look at BB&T Ballpark’s field. The landscape is major league. Several players will be.
Tom, Don from Duck, your fifth straight caller from a one-syllable N.C. town. Do you ever run into athletes you admired as a kid?
I’ve spent time with Muhammad Ali and Earl Monroe. I’m still waiting to meet Alan Page and Gale Sayers. My older son was walking into a Bloomington, Minn., gym Friday and Tony Oliva held the door for him. Wish I had been there. Oliva, who played for the Charlotte Hornets of the South Atlantic League before going north to the Minnesota Twins, is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen. A Cuban, he could do everything – until he underwent eight knee operations. He hit line drives, and man did he hit them hard. He turns 77 Monday. Happy birthday, Tony.
Tom, Sally from Star, the geographic center of North Carolina. You’ve long been a detractor of soccer. What did you think of the matches Wednesday at Bank of America Stadium?
I loved them. Most fun I’ve ever had watching soccer. The fans were gracious and great, the mariachi band outside the North gate joyous and cool. The Mexico-Trinidad & Tobago game was a thrill. But my team was Cuba. They were underdogs for a variety of reasons. One is that every time a player took off down the field the coaches didn’t know if they’d ever see him again. They upset Guatemala anyway.