SPORTS DIGEST: Former Laker is featured in film festival documentary

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

A name from the past popped up the other day among the hundreds of emails I receive daily.

The email was a press release from the Pan African Film Festival, the largest film festival in the world devoted to Black filmmakers. The release was regarding the premiere of the movie “The Dream Whisperer,” which will be shown at 7 p.m. April 30 at the Cinemark Theater at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

“The Dream Whisperer” is about the Tennessee A&I College’s basketball teams from 1957 to 1959 which won three consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championships, becoming the first historically Black college or university to win any national championship tournament.

The star of that Tennessee A&I team was a guard by the name of Dick Barnett, who went on to have a 14-year career in the NBA, including three seasons — 1962-65 — with the Lakers. He spent the bulk of his NBA career with the New York Knicks, where he was a key role player on their 1970 and 1973 championship teams. Among his Knicks teammates were Hall of Famer Walt Frazier and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

During his three years with the Lakers, Barnett averaged 16.8 points a game playing with the likes of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. The Lakers made it to the NBA Finals in two of his three years, losing to the Boston Celtics both times.

Laker announcer Chick Hearn used to say “Fall back baby” whenever Barnett hit his patented mid-range jump shot.

Overall, he averaged 15.8 points a game during his career.

After he retired from basketball, Barnett, earned a master’s degree in public administration from New York University and a Ph.D. in education administration and supervision from Fordham University. Now 85, he continues to champion the battles for equity and social justice by telling his story and the story of the Tennessee A&I team to students of all ages around the country.

It has taken 11 years to get “The Dream Whisperer” made and it tells the journey Barnett has had trying to get his Tennessee A&I team recognized for its historic achievements that occurred in the 1950s when Jim Crow was alive and well in the South and the NAIA was several notches below the NCAA Division 1 teams.

“This is a story about the first college basketball team to win three consecutive national championships,” said Barnett, who is now 85. “A team that almost was lost to history until I decided to do something about it. It’s about a legacy that needs to be protected and passed on.”

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the 1957 Tennessee A&I team. Barnett’s teammate John Barnhill also went on to play in the NBA and the team’s coach John McLendon is in both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

“The Dream Whisperer” is narrated by Barnett and features interviews with former Georgetown coach John Thompson, Julius Erving, Barnett’s teammates on the Knicks Frazier, Jackson and Bill Bradley, who became a U.S. senator after he retired; former NBA Commissioner David Stern, coach McLendon’s widow Joanna McLendon, civil rights activist Harry Edwards and many others.

“The Dream Whisperer” was executive produced by Ed Peskowitz, Penelope Peskowitz, Eric Drath, George Willis and Grammy Award-winning hip hop producer 9th Wonder, produced by Danielle Naassana, Aaron Cohen, and directed by two-time Emmy winner Eric Drath.

It sounds like a movie worth seeing if only for the nostalgia seeing a Laker who I remember from my early childhood and hearing the story of his life that I knew nothing about until reading that press release.

DÉJÀ VU: If you liked the 2021 baseball season, you will probably like the 2022 season.

Last year, the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants battled all year for supremacy in the National League West. When the dust cleared in October, both teams had set franchise records for most wins.

The Giants won 107, snapping the Dodgers’ streak of eight consecutive West Division titles. The Dodgers finished a game back with 106 wins, but defeated the Giants in the playoffs before losing in the National League Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves.

Three weeks into this season, the Giants are 13-5, a half-game ahead of the 12-5 Dodgers. Only the New York Mets, with 14, have more wins than the Giants and Dodgers.

The two teams meet for the first time this season May 3 and 4 at Dodger Stadium. The brief two-game series won’t decide anything with five months left to play in the season, but it will be a good gauge to see where the two teams are.

The long-time rivals have similar operating philosophies these days, not surprising when you realize that Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler were both with the Dodgers before going to work for the Giants.

The Giants are off to a great start despite losing their best player, catcher Buster Posey, who retired after last season. The Giants have a familiar face in left field where Joc Pederson is making his presence felt. He already has six home runs and is hitting .347.

Another familiar face, Alex Wood, is 2-0 in three starts for the Giants, whose rotation is led by Carlos Rodon, who is 3-0 after four starts with a 1.17 ERA.

The Dodgers continue to frustrate their fans on social media who can’t understand why the team isn’t 17-0.

They continue to score runs in bunches followed by long cold spells.

Three weeks into the season, the Dodgers are the fourth best hitting team in the major leagues, the Giants are 14th. The Dodgers have the best earned run average among all 30 major league teams, the Giants are second. In other words, not a lot separates the two teams.

And, come October, there probably won’t be much separating them then.

GOOD START: We are still four months away from the season opener against Rice (Rice?), but USC Trojans fans had to like what they saw during the spring game April 23 at the Coliseum.

It was the first chance we got to see coach Lincoln Riley’s team and, though the spring game was nothing more than a glorified scrimmage, new quarterback Caleb Williams displayed his talents while completing nine straight passes to start the scrimmage, which led to two touchdowns.

What also was nice to see is that the USC defense, which has been horrible in recent years, actually made some adjustments and held Williams in check most of the rest of the afternoon.

Second-string quarterback Miller Moss also showcased his abilities, teaming up with Kyle Ford on a 48-yard touchdown pass that was the best play of the afternoon.

More than 30,000 fans showed up to get a taste of what the Trojans might look like next fall, although Riley kept the wraps on most of the offense, not wanting Rice or any other early-season foes to learn too much.

Across town, UCLA also showcased their 2022 football team to the Pac 12 Network world with a two-hour practice that involved little contact.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson is still an exciting college quarterback who has little, if any, chance of playing that position in the NFL. Coach Chip Kelly has to like what he sees offensively between Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet.

The Bruins should be able to score points next season. Whether they can stop anybody defensively will determine what kind of season they have.

DRAFT TIME: The NFL Draft starts April 28 for most teams, but not the Super Bowl champion Rams, who don’t have a draft choice until late in the third round April 29.

The Rams win despite not. having had a first-round draft pick since they took Jared Goff in the first round in the 2016 draft.

More than 50 years ago, the Rams were coached by George Allen, who preferred to trade draft choices for veterans. Allen made the Hall of Fame with his “the future is now” philosophy that saw him average almost 10 wins a year during his 12-year coaching career with the Rams and Redskins.

General manager Ed Snead and head coach Sean McVay also prefer veteran players to top draft picks, although the Rams do a good job of developing the draft picks they do select in later rounds.

It’s hard to predict exactly what the Rams will do draft wise, but you can expect that they will be filling holes in the roster with players who can develop within the winning system they have developed.

The Chargers have the 17th pick in the first round. Like most teams, the Chargers have no intention of letting the rest of the world know what they are thinking leading up to the draft and prognosticators have them picking an offensive or defensive lineman, or possibly a receiver or defensive back.

General manager Tom Telesco has struck pay dirt the last two years in the first round with quarterback Justin Herbert in 2020 and left tackle Rashawn Slater last year.

Telesco needs to hit it big again this year if the Chargers are ever going to gain a foothold in the Los Angeles market.

They faded badly last season, falling out of the playoff race in the last few weeks. They need a successful draft to strengthen their roster in what will be a highly competitive AFC Western Division next year, especially with quarterback Russell Wilson moving to the Denver Broncos this offseason.


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