Sports deaths 2015: Banks, Gifford, Smith, Tarkanian, Berra

first_imgIn this 1970 file photo, Chicago Cubs’ Ernie Banks poses. The Cubs announced Friday night, Jan. 23, 2015, that Banks had died. The team did not provide any further details. Banks was 83. (AP Photo/File)The loss column is where to look in the standings. Those are the ones that can never be made up.And losses, of a different kind, hit Philadelphia in 2015 with the deaths of two 76ers centers — backboard-busting Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone, who gave basketball a math lesson with his playoff sweep prediction of “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’” that fell just short.Joining them was Dolph Schayes, the Syracuse Nationals center who briefly played for and coached Philadelphia in its Wilt Chamberlain days.There were losses in baseball of Joaquin Andujar, Dean Chance, Darryl Hamilton, Tommy Hanson, Bill Monbouquette, Al Rosen. In hockey, the bespectacled Islander coach Al Arbour and the great Canadiens winger Dickie Moore.Losses of boxing champions Gene Fullmer and Bob Foster. And in football of Ken Stabler, the left-handed quarterback of the renegade Raiders, and Garo Yepremian, whose slapstick field-goal attempt lives on in Super Bowl lore.Losses of those who cut a path for Black players to follow: Minnie Minoso (baseball), Earl Lloyd (basketball), Pete Brown, Calvin Peete, Charlie Sifford (golf); and Mal Whitfield (track).And those while on the job: IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, struck by debris at Pocono and gone the next day at 37.Below, other losses, lives that soared across the games:In this Aug. 31, 1955, file photo, Chicago Cubs’ Ernie Banks, center, demonstrates the long stride and wrist action which has brought him close to the leaders in the National League home run race at Ebbets Field in New York. The Cubs announced Friday night, Jan. 23, 2015, that Banks had died. The team did not provide any further details. Banks was 83. (AP Photo/File)ERNIE BANKSLots of players are in the Hall of Fame. But how many bring a credo, a way of life, with them? “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.” Ernie Banks wouldn’t have it any other way.He came up in the old Negro Leagues, a skinny shortstop with a whip-fast swing and sinewy wrists, playing his way into the hearts of Chicago baseball fans.At a time when the National League could point to the mighty Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, Banks stood beside them as noble peer. He died at 83.He played 19 seasons and hit 512 homers. And he did it for the Cubs, who for more than a century have crafted the art of frustration and defeat.Banks never made it to the postseason but he did make the All-Star team 11 times and was MVP in 1958 and 1959. He was a Gold Glove shortstop before switching to first base.But the stats, in all their indisputable evidence, don’t’ account for why there is a statue of “Mr. Cub” outside Wrigley Field or his No. 14 flies on the left-field foul pole.Banks spoke to the transcendent joys of sports. He always found time to chat with fans. He never was ejected from a game and never argued with umpires. Why stoop to such pettiness when it’s a privilege to play baseball?He once said the “riches of the game are in the thrills, not the money.” The thrill he wanted most eluded him: hitting three homers in the last game of the World Series at Wrigley. But, as Hall of Famer Al Kaline reminds, Cubs fans had ample compensation.“They never got to see a World Series,” he said. “But they can always say they got to see the great Ernie Banks.”___FRANK GIFFORDHis was the golden life.The USC All-American with chiseled looks who became the face of the great New York Giant teams of the 1950s and ’60s and then rode another wave of celebrity in the “Monday Night Football” booth and as husband of TV host Kathie Lee Gifford.Frank Gifford often said his life was divided into three parts, and each was a blueprint in elegant living. Not everyone at Yankee Stadium shares a locker with Mickey Mantle.Gifford — a running back, defensive back, wide receiver and special teams player — played in five NFL title games and was the league’s MVP in 1956. Giants co-owner John Mara called him “the ultimate Giant.”In 1960, a pulverizing hit by the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik (who also died this year, at 89) left Gifford with a head injury so severe he didn’t return to football until 1962. In 1964, Gifford was back in the Pro Bowl.For many, though, Gifford was the calm at the center of the rollicking storm of “Monday Night Football.” On one side of Gifford was Howard Cosell, all bombast and grandiloquence, a raging Jeremiah in a network blazer. On the other was Don Meredith, ladling out country corn as if accompanied by the banjo soundtrack of “Deliverance.” It was left to Gifford to return everyone to Planet Football. “Third and long, two receivers split wide .”Gifford died at his Connecticut home at 84. Months later, his family said he showed signs of degenerative brain disease. (Two of Bednarik’s daughters said their father had dementia, tied to football injuries.) The Gifford family took comfort in knowing Frank Gifford “might be an inspiration for others suffering from this disease that needs to be addressed.”in this May 5, 1984 file photo, North Carolina guard Michael Jordan, left, and Tar Heels coach Dean Smith are shown at a news conference in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Jordan announced he would forfeit his final year of college eligibility to turn pro. Smith, the North Carolina basketball coaching great who won two national championships, died “peacefully” at his home Saturday night, Feb. 7, 2015, the school said in a statement Sunday from Smith’s family. He was 83. (AP Photo, File)DEAN SMITHIf college basketball had a Mount Rushmore, a place in the mountainside would be carved for Dean Smith.He was the soul of basketball at North Carolina. He led the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours, won national titles in 1982 and 1993, gave the sport its clock-draining Four Corners offense, earned an Olympic title in 1976 and coached some of the game’s best. Among them was Michael Jordan, who said he loved Smith for always being there when he needed him.Roy Williams, the current Tar Heels coach, lauded Smith as the “perfect picture of what a college coach should have been.” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Smith helped “mold men of integrity, honor and purpose.”Smith died at 83, his basketball roots going back to Kansas, where played on a Jayhawks team coached by Phog Allen that won the 1952 NCAA title. Smith would go on to surpass Adolph Rupp for the most coaching victories in men’s Division I (879 in 36 seasons). Krzyzewski now has the record.Off the court, Smith left a different imprint. He was among the first to recruit black athletes in the South, helped integrate a Chapel Hill restaurant and, in his way, spurred the civil rights movement.“Basketball,” President Barack Obama said in connection with Smith, “can tell us a lot more about who you are than a jump shot alone ever could.” In 2013, Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.“Sometimes the word legend is used with too little thought,” said John Swofford, the Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner and former North Carolina athletic director. “In this instance, it almost seems inadequate. He was basketball royalty.”In this Nov. 15, 1995, file photo, Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian watches his team play Weber State during the preseason NIT in Fresno, Calif. (AP Photo/Thor Swift, File)JERRY TARKANIANHe was a sketch artist’s dream: the basset-hound eyes, the bald head, the forlorn look and, of course, the towel clamped between his teeth.Jerry Tarkanian built a basketball power at UNLV, coaching teams full of bravado that became a dazzling piece of the Strip’s high wattage. He was also in perpetual war with the NCAA, a legal entanglement spanning his career at Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State.The casino lights dimmed when Tarkanian died at 84, three days after Dean Smith. Las Vegas pays homage to headline acts.Tarkanian was the consummate teacher on the court, preaching a fierce defense that may not have gotten full due because of all the noise from the Runnin’ Rebels’ amped-up offense.He drew respect from coaches and love from players. But the NCAA sang no songs for “Tark the Shark.” Lawsuits do that. (Tarkanian won a $2.5 million settlement, but the sting never left.)Tarkanian was among the first to rely on junior college players and go with all-black lineups. The NCAA felt he played fast and loose with rules. Probation followed his teams. A photo of UNLV players in a hot tub with a game fixer only heightened the team’s outlaw aura. For his part, Tarkanian felt the NCAA pounced on small schools while letting the big boys off easy.Tarkanian coached the likes of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. The Rebels made it to four Final Fours and won the 1990 title, shredding Duke 103-73 in the final. In all, he coached 31 seasons (19 at UNLV). Only twice did he not win 20 games in a season.“I knew right from Day One I wanted to be a coach,” he said. “Coaching has been my entire life.”___YOGI BERRAAfter all the countless tributes — his decency, his friendship, his love of family, his dignity, his faith, his wit (intentional or otherwise), his valor in battle — it’s important to never lose sight of this:What a player he was.Yogi Berra, the anchor behind the plate of all those imperious Yankee teams, played 19 seasons in the majors in a career covering three decades. He was the American League MVP three times (1951, 1954, 1955). He played on 10 World Series winners and in 75 World Series games — both records. He made 18 straight All-Star teams.Casey Stengel once said Berra understood how every hitter should be pitched to. He caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, his leap into the pitcher’s arms a moment frozen in baseball history.But No. 8, the Hall of Famer with that welcoming mug of a face who died at 90, was more than all the compilation of his records. He managed for George Steinbrenner, and stood head and shoulders above the owner’s unending tirades. Berra always had the right thing to say, and say it as only he could. He became the country’s everyman philosopher, coming off the bench to pinch-hit for Mark Twain and Will Rogers.“The Baseball Encyclopedia” speaks to one side of Berra, “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” the other: “You can observe a lot by watching”; “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”; “I really didn’t say everything I said.”“Yogi was a beacon of Americana,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said.Jorge Posada, another ex-Yankee catcher, said Berra “made you feel good inside.” Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken knew he was in special company when Berra was around.“When Yogi spoke, everyone was quiet and hung on every word,” he said. “He owned the room.”___Contributing to this report were AP sports writers Aaron Beard, Tim Dahlberg, Mike Fitzpatrick, Ben Walker, Barry Wilner and AP writer Mike Stewart.last_img