He beat Michael Jordan 1 on 1; now he leads U.S. Olympic 3×3 hopes

Leave a comment

John Rogers likes to say that beating Michael Jordan one-on-one was not his greatest basketball accomplishment.

“That was an individual effort,” Rogers said. “That was obviously very exciting, very memorable. But I have to say my highlight of my basketball life was making the team at Princeton.”

He played for Pete Carril four decades ago. But in the next year, Rogers could see the fruit borne of three decades of labor. He is the godfather of U.S. three-on-three basketball (or 3×3, as it is labeled internationally).

The half-court discipline debuts at the Olympics next year. The U.S. team that won the world championship earlier this summer traces its roots to Rogers’ Hoop It Up teams from the 1990s.

Rogers is already planning to go to Tokyo.

“That would be way, way up there,” he said. “It would be such a proud, extraordinary moment for all of us affiliated with Princeton basketball. If we could get Coach Carril over there, that would be great.”

Rogers is the “founding father” of Team Princeton 3×3, said Craig Moore, a former Northwestern guard brought into the fold by Rogers several years ago.

“Sponsor, advisor, coach,” said former Purdue honorable mention All-America Robbie Hummel, who joined the program a year ago and earned MVP at worlds (more on Hummel’s story here). “For him to care about 3×3 is a little mind-boggling.”

Rogers, 61, has enough to keep him occupied with his day job. He couldn’t watch his players at the U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs this spring because it conflicted with Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway meeting.

“I was monitoring it,” Rogers said of nationals, where two four-man squads made up of Team Princeton players met in the final.

Those two teams were named Ariel NYAC and Ariel Slow & Steady as a tribute to Rogers, who stepped away from playing in 3×3 tournaments as he got into his 40s and 50s.

Rogers is the chairman of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, long billed as the largest minority-owned investment firm. The company’s symbol has been a tortoise for its 36 years.

“It reminds people that … us older, slower guys are beating the faster and younger,” Rogers said.

Which is just what happened in Las Vegas in August 2003 at Michael Jordan’s Senior Flight School. The camp, attended by affluent businessmen in the early 2000s, had a registration fee of $15,000.

The Wall Street Journal posted video in 2008 of a glasses-wearing Rogers driving and scoring on Jordan, winning 3-2 in a game of make-it, take-it after Jordan’s last season with the Washington Wizards. The result caused spectator and actor Damon Wayans to tell Jordan in front of the campers, “How do you feel about getting humiliated?” by a man five years older.

Rogers had previously been profiled as the $8 billion money manager who collected teddy bears and ate one meal a day at McDonald’s. But while rising the business ranks, he also put to use what he learned at Princeton on the blacktops of his native Chicago.

Rogers, who started seven games in three varsity seasons for Carril’s teams from 1977-80, joined fellow former Tigers Craig Robinson and Kit Mueller to form the core of a 3×3 team that won three “Shoot the Bull” tournaments against fields of some 2,000 teams two decades ago.

Robinson, the older brother of Michelle Obama, went on to become a head coach at Brown and Oregon State. Mueller finished his tenure as Princeton’s No. 2 career points scorer behind former U.S. Senator and 2000 presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Arne Duncan, a former Harvard player and later the U.S. Secretary of Education under Barack Obama, was also part of the group when it expanded beyond Princeton. Rogers is known to have been part of Obama’s pickup basketball crew, too.

Rogers said they became one of the best teams in the country playing the Hoop It Up 3×3 tour by using Carril’s motion-predicated Princeton offense. In 3×3, a basket from beyond the arc is worth two points. All others are worth one point. Games end after 10 minutes or once a team scores 21.

“Pete Carril would always say — and he was very ahead of his time — that he wanted you to get layups and three-pointers,” said Moore, who never played for Carril but sat in the front row with him for a Brooklyn Nets game and has had dinner with him 15 or 20 times. “We’re going for the highest value for the highest percentage shot as well. Defensively, we’re trying to do the exact opposite: the most risky shot with the least percentage of going in.”

Carril, who coached Princeton from 1967-96, including a first-round upset of defending champion UCLA in his last NCAA Tournament, turned 89 last month. Rogers and Moore noted that Carril’s emphasis on finding tall players who can dribble, pass and shoot translates to the quick-thinking 3×3 game.

“The way that we are all taught to cut and face the court is perfect,” for 3×3, Rogers said. “Coach Carril is proud of his legacy moving on in a new way.”

There are no on-court coaches allowed in international 3×3 basketball. If Rogers’ players are chosen to make up the U.S. Olympic team next year — and it’s trending that way — he may have to watch games with the crowd at the outdoor venue in Tokyo.

Moore said that as Rogers underwent knee and elbow surgeries, he ceded playing responsibilities to fresher legs like Moore and Hummel. Other players in the current program include Princeton alums and past Ariel interns.

Rogers took on a combination role of coach, general manager and sponsor, helping fund the team to travel internationally and accumulate FIBA rankings points. Moore said Rogers handed him a “carte blanche” role in 2016 to identify and bring in players, such as Hummel last year. But Rogers streams games and offers feedback by phone afterwards.

“I’m sort of a helpful set of eyes and ears,” Rogers said. “I kind of played that role as I got too old to play myself. I’m on the board of directors at Nike now. It’s cool to tell our friends there how good our 3×3 team is going to be next year.”

MORE: How U.S. Olympic 3×3 teams will be chosen

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Noah Lyles’ unbelievable time comes with an oops at Inspiration Games

Leave a comment

Noah Lyles may one day break Usain Bolt‘s world record, but Thursday wasn’t going to be that day. Even if, for about five minutes, Lyles was the first man to break 19 seconds over 200m.

Lyles registered 18.90 seconds, racing alone against competitors simultaneously sprinting on tracks in Europe. The time was unbelievable, given Bolt’s world record was 19.19 seconds. Turns out, it was too good to be true.

Minutes later on the broadcast, commentator Steve Cram said that Lyles only ran 185 meters, starting from an incorrect place on his Florida track.

“You can’t be playing with my emotions like this,” tweeted Lyles, who raced in Sonic the Hedgehog socks. “Got me in the wrong lane smh.”

Lyles, 22, has run 66 official 200m races dating to 2013, according to Tilastopaja.org. He is the reigning world champion and the fourth-fastest man in history with a personal best of 19.50 seconds.

But he had never experienced what came Thursday, with few spectators and nobody else in adjacent lanes for the Inspiration Games, a socially distanced meet with Olympians competing against each other on different continents.

Perhaps the setting played a role in the mistake.

“It actually felt pretty good besides getting that full gust of wind,” Lyles, who ran into a registered 3.7 meter/second headwind, said before he knew his time or that he was 15 meters short.

Christophe Lemaitre, the Olympic bronze medalist from France, got the win in 20.65 seconds.

Earlier Thursday, Allyson Felix had a succinct reaction to the strangest victory of her sterling career.

“That’s weird,” she said after running 150 meters alone, in front of few spectators on a track in Walnut, California.

Officially, Felix ran 16.81 seconds — impressive, especially if the reported 2.6 meter/second headwind reading was accurate — to defeat Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world 200m bronze medalist Mujinga Kambundji.

Miller-Uibo raced alone in Florida. Kambundji was on her own in Zurich, the base of the Inspiration Games, a repurposed version of an annual Diamond League stop. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing meet organizers to get creative this summer.

Full meet results are here.

Felix, a 34-year-old mom with nine Olympic medals, called her event “very strange.”

“It feels sort of like practice, but not even because there’s really no teammates or anything,” she told 1996 Olympic decathlon champion Dan O’Brien at Mt. San Antonio College. “It’s hard to challenge yourself. I think that’s the big thing with running solo.”

Canadian Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse won a 100-yard race in 9.68 seconds, defeating French veteran Jimmy Vicaut (9.72) and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica (9.87). De Grasse, Vicaut and McLeod raced together, in every other lane at a Florida track.

The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

“This was fun,” Felix said. “I can’t wait until we can do it in person.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Christian Coleman suspended after disputed missed drug test

Jeff Gadley, Willie Davenport changed bobsled as Winter Olympic pioneers

Jeff Gadley
Photos courtesy Jeff Jordan
Leave a comment

Jeff Gadley‘s life changed when a stranger in a car tailed him on a decathlon training run in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in 1978.

The driver was Al Hachigian, a veteran U.S. bobsledder on the lookout for new talent.

Hachigian found the right man. Gadley had just won the first Empire State Games decathlon and set sights on the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Trials. Once Hachigian got his attention, he asked the 23-year-old Gadley if he ever considered pushing a bobsled.

“Of course,” Gadley said. “I grew up in Buffalo.”

Hachigian looked at Gadley — undersized for a bobsledder at 5 feet, 8 inches, and no more than 180 pounds — and decided he was worth extending an invitation to a trials event for the 1978-79 season.

“I think you could do well,” Hachigian told Gadley. “But there are no Black bobsledders, so you kind of have to be a little bit prepared for some things.”

No problem, Gadley said.

A year and a half later, Gadley and a later bobsled convert — Willie Davenport, the 1968 Olympic 110m hurdles champion — became the first Black men to compete on a U.S. Winter Olympic team in any sport.

“It was a huge story,” leading up to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, Gadley said in a recent interview. “Since we were the first, people wanted to know how we felt. What you thought about the sport being traditionally white. My answer was always, look, I can’t attribute a particular color to playing out in the cold. To be the first African American ever to compete in the Winter Olympics, I think it’s nice. I think it broadens the thought process of people and maybe will bring, one day, stronger and faster athletes to the sport.”

Gadley and Davenport, push athletes in driver Bob Hickey‘s 12th-place sled at those Olympics, accelerated a line of accomplished athletes converting from track to bobsled. They were followed by, most famously, Edwin Moses, Renaldo NehemiahLauryn Williams and Lolo Jones. NFL players Willie Gault and Herschel Walker also pushed sleds.

“There is a myth in this country that says Blacks can’t make the American Winter Olympic team,” Davenport said, according to Jet magazine in 1980. “Jeff and I proved this to be wrong that you don’t have to be rich and white to make it.”

Back when Gadley joined the national team, it was all white and mostly men from around Lake Placid, home of the only Olympic-level bobsled track in the country.

“I’m sure a lot of these people had not been around African Americans before,” said Jeff Jordan, Gadley’s best friend from SUNY Plattsburgh who rounded out the four-man Olympic sled with Hickey, Gadley and Davenport.

Gadley excelled from the start, earning a spot at the 1979 World Championships. Not everyone on the team was excited about his quick rise. Gadley estimated that out of about 20 national team members, seven or eight didn’t like him because of his skin color. He knew about two definitively, witnessing a conversation at the worlds in Germany.

“The worst thing I heard is that someone didn’t want a Black guy on the back of their sled,” Gadley said. “The saddest part is knowing that, at the world championships, your own teammates don’t like you because of your color.

“I said, I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to ride on the back of his sled anyway, even if I’m told to. I said, I don’t want to be on the back of your sled, either, and I just left it at that.”

Gadley competed in another sled at worlds, finishing 10th.

“It wasn’t all about skin color,” Gadley said. “Part of it was about you’re breaking up a culture.”

The next season, Hickey, a veteran driver from Upstate New York, was looking to fill his sled with push athletes. He chose the new group of Gadley, Jordan and Davenport. They won the Olympic Trials, despite Jordan and Davenport being rookies (Davenport reportedly pushed a bobsled for the first time a month or two before trials).

“They were the first real world-class athletes to hit bobsledding,” Jordan said of Gadley and Davenport. “We pretty much crushed them [the local bobsledders at Trials], and they did not like it. I don’t know if they would have liked it, period. It didn’t matter what nationality or color.

“The only thing they knew was they were getting their butts kicked. I can’t say we were mistreated other than they would rather have their buddies on the Olympic team.”

Davenport, at 36, was 12 years removed from his Summer Olympic title and the oldest U.S. bobsledder in Lake Placid. While his speed was an asset, his lack of experience was evident, his teammates said.

“Willie was on the other side of his career,” Jordan said. “He brought a lot of notoriety. We were in People magazine, on Good Morning America. None of that would have happened without Willie’s presence. He wasn’t there for the same reason Jeff [Gadley] was there.

“If Willie had just been another Jeff Gadley, would we have gotten that attention? Maybe, eventually, but there was quite a bit of attention early on.”

Gadley, Hickey and Jordan, in recent interviews, remembered the buzz at the Lake Placid Games. Curt Gowdy, the Hall of Fame sportscaster, called bobsled for ABC. President Jimmy Carter‘s 12-year-old daughter, Amy, showed up one day.

The Americans finished more than six seconds behind the winning East German quartet, but were slowed to an unknown degree by inferior equipment. Hickey said that the East German driver, 39-year-old Meinhard Nehmer, told Gowdy that the Americans would have won if they had his sled.

“They came and went quick,” Hickey said of the Olympics. “We weren’t prepared.”

It marked the end of the Olympic careers for Davenport and Gadley. Davenport died in 2002.

Gadley gave up the decathlon after the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games was announced. He now lives in Texas with his wife.

Most of his Olympic mementos and photos were discarded or lost over the last 40 years. But Gadley was glad for the experience and feels fortunate for the opportunity, back when bobsled was a regional, if not local, sport.

“I would say pioneers would be a good word to use,” for Davenport and I, he said. “It was just a matter of exposure where I was and what I was doing [at the time]. It made an example to others that, hey, as a Black guy, if he’s doing it, I can do it, too.”

MORE: Elana Meyers Taylor’s claims of racism in bobsled being investigated

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Jeff Gadley