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FunTimes Magazine

Legends of the Game: Celebrating the Legacy of Philadelphia Black Sports Athletes

Feb 15, 2024 10:00AM ● By Okechukwu Nzeribe

Philadelphia, home of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL, the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA, the Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB, and the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL, has remained a city with a rich history in sports and has produced several remarkable Black athletes who through their skills, dedication, and excellence have gone on to become legends in their various fields of sports.

As part of black history month, we look at some of Philadelphia’s Black sports athletes and their contribution to the game.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant. Public Domain

Born on August 23, 1978, Kobe Bryant is a Philadelphia homeboy whose accomplishments in Basketball include; Five NBA titles, Two Olympic gold medals, 17 NBA All-Star selections, and 4x All-Star Game MVPs (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011), among many other legacies.

His contribution to the game of basketball was unrivaled and for 20 years of his career, he led his team the L..A Lakers to dominate the National Basketball League. His influence was so immense he was voted team captain for the United States team at the Beijing Olympics in 2008

Outside the basketball court, Kobe was also involved in several philanthropic endeavors. His time and resources were spent in organizations such as Make-A-Wish Foundation, NBA Cares, and The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, After-School All-Stars. He also set up the Kobe Basketball Academy where the next generation basketball stars are trained.

Sadly, on January 26, 2020, Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna (Gigi) were lost when the helicopter they were in crashed killing all onboard.

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Roy Campanella

Roy Campanella. Public Domain

Born on November 19, 1921, in Philadelphia, Roy was among the many African-American baseball players to play in Major League Baseball following in the steps of Jackie Robinson by signing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Campanella began his playing career in the Negro Leagues playing with the Baltimore Elite Giants. He then went on to play for the Monterrey Sultans (Mexican League), before he got signed up by the Brooklyn Dodgers and was handed a place in the Dodgers farm club “The Nashua Dodgers”. 

After his time at the minor leagues, Campanella then became a full-fledged player for the Brooklyn Dodgers parent team where he went on to lead the Dodgers to the first World Series win against the New York Yankees. Before his unfortunate demise, Campanella was voted most valuable player in 1951, 1953, and 1955.

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Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier. Public Domain

“Smokin’ Joe” as he was popularly referred to was a professional and legendary heavyweight boxer. Though not originally from Philadelphia, Joe Frazier began his boxing career as an amateur title holder reigning as the Middle Atlantic Golden Gloves heavyweight champion three times consecutively. 

He went on to win gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for the U.S. after being asked to replace Buster Mathis who had injured his hand before the commencement of the games. He then went on to make his professional debut in 1965 against Woody Goss defeating him by a technical knockout.

After several undefeated bouts, Joe Frazier took a shot at the New York Heavyweight Title which was held by the same man he replaced at the Tokyo Olympic games, Buster Mathis whom he defeated in the 11th round. 

His biggest fight was three years later in the boxing match tagged “The Fight of the Century” against Muhammed Ali at the Madison Square Garden. His defeat of Ali was a milestone achievement in his illustrious boxing career.

Beyond boxing, Frazier's influence was quite remarkable, especially amongst black athletes who remain committed to overcoming obstacles wherever they appear. In honor of his legacy, Philadelphia honored “Smokin Joe” with a bronze statue of his image.

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Tina Sloan Green

Tina Sloan Green. Source: Chester County Sports Hall of Fame

Born in Philadelphia, Tina Sloan Green was a talented athlete as well as an administrator who was instrumental in organizing and coaching Unionville High School’s first lacrosse team during her teaching years. She was also the first African American to be employed by the school.

During her high school years, she exhibited remarkable playing abilities and she was part of several sports teams. These achievements were instrumental in her completing a Bachelor of Physical Education at West Chester University in 1966 and a Master of Education at Temple University in 1970.

She would later go on to be called up to the United States women’s national field hockey team, the first African American woman to achieve such a milestone. In 1973, while playing for the U.S. women’s hockey team, she was made head coach of the Lincoln (Pennsylvania) University basketball team in 1973.

Sloan achieved several other milestones like being the first black person to become head coach of Temple University women’s lacrosse team from 1975 to 1992 winning the national championship in 1982 and 1984.

She also was one of the co-founders of the Black Women in Sports Foundation, an author of two books, inducted into the U.S. National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWCLA) Hall of Fame, the Temple and West Chester University's Hall of Fame, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators.

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 Okechukwu Nzeribe works with the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, in Anambra State, Nigeria, and loves unveiling the richness of African cultures.  [email protected]

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