Mayer: Questions abound around Giddens’ past, present and future

It continues to amaze me that in all the folderol about the J.R. Giddens Moon Bar caper, nobody is inquiring or addressing whether J.R. will be academically eligible – even if coach Bill Self keeps him on the Kansas University basketball roster.

J.R. is recuperating at home in Oklahoma City from a severe leg injury, a knife slash that severed an artery. He’s not in summer school unless he’s taking some correspondence courses, and there’s no evidence he’ll return for classwork before the summer session terminates. Word is he was good about attending study hall the past two seasons, beyond the Abe and Jake’s and the Moon Bar tutorials. It could be his grades already were good enough to get him under the wire. But what about that final exam, or two, he was supposed to take the day of the morning he got sliced? Has he been able to compensate?

Bottom-line is that no matter who instigated the saloon hassle, no matter how many other things Giddens has to do to meet team standards of discipline and deportment and whether he heals sufficiently to compete, if his grades aren’t in shape, he’ll be sitting. If not on the Jayhawk bench, then at some watering hole watching games on television.

Whatever role KU’s C.J. Giles had in the slice-and-dice incident, it would appear he’s in good-enough standing to be allowed to represent KU in the national under-21 team trials. If he makes the team, he will gain valuable experience in the FIBA World Championships Aug. 5-14 in Argentina. Have to believe coach Self would not have let C.J. project the KU image at that level if he was in any kind of deep trouble. But, then, C.J. might have to do some penance once the season begins if his judgment was bad enough.

¢ Some television throats recently were speculating on “the greatest American athlete of all time.” My choice, Jackie Robinson, got overlooked in the shuffle of contemporary wanna-bes. I still stick with Robby for athletic and social reasons, but a good case can also be made for Jim Brown, the incomparable football running back.

Both Robinson and Brown don’t get enough credit for their college skills and achievements because their careers weren’t high-profiled in the days before black athletes began to get the attention they deserved. At UCLA, Robby was an All-American football tailback, the leading basketball scorer, a track sprinter and NCAA broad jump champion, finished third nationally in college tennis when courts were hard to get for people of color and was a pretty good, but not great, college baseballer. Friends say he changed the face of athletics as of 1947 in what might have been his fifth best sport, baseball.

The list of Robinson’s contributions beyond sports is long and illustrious and when you blend them all, he’s my No. 1.

But Jim Brown at Syracuse in the mid-1950s was a brilliant but overlooked footballer, led the basketball team in scoring one year, was an All-America lacrosse star and sprinted and did weights on the track team. Then he established himself as probably the greatest running back in pro history. He hasn’t been near the model citizen Robinson was but he’s made many positive impacts on society working with the underprivileged. He can’t top Robby but he rates with the best all-arounders.

¢ A writer the other day was bemoaning the lack of great nicknames for modern sports stars – no Joltin’ Joes, Splendid Splinters, Sultans of Swat, Refrigerators, Grey Ghosts of Gonzaga, Galloping Ghosts, Four Horsemen, Georgia Peaches, Magics, Larry Legends, Big Dippers, that kind of stuff. Sure, there is Shaq and his spinoffs, but it’s hard to get a lot rolling off your tongue, even though announcer Chris Berman still comes up with stuff like Sammy “Say It Ain’t” Sosa.

Kansas University was blessed with one of the best-known monikers through the tenure of Forrest “Phog” Allen. Basketball great Clyde Lovellette inspired some nifties – Cumulus Clyde, Mt. Lovellette, Monster of the Music Hall (old Hoch where he played). Wilt Chamberlain hated Wilt the Stilt, loved Big Dipper and in later life favored Uncle Dippy, a nephew’s concoction.

Howard Engleman was Rope, supposedly because of his coarse hair, and Joseph White is a stranger to most until you hear Jo Jo. Forrest Cox was Frosty, A.C. Lonborg was Dutch, and Manning was pretty much just Danny (with or without The Miracles of 1988). Dave Robisch was Robo but there have been countless great KU stars, like Ray Evans, who had no special handles beyond the locker-room where teammates had a specialty. Secretly, Ray was Apples because of his prominent derriere protuberances.

Some termed Gale Sayers the Kansas Comet but his favorite was Black Magic, given to him by his beloved teammate Brian Piccolo without the least bit of reverence for political correctness. In track, Glenn Cunningham was the Elkhart Express and Wes Santee the Ashland Antelope but great as he was, Jim Ryun never got a handle of note. The insurmountable Al Oerter, just Al.

Footballer Otto Schnellbacher originally was The Double Threat from Sublette because of his football-basketball excellence but later as a New York Giant defensive star, he was The Claw because he led the league in interceptions.

But think of all the many, many KU standouts in all sports who may have had temporary titles but may not be remembered by more than their real names. I’m sure I’ll hear from a lot of you who have your pet labels. I’ll welcome them and try to pass them on. Chances are I’ve missed many terms of endearment about which you can remind me. But please, be gentle.

I guess, however, the two favorites of my time in this business came in the 1950s when I was just getting started at the Journal-World. First was Bill Mlkvy, the Temple basketball whiz who wound up as The Owl Without a Vowel. No explanation needed. Then there was a TCU football tailback named Danny Ray McKown. Publicist Amos Melton noted he hailed from Dumas, Texas, and forthright tabbed him Ding Dong Danny From Dumas. Any of you old enough to remember that “cowboy song” from the 1930s and 1940s?

Nicknames are lots of fun but so many last a short time and fade. But not the Phogs, Splendid Splinters, Big Dippers and Sultans of Swat. Such gems always have been hard to come by.