Brian Hoffman, Sports Editor
bhoffman@ourvalley.org

I Remember That Terp

I watch the news every day and the big story last week was Jeffrey Epstein, the rich guy who’s in big trouble for preying on young girls. If you watch the news at all, you couldn’t miss it.

Apparently Epstein was good friends with President Donald Trump years ago, and someone from NBC found film that was taken at a party where Epstein and Trump both attended. There was a clip of Epstein and Trump joking around on MSNBC and some tall gray-haired guy was in the background just behind them. He was hard to miss because he was very tall.

Well, after about the fifth time I saw that clip it hit me. I turned to my wife and said, “That’s Tom McMillen, who played basketball for Maryland! I’m 95 percent certain that’s him.”

Of course, she didn’t know who that was, so she got right on her phone to check out McMillen’s bio and pictures. After a couple minutes she confirmed it was indeed McMillen, 100 percent.

Many of you may be too young to remember McMillen. He was a high school basketball phenom in Pennsylvania in the late ’60s and was even on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a prep star. He was recruited to the University of Maryland by coach Lefty Driesell and was a good player for the Terps when Lefty declared he was going to make Maryland the “UCLA of the East.” Even you younger fans surely know that UCLA won the NCAA championship year after year after year at that time.

Maryland never won an NCAA championship with McMillen, but the left-handed, nearly seven-foot center went on to have a decent NBA career with the Buffalo Braves (now the Clippers), the Knicks, Hawks and Bullets (now the Wizards). He was drafted ninth overall by the Braves in 1974, the same year Bill Walton was drafted first by the Trailblazers. George Gervin was taken in the third round by the Suns that year, as the NBA draft had 10 rounds in 1974, but Gervin signed with the Virginia Squires of the ABA instead. In another interesting side note, Jay Piccola of Roanoke College was drafted in the eighth round, the 136th pick overall, by the New Orleans Jazz.

Back to McMillen, the former Maryland star went into politics after basketball and was a three-time United States congressman from Maryland. He was a Democrat and Trump was one of his big contributors, apparently when every Democrat wasn’t evil in Trump’s thinking. Thus, he was invited to the party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat and just happened to be in the footage NBC shot for a feature on Trump’s bachelor lifestyle. I’m sure he was real excited to see that show up all over the news last week, where lifetime basketball junkies remember him more for shooting left-handed hook shots over Tom Burleson than running for Congress. In fact, I had no idea he had even been in congress until my wife looked up his bio last week.

McMillen was 40 at the time and in a story I found on the Internet he said he ran into Epstein socially on occasion but hadn’t spoken to him in 20 years. Seems like he was at the wrong part of the receiving line at that party or no one would have ever known he was there. Instead, he had to answer questions for a week about his relationship with two guys who were big in the news last week.

And here’s another thing that hit me about that film of Trump and Epstein. Trump looked like he was having a great time, smiling and joking and just looking so relaxed. The only time I ever see him smile now is when he’s making fun of someone or threatening to put one of his detractors in jail.

We Are Forty 

The “We are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team celebrated the 40th anniversary of their 1979 World Series championship last Saturday night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Many of the former Bucs returned to take a bow before the Pirates beat the Phillies, 5-1.

I was at the game. I was visiting a friend from college who lives in the area and we took in the game with our wives and two of my grandsons. When I made plans months ago I had no idea the celebration was going to be that night, but it was an added bonus for this long time Carolina League fan.

Back in the ’70s, when I started working for the paper, Pittsburgh was our Carolina League affiliate and many of the 1979 Pirates played in Salem. It brought back a lot of memories to see John Candelaria, Bruce Kison, Rennie Stennett, Kent Tekulve, Dave Parker, Omar Moreno, Ed Ott and many others who played at then Salem Municipal Field being introduced to a near sell-out crowd on a very humid Saturday night. I looked at the 1979 statistics and found 11 players I knew played in Salem who suited up for Pittsburgh that season.

It was sad to learn that Dave Parker, a member of our Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame and one of the best players ever to play for the Pirates, is now suffering from Parkinson’s disease. A Carolina League MVP for Salem in 1972, when he hit .310 and drove in 101 run in 135 games, Parker is now 68 and needed a cane to make his way to the first base line for the pre-game ceremonies.

Still, it was great to see those old Bucs, and as they were introduced I would point and tell my grandsons, “he played in Salem,” or “he lived in the same apartment building where I lived.”

It was a special team, and it’s interesting to note that the Pirates haven’t been to the World Series since, despite producing standout big leaguers year after year like Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andrew McCutcheon. The trouble is, they don’t pay the money to keep them.

During the game, Bryce Harper of the Phillies struck out and a Pirate fan stood up and hollered, “Is that all you get for three hundred million dollars?” I turned to my grandson and said, “What’s he going to be hollering a couple years from now when the Yankees sign Josh Bell because the Pirates won’t pay him?”

Best Athletes

Professional tennis players have to be in the conversation for world’s greatest athletes.

Consider the Wimbledon finals match between Novak Kjokovic and Roger Federer on July 14. The match lasted for approximately five hours in the hot sun, and there’s nowhere to hide in tennis. You’re in every play.

Can you imagine pitching or catching a baseball game for five hours? Only difference is, you’re out there for both the top and bottom of the inning.

NBA basketball players are certainly great athletes, but if you’re tired you can hide on defense, or point to the bench and get a sub. No one since Wilt Chamberlain has averaged 48 minutes a game for a season, and he was the exception to just about every standard of athleticism. And now we have guys taking off entire games for “load management.”

Football players are certainly great athletes, but they’re only out there half the time, at least on the college level and above. And at that, you go hard for 30 seconds and take a break.

To me, the tennis players are amazing. They have to keep up their concentration like a race car driver, maintain their energy like a basketball player and have the stamina of a soccer center midfielder.

They make me tired just watching them.

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