HOUSTON CAN AVOID WARRIORS COMPARRISONS AND VALIDATE REGULAR SEASON BY WINNING IT ALL

Astros need to finish what they started

photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros have had one of the greatest regular seasons in baseball history. They set the franchise record for most wins with 107, as well as leading the league in several offensive marks including batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage while striking out less than every other team. They also led all of baseball in fielding percentage while putting together one of the most dominant pitching staffs the game has seen in quite some time.

Led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Astros struck out more hitters than any other team in the game, issued the fewest walks, had the best WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings and second-best ERA. Both power pitchers eclipsed the 300 strikeout mark for the season as they finished the campaign in a dead heat for the Cy Young Award. It was a regular season for the ages and one that Houstonians won't soon forget, but in order for this year's team to be immortalized in baseball history, there is still work to be done. You see, when it comes to sports history and team sports, in particular, it doesn't mean a thing if you don't win that ring.

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The Astros need not look any farther than the Rockets most recent rival, the Golden State Warriors to find the perfect example of a historically great regular season team that lost luster and shine by not winning the championship at the end of the year. The 2016 Warriors set the all-time NBA record for regular-season wins with a 73-9 record. They steamrolled the rest of basketball and had everyone talking about the greatest team ever assembled. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to etching their name in stone as the greatest team ever, they lost in the NBA Finals to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and while the "king" took their crown, the Cavs tarnished their place in history.

Now, instead of praising their incredible season and talking about being one of the greatest teams ever, they talk about the asterisk next to their record that symbolizes their inability to validate that accomplishment with a title. For that reason alone, there are many that think the 1996 Chicago Bulls team that went 72-10 is the greatest team ever. Led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, that team did what the Warriors couldn't do and won it all to seal the deal and forever memorialize how great that team was.

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I think you get my point and see where I am going here. I want this Astros team to win their second championship in the last three years and I want them to bring another title to H-town. I want them to be the first team in MLB history to have the Cy Young award winner, the MVP and the A.L. Rookie of the year all come from the same squad and to have that team win the World Series as well, that would be the icing on the cake.

I want all of those things because I want this team to be remembered, not just by Astros fans, but by baseball fans for years to come. This has been a storybook season for the Astros and their fans, all we need now is the perfect ending to solidify their place in history.

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I met James Arthur Harris a pretty long time ago, it had to be before 2001, because I was at the gate waiting for his flight from New Orleans to land. I was supposed to pick him up, drive him to the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza on Loop 610, wait for him to change into his work clothes, and get him to the George R. Brown before 3 p.m.

I had never met him, but it would be easy to pick him out in the line of passengers filing off the plane. He'd be the big guy, 6 ft. 7 and weighing more than 400 pounds. Because our schedule was tight, I was hoping he wasn't already in his work clothes. You'll understand why.

When Harris worked, he wore a leopard loin cloth, bare feet, bright painted stars and moons on his huge pot belly, and white face paint under his scary witch doctor mask. He also carried a spear and shield.

James Harris, who died this week at age 70 from COVID-19 complications, performed in wrestling rings around the world as Kamala the Ugandan Giant. Or Kamala the Ugandan Head Hunter. This day, he came to Houston to sign autographs at TriStar Sports memorabilia shows.

"Kamala was a huge draw to our shows in the '90s. His character was mysterious and intriguing. Fans lined up to get his autograph and pose for photos with him. He was one of our biggest draws," said Tristar senior vice president Bobby Mintz.

I checked Harris into the Crowne Plaza and waited in the lobby while he went upstairs to take off his shoes and socks, paint stars and moons on his belly … and become Kamala the uncivilized cannibal from the jungles of deepest Africa.

You couldn't get away with this stereotyped character today. But this was then, and Kamala was one of the hottest performers in the wrestling world.

You should have seen the looks on people's faces when the elevator door opened, and out came Kamala, in full ring regalia. We got into my car and made it to the George R. Brown in time for his autograph session. The line already was 100 wrestling fans deep. I sat next to Kamala for three hours, muttering grunts and nonsense sounds because, of course, Kamala did not speak English.

James Harris was born and died in Mississippi. He broke into pro wrestling in 1978 under the name Sugar Bear Harris. He also wrestled as Ugly Bear Harris, The Mississippi Mauler and Bad News Harris.

It was Jerry Lawler, owner of Memphis independent wrestling scene in the early '80s, who gave Harris his new gimmick and name Kamala. He would be billed as Kamala the Ugandan Giant, former bodyguard to the brutal dictator Idi Amin. Lawler picked the name Kamala after the capital of Uganda. Actually, the capital of Uganda is Kampala. It doesn't matter.

Kamala was money, as they say, he put butts in seats. He used a devastating karate chop to opponents' heads and pinned them, 1-2-3. Soon he was hired by Mid-South Wrestling, where the circuit included the Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston. In 1986, he became a main event wrestler for the WWE and headlined shows against Hulk Hogan coast-to-coast.

As we sat at the autograph show, one of my jobs was to assure young fans that Kamala was really a nice person, so don't be scared.

That night, I threw my one and only dinner party. I invited about 20 people to meet Kamala. I prepared a casual buffet, the main course was lasagna. I had two large trays, one with vegetable lasagna, one with sausage and ground beef.

The guests showed up, and Kamala posed for photos and signed autographs. He let my friends wear his witch doctor mask. He hoisted some of the guests and pretended he was body slamming them for their photos. He was the most gracious and gentle giant you could imagine. Until …

I was taking the lasagna trays out of the oven. I brought Kamala into the kitchen so he could eat first, and return to mingle with the guests. I asked him, which would you like, vegetable or meat lasagna? He said meat, and picked up the entire tray, sat at the kitchen table and ate the whole thing. I told the other guests, eat lots of garlic bread.

Kamala retired from wrestling full-time around 2000. He bought a truck and hauled gravel, asphalt and dirt from Mississippi across the southern U.S. If he knew a town had an independent wrestling show, he'd re-route his route so he could pick up extra money dusting off his Kamala persona for one night. That's how he made an appearance at the Texas All-Star Wrestling show in Humble in 2003.

Kamala fell into bad health with diabetes and high blood pressure. He had both legs amputated. Despite headlining wrestling shows around the world, Kamala never earned much money. In his later years, he made wood chairs near his home in Oxford, Mississippi. He also recorded an album, Kamala's Greatest Hits: Vol. 1, and wrote his autobiography, Kamala Speaks.

After the dinner party, which did not make Maxine Mesinger's society column in the Chronicle, something I'm still bitter about, I drove Kamala back to the Crowne Plaza. I told him, be in the lobby at 9 a.m., we'll get breakfast on our way to the airport. I asked him, what would you like for breakfast. Pancakes? Bacon and eggs? Fruit?

He said, and I'll never forget this, "When it comes to food, I isn't choicy."

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