H-TOWN HEROS

Local sports legends shine at second annual Houston Sports Awards

Alex Bregman was a big hit. Photo by Paul Muth.

Originally appeared on CultureMap Houston.

From Olympic gold medalists to World Series champions, heavyweight boxing greats to football and basketball MVPs, the blue carpet at the second annual Houston Sports Awards was a veritable line of legends at the Hilton Americas Downtown.

The Houston Sports Awards were created last year to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of Houston's own sporting community, both past and present. Last year featured the first round of inductees: Hakeem Olajuwon, Earl Campbell, and Nolan Ryan.

This year's awards dinner was hosted by longtime Houston Sports commentator Bill Worrell, and featured A-list award presenters such as Calvin Murphy of the Houston Rockets, Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans, and former Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, fresh from his Super Bowl appearance with the Los Angeles Rams.

The Houston Sports Authority inducted Hall of Fame golfer Jack Burke, Jr., racing legend AJ Foyt, hometown hero and heavyweight champion boxer George Foreman, and Houston Oilers quarterback (and man about town) Dan Pastorini.

"This is extra special to me," Foreman told CultureMap on the red carpet. "These are legends, can you believe? I didn't even know that I'd meet them one day."

As one of the late arrivals, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman was greeted to massive cheers from frenzied fans. Upon learning mid-interview that the crowd was composed of mostly students from tragedy-stricken Santa Fe High School, Bregman pulled away from the media, slid off the blue carpet and spent roughly five minutes taking selfies and signing autographs for the students.

"I'm happy to have them here," Bregman told us.

This year's Coach of the Year award was accepted via satellite from Sacramento — Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni won out over fellow nominees AJ Hinch of the Houston Astros, Bill O'Brien of the Houston Texans, and University of Houston men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson.

The Moment of the Year award was a tight field among the professional sports, but it was the late additional nomination of North Shore High School's State Championship-clinching Hail Mary reception that took home the hardware.

"It's an incredible experience, and one that I don't think people understand unless you're in the Houston area," Head Coach Jon Kay told CultureMap. "This trophy's going to be in the field house, right next to our state championship."

Houston Texans star defensive end, JJ Watt received his second consecutive Sportsmanship Award for his selfless work with the victims of the Santa Fe High School shooting. Watt took the trophy from the former SFHS students presenting and handed it right back to the students to keep.

The evening continued as High School Athlete of the Year was presented to Woodlands High School track and football standout Kasean Clark, while University of Houston quarterback D'Eriq King received the College Athlete of the Year.

"It's been a lot of hard work since my high school days," King explained after receiving the award. "It's very humbling, and I'm excited that I get to play in my hometown in front of my family and friends. It's just been a wild ride."

The evening reached its peak when the Athlete of The Year segment began. The Houston Sports Authority was tasked with choosing between breakout Astros' Alex Bregman, Rockets (and NBA) MVP James Harden, Texans first team All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and gold medal gymnast phenom Simone Biles.

To find out who won, read the rest of the story on CultureMap.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Given their overall stature as organizations within their sports, it seems appropriate that the Astros' biggest contract news this week was striking a five year extension with Alex Bregman, while the Texans' biggest move was signing backup quarterback A.J. McCarron. Hey, McCarron is a notable upgrade over Brandon Weeden! Though if DeShaun Watson goes down with a major injury they are still Texans Toast.

The Astros get cost certainty, and a relative bargain if Bregman is to be one of the great stars of the game well into the next decade. If Bregman is indeed to be a long-term stud he'd have made more money going year to year over the next four seasons until free agency beckoned. Hedging his bet is without question a smart play when the hedge makes Bregman a centillionaire. Pre-Uncle Sam's cut anyway.

Bregman at six years $100 million seems downright cheap relative to Jose Altuve's five year 151.5 mil extension kicking in next season. Carlos Correa must have some interesting unspoken thoughts.

UH in the tourney

21 times in 34 years of the 64 team NCAA Tournament bracket a 14 seed has shocked a three seed in the first round. Hence, the Houston Cougars are not an automatic over Georgia State. In 2015 the Panthers (Ga. St.) were a 14 when they took down Baylor. This season's GSU squad ranks in the top 15 in the nation in three point shooting percentage. But their numbers were primarily accrued vs. Sun Belt Conference competition. The UH defense is strongest on the perimeter and should choke off Georgia State's strength. The Iowa State-Ohio State winner should be next on Sunday. The Cyclones would pose a serious challenge Sunday, with the Buckeyes no joke if good enough to take out ISU.

While at Oklahoma, Kelvin Sampson twice had fourth seeded Sooner teams seeded lose to 13 seeds. And took a two seeded team to the Final Four.

Loss hurts Rockets goals

Down to 10 regular season games left for the Rockets heading into their game with the Spurs Friday night. Coming back from 19 points down in the 4th quarter at Memphis only to lose in overtime was a waste of time, having Chris Paul play over 41 minutes was not good, and the L basically snuffed out the slim in the slim and none chance of catching Golden State for the top seed in the Western Conference. Denver is the probable number two seed, though the Nuggets have a much harder finishing schedule than do the Rockets. If the Nuggets go 6-6 to close, the Rockets have to go 9-1. Portland is tied with Houston in the loss column, has a favorable schedule, and owns the tiebreaker over the Rockets. Meaning: the Rockets dropping to fourth is a distinct possibility.

HOF next for Ichiro, but he is no Biggio

After playing in the Seattle Mariners' two regular season opening games in Tokyo, Ichiro Suzuki officially retired Thursday. He can safely start working on a Hall of Fame induction speech for 2025 in Cooperstown. A tremendous player who didn't come to North America until he was 27 years old, Ichiro racked up at least 206 hits in each of his first 10 Major League seasons and finished with 3089 good for 23rd all-time, until Albert Pujols passes him this season. He was a spectacular right fielder with a throwing arm that rates with the greatest the game has seen from Roberto Clemente on down the line.

On the radio show Thursday I addressed Ichiro as overrated by those who rate him one of the great offensive players ever. Context matters. I noted that Craig Biggio's peak offensive years were better than Ichiro's best. Boy did that draw some blowback in emails, tweets, and on-air from bi-weekly guest/CultureMap.com featured columnist/baseball dilettante Ken Hoffman.

Ichiro was a magnificent singles-slapping machine. In 2004 he racked up 262 hits to break a Major League record that had stood for more than 80 years. However, on-base percentage is a more valuable statistical measurement than batting average. In 2004 Ichiro hit .372, with an OBP of .414. In 1997 Biggio's OBP was .415 (while batting .309). Despite Ichiro having a career batting average edge of .311 to .281, Biggio's career on-base percentage of .363 tops Ichiro's .355.

Biggio also hit with notably more power. Ichiro one time reached 15 homers in a season. Biggio hit 20+ eight times, four of those when the Astrodome was his home ballpark. Ichiro topped 30 doubles twice with a season high of 34. Biggio topped 40 six times including two seasons over 50.

Over their best 10 year stretch, best five year stretch, or single best season, Craig Biggio was a greater offensive player than Ichiro. Not a better pure hitter, but a better offensive player.

Buzzer Beaters

1. As Charles Barkley's book was titled: "I May Be Wrong, but I Doubt It." 2. Murray State's Ja Morant is the most compelling college guard since Stephen Curry. 3. Best ever in-game dunkers: Bronze-Michael Jordan Silver-Dominique Wilkins Gold-Vince Carter

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