The California Sports Hall of Fame

Christian Okoye, the "Nigerian Nightmare" who first made his mark as a bruising running back with Azusa Pacific University, enjoyed an excellent career with the Kansas City Chiefs. After his retirement, Okoye returned to live in Southern California; he owns a nutritional supplements business and operates the Christian Okoye Foundation for underprivileged youth.

Now, Okoye is launching the California Sports Hall of Fame, with a kickoff ceremony scheduled for January 28 in Anaheim. (Tickets are $500 for individual "sponsorship investment;" the "Hall of Fame sponsorship investment" is, gulp, $250,000. Okoye hopes to persuade the folks planning the Great Park in O.C. (former home of the El Toro Air Station) to allow space for a permanent home for the Hall.

"I got the idea because I saw that other states have halls of fames and California doesn't," Okoye told me by phone from his home in Rancho Cucamonga. "I felt that we should put together a California hall of fame because the state has produced so many great athletes and coaches over the years."

This sounds like a decent idea -- especially if, as Okoye claims, money raised in the name of the non-profit goes to help those whom he describes as "struggling young athletes who are poorly financed." Okoye envisions clinics, sports camps and tutoring services.

The Hall's first class of 20 inductees is impressive: Magic Johnson, Bill Walsh, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Jackson, Eric Dickerson, Marcus Allen, Kellen Winslow, John Wooden, Tom Flores, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Jackie Robinson, Jerry West, Rafer Johnson, David "Deacon" Jones, Elgin Baylor, Chick Hearn, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Mathias, Tommy Lasorda and Jim Plunkett.

But the selection process has some kinks. Several of these inductees also serve on the Hall's board of directors, raising questions about conflict of interest. Was Flores, the former Raiders coach, selected because he's on the board? And, how did he get selected over the likes of John McKay and Rod Dedeaux? In addition, it's downright disrespectful that the organization chose only one woman in its first class. No Ann Myers or Cheryl Miller? No Billie Jean King or Janet Evans or Lisa Fernandez? Finally, the Hall honors only two athletes who competed before the 1950s (Robinson and Mathias). What about Walter Johnson? What about James Jeffries and Jimmy McLarnin?

November 8, 2006 3:32 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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