Breaking Barriers and Inspiring Greatness

We are ten days from Spring Training in Florida and Arizona. We are also four days away from the NBA Trade deadline. That means it is Black History Month. So, throughout this month I will be posting a few articles about Black and African-American Athletes. Today let’s look at a few current players in both leagues and their personal stories.

Victor Wembanyama – San Antonio Spurs

Wembanyama came to the United States back in June and has been having a great rookie season in the NBA all things consider. Born on January 4, 2004 Wembanyama (a.k.a. Wemby) was raised by two athletes in Le Chesnay, Paris, France. His mom was a basketball player and today is a coach. His father was a track and field athlete who competed in high jump, long jump, and triple jump. His siblings are also athletes. His sister is a professional basketball player. While his brother played basketball and handball as a kid.

He started learning to play basketball from his mom at the age of 7 when he played for the Entente Le Chesnay Versailles. Then at the age of 10 he joined the Nanterre 92 team in the France youth system. He got the attention of Michaël Allard, a youth coach for the club, in 2013 when he was on the bench because of how tall he was.

Fast forward to 2018 Wemby was loaned to FC Barcelona for the Minicopa del Rey, an under-14 tournament in Spain, leading his team to third place. After that tournament he declined to continue his career in Spain saying that the coaches were not challenging him enough. He returned to Nanterra 92 in France for two seasons before playing for ASVEL and Metropolitans 92 and entering the NBA Draft last summer.

Jonathan Kuminga – Golden State Warriors

Drafted by the Warriors Kuminga started playing basketball at the two years old. Let’s fast forward to his high school days. He played his freshman year on the Huntington Prep School team in Huntington, West Virginia. Then his sophomore year his family moved to Centereach, New York where he played basketball at Our Savior New American School and averaged 25 points with 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game.

In 2019, he joined the Slam Dunk on the Beach showcase after scoring 40 points in a loss to the Gonzaga College High School at the event which was a single-game record and was named the Most Valuable Player of the event.

Following the 2018 season he played for the NY Rens in the Elite Youth Basketball League averaging 20 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He played a game against the Texas Titans, who had recruits Cade Cunningham and Greg Brown, and scored 43 points while making 7 of 11 from three-point range.

During his junior year Kuminga transferred to the Patrick School in Hillside, NJ. In his debut on Christmas weekend he scored 20 points over Roselle Catholic High School after being tagged as ineligible for thirty days by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association due to transfer rules. He averaged 16 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game.

Then on July 15, 2020 after being ranked first by most recruiting services he reclassified to the 2020 class and announced he would be bypassing college basketball to join the NBA G League Ignite over offers from Texas Tech, Auburn, Duke, Kentucky, and others. He was classified as a five-star recruit and the best small forward in the 2020 class before being drafted seventh by the Warriors in 2021.

Carlos Santana – Milwaukee Brewers

Back in 2010 when he made his debut in Cleveland I thought the headline was a joke because of the musician who has the same name. However, the first baseman is nearing the end of his career so since he has been playing for most of the time I have been following baseball I am picking him as my first black baseball player to honor.

Santana is one of eight kids. At the age of 15 his parents were getting a divorce and they all lived with his mom after the divorce giving him the change to act as a father figure to his five younger sisters. He would play baseball with their neighbors in a 5-on-5 format using baseball caps instead of bats to hit the ball.

He started his professional career in 2005 with the Los Angeles Dodgers signing with their minor league affiliate the Golf Coast Dodgers. He played primarily at third base but also made appearances at every other position except for first base, shortstop, and center field. He quickly became known as Slamtana because of his power.

Then in 2008 after playing with the Golf Coast Dodgers for 3.5 years he would be traded to Cleveland for third baseman Casey Blake and would continue his rise to the majors through their major league system. He made his debut on June 11, 2010 becoming the first player since 1977 to debut for Cleveland batting third. His first full season was in 2011 and he played in Cleveland through the 2017 season. Then went the Philadelphia for the 2018 season before returning to Cleveland for 2019 and 2020 before going to their division rival the Royals. Then in 2022 he went to Seattle and started last year with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being traded to their divisional foe, the Brewers, where he will be in 2024 in July.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays

I grew up watching his father play for the then Montreal Expos, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and Baltimore Orioles. It was hard for me not to pick Junior for this article because I remember watching the replay of him going out on the field when his father received a standing ovation at the Expos last game in Olympic Stadium before he left for Los Angeles. I will never forget watching the replay of that standing ovation at the end of the 2003 season because his father was one of the greats from the steroid era who never juiced.

At the time, I did not know that his first name was Vladimir until many years later when he started his professional career signing a $3.9 million dollar deal with Blue Jays in 2015 starting out in their minor league system of course. Now after playing for the Blue Jays major league team since 2019 he is making a name for himself as a first baseman and designated hitter who is a power hitter.

With that… stay tuned for my next Black History Month piece about the Caribbean League.

If you cannot play with them, then root for them.

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