Blackhawks

Thurman lived a complicated life

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Thurman lived a complicated life

This is a story that began more than 30 years ago. It ended on June 27 when Homer Price Thurman died of probable arterial cardio-vascular disease in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was 72.

But filling in the dots in the volatile life of a multi-talented but troubled man that was characterized as sad and complicated by all who knew him will take more than a few paragraphs.

Thurman was a three-sport star at Bloom Township High School in Chicago Heights in the late 1950s. He once had a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters. He was an All-Stater in football and basketball and a state champion in track and field. On Nov. 3, he will be inducted into the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum in Pinckneyville.

How good was he? Those who saw him compete, including former teammate Jerry Colangelo, now director of USA Basketball, insists he should be mentioned in the same discussion with Lou Boudreau, Dike Eddleman, Otto Graham, Ted Kluszewski, Mike Conley, LaMarr Thomas, Quinn Buckner, Tai Streets and his teammate at Bloom, Leroy Jackson.

Until his death, however, Thurmans whereabouts were unknown to members of his family and friends. Alan Macey, a longtime sports reporter in Chicago Heights, spent more than 30 years trying to find Thurman without success. He even put an FBI agent on Thurmans trail but he kept running into one dead end after another. Close friend and classmate Homer Dillard said Thurman hadnt been seen since 1974.

The truth is Thurmans body wouldnt have been claimed except Ken Nelson, who befriended Thurman when he landed in Hawaii in the late 1970s, recalled that Thurman once mentioned he had played with the Harlem Globetrotters. It spurred an online search in which Nelson discovered stories about Thurmans Chicago background.

The Honolulu City and County medical examiner found information in Thurmans wallet and was able to contact a son, Tom Stone, a professional photographer in San Francisco, California. Stone said his father would be cremated.

Stone and his mother, Catherine Stone, who also lives in the San Francisco area, didnt have much of a relationship with Thurman. Catherine, a California girl who met Thurman at a restaurant in Sausalito that was owned by the Kingston Trio of folk music fame, said she was with Homer for only four years. A victim of physical abuse, she fled with her son, who was born in a Pullman compartment on a trail traveling between Mexico City and Oaxaca, Mexico.

I talked to my father a few months before he died, Tom Stone said. I didnt have much of a relationship with him. It never was good until the end. Last year, I was interacting with him, as good as it has ever been. We talked on the telephone now and again.

Part of our issue was he was very secretive. We dont know any of his family. We have pictures of him in his basketball days. We knew he was fairly successful in sports in his early days. But we didnt know he was one of the great all-around athletes in Illinois history.

Stone was only two years old when his parents broke up. He was home-schooled by his mother, who encouraged her son to reach his full potential in high school by studying such creative pursuits as art, painting and music. At Harvard, he majored in computer science and also took courses in creative writing and film.

Today, the 41-year-old Stone is an accomplished humanitarian photographer with a gallery in San Francisco. His work depicts the discrepancy between the American dream and the American reality. He is most widely known for his documentary photography of outsider, displaced and homeless people in California.

Even though they never married, Catherine Stone said she cried when she learned of Homers death. When you love someone, you always love them, she said.

It was a very difficult relationship. I always tried to keep in touch. When we visited him in Honolulu, he wouldnt see us. He was very close-mouthed about his past and his family. I wanted to meet his father so Tom would have a root. There was a desire to reach out but he didnt want to do that.

There were things in his life that he felt bad about. He always said he was Homer Thurman but he used the name Tony Washington, his cousins name, for legal reasons. I always understood he was in trouble with the law.

The fact that he was such a sterling athlete speaks to some level of self-control and discipline. But emotionally, he couldnt control himself. He had rage inside of him. I think that was his Achilles heel. It prevented him from going forward.

In the last few years, however, it sounds as if he had made peace with himself. He wasnt angry anymore. He wanted to remake himself in many ways. He was gentle and kind. He had great faith.

Added Tom: He had a robust voice, a soft rumbling laugh and liked nothing better than a good conversation. He spent a very long time wrestling with his past. But he really seemed to find a degree of peace and calm and contentment in the last few months.

That was the man than Ken Nelson knew. Everyone knew him as Jah. He had a strong intellectual curiosity with an emphasis on science, particularly physics and the brain. He even had a theory of human behavior that he tenaciously pursued through reading. People who interacted with him said: The guy is very bright. He inevitably left you wondering: What screwed up this guy that his obvious intelligence veered so off-course?

There were other issues. Thurman delivered newspapers. He didnt have any health insurance. He was evicted from his YMCA room, his last known residence. His phone number always responded with the same message: The subscribers mailbox is full. He was bothered by injuries sustained in a hit-and-run accident. Never a braggart, he never told anyone about his athletic accomplishments as a teenager.

He never complained, bemoaned his lot in life or asked anyone for anything for free, Nelson said. He would quickly pay back any small loan and would himself, despite meager earnings, assist people he met who were even worse off. But despite our sometimes heating, sometimes informative, always interesting and challenging but frequently frustrating discussions, he remained reclusive, private and unknown. I knew nothing about his background before I met him. His sports background never was a feature of our conversations.

Born in Ittabena, Mississippi, on Nov. 18, 1939, Thurman moved to Chicago Heights with his family. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder was an All-State end on Blooms unbeaten 1957 football team. In basketball, he scored 1,619 points in four years, averaged 17.6 points per game and was a two-time All-Stater. In track and field, he won the state high jump and participated on two winning relays.

Colangelo, who teamed with Thurman on Blooms highly rated 22-2 team in 1957 that lost to Elgin 53-52 in the supersectional, recalled organizing a summer tournament in Chicago Heights.

I had the best players in the Midwest playing in the event, Colangelo said. I was looking for Homer Thurman. I found him in jail. He looked scruffy and hadnt touched a basketball in a long time.

Well, he ate a hamburger and some French fries and stepped on the court like he never missed a beat. He was the MVP of the tournament. He was an amazing story. He disappeared right after that. He is a tragic story, a great talent who went to waste.

By all accounts, Thurmans outlook on life changed in 1959, when his mother died. His father, a preacher, left the family. She scrubbed floors. According to Catherine Stone, she was violent with Homer. According to Homer Dillard, he was a high-strung, temperamental individual who was never able to relax.

When his mother died, something died inside him, Dillard said. So many people expected him to do so much. They said he would be the next Oscar Robertson. But he didnt want to work as hard.

The sad part is he was imprinted at an early age in a way that he could never get past, Catherine Stone said.

Thurman was recruited by Iowa but left after a semester and landed at Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, Nebraska. He was a black star in a white community. In 1962, he married Janet Bartling, the daughter of a local newspaper publisher. They were married in Chicago, had two children, Tony and Tammi, then were divorced in 1965. Bartling returned to Fremont, where she resides today.

In the early 1970s, after Catherine Stone, fearing for her safety, broke off her relationship with Thurman and fled with her son, sleeping in bushes in wealthy Los Angeles neighborhoods for a time, she eventually found solace after joining Source Family, a spiritual commune in the Hollywood Hills that was founded by Father Yod. He also was the lead singer of the communes psychedelic rock band Ya Ho Wa 13. Curiously, Thurman played guitar in the band and was pictured on the cover of one of the groups albums.

When I joined the spiritual family, I realized (Yod) was a truth seeker and love never dies. I found truth in the family and learned how to live my life in a positive way. It gave me what I needed to bring up my son, Catherine Stone said.

She called Homer and invited him to join them in Hawaii. He agreed. It is a saga of effort and desire to change. He wanted to remake himself in many ways. The sad part is he seemed to be imprinted at an early age. He stayed with us for only a brief time, she said.

Two weeks ago, Catherine Stone contacted Janet Bartling in Fremont, Nebraska. They talked for a long while. Both of Bartlings children have graduated from college, are married and have children of their own.

We agreed it was tragic that so much talent and potential was lost and that Homer did not know any of his children, Catherine said.

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.