5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Lacy J. Banks

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5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Lacy J. Banks

CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guesta Chicago sports journalism giant whose passion for the city and teams he covers is only equaled by his passion for family and lifecalling him a fighter doesnt do this man justicehis health battles have been well-documented, which include on-going bouts with both brain & prostate cancer and congestive heart failure, but there is no stopping this manhe knows he has a lot more to give to our city and has no plans on stopping nowfrom the Chicago Sun-Times, here are 5 Questions withLACY J. BANKS!

BIO: Lacy J. Banks, 67, has been a Sun-Times sportswritercolumnist for close to 40 years and a Baptist preacher for 60 years. He has preached at more than 100 different churches in the Chicago area. A native of Lyon, Miss., Banks graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in French and he served three years in the Vietnam War as a U.S. Naval officer. Lacy and wife, Joyce, have been married 42 years and have three daughters and five grandchildren. Among beats Banks has covered for the Sun-Times are the Bulls (including this NBA Playoffs run as well), along with the Fire, defunct Sting, Blackhawks, Wolves, Cubs, defunct Hussle, Rush, Sky, college football and basketball and pro boxing.

1) CSNChicago.com: Lacy, so happy to speak with you, especially since there was a terrible rumor that quickly spread around newsrooms in this city that you DIED on April 20! To say it was startling to hear that is an understatement, but you wisely and quickly took to Facebook to let everyone know that you are indeed alive andaccording to your most recent Sun-Times blog postdoing thankfully well all things considered. Is it fair to call you an inspiration to cancer and heart patients out there who aspire to keep on fighting they way you courageously have over the past three years?

Banks: When I attended junior and senior high school in Kansas City, Kan., I lettered in track by running on the 400-meter, 800-meter and 1600-meter relays teams. I don't remember me ever leading off or anchoring those relay teams. I ran the middle legs, meaning I'd receive the baton from a previous runner and pass it on the next one. Likewise, I'm glad to be an inspiration to cancer survivors and to those suffering serious heart problems just as others were inspirations to me. By the grace of almighty God, I'm just passing the baton, Jeff.

Other Chicago sports legends like Wendell Smith, Gene Siskel, Jack Griffin and Dave Feldman ran on my team before me. The same with my oldest sibling, my sister Mrs. Maude Lee Banks-Burrell, and my youngest, my brother Hansel Jordan Banks. God rest their souls. There and so many, many others who have inspired me to fight. But perhaps nobody has inspired me more than my contemporary fellow cancer survivor, Roger Ebert. Look at how cancer has viciously attacked him. Yet he has soldiered on long and strong with a smile on his face and magnificent movie reviews in his soul. Now there's a real giant Jeff. There's a real hero. His afflictions have not diminished his genius in any way, shape or form. And just as his wife, Chaz, has been by his side as his main support system, so has my wife of 50 years, Joyce. Thank you, Jesus.

2) CSNChicago.com: As you well know and as someone who knows the ins and outs of this team as well as anyone, this city has very high expectations for a deep playoff run for the Bulls. In your opinion, what are the three main on-court elements that MUST happen for this team to - lets just say it - reach the NBA Finals?

Banks: First, they must continue to play the same smothering defense that powered them to the best record in the regular season. Second, their star leader and sure-shot NBA MVP, Derrick Rose, must remain healthy and maintain his stellar all-round play. Third, they must have a consistent, balanced offense that will give Rose the support he needs for the first three quarters, rather than force him to pull them out of close games to victoryfourth quarter, after forth quarter, after fourth quarter.

Even Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Bill Russell had to have help. They finally paid the price Saturday when they spotted the Indiana Pacers a huge early lead and failed to pull it out despite another heroic finish. But they almost lost more than the game. When Rose twisted his left ankle in the first quarter, it was one scary moment because that twist looked awfully ugly on video replays. Thank God that it wasn't as serious as it looked. He stayed in the game and again almost saved the Bulls in the fourth.

3) CSNChicago.com: Youve now covered two of the greatest players to ever to put on a Bulls uniform: Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose. At this point in Roses stellar early portion of his career to MJs standout early years in the league, what would you say are some striking similarities & big differences between these two NBA titans?

Banks: They are both cold-blooded killers, but with different temperaments. Jordan's emotions ran hot and heavy. But he did not let them rattle him when he had to be focused at money time, when the pressures of the game were at their maximum. But Rose? He is incredibly calm and just as confident and competent. Jordan was obviously bigger at 6-6 than Rose at 6-3, but both are outstanding finishers and Rose is a better penetrator and glass-master than Jordan. Give Rose the slightest sliver of space and he'll slice and dice opponents off the dribble no matter how much those opponents pack the paint and pelt him with cheap shots.

4) CSNChicago.com: There was a time period when there was a long drought in this city between pro team championships (1963 to 1981 to be exact). That all changed in 81 when the now-defunct North American Soccer Leagues (NASL) Chicago Sting, a team filled with huge personalities and amazing skills to match, won the Soccer Bowl over the New York Cosmos. Many younger Chicago sports fans obviously wouldnt know how big that moment truly was in this city. As a beat writer for the Sting during those years, tell us what it was like to cover that team and how they captivated Chicago at that moment in time.

Banks: The Sting was something of an unwanted child because soccer was not that popular a sport in Chicago in particular or America in general. But the ownership of Lee Stern and the coaching of Willy Roy are the main reasons the Sting gave Chicago two major-league championships. Stern, a native of Chicago, was to Chicago as an owner what Derrick Rose, also a local native, is to Chicago as a player.

Quick note of trivia: can you remember another owner or player who was born in the same city he became its championship sports hero? Magic Johnson was not born in Los Angeles. Neither was Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant. Bird was not born in Boston. Neither was Russell. Jordan was not born in Chicago. Neither was Walter Payton or Ernie Banks. Tim Duncan was not born in San Antoniobut Dwayne Wade and Isiah Thomas were both born in Chicago before bringing NBA championships to Miami and Detroit respectively.

5) CSNChicago.com: In addition to being a veteran Chicago sports journalist, youre also a man of deep faith who has helped spread the word of God to thousands of parishioners over the past six decades. With the reported decline in church goers over the past decade or so in all faiths, what can be done in your opinion to bring them back?

Banks: A miracle. A cataclysmic miracle. Like an invasion of aliens from outer space. Of course, the return of Jesus Christ performing miracle as He did in His first coming could also do it. But the bible tells us that when Christ returns the second time, He is coming back to take what's left of His church dead and alive. The bible teaches that most of mankind, as in the past, still will never accept the faith in God that Jesus authored and finished. As prophesied in the bible, these are the "last days" when people will no longer endure sound doctrine. And the real essence of Christianity, the religion of which I am a redeemed member, or any other good religion, is a faith that will make us love each other as we love ourselves.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Any final thoughts youd like to share Lacy?
Banks: I am seriously concerned about the destructive direction in which America is headed. Ninety-five percent of this nation's wealth is possessed by five percent of the population. Plus, too many of our congressmen are multi-millionaires, which means they are out of touch with the sufferings of the masses. Every previous great empire was destroyed more from within than without. People became more greedy, insensitive, ignorant, unloving and undisciplined. Our government is corrupted by congressmen who are in the pockets of special interest groups that are only interested in making money at any and all costs. Mis-prioritizing has resulted in the savaging of our environment and the deadly deterioration of our infrastructure. I believe that Republicans and Teapartiers, in essence, care nothing for the poor and the middle class. And they are full of hate and anger. I can understand anger. Our growing economic woes, greatly resulting from the abandonment of American workers, through out-sourcing of jobs to cheap labor abroad, are causing people to be angry about losing their jobs, their affordable health care, their homes and their retirement benefits. But we are at our worst when we start hating each other according to race, religion, sexual persuasion, social and economic status. What I'd like to promote most, Jeff, is love (which is God) and a government that will look out for the best interest of humanity in general and Americans in particular. After all, this IS America. And we ARE Americans.

Banks LINKS:

Lacy J. Banks official Sun-Times blog - Conquering Cancer and Heart Failurewith Jesus, doctors and common sense"

Lacy J. Banks Sun-TimesChicago Bulls coverage

Lacy J. Banks on Facebook

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

It might be figuratively held together with chicken wire and duct tape at this point, and it hasn’t been entirely effective recently. But the White Sox bullpen can’t be criticized for a lack of effort. 

Over the last four days, White Sox relievers have had to throw 19 1/3 innings. To recap: Starter Jacob Turner only lasted 3 1/3 innings Friday against the Detroit Tigers, then Chris Sale was scratched from his start Saturday after blowing up over the team’s uniforms and earning a five-game suspension. The White Sox bullpen shouldered Johnny Wholestaff duties and threw eight innings on Saturday — right-hander Matt Albers started and pitched two of those innings despite throwing an inning in the team’s last two games — in lieu of the team’s All-Star ace. 

David Robertson, who pitched a third of an inning in relief Saturday, pitched twice on Sunday (he allowed three solo home runs to the Tigers to blow the save in his second game). Nate Jones appeared in the first three games of the Tigers series, too, totaling 2 1/3 innings. 

On Monday, both Jones and Robertson were given a much-needed rest day. So Zach Duke, Albers and Dan Jennings were called upon by manager Robin Ventura to cover seven outs against the powerful Cubs lineup. Albers blew the save, but Jennings’ strikeout of Jason Heyward with the go-ahead run on second set up Tyler Saladino’s walk-off single to net the White Sox a 5-4 win. 

“We’ve picked up a lot of innings lately,” Robertson said. “Everybody’s just giving it everything they got right now. It’s obviously, we would’ve loved to have nothing but zeros go up, but that’s not the way baseball works. We’re facing a lot of good lineups. And we’ve just hung tough and tried to at least give us a chance to win. Thankfully, we’ve been very fortunate to walk off these last three games.” 

It’s not just the volume of innings that’s taxing the bullpen, though. With three consecutive walk-off wins — the first time the White Sox have done that since Aug. 4-6, 1962 — have come plenty of high-stress pitches. Over the last week, the White Sox bullpen has the highest average leverage index in baseball, and that’s with this group shouldering the generally low-leverage early innings of Saturday’s game in place of Sale. 

“The more we work, the more proud we are of what we do,” Jennings said. 

Still, this group could probably use a breather. Without an off day until Aug. 1, though, the only way to get one is to be ruled out for a game, as Robertson and Jones were on Monday. 

“Hopefully we can rotate, I know there’s some other guys that I know might need a day so maybe hopefully Nate and Robertson are really fresh tomorrow and we can build off that,” Jennings said. “(Or) maybe we can get that eight, nine, 10-run win where we can kind of sit back and relax a little bit, hopefully.”

Manager Robin Ventura said he went with seniority in choosing who to cover Jones and Robertson’s innings Monday, which helps explain why he didn’t use 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer against the Cubs. Fulmer’s recent control issues — he only threw 12 of 30 pitches for strikes in blowing a lead against the Tigers on Friday — could’ve played a factor, too. 

“You’re trusting the guys who have been here,” Ventura said. “You’ve got some new faces that are out there, it would’ve been asking a lot to bring them in and put them in that.”

White Sox relievers have squandered leads in each of the team’s last four games, though: Fulmer on Friday, Jones on Saturday, Robertson on Sunday and Albers/Jennings on Monday. In addition to a short outing from Turner and no outing from Sale, the White Sox are missing right-handers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam from a group that looked to be fairly deep earlier in the season. 

The White Sox relief corps could certainly use a day off or at the least, as Jennings said, a blowout win where some of those young arms — Fulmer, Michael Ynoa and Tommy Kahnle — could polish off some low-pressure innings. But those easy wins have been few and far between this season: The White Sox only have three wins by more than three runs since May 14. 

So if that trend continues, this group is going to have to continue to cover plenty of high-stress innings without a break, at least for the next week. 

“Obviously the bullpen the last few days had to pick up the team, and we take pride in that,” Albers said. “Especially Nate and D-Rob were down today, shoot, they’ve been pitching every day too. Everybody else started to try to pick them up. That’s what we’re here for.” 

The Harbaugh Show rules Big Ten Media Days — and could rule the Big Ten

The Harbaugh Show rules Big Ten Media Days — and could rule the Big Ten

Michigan tight end Jake Butt hit the nail right on the head when asked about his head coach, Jim Harbaugh.

“He’s one of a kind.”

Yes, Harbaugh is certainly unlike any other football coach. He spent the offseason firing off Twitter attacks at opposing head coaches, posting pictures taken with celebrities and starring in a rap video, shouting from behind the wheel of a bright yellow convertible parked on the 50-yard line at the Big House.

He’s demanded all the attention in the college football world since he took the job at his alma mater, and Day 1 of Big Ten Media Days was no different. It was the Jim Harbaugh Show, complete with the star wearing a block-M baseball cap to complement his suit and a sea of reporters engulfing him at a designated podium.

But with all the attention that comes from the off-the-field antics, Harbaugh has worked stunning magic in Ann Arbor. He’s been the program’s head man for a year and a half, already taking the Wolverines from a five-win group that missed out on a bowl game to a 10-win squad that was a win away from playing for a conference title.

“It’s definitely a culture shift, you can feel it through coach Harbaugh,” cornerback Jourdan Lewis said. “You feel what he’s bringing to the program. If you want to say that’s swagger, then yeah, that’s what he’s bringing back.”

And for Harbaugh’s next trick? He’s made Michigan one of the favorites to win this year’s conference championship and a team with legitimate national championship aspirations.

“We have big hopes. We've got big dreams. We've got lofty goals. And all those are achievable. And they have to be worked for,” Harbaugh said Monday. “You can accomplish anything if the work is realized. And those things have to be earned. So we are in the position right now to work to get the things we want. That's the fact. That's the mentality. That's the attitude.”

Harbaugh does plenty of stuff off the field that separates him from the run-of-the-mill college football coach — who else has a picture with Kenny G? — but it’s his uniqueness on the field that had players buying into what he was trying to accomplish.

Harbaugh, the man with “enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” runs four-hour practices. No joke. And they sound horrible.

“Being out there for four hours? That’s like a ‘Titanic’ movie, man, being out there for four hours,” Lewis said.

But the players saw what four-hour practices led to, and it had them coming back for more. Both Lewis and Butt could’ve turned pro this offseason. But they’re back. Why?

“To win,” Lewis said. “Those four-hour practices, I know he wasn’t doing it for no reason. I knew there was a method to his madness. I saw those 10 wins. We knew that we could be something special, and once we knew that, we bought in. These four-hour practices aren’t so bad when you tally up wins. Trying to be something special, and that’s what he’s bringing back. He’s bringing something magical to Ann Arbor.”

“He doesn’t take any days off,” Butt said. “He doesn’t ask any of us to do anything he’s not willing to do himself. He kind of just forces us to be tough. When you’re out there practicing for four hours, smashing into each other, you don’t really have a choice but to be tough.”

Laugh away at Harbaugh’s zaniness and his over-the-top actions: climbing trees, recruiting at sleepovers and donning a different NFL or NBA jersey at every stop on his cross-country satellite-camp tour. But know that it’s working. Aside from the winning and the impressive turnaround he pulled in just one year at the helm, his recruiting successes have been spectacular. This season, he signed the nation’s fourth-ranked recruiting class — including No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary — and he currently has the fifth-ranked class for 2017.

Stuff like “Signing of the Stars” and “Who’s Got It Better Than Us?” They’re extra efforts to make the program one percent better every day.

“I think a lot of that’s big on recruiting,” Butt said. “He thinks outside of the box, and I think that’s big. A lot of us probably don’t understand the reason behind a lot of the things that he does, but I can assure you there’s a reason behind everything he does. He has a plan for everything, but he’s doing most of those things for the betterment of our team and our program.”

Off the field, Harbaugh creates one social-media-friendly headline after another. On it he’s rapidly moved Michigan from cringe-worthy underachiever to conference-title favorite.

The man with the block-M sweatshirt and the khaki pants has the Wolverines heading in a direction that could end with a shower of confetti.

Then, truly nobody will have it better than Michigan.

Cheering section of one: Melky Cabrera adds three highlight plays to the reel

Cheering section of one: Melky Cabrera adds three highlight plays to the reel

The human GIF made quite an impact on the White Sox on Monday night.

A staple of The Melky Cabrera experience the past year and a half has been the outfielder’s personal celebrations that come with every big play. Monday night’s edition included three rounds of festivities critical to the White Sox pulling out a 5-4 victory over the Cubs at U.S. Cellular Field.

Cabrera got the party started almost instantly, robbing Kris Bryant of a first-inning solo home run before he patted himself on the back in only the way he does.

“I think every celebration is a motivation to try to give us a boost to our confidence and for the fans, too,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “Every time you can make a good play, it’s good for your team and for your fans to try to invigorate the confidence.”

Cabrera not only leads the team with a .303 batting average -- he’s the biggest self-congratulator of the bunch. It’s as if the GIF function was created for the sole purpose of recording Cabrera’s awkward claps or fist pumps after every big play.

On Monday, he opted to clap for himself after he robbed Bryant of what would have been his 26th homer. Cabrera said he watched the ball the entire way off Bryant’s bat and drifted back to the warning track before leaping and snagging the ball just above the yellow line on the left-field fence.

[MORE: White Sox win in walk-off fashion over Cubs]

On his way down, Cabrera landed hard on the warning track before righting himself against the wall, where he sat with each appendage sprawled in a different direction. At that point, Cabrera held up the ball to show the world he had it in his possession before he stood up and clapped for himself with both hands over his head.

“I thought after that play, things were going to be pretty good today,” said pitcher Miguel Gonzalez, the recipient of the play.

It was only the beginning.

Cabrera’s relay throw home in the third inning led to a rundown that netted an out at the plate when Javy Baez made an ill-advised decision to go home. Then in the ninth, Cabrera recorded the first out, which slowed a game-tying rally, when he fired a perfect strike to second base to throw out Bryant stretching a single into a double.

Each time, Cabrera cheered for himself without shame.

“He’s probably his own best (cheering section), but we try to keep up with him,” said reliever Zach Duke, who often views Cabrera’s celebrations from the bullpen. “It’s great. His celebrations, they’re just truly heartfelt, truly spontaneous and he has such a good time playing the game we can’t help but join in and enjoy the moment.”