Way to go, Ham!

Published 8:20 pm Monday, February 29, 2016

If you’re into collegiate basketball in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, you’ve probably heard of Charles Oakley, a first-round draft pick out of Virginia Union in 1985. If you’re an old-timer, you might remember Earl Monroe in 1967 and Mike Davis in 1969, both taken in the first round of the NBA draft by the Washington Wizards, Davis from Virginia Union and Monroe — the second pick overall — from Winston-Salem State.

Those guys were legendary, and the conference has produced its share of top female athletes, as well. But there’s a solid case to be made that none of those stars of the hardwood court has made quite the splash of a man who has become famous simply for standing out in the stands.

On Friday, officials from the CIAA officially recognized Suffolk’s Abraham “Mr. CIAA” Mitchell, known around his hometown as “Ham,” for the entertainment he’s provided fans during conference basketball tournaments for more than 30 years. Mitchell is widely known for the veritable fashion shows he presents during tournament games, when he struts and strolls the arena in sartorial splendor, often honoring the participating teams by wearing suits, hats, shoes and accessories made in their school colors.

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This year, Mitchell said during his induction into the CIAA Hall of Fame, he had 27 different suits with him when he arrived in Charlotte, N.C., for the conference tournament. He also benefitted from a somewhat recent bit of generosity from tournament officials — he was able to use his own dressing room to change outfits throughout the day.

Mitchell joked that he figured the conference had held out on giving him his own space during the tournament out of frustration that his fashion walks — often filmed and broadcast on the arena’s big screens — were taking folks’ attention away from the game.

Humbug. If that’s a problem, then they’ll have to dump the mascots and send the cheerleaders home, too. The teams are in the tournament to win — everybody else is there to have fun, and the crowd’s reaction when Mitchell is shown on screen in all his finery proves they’re enjoying it.

Five years from now, even the staunchest CIAA fan probably will be unable to name the players inducted into the conference Hall of Fame this year. But it’s a safe bet many of them will be clearly recall that 2016 was the year Mr. CIAA finally got his due.

Way to go, Ham!