Sweeping four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, African-American
Jesse Owens captivated Berliners with his stunning performance and
defied Adolf Hitler's resolve to showcase alleged Aryan supremacy.
Now, nearly three-quarters of a century of upheaval and
transformation later, Berlin is welcoming Part II of the Owens
sporting legend: Jesse's great-nephew.
Seventy years to the day after his famous forbear won his first
Olympic medal in the 100-meter sprint finals, NCAA basketball
standout Chris Owens signed his contract with Berlin's Alba team -
one of Germany's best - on Aug. 3. As Alba enters its second season
following the lifting of tight restrictions on the number of
American players allowed on a team, Germany is quickly becoming a
magnet for NBA hopefuls looking to improve their game.
But the younger Owens is no NBA rookie. As a senior at the
University of Texas-Austin in 2002, he was drafted by the Milwaukee
Bucks, who then traded him on to the Memphis Grizzlies. But a knee
injury kept him off the court much of the season, and he ended up
playing only one game.
"Any time of adversity is a real test of faith," says Owens,
sitting in a tiny physical therapy room at Max-Schmeling Arena - the
Alba home court in Berlin's northeastern Prenzlauerberg district.
Coming back from that injury and subsequent back surgery have been
the most challenging part of his career, he says. But overcoming
obstacles to achieve athletic success is a family tradition.
"Despite [Jesse Owens's] sporting successes he had to go through
many difficult times," says Owens. He explains that his great-uncle
came from a poor family and had to train before school because of
Naturally, the younger Owens says, Jesse's athletic legacy has
been an inspiration for his own sporting endeavors - particularly as
he got older and began to develop his own talents on the basketball
Being here in Berlin has already deepened his appreciation of
what his great-uncle achieved. A school in eastern Berlin's
Lichtenberg district carries the name of the track-and-field star,
as does "Jesse-Owens Allee" - a street in the western suburb of
And in the city's Olympic stadium, a lounge bears Jesse Owens's
name. But it was the sight of an engraved plaque listing all of the
Olympic champions crowned in the stadium that put everything in
historical context for Berlin's newest Owens.
"Seeing the name of my grand-uncle - my family name - engraved
here, makes me really proud," says Owens.
But despite the fact that his family name is an integral part of
the city's sports history, Chris Owens is too much of a professional
to let this affect his decision to go to Berlin.
Why Berlin, then?
"The coach," he answers, without hesitation. "What you see is
what you get ... he's a straight-up guy," says Owens, noting Henrik
Roedl's professionalism and will to win. …