CONTINUED FROM PG 1: A TRIBUTE TO JAMES MATTHEWS
Many feel -- his deep love and passion for his mom, the physical and
mental exhaustion of being her primary caregiver; led broken-hearted James to succumbing at age 69.
“I have to move. I can’t live there anymore. Too many memories of my mom,’’ James told Earl Williams right after learning that she didn’t have long to live and about the house he owned in Lakewood, a home he purchased with brother Larry in 1999. James and the publisher of Preptown Sports planned to cover upcoming games to help James escape from the stress and frustration about his great loss. Shooting sports photos and videos and writing articles seemed like a great idea, too. Over the years, James had archived some of the great athletes in CIF-SS and LA City Section history. A select few became high school All-Americans who eventually competed in the NBA, WNBA, NFL and USA Track and Field and Olympics.
In his portfolio, you can see Travor Ariza, James Harden, Alonzo Ball, LeMelo Ball, Stanley Johnson, LeBron James, Sebastian Telfair, Aaron Afflalo and Klay Thompson before they played in the NBA. Sade Houston,
Reshanda Gray, Kelsey Plum, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Layshia Clarendon, Jordin Canada, Katie Lou and Karlie Samuelson, Rebekah Gardner and Courtney Clements are current or former WNBA players. Along the way, he took photos of Magic Johnson. He shot Michael Cooper, Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Candace Parker during L.A. Sparks Media Day and covered them when other great WNBA players competed at the Staples Center and Long Beach Pyramid. Somehow, he managed to get shots of Denzel Washington, Vivica Fox, and Tom Arnold, too. Larry and brother, Johnnie, appeared in some celebrity shots.
In 1997, James-- along with Larry and Johnnie, and friend Donovan Small -- founded HSSL sports media news. James, who didn’t have any known journalism background working in the media, had them and a crew of writers and photographers cover the regular season, and deployed them to local, regional playoffs and state championships venues in basketball and track and field. In basketball, they started from the first tipoff about 8 a.m. and didn’t leave until no more time was left on scoreboards and championship trophies and patches were handed out at around 9 p.m.
The brothers also served as their family’s photographers. There’s countless family photos of special
occasions in their archive. From nieces and nephews graduations to backyard barbecues and birthday
celebrations, James truly enjoyed capturing his family’s greatest moments. Documenting the graduation of his daughter, Enisha Matthews-- the joy of his life-- when she earned a Bachelors of Science in business
administration from the University of Phoenix in 2016, and a MBA in finance from Cal State Dominguez Hills in 2022, were highlight of his life along with her baby photos with her mother, Novell Thompson, who had a
common-law marriage and loving friendship that began after he received a honorable discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1978. He served three years in the military. “Darlin’, Darlin’ Baby’’ was their favorite song by the mighty O’Jays, Thompson said. At their parties, they danced to the sweet sounds of Philly and Motown.
James was born to Annie Mae and Johnnie Paul Matthews on Nov. 3, 1953 in Meridian, Miss. Along with his parents, in 1958, he and brother Johnnie moved to Placentia, Calif. Later, he graduated from schools in the Compton Unified School District. He attended Dominguez High before transferring to Long Beach Poly High, where he was a member of the 1972 football team, the same year he graduated. The gifted artist turned down a scholarship to attend USC. Instead, James attended Long Beach City
College and competed in track before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. Stationed in Victorville, James became a mechanic servicing fighter jets.
Years later, in 1979, while working at the Long Beach Navel Shipyard, he met Novell, and
Enisha was born the following year. James also accepted her brother, Dejuan Nelms, and raised him as his own son. In 1984, James, who earned certificates to work as an electrician and plant equipment operator for Southern California Edison, began coaching Dejuan and his youth football team.
This was the beginning of James’s coaching career. He coached youth basketball, soccer, track and field before coaching some of the aforementioned sports at a plethora of high schools in the Los Angeles County. Last year, he served as an assistant track and field coach at Bellflower High, and served as head girls basketball at Compton Early College High. This is years well after he had retired from Edison in 2001, and had coached Enisha in youth soccer. “He has had one of the most significant impacts on my life, from either coaching me in the sports I played or being my number #1 fan on the sidelines or in the stands ... I’ve learned so much from him,’’ said Enisha, who chose to play varsity basketball at Mayfair and Gahr high schools over pursuing soccer or ice hockey. Her love for sports began with James, who coached her at the Cerritos Parks and Recreation before travel basketball with the Wolfpack, which helped prepare her for varsity basketball beginning in her sophomore year.
James didn’t make much money coaching or covering sports.“That’s how much he love sports,’’ Nelms said. “He wanted to instill the knowledge he learned from playing sports to give back to the kids. He had a big heart and wanted to see everyone he connected with to succeed in life,’’ Nelms added. “Many of the kids he coached, he helped them enter colleges on sports scholarships. He would go above and beyond to do his best to get them into colleges.’’
Like his travel ball players, James created video highlights for his nephew, Adhre Sparks, a
former soccer player at Los Alamitos High. James took him on college visits and helped Sparks land a partial sports scholarship at Willamette University, a NAIA program in Oregon.
In fact, James, Larry, Johnnie, Small and Willie Veasley, fed and provided financial assists to athletes on college trips and travel basketball road trips throughout California and beyond.
“James gave his family and friends everything he had,’’ said Williams, who has known James since 2005 when he met him, Larry and Johnnie at the Ayala High girls basketball tournament in Chino Hills. “He was a kind, committed truth-teller. He’d tell you what you needed to hear, giving advice to help you improve your game, constructive criticism. He cheered you on even when you didn’t think he was. You didn’t have to be a blood relative to be a part of his family. That was the beauty of having James in your life. Everyone was invited to eat at his table. He is truly missed.’’
James was preceded in death by his parents Annie Mae and Johnnie Paul Matthews, and his brothers Johnnie and Larry. To cherish his memory, he leaves his daughter Enisha Matthews (Jerald Smith), stepson Dejuan Nelms; step-grandchildren Taija Nelms, Jaylen Nelms and Briannah Nelms; Corey Matthews, Johnnie Matthews Jr., Tajohnna Matthews; brother Charles Matthews and sisters Sharon Newton, Claudette McCraw, Cynthia Matthews, Michelle Matthews and a host of nieces, nephews and friends.