THE SHORT, SECRET LIFE OF GERALD FIDELMAN
"My true name is Ross Eugene Fields." With those words, uttered last week in a Los Angeles courtroom, the boxing promoter hitherto known as Harold J. Smith broke down and cried. Arrested two days earlier in a motor home near Dodger Stadium, Smith—or, rather, Fields—was described in court by federal prosecutors as a "fugitive bad-check and bunco artist" who had left a trail of 100 bogus checks across 30 states. Authorities also said that the woman living as his wife under the name Barbara Newman Smith was an accomplice whose real name was Alice Vicki Darrow.
Fields' arrest—Darrow was still at large—came nine weeks after "Smith's" disappearance following accusations that his organization, Muhammad Ali Professional Sports, had taken part in a $21.3 million embezzlement at Wells Fargo Bank. Smith had admitted owing the bank at least $8 million but said the debt was a legitimate loan he intended to pay back with proceeds from an elaborate boxing card scheduled for Feb. 23 at Madison Square Garden. That show was canceled after the disappearance of Smith, who had been known for his free-spending ways—not only in boxing but also as a benefactor of track and field athletes.
Smith's reputation for generosity contrasts sharply with Fields' image as a deadbeat. Fields was on the track team at American University in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s—he was a member of a mile-relay team that won an IC4A indoor title—and after dropping out of school, he somehow wangled permission to use Sammy Davis Jr.'s name on a discotheque he operated in Washington before turning to the promotion of closed-circuit boxing shows. Hit with several bad-check charges, he left Washington. Federal warrants were later issued for both Fields and Darrow. A 1976 FBI poster listing them as fugitives indicated that Darrow had used a dozen or more aliases. Fields' aliases were fewer but memorable. A black, he was said to have passed himself off as both Gerald Fidelman and Gerald Tishman.
April 20, 1981
Authorities say Fields took the name Harold J. Smith from a birth certificate issued in North Carolina for a white male. "Smith" went big time four years ago by getting permission to use Muhammad Ali's name on promotions—just as he had ingratiated himself with Sammy Davis Jr. By contrast with the fast-talking, smooth-skinned Fields, Smith was bearded and had a manner associates describe as "laid-back." He was also 50 pounds heavier than Fields had been. It was learned last week that Smith shaved off his beard upon his disappearance in January and insisted on wearing false whiskers during a TV interview he gave while in hiding.
Fields failed to make $355,000 bond on federal charges of falsifying a passport application and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution; he also faces possible extradition to North Carolina on state warrants for writing bad checks. His attorney, Jennifer L. King, was also indicted in the case on charges of obstructing justice and lying to a grand jury.
The revelation that Harold Smith was really Ross Fields drew expressions of astonishment from, among others, Stanford Track Coach Brooks Johnson, who said he may have seen Smith at meets but never associated him with the Ross Fields he had helped recruit for American University in the '60s. Johnson told SI's Brooks Clark that "there was just no way to hook up the two." But Johnson added that Fields and Smith did share one characteristic. Indisputably, he said, both were "highly motivated individuals."
THE BROWN BOMBER
Just 14 hours before he died of a heart attack Sunday at the age of 66, Joe Louis sat at ringside at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, a frail but attentive spectator at the WBC heavyweight title fight between Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick. Louis was introduced to the crowd, acknowledging its applause with a practiced wave, and then watched as Holmes outclassed his foe but couldn't put him away. It must have occurred to more than one onlooker that Louis, a vaunted puncher, would have had no such difficulty in the same situation.
Besides a devastating left hand and a reputation as a finisher—as world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949 he defended his crown 25 times, scoring 21 knockouts—Louis distinguished himself by conveying a sense of decency and order during a chaotic period of history marked by institutionalized racial bigotry, economic depression and global war. Knocked out in 1936 by Max Schmeling, who was rightly or wrongly regarded as a symbol of Hitler's Germany, Louis made no excuses, but instead avenged himself by knocking out Schmeling in the first round of their rematch two years later. In much the same way, he voiced few complaints about the marital, financial and physical problems that beset him later on. By maintaining his dignity through it all, even while confined to a wheelchair, Louis inspired some of the same awe that he did when he was relentlessly stalking one foe or another during the dozen years he ruled the ring.
A tip of the hat to Boston's discerning hockey fans, 12,983 of whom turned out on Feb. 26 for the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Minnesota North Stars only to see the game marred by an NHL-record 406 penalty minutes. Last week the North Stars returned to Boston Garden for the first time since that shameful donnybrook for Games 1 and 2 of their opening-round Stanley Cup series against the Bruins. The North Stars won both games on their way toward eliminating the Bruins, and in the process the notion prevalent in the NHL that fighting sells tickets took a terrible beating. The games drew 8,539 and 9,069 fans, respectively.
Lest there be any confusion, basketball fans should be advised that the new 12-cent postal card that will go on sale May 5 does not honor Isiah Thomas, the star of Indiana's NCAA champions. There's a law against the depiction of living people on U.S. stamps and other postal issues. But the Hoosier star can probably expect some requests to autograph first-day covers of the card, which honors Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831), a Massachusetts postmaster and printer, founder of the American Antiquarian Society and publisher of the first dictionary, first Mother Goose tales and first English-language Bible printed in America.
For the first time in North American Soccer League history, a goaltender has scored a goal. The feat was achieved on April 5 in Atlanta by the Washington Diplomats' Jim Brown, who in his native Scotland once held a job building caskets, a line of work that, as he tells it, had one agreeable fringe benefit: occasionally, he'd nod off while having lunch in one of the coffins. Another of Brown's distinctions is his nickname, "Dracula," which he acquired because of his hatred of crosses—those annoying passes into the penalty area that stir goalies from their ofttimes dreamy repose.
But now Brown has also earned recognition as a goal-scoring goaltender. His goal came when, with the score tied 1-1, he got off a punt that sailed nearly the length of the field, then took a high bounce over the head of Atlanta Goaltender Graham Tutt and entered the net. Of his 100-yard goal, which helped the Diplomats to a 3-2 win, Brown said, "I was happy at first, then I started to think about the other goalkeeper and how tough it must have been for him."
What made the goal doubly fluky was this: Brown played eight games last winter in the NASL's indoor soccer league as a defender and forward. Those are positions at which one should score, especially on the fast, confined surfaces of indoor soccer. Yet during those eight games. Brown didn't get so much as an assist.
Year in and year out, the best high school basketball in West Virginia is played in the Kanawha Valley Conference, which comprises a dozen schools in Charleston and its environs. Founded during World War II, the Kanawha Valley has produced such stars as Charleston High's Rod Hundley, who led the conference by averaging 25.4 points per game in 1952 and 33.7 the next season, and East Bank High's Jerry West, who averaged 34.9 in 1956, still the conference record. You've no doubt heard of those two players but now it's time to meet a couple of other Kanawha Valley stars from the '50s, whose names appear on the rolls of conference scoring champions as follows:
1958 Gary Justice, 23.4
1959 Gay Elmore, 27.9
Strange to say, Justice and Elmore have had a more enduring—and, considered together, certainly more improbable—impact on the conference than Hundley and West. After graduating from Nitro High School (named, like the town in which it's located, after a local nitroglycerine plant), Justice played freshman basketball at the University of Richmond and later had a son, Gary Jr., who also attended Nitro High, class of '80. Elmore, a product of Stonewall Jackson High who played for a while at West Virginia University, also had a son, Gay Jr., who currently attends South Charleston High. And longtime West Virginia high school fans now experience a sense of dèjà vu as they contemplate the Kanawha Valley Conference's most recent scoring champions:
1980 Gary Justice, 23.1
1981 Gay Elmore, 25.0
ON THE SUBJECT OF SHAVING
There were reports last week that the FBI is looking into the possibility that unusually large sums of money were bet this past season on two or more Big Eight Conference basketball games. According to those accounts, the FBI was trying to determine whether points were shaved or point spreads otherwise manipulated. In the absence of more specific information, Big Eight officials immediately defended the integrity of their players and referees, which is probably as it should be. However, Nebraska Athletic Director Bob Devaney clearly overdid it when he dismissed the possibility that any Corn-huskers may have been involved in wrongdoing by saying. "Our squad wasn't good enough to shave points." Since point shaving has more to do with honest effort than with talent, Devaney's statement was ludicrous.
But then, the subject of shaving points in college basketball often produces rash words. When the sport was rocked by a major point-shaving scandal in 1951, Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp sanctimoniously said, "Gamblers couldn't get at my boys with a 10-foot pole." After several Kentucky stars were implicated in the widening scandal a few days later, Rupp lamely tried to distinguish the case from baseball's 1919 Black Sox scandal. He said: "The Black Sox threw games, but these kids only shaved points."
The notion that shaving points is less heinous than the outright throwing of games persists to the present day. In fact, when an underdog tries to shave points, it is, by definition, trying to lose. In the case of a favorite, it's possible to shave points and still win. In the process, however, the shavers are giving fans less than their money's worth, betraying their teammates and robbing rivals of authentic competition. In other words, they're cheating. This is why the point-shaving scandal that broke last January at Boston College is so disturbing. It's also why people were hoping last week that there was nothing really amiss in the Big Eight Conference.
THEY SAID IT
•Larry Cole, newly retired Dallas Cowboy defensive tackle, asked about the 11-year hiatus between his third and fourth NFL touchdowns: "Anyone can have an off decade."
•U.L. Washington, Kansas City Royal shortstop, explaining that his initials don't stand for anything: "I would change it, but my momma and daddy must have had something in mind when they gave me the name."
•Barry Beck, New York Ranger defenseman, asked who started a bench-clearing brawl in last week's Stanley Cup playoff game against the Los Angeles Kings: "We have only one person to blame, and that's each other."