PAY THE PACER, CALL THE TUNE
The most significant thing about the collective-bargaining settlement struck in the NBA last week was the extent to which the owners were willing to share revenues with their players and each other. When the new pact goes into full effect for the 1984-85 season, there will be a ceiling on team payrolls, a feature the owners ardently sought, but there will also be a payroll minimum. The per-team ceiling in 1984 will be at least $3.6 million, and because another provision of the contract guarantees the players 53% of the league's gross revenues, that figure could be even higher. The payroll minimum will be determined by a complex formula and is expected to be roughly 90% of the ceiling; it would probably amount to about $3.2 million a team in '84. To meet the minimum, a cash-poor franchise like Indiana, which now has a payroll of only $1.1 million, will receive subsidies from the league under a pool arrangement yet to be worked out.
With any kind of sane management, those extra expenditures will make for greater parity in the NBA, a prospect that pleases NBA Players Association General Counsel Larry Fleisher. "This is better for us because more teams will be competing for players," Fleisher says. "In 1984 we're guaranteed $300,000 a player, and more than that if revenues increase." Fleisher thinks that revenues will indeed increase. "We analyzed their books and records and expectations from cable TV. Teams will have to spend the money to be more competitive, and because they're going to be more competitive, we think we'll bring in a lot more money."
John Weistart, a law professor at Duke who specializes in sports labor issues, agrees. "A classic theory of sports economics holds that it's in the best interests of any team to have the best competitors possible," Weistart says. "You can prove that by looking at attendance figures. A good team against a good team produces the greatest attendance; a poor one against a poor one produces the least; and mixes between produce variations." Weistart sees the settlement as a healthy step toward further centralization of the NBA. "The operation of the Indiana franchise is now of grave concern to the folks who own, say, L.A.," he says. "It's their money at stake, and it would follow that the league would want to exercise more control over the individual management of franchises. He who pays the piper calls the tune."
The settlement puts the NBA in the enlightened company of the NFL, which has long had its own form of revenue sharing, and light years ahead of baseball, whose "haves" staunchly resist any suggestion that they share the wealth with the game's "have-nots." The NBA arrangement figures to strengthen weaker franchises, such as Cleveland, Indiana, San Diego and Kansas City, and make those that are for sale more attractive properties. Said NBA Executive Vice-President David J. Stern, "If I'm a prospective purchaser of a troubled team, I now know I can project a situation where, if I do a good job of marketing and promotion, I won't simply be a developmental team for another club in a big city. Someone buying Indiana now won't feel that Herb Williams and Clark Kellogg will just be serving apprenticeships before going on to New York."
If there are any losers under the new contract, they figure to be the NBA's biggest spenders—Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Seattle, whose owner, Sam Schulman, cast the lone dissenting vote on the Board of Governors, in part because he didn't like the idea of other clubs horning in on his cable-TV revenue. "A confiscation of my franchise," he called it. But the rich teams may be losers only over the short haul. If Fleisher and Weistart are right that the NBA settlement will lead to increased competitive balance, the ultimate result may be greater prosperity for all. And if this happens, other pro sports, particularly baseball, may well want to take note.
CLAGHORN TAKES HIS CUTS
Until recently, proper use of the baseball idiom dictated that politicians could do only one thing with questions posed by journalists and other interrogators: They had to field them. At the end of a speech, Senator Claghorn would tell his audience, "And now I'll field a few of your questions." Thereupon good ol' Claghorn would set himself squarely on the diamond of political discourse, wait for the crack of the bat and try to handle the resulting chances without a bobble.
But something strange has happened. Instead of manning positions in the field, today's politicians prefer to spend their time at the plate. During his recent 12-day trip to Western Europe, Vice President George Bush accused a questioner in Brussels of throwing "a fast-breaking curveball" that he wasn't going to take a cut at. On the other hand, asked by a journalist in Geneva about Soviet activities in Afghanistan and Poland, Bush replied that this was a nice "slow-ball question" that he intended to clobber. No matter that many of Bush's European listeners appeared to be baffled by his choice of metaphors; the Vice President of the United States was at bat.
So were the Reagan Administration officials who appeared on Feb. 18 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. According to The Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan was the target of the group's "hottest pitches." The newspaper also reported, "No one hit a home run or struck out. Mostly, they scored with ground-ball singles."
We suspect that, as with so many other things in politics, this switch by public officials from the field to the batter's box is mainly a matter of image. Look at it this way. If you satisfactorily answer, say, one of three questions, you've got a .333 average. For a fielder, that's terrible. For a batter, though, it's just fine.
TALES FROM THE ANNALS OF BOXING
The shockingly cavalier attitude toward the risk of brain damage in boxing detailed by Robert H. Boyle and Wilmer Ames in their story beginning on page 44 is only one of many ills besetting that troubled sport. Others were illustrated last week by these developments:
In a mismatch of staggering proportions, Aaron Pryor defended his WBA junior welterweight title in Atlantic City by stopping Sang-Hyun Kim of South Korea in 37 seconds of the third round. Kim threw the fight's first punch and almost fell down because of the clumsiness of his delivery. Thereafter Pryor mercilessly pummeled him in a display so onesided that the promoter, Dan Duva, said Kim "might be the worst contender I've ever seen fight for a title." Incredibly, Kim had held the WBC world crown from late 1978 to early 1980. His having won one championship and fought for another can be explained by the fact that both the WBC and the WBA, which compete with each other to maintain power bases throughout the world, shamelessly cater to Asian boxing officials by giving artificially high ratings to their fighters and protecting those boxers from strong outside opponents. Despite holding the WBC crown for 14 months and subsequently becoming the No. 1 WBA challenger, Kim was as unknown as he was incompetent; the Pryor fight was his first appearance outside Asia.
Former middleweight contender Sugar Ray Seales disclosed on ABC-TV's Sportsbeat that he fought for more than two years despite severe eye problems. Seales suffered a detached retina in the right eye that was satisfactorily repaired, then one in the left eye that remained detached even after surgery. Nevertheless, Seales passed physicals administered by boxing commissions in New York, New Jersey, California and Nevada. Dr. Richard G. Chenoweth, a Portland, Ore. ophthalmologist who recently operated on Seales's eyes, said the damage had been caused by blows suffered in the ring and could have been detected by a "simple vision test," i.e., having Seales read an eye chart.
Looking into a six-fight card carried on ESPN from Worcester, Mass. on March 23, SI TV/RADIO writer William Taaffe found that the fanciest footwork took place not in the ring but in the handling of the fighters' records. Heavyweight Juan Ortiz was announced as hailing from Springfield, Mass., the better to stir local interest, when in fact he resides and trains in Brooklyn. Lightweight Terry Medley was correctly said to have a 16-3 record, but ESPN neglected to note that after winning his first 14 fights, Medley had been KO'd in three of his next five bouts, all against weak opponents. Lightweight Jaime Rodriguez, whose record was billed on ESPN as 10-3-1, actually was 0-9. The network and Bob Arum, the head of Top Rank Inc., which co-promoted the card with a local man, Rip Valenti, said that Rodriguez was tapped as a fill-in only the night before and had misinformed them about his record. But Massachusetts State Boxing Commission Chairman Thomas R. Rawson said that Rodriguez "wasn't a last-minute substitute at all. His name was submitted by Rip Valenti on March 7 and approved by the commission the following week." Even if, as Arum insisted, Rodriguez was a Jaime-come-lately, no representative of ESPN or the promoters checked the fighter's record with the commission on the day of the bout. "We would have laid it all out," said Rawson. Instead, it was Rodriguez who was laid out, the victim of a second-round TKO by Edwin Curet.
COOL IT, COWBOYS
Dallas Cowboy Coach Tom Landry, a man well known for his sobriety, has banned hotdogging in the end zone by Cowboy players who score touchdowns. The edict may or may not affect Tony Hill's Wings of Victory celebrations, Billy Joe DuPree's slam dunks and Drew Pearson's spikes, but it will almost certainly write finis to Butch Johnson's considerably more flamboyant California Quake routine, in which the Cowboy wide receiver performs an exaggerated shimmy in the end zone. Johnson complained that Landry was trying to make Dallas players "clones" by destroying their "individual characteristics." He seemed even more concerned that the new rule would destroy something else: sales of his California Quake posters.
WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN
Let the record show that when Iowa Basketball Coach Lute Olson, who had five straight 20-win seasons with the Hawk-eyes and was in the fourth year of a 10-year contract at Iowa, unexpectedly quit last week to become coach at Arizona, the following things didn't happen:
1) The NCAA didn't require Olson to sit out a year before assuming his new job with the Wildcats. The NCAA has such a requirement only for college athletes who transfer schools.
2) Michigan Football Coach Bo Schembechler and Washington Football Coach Don James didn't conspicuously complain about Olson's having walked out on the Hawkeyes. Schembechler, James and a lot of other college football coaches had screamed bloody murder when Herschel Walker passed up his senior year at Georgia to bolt to the USFL.
3) U.S. Senator Aden Specter of Pennsylvania didn't introduce legislation to grant an antitrust exemption enabling the NCAA to enact rules preventing coaches from jumping from one school to another. Spurred into action by Walker's defection, Specter had introduced a bill to allow pro sports leagues to adopt rules banning the signing of underclassmen.
4) Iowa didn't hold Olson to the six years left on his contract, five years longer than the period of eligibility that Walker had left when he joined the USFL. Upon learning of his coach's move, the Hawkeyes' junior center, Greg Stokes, said, "I expected to play for Olson for four years, and this disappoints me." Even more disappointed was Brad Lohaus, a freshman center who hails, ironically, from Arizona and who wouldn't have gone to Iowa, he said, if it hadn't been for Olson. Nevertheless, Iowa released Olson from his contract because, as Athletic Director Bump Elliott put it, "You can't keep a coach against his will." Added S.J. Brownlee, president of the Iowa State Board of Regents, "On the surface, it seems inappropriate to release Olson without compensation to the university, but it seems to be the custom in the industry."
THEY SAID IT
•James McNulty, mayor of Scranton, Pa., pleading that he was only vice-mayor when boxing promoter Don King was given the key to the city in 1975: "Since then we've changed the locks."
•Pete Wysocki, the Washington Federals' radio color commentator, after Placekicker Obed Ariri missed two field goals in a 22-16 win over Michigan: "I wonder what he's thinking. It's hard to tell, because I don't speak Nigerian."