Will Jordan and Bird play on the U.S. Olympic team?
Michael Jordan and Larry Bird have discovered how hard it is to say no when your country calls, even when you want to say no, as apparently is the case with Jordan, or when you should say no, as may be the case with Bird. Both players are among the 10 NBA stars who reportedly have told the U.S. Olympic basketball committee that they will accept invitations to play on the 1992 Olympic team. The others are centers Patrick Ewing and David Robinson; guards Magic Johnson and John Stockton; and forwards Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin and Scottie Pippen. The 12-man roster, which will include at least one college player, is expected to be announced on Sept. 21.
Jordan has been vacillating about the Olympics for months. In Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times, he is quoted as saying, "It seems that everybody has been trying to speak for me except me. I have been talking to the people involved. I'm in deliberation over what the schedule will be, and I plan to reach a decision within the next few days."
All along Jordan has said that the reason he has been hesitant about joining the Olympic team is that he didn't want to prevent another player from having the opportunity he had in '84, when he won a gold medal at the LA. Games, and that he wanted to rest during the NBA's off-season. "I spend at least eight months of every year playing basketball to the best of my ability," Jordan told the Sun-Times. "If I don't get proper rest during the summer and report for the season tired or injured and have a bad year, people will knock me for that, too."
Jordan seems to be feeling two types of pressure to compete in Barcelona: peer pressure (Barkley and Johnson are said to have applied most of if and p.r. pressure. Citing as its sources "those close to Jordan," The Atlanta Constitution reported last week that Jordan would participate in the Olympics because he feared that "a public relations backlash would have a negative impact on his endorsements."
Bird's situation is different. He will be 35 by the time the Olympics begin, and he's recovering from off-season back surgery. Whether he will be physically capable of withstanding the rigors of Olympic preparation and play is anyone's guess. Without question, a strong, healthy Bird deserves a spot on the team. But if there's any uncertainty about his condition—and there surely will be on Sept. 21—he would be wise to stick to his original plan of stepping aside for a younger, healthier player.
Just in Time
The Pan Pacific swim meet was a dud until the end
The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, which involved athletes from the U.S. and 15 other countries, seemed like a lull before next year's Olympic storm. Crowds at the Kinsmen Aquatic Centre in Edmonton last week were small and hushed, and with only a half hour to go in the five-day meet, no world record had fallen.
Then Kieren Perkins, an 18-year-old high school senior from Brisbane, Australia, plunged into the pool for the 1,500-meter freestyle. After having missed Vladimir Salnikov's five-year-old world record in the 800 free by .04 of a second last Friday night, Perkins had his sights set on breaking that mark en route to winning the 1,500 on Sunday night. With 800 of the 1,500 meters behind him, Perkins touched the wall, stopped and looked up at the clock. "I wasn't going to wait another 700 meters to see if I'd got it," Perkins said.
The time was 7:47.85, which was 2.79 seconds faster than Salnikov's record. Noting his triumph, Perkins pumped his fist into the air and resumed his quest for the 1,500 title. He went on to win the race in 14:59.79, an impressive but not record-breaking time.
Swimming was therapy for Perkins long before it was his sport. At age nine he ran through a plate glass window while chasing his little brother around the house and lacerated his left calf, an injury that required 86 stitches. Part of Perkins's therapy was to splash around in a pool using a kickboard. "They used to carry him to me," says his coach, John Carew, who has worked with Perkins for eight years.
Perkins still trains in the little 20-meter pool in the Brisbane suburb of Indooroopilly that he used during his recuperation. At 16, he became only the third man to break 15 minutes for the 1,500. And at the world championships in Perth last January, he swam a 14:50.58, smashing Salnikov's 1,500 record but finishing a meter behind Germany's Joerg Hoffman. "My best moment and my worst all at once," says Perkins.
Despite Perkins's performance, American swimmers easily outpaced the Australians (and everyone else) in Edmonton, winning 26 gold medals. Summer Sanders, 18, of Roseville, Calif., won three events (the two individual medleys and the 200-meter butterfly), but paid a price. She needed ice packs on her shoulders each night to relieve tendinitis. "I think we've squeezed the orange too many times this year," said U.S. women's coach Mark Schubert.
Sanders's Stanford schoolmate, senior Jeff Rouse, was the meet's only other record breaker. Twenty minutes after Perkins set his mark, Rouse swam the backstroke leg of the 4x100-meter medley relay in 53.93 to become the first person to crack 54 seconds for the 100-meter back. Because Rouse swam the leadoff leg of the relay, his time will count as a world record.
Truth be told, the Pan Pacific meet wasn't very exciting until those last races. But Perkins and Rouse made up for all the dull moments.
The NHL is experiencing a summer of discontent
This off-season has truly been off for the NHL. For one thing, the players are ticked off. The increasingly acrimonious relationship between owners and players has delayed talks on a new collective bargaining agreement. Although the two sides have returned to the negotiating table, the players may strike after the agreement expires on Sept. 15.
Also, the debut of the league's next superstar may be put off. Eric Lindros, the No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft, apparently would prefer playing for the Canadian Olympic team to suiting up for the lowly Quebec Nordiques. Lindros may decide to return to the junior ranks, play for the Olympic team and then reenter the draft in June '93, taking a chance that the Nordiques will not have finished last again. If the Nordiques don't trade their rights to Lindros, the NHL might lose his stellar services for the next two seasons.
The NHL's plans for expansion—seven new teams by the year 2000—have been thrown off as well. While the San Jose Sharks will be ready to play this fall, the two franchises that are supposed to enter the league for the 1992-93 season are struggling. The Tampa Bay Lightning failed to meet a June deadline for a $22.5 million payment on its $50 million franchise fee. It seems that the Lightning's Japanese investors objected to some of the additional partners recruited by team president Phil Esposito. The Ottawa Senators made their payment, but their plans to construct an arena are threatened by a zoning dispute. As a result, the Senators are having trouble attracting investors.
The league's most pressing headache, though, is that the cable sports networks are turning off. The NHL's $17 million-a-year contract with SportsChannel America has expired after three seasons, and ESPN's reported offer of $4 million for a package of games for one season has disappointed the league.
NHL president John Ziegler insists that getting the league back on ESPN (the NHL had a contract with ESPN from 1985 to '88), a network that reaches 59.2 million homes, is not the league's highest priority. "Not in the sense that you would give the game away and devalue your product just to do it," says Ziegler.
But exposure, not dollars, should be the NHL's primary concern. Lucrative TV contracts just aren't available to the NHL. At least ESPN would make the NHL look like a major league. Why would a league with a commitment to expansion not want to expose itself to the broadest possible audience?
The brothers Mimbs could have hitters seeing double
Within five minutes on Feb. 13, 1969, Virginia Mimbs of Macon, Ga., provided the Los Angeles Dodgers with two of their best pitching prospects. Her sons, identical twins Michael and Mark, have put together nearly identical stats this season for two Dodger Class A farm clubs. At week's end, Michael had won 12 games, with a 2.47 ERA, for Vero Beach (Fla.), and his younger brother, Mark, had won 11, with a 2.29 ERA, for Bakersfield (Calif.).
Soon after selecting the Mimbses out of Mercer College in Macon in the 1990 draft, the Dodgers shipped the two lefties to different farm clubs. "They wanted to see how we could do apart from each other," says Michael. The Dodgers also wanted to avoid further confusion. The 6'2" 180-pounders throw the same assortment of pitches and have similar deliveries. In spring training, Dodger pitching coach Claude Osteen couldn't tell them apart. The only way coaches avoided constant correction was to refer to both Michael and Mark as "Mimbsie."
What the Mimbses are shooting for now is a reunion next year at Double A San Antonio. What the Dodgers are hoping for is a family reunion on a grander scale. With the three pitching Martinez brothers thriving in the Dodger organization (Ramon with Los Angeles, Pedro with San Antonio, and Jesus in rookie ball in the Dominican Republic), director of minor league operations Charlie Blaney says, "The Martinez and Mimbs families could be a complete starting rotation."
[Thumb Up]To the Black Tennis & Sports Foundation and its chairman, Arthur Ashe, for launching a program to provide grants to promising minority and disadvantaged junior tennis players for training expenses and coaching assistance.
[Thumb Up]To the University of Connecticut, for dropping its 125-pound weight limit for female cheerleaders, after a woman who was kicked off the squad for being five pounds overweight filed a complaint with a state commission. The Huskies have no weight limit for male cheerleaders.
[Thumb Down]To the NAIA, for not waiving a rule and granting Nebraska Wesleyan senior Tim Miller a fifth season of eligibility. Miller played in five of nine football games last fall before being called to serve in the gulf war. The NAIA says that anyone who plays in more than half his team's games has played a full season.
According to their plaques in Yankee Stadium's historic Monument Park, Roger Maris was a "couragous" player, and Elston Howard was a true "genteleman." Team officials noticed the misspellings when the plaques were installed at the beginning of this season, and John Lawn, Yankee vice-president of operations, said that the monuments will be replaced before next season at the engraver's expnese.
Dusty Gunn is a quarterback for the Valdosta (Ga.) State Blazers. His main target is receiver Doc Holliday.
THEY SAID IT
Mike Hargrove, Cleveland Indians manager, after a recent glut of doubleheaders: "I never knew anybody who said they liked double-headers except Ernie Banks, and I think he was lying."
James Brown, soul singer, when asked how he felt after taking a few handoffs during an Atlanta Falcon practice: "I feel good."
Making a List
The U.S. Open began on Monday at Flushing Meadow in New York City. The Open is the only Grand Slam tournament that has been held on three surfaces—grass, clay and hard court—and five-time champion Jimmy Connors is the only player to have won it on all three. He also has played more memorable matches at the U.S. Open than anyone else. Here are 10 of them:
1974 final—6-1, 6-0, 6-1 win over Ken Rosewall. In the most lopsided final in tournament history, Rosewall fared even worse on the grass at Forest Hills than he had in the Wimbledon final two months earlier, which Connors won 6-1, 6-1, 6-4.
1976 final—6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 win over Bjorn Borg on clay. Borg won 123 points to Connors' 121, but Jimbo saved four set points in the tiebreaker.
1977 final—2-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-0 loss to Guillermo Vilas. Connors pushed and shoved photographers as he stormed off the court. Minutes later, he was driving away from the West Side Tennis Club.
1978 round of 16—4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 7-5 win over Adriano Panatta on the hard courts at Flushing Meadow. What a point! Serving at 5-6 and deuce in the fifth set, Panatta thought he had ended the rally with a crosscourt volley that bounded 10 feet beyond the sideline. But Connors scrambled after the ball and ripped a one-handed backhand around the net post. The ball landed inches inside the baseline. Panatta double-faulted on the next point to lose the match.
1980 semifinals—6-4, 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6 loss to John McEnroe. Connors netted an easy volley at 1-2 in the tiebreaker and then sailed a backhand deep off McEnroe's return. "The two worst points of my life," said Connors.
1981 round of 32—6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 win over Andres Gomez. Connors suffered muscle cramps most of the match and was still being massaged an hour after it had ended.
1983 final—6-3, 6-7, 7-5, 6-0 win over Ivan Lendl. Connors won his fifth U.S. Open, surviving a death threat, diarrhea and 107° heat.
1984 semifinals—6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 loss to McEnroe. The match was the last of the day and ended at 11:13 p.m. Connors nailed 45 winners to McEnroe's 20, but McEnroe won 12 of the first 13 points in the fifth set.
1988 quarterfinals—6-2, 7-6, 6-1 loss to Las Vegas native Andre Agassi. Afterward, Agassi said that lie had predicted he would win "three, three and three." Connors replied, "That was a bad mistake. I'll remember that. I enjoy playing guys who could be my children. Maybe he's one of them. I spent a lot of time in Vegas."
1989 round of 16—6-2, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Stefan Edberg. Edberg was seeded third but Connors demolished him. Along the way, a characteristic curse-fest, directed at umpire Richard Ings, cost Jimbo $2,250 in fines.
Replay: 20 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
San Francisco quarterback John Brodie appeared on the cover of the Sept. 20, 1971, issue, our pro football preview. Inside, we profiled light-bulb-eating Philadelphia linebacker Tim Rossovich. After Rossovich's wife, Mikey, served Tim and SI writer John Underwood glasses of iced tea, Underwood said that he had only heard about people eating glass. Rossovich then bit his glass and began chewing the pieces. "Timmy!" Mikey screamed "I've been saving those glasses!"