Michael Jordan's Long Season
Even as he continues to excel on the court, his life off it has become more trying
Although Michael Jordan is once again leading the NBA in scoring and his Chicago Bulls are again the best team in the league, his life off the court is being scrutinized as never before. In October he was the only member of the champion Bulls to turn down an invitation to the White House, choosing to play golf instead. In December came the publication of The Jordan Rules, a best-seller that depicts Jordan as a petulant star who bullies his teammates and the Chicago front office. And in the past two months Jordan has squabbled with the NBA and USA Basketball over the rights of those organizations to use his likeness on products.
Recently two more incidents have come to light that, at the very least, raise questions about Jordan's judgment. Five months ago Tom Ashcraft, the U.S. Attorney in Charlotte, N.C., began investigating allegations that James Bouler, the owner of a golf pro shop in Monroe, N.C., had laundered money from drug sales and gambling proceeds. (Bouler was indicted on Feb. 6.) During the investigation Ashcraft seized a cashier's check for $57,000. Bouler maintains that the check was a loan from Jordan to build a driving range, but Ashcraft, according to The Charlotte Observer, claims that the money was payment for a gambling debt.
Jordan supports Bouler. "It's a loan," he told The Chicago Tribune in December. "I've known [Bouler] for four or five years." But according to transcripts of taped phone conversations that were recently released, Bouler told an unidentified associate that Bouler won $200,000 in bets and that he wanted to avoid paying taxes on his winnings by disguising them as loans. In another conversation from the same day, Bouler told a bank loan officer that he would like to deposit a check for $57,000.
March 30, 1992
If Jordan's $57,000 check was payment for gambling debts, as Ashcraft contends, then Jordan lied to the Tribune. However, on March 6, Graham Mullen, a U.S. district court judge in Charlotte, in ruling that the check had to be returned to Bouler, wrote, "Michael Jordan confirmed that this check was a loan made by him to the Petitioner [Bouler]." But on Monday, Mullen said, "I'm unaware of any court or government official that Michael Jordan talked to."
There is also the question of whether Jordan should have been associating with Bouler in the first place. In 1986 Bouler pleaded guilty to selling cocaine, and he is now serving a six-month sentence for violating his probation. In response to a question about his relationship with Bouler, Jordan said last week, "I have a right to associate with whomever I choose." That's not quite true, if Jordan wants to protect his superclean image.
There is also the question of Jordan's reported betting. After Eddie Dow, a bail bondsman from Gastonia, N.C., was murdered on Feb. 19, his lawyer, Stephen Gheen, discovered photocopies of three checks, totaling $108,000, in Dow's briefcase—two were signed by Jordan and one was a cashier's check. According to published reports, Gheen contends that Dow and Jordan were friends and that at least some of the money from the checks was payment from Jordan (the checks were not made out to Dow) for gambling debts.
Jordan says he never bet on any pro sports events. "I am no Pete Rose," Jordan said last Friday. While betting on golf is common, questions about athletes' gambling cannot be dismissed. Should athletes be wagering tens of thousands of dollars on anything? Such behavior inevitably raises questions about integrity.
It may be that Jordan is not the flawless hero portrayed in commercials. It may be that he is human, like anyone else. Now, like anyone else in a tough situation, he has some questions to answer.
Nine cities are picked as venues for the 1994 World Cup
The host cities of the 1994 World Cup, announced on Monday in New York, constitute the smallest number of sites (nine) ever used by the Cup for a 24-team field, the largest average seating capacity (73,809) and the competition's first indoor facility (the Silverdome near Detroit). The other stadiums selected were the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, the Cotton Bowl, Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium, Giants Stadium, RFK Stadium, the Rose Bowl, Soldier Field and Stanford Stadium.
By choosing nine venues instead of the traditional 12, the organizers save money: The average cost of preparing each stadium for soccer will be $2 million, which in three cases includes laying down grass over artificial turf.
The organizers passed over stadiums where baseball is played because of potential scheduling conflicts. Thus, the best soccer site in the U.S., Joe Robbie Stadium, built by one of the sport's patrons, was not selected. Beginning next year, the expansion Florida Marlins will play there. "It's a shame," says Ross Berlin, a senior vice-president of World Cup USA 1994. "Some say, if not for Joe Robbie, the World Cup wouldn't be in the U.S."
Road to Bethlehem
Moravian College captures the heart of an SI writer
On the morning of March 16, only hours after she had learned that her Moravian College basketball team would be the host team for the NCAA Division III Women's Final Four, Lady Greyhounds coach Mary Beth Spirk was teaching her nine o'clock phys-ed class. "Think Bobby Knight's got a class right now?" said Spirk, smiling, grade book in hand.
Last Friday morning, about 12 hours before Moravian's semifinal game against Eastern Connecticut, sophomore guard Pam Porter was taking a quiz in her religion course. "I think I did pretty well," said Porter. That night she did pretty well, too, scoring 25 points and grabbing nine rebounds to lead the Lady Greyhounds to a 74-67 victory and a berth in the championship game against Alma (Mich.) College, which had defeated Luther (Iowa) College 81-80 in the other semi. "I saw my professor cheering in the stands," said Porter. "I go see him at 8 a.m., and he comes to see me at night."
For my money, the real Final Four ended last Saturday night at Moravian's Johnston Hall, just off Main Street in my hometown of Bethlehem, Pa. I was not there on assignment, but because I wanted to be there. A sportswriter spends most of his time rooting for stories, not teams, and if he forms any emotional attachment, it's usually with the game itself, not with the people. The Lady Greyhounds came along at a perfect time, reviving a rooting interest that had been dormant in me for so long that I figured it was dead.
It's not simply that they are my hometown team; it's the way they play. Moravian, which is celebrating its 250th year of existence, attracts a high caliber of student, but the Lady Greyhounds do anything but over intellectualize the game. They shoot three-pointers with abandon and they seem congenitally unable to hold the ball for more than 15 seconds. Their skill, speed, energy and nerve had produced a record of 31-1 going into Saturday night's final.
And that's when they came up short. Alma converted 30 of 32 free throws to edge the Lady Greyhounds 79-75 and end Moravian's home winning streak at 43 games. Long after the game was over, after the trophies had been distributed, Moravian's loyal fans began to chant: "Thank you, Hounds!"
I would like to add my thanks.
Rugby over Race
Sports play a part in ending apartheid in South Africa
It is sometimes said that for Afrikaners, the descendants of the original Dutch settlers of South Africa, the three R's are religion, race (apartheid) and rugby. On March 17 many Afrikaners chose rugby over race.
On that day an overwhelming 68.7% of South African voters approved a referendum that calls for an end to 44 years of apartheid. South African President F.W. de Klerk had warned that failure to pass the measure would return the country to isolation in business, culture, diplomacy and sports.
De Klerk's threat that South Africa would again become a pariah in the sports world was not an idle one: Had the referendum failed, the gains that South Africa has made in international sports over the past eight months—readmittance to international rugby and cricket competition and the Olympics—would have been lost.
The pressure to pass the referendum intensified in the weeks before the vote. On Feb. 26, after the South African cricket team beat Australia in a World Cup match there—the team's first official overseas tour in 22 years—de Klerk sent a clear message with his congratulatory telegram to the cricketers: "The cabinet and I confirm our 'Yes!' for our cricket team." South African golfer Gary Player; Clive Rice, former captain of the national cricket team; and ultramarathoner Bruce Fordyce all expressed their support for a yes vote.
Some South African athletes did not support the referendum. Distance runner Zola Pieterse (nèe Budd) said, "We're still being used for political ends." But the athletes were not being used during this campaign; they were the ones using the political system. In years past they were the innocent victims of the boycotts that resulted from the racist policies of their government. Now they are helping to change those policies.
[Thumb Up] To Wayne and Natalie Seybold, who finished 10th in the pairs skating competition at the '88 Olympics, for their plan to sponsor a performance to benefit athletes in their hometown of Marion, Ind. While training for the '88 Games, the Seybolds received hundreds of donations from people in the community.
[Thumb Down] To Speedy Morris, LaSalle basketball coach, for slapping forward Blitz Woolen in the face last Thursday during the Explorers' NCAA tournament loss to Seton Hall. Morris says he tapped Woolen to get his attention.
NORMAN CHAD Salary Demand
I want more money. Why not? Ryne Sandberg got a contract extension worth $28.4 million over four years, Bobby Bonilla is earning $29 million over five years, and even Mike Morgan, a prune pit of a pitcher with a 67-104 career record, is being paid $12.5 million for four years' work. These skyward salaries are largely a result of baseball's lavish national television contracts. NFL and NBA players are reaping a similar broadcast bounty. Well, I watch a lot of TV, and I write a lot about TV, so it's time for this TV largesse to trickle down to my typing fingers.
Yes, I want a new deal, I want it for beau-coup bucks, and I want it now.
And I don't want to hear anything about a salary cap.
Kevin Maas, meanwhile, needs a thinking cap. He hit .220 last year, and the Yankees only raised his annual income from $250,000 to $255,000. "Is that fair?" says Maas. Actually, it's not, Kevin. You should've taken a pay cut, YOU POP-UP-MAKING, STRIKEOUT-COMPILING, DOUBLE PLAY-HITTING POOCH OF A PLAYER. Maas, in fact, should send the extra five grand to New Yorkers, who not only had to watch his performance but also had to listen to Phil Rizzuto describe it.
Speaking, if I may, for American sports viewers, we would like to earn a raise for watching the games and buying the products that keep these athletes limping to the bank. After all, there's a lot of monetary movement out there: Hockey players are talking strike because they're not getting enough of NHL revenues, and NFL owners are talking refund to networks because the networks are taking a bath on their contract with the league. But how about us? We just get more commercials and higher ticket prices. Isn't it time for a cost-of-viewing break at home and at the gate?
Of course, it's logistically unrealistic for leagues to hand out money to all viewers and fans, so I figured I would take charge, cut a terrific deal for myself and then share my windfall with folks as I run into them on the street.
It's time to talk turkey!
I am in the option year of my SPORTS ILLUSTRATED contract—meaning, at the end of 1992, I have the option to go elsewhere, while the magazine has the option to insist I go elsewhere. I don't want negotiations to drag on, so I am setting a signing deadline of April 1. If the deadline is not met, I will submit all subsequent columns in French.
(Here's what I would lead with in the May 25 issue: "La pensèe moderne a rèalisè un progrès considèrable en rèduisant l'existant à la sèrie des apparitions qui le manifestent. On visait par là à supprimer un certain nombre de dualismes qui embarrassaient la philosophie. Et puis, bien entendu, il y a la tèlèvision et, naturellement, Ahmad Rashad.")
I want top-of-the-line sportswriters' pay. My model is New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica, whose three-year, $39.1 zillion contract, I'm told, includes two parking spaces in midtown Manhattan and a company car with editor-resistant power windows. I'm willing to take a little less money than Lupica if I can get a Smart Window TV set and a yearlong supply of Combos.
The point is, you have to get what you can while you can get it.
Like athletes on the field, I have only so many good years left on the couch. For instance, I could lose cable at any moment. Plus my business has its own artificial turf-natural grass debate: word processors versus manual typewriters. Sure, Jimmy Cannon wrote a fine column for three decades; he didn't have to stare at a computer screen all day. Give me an Underwood, and I'll give you five columns a week.
Anyway, I had my first bargaining session with the magazine last week. I thought things went quite well.
Me: I want the Lupica deal.
SI: He's better than you.
Me: Well, sure he is, but I know Jack Arute personally.
SI: Can you send in the pizza delivery guy on your way out?
Now, if negotiations break down altogether, I am willing to submit to arbitration, provided I can get the fellow who awarded Benito Santiago $3.3 million.
THEY SAID IT
Casey Weldon, Florida State's starting quarterback last season, when told that he would be sitting next to Ringo Starr at the Grammy Awards: "Who is she?"
Sasha Kornilov, a 15-year-old Russian girl, on her impressions of American football after watching it for the first time during a game between Western Maryland College and a team of Russian all-stars in Moscow: "I think the form of the ball is interesting, and I like the way the players cling to each other."
Missing the Mark
Detroit Tiger pitcher Tony Castillo reported late to camp because of visa difficulties. His immigration papers had been sent to the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, Castillo lives in Venezuela.
Replay 30 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
UCLA's John Green (45) and Gary Cunningham appeared on the cover of our March 19, 1962, issue after the Bruins beat Southern Cal. Referring to UCLA coach John Wooden, we wrote, "His displeasure is, in rarest cases, spiced with his strongest blasphemy, 'Goodness gracious sakes alive!' " Elsewhere, Bob Cousy said that the long NBA season wore players out: "The fan who pays $2.50 in March isn't, by comparison, getting his money's worth."