Did the NBA really probe Michael Jordan's activities?
On March 31 commissioner David Stern announced that the NBA had completed a two-week investigation into allegations that Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan had gambled on golf matches and card games, and that "there appears to be no reason for the NBA to take action against Michael."
Questions about Jordan's gambling and his associations were raised when three checks totaling $108,000 were found in the briefcase of Gastonia, N.C., bail bondsman Eddie Dow after he was murdered on Feb. 19 (SCORECARD, March 30). Stephen Gheen, Dow's lawyer, alleged that at least some of that money was payment from Jordan for gambling debts. Jordan has not said what the checks were for. Three months earlier Jordan acknowledged having paid $57,000 to James Bouler, the owner of a golf pro shop in Monroe, N.C., last October. Jordan told The Chicago Tribune that he had lent Bouler the money so that Bouler could build a driving range, but Tom Ashcraft, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte, has told The Charlotte Observer that this money was payment for a gambling debt. Bouler pleaded guilty to selling cocaine in 1986 and is currently under indictment on six counts of money laundering.
Apparently the NBA is satisfied that the questions about Jordan have been answered. But who answered them? As of the time of Stern's announcement, Gheen and Capt. Archie Huffstetler, the officer in charge of the Dow case in Gastonia, both told SI that the NBA hadn't talked to them. James Wyatt, Bouler's attorney, and police interviewed in Monroe said that the NBA hadn't talked to them, either, and Ashcraft would not comment. So whom did the NBA talk to? Michael Jordan. "Michael has advised us that he understands the gravity of the situation and that if he is not more careful about his associations, it can reflect adversely on his fellow players and the entire NBA," Stern said.
After he was exonerated by the league, Jordan said, "My mistake came with the people I was involved with, not really knowing of their associations. A lot of the information I received about the people was very shocking." But on March 29 the Tribune reported that Al Roldan, a Monroe real estate man and sometime golfing partner of Jordan's, stated that Jordan was warned as early as 1989 to stay away from Bouler. On April 1 The Gaston Gazette wrote that Roldan said Jordan was warned about Bouler by Al Wood, who played for North Carolina until 1981—the year before Jordan arrived on campus. When contacted by SI's Michael Jaffe last week, Wood declined to comment.
Roldan told SI last week that Monroe police detective Bobby Haulk had asked him to warn Jordan about Bouler but that he never got the chance. Roldan said Haulk talked to him shortly after he last saw Jordan, which was in late 1989. However, Haulk told SI that it was during Jordan's rookie season (1984-85) or "his second season at the latest" that he asked Roldan to speak with Jordan.
Roldan, too, says that the NBA has never talked to him. So whom, besides Jordan, could the league have possibly talked to? "Our investigation is considered our information," says an NBA spokesman. "We consider that confidential."
Lake Is Superior
The NCAA hockey title goes to Lake Superior State
Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson was wrong. It was last Thursday night in Albany, N.Y., and Berenson's Wolverines had just been smothered 4-2 by Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament semifinals. Someone asked Berenson how he expected the championship game between the Badgers and Lake Superior State—a 4-2 winner over Michigan State in the other semi and, like Wisconsin, a gritty defensive team—to be played. He tried to be gracious, then shrugged and said, "It'll probably be a boring game."
To the 12,891 fans in Knickerbocker Arena Saturday night, the final was anything but boring. In a highly charged game featuring superb goaltending and 33 power-play minutes, the Lakers prevailed 5-3.
Neither Wisconsin nor Lake State had figured to make it to Albany. Two years ago the Badgers won their fifth NCAA title, but 18 players from that team were gone by the start of this season. Wisconsin entered the NCAAs as a sixth seed but upset New Hampshire and St. Lawrence to make it to the Final Four.
And last season was supposed to be Lake State's year. In 1990-91 the Lakers won a school-record 36 games only to lose to Clarkson in the NCAA quarterfinals. That team included eight seniors, so it looked as if Lake State was facing a rebuilding season in '91-92. Still, second-year coach Jeff Jackson saw potential in his young players. He also had a solid cornerstone in junior goal-tender Darrin Madeley, whose 2.07 goals-against average led the country this season. The Lakers beat Michigan in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association's title game and arrived in Albany peaking at the right time.
The Badgers dominated the first period of the final, the Lakers the second. Entering the final 20 minutes the score was 2-2. The teams traded goals in the first 10 minutes of the third period before Lake State center Brian Rolston whipped around the net to score on Badger goalie Duane Derksen with less than five minutes to play. An open-net goal ended the scoring but not the action. Just before the final horn, several frustrated Wisconsin players threw their sticks, and one threw a punch at a Lake State player.
But the Lakers' time had come. The day before the final Jackson had said, "Sometimes when you're supposed to win, you don't." Then he paused, lest the listener miss the reference to the Clarkson letdown a year before. "And sometimes when you're not supposed to win, you do."
Nowhere to Run
A top marathoner is a man without a country
Mark Plaatjes, one of the fastest marathoners in the U.S., will not be running in the U.S. Olympic Men's Marathon Trials this Saturday in Columbus, Ohio. After emigrating from his native South Africa four years ago, Plaatjes was granted asylum in the U.S., but for now he is stateless, a citizen of neither South Africa nor the U.S.
Plaatjes will not become an American citizen until his five-year waiting period is over next January, but as recently as three weeks ago he still had hopes that TAC would persuade the U.S. Olympic Committee to waive its citizenship requirement and permit him to compete in Columbus. "I was led to believe that if South Africa was readmitted, I would be allowed to run in the trials," he says. "I was told there was a 'great chance.' " The IOC readmitted South Africa last July, but two weeks ago Plaatjes was informed that the USOC would not allow him to compete in Columbus. "What makes me mad is that it took them 2½ years to tell me," he says.
A wiry man with dark, intense eyes, Plaatjes has spent most of his 30 years as an outsider. He is of mixed racial background, so under apartheid he was classified as "colored." This meant that he was permitted to have little contact with either whites or blacks. "They isolated us," he says. "We had our own buses, our own schools, even our own exams."
South Africa was under a state of emergency when Plaatjes and his wife, Shirley, came to the U.S. in January 1988 for a three-week vacation. They planned to return, but then they thought about their daughter, Genè, now seven. "We didn't want her to grow up under those conditions," says Plaatjes, who was granted asylum because he is a physical therapist and that profession is in demand in the U.S. He and his family settled in Boulder, Colo.
Plaatjes would have had a good chance to win one of the three spots on any Olympic marathon team. Though he ran his best time, 2:08:58, seven years ago, he won last year's Los Angeles Marathon in 2:10:29. Ken Martin's qualifying time of 2:12:06 is the fastest in the field for Columbus.
Plaatjes believes he's in the best shape of his life and expects to prove that in the London Marathon on April 12. If he runs a fast time there, he hopes the IOC will let him compete under the Olympic flag in Barcelona, much as former Soviet athletes did in Albertville. Plaatjes says, "I still have a glimmer of hope."
Pocketful of Miracles
An electronic encyclopedia takes the heft out of baseball stats
Since it was first published in 1969, Macmillan's The Baseball Encyclopedia has become, as its dust jacket proudly proclaims, "the cornerstone of every baseball fan's library." Some kind of stone, anyway: The 2,781-page encyclopedia weighs about 10 pounds. Students of the game came to accept that the tome's heft was a burden they had to bear for access to baseball's statistical history.
But now that burden has been lifted. Last month Franklin Electronic Publishers, Inc. introduced the Big League Baseball encyclopedia, the electronic equivalent of the Macmillan book. For $129, any baseball fan can have the power of instant information at his or her fingertips. The Franklin computer's data base contains 620,000 batting stats, 270,000 pitching stats and biographical information on every major leaguer in history. But the Franklin encyclopedia's most stunning feature is its size: Measuring 4½ by 3¼ inches and just barely tipping the scales at five ounces, the palm-sized product takes up less space than Nolan Ryan's entry in the Macmillan encyclopedia.
In seconds, the machine can answer practically any query. What player had the most hits for the Cincinnati Reds in the '80s? (Ron Oester, 1,069.) What team won the most games in the past 10 years? (Toronto, 890.) What player weighing more than 250 pounds had the most stolen bases in a career? (Frank Howard, eight.)
The machine does have some drawbacks. For instance, the screen can display only three lines of information at a time. Also, the stats can't be updated after this season. (Next year Franklin is planning to introduce a model that can be updated annually.) But even with those limitations, the Big League Baseball encyclopedia elicits this appraisal from SI editor at large and veteran baseball writer Steve Wulf: "This is the greatest invention of all time. All right, maybe the invention of the light bulb was greater. But this is right up there."
[Thump Up]To the Knicks City Dancers, the troupe that performs during New York Knick games, for donating $22,000 to the Boys Brotherhood Republic, a youth center in Manhattan. The dancers won the money by defeating the Laker Girls on the television game show "Family Feud."
[Thump Down]To the International Olympic Committee, for refusing to allow some competitors in the Paralympic Winter Games, held last month in France, to wear the five-ring Olympic symbol. If a country's Olympic committee does not oversee disabled sports, its delegation was not permitted to display the rings.
THEY SAID IT
Michael Crouwel, Philadelphia Phillie catching prospect, who was acquired from the Dutch national team, when asked about Philadelphia: "The only thing I know about it is that it's in New Jersey."
Don King, Mike Tyson's promoter, when asked if Vincent Fuller would continue to serve as Tyson's lawyer: "I don't want to gel into that, but Mike's got a whole new set of banisters."
Putting Up with Duke
Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke. Why always Duke? It has gotten so that TV Guide lists college basketball's annual finale this way: "9 p.m. Ch. 2; NCAA Men's Basketball Championship (CC); 2 hr. 30 min. 412964. Duke vs. Opponent To Be Determined. Jim Nantz and Billy Packer report."
In the interest of full disclosure, I've got to tell you: I generally root against Duke. I rooted against Dallas and Dynasty, too. They're all just a lot of filthy rich guys getting filthy richer, and they all have an attitude about it. J.R. Ewing, Blake Carrington, Christian Laettner—cutthroat capitalists cut from the same silk cloth, if you ask me.
I know you didn't ask me, but I'll answer any damn question I want.
We're talking about conniving, power-hungry guys who'll step on anybody at any time. Believe me, I've seen the videotape. And these fellows do quite well on videotape, year in and year out.
Every spring, in fact, CBS brings in Duke as a midseason replacement series. Duke has lasted longer in prime time than most CBS sitcoms. Speaking of which, it was nice to sec 483 promos during the Final Four for The New Royal Family and Davis Rules. At least CBS didn't claim The Royal Family was new and improved.
So on Monday night, CBS and Duke joined once again for another hardy, hardwood celebration of greed and grit. Naturally, both ended up as winners.
(Incidentally, I need to register a mild protest at this point about the Women's Final Four. Don't get me wrong—I'm an E.R.A. guy, a former subscriber to Ms., a big fan of palimony suits—but I turned on CBS just before 5:30 p.m. EST Saturday to catch the real Final Four, and instead I got women calling timeouts by the bushel! When Sinatra goes on tour, does the opening act run long? Hey, if women want to play some hoop, fine, but not in my living room on my time on semifinal Saturday. Nosiree, Bobbie. Virginia and Stanford called six timeouts—six!—in the final 44.4 seconds. The game actually ended twice. After the buzzer first sounded, the officials reset the clock to .8 of a second—although by the 10ths-of-a-second hand on my watch, I thought there should've been only .6 or .7 of a second left—and, then, mercifully, time expired again. I've seen forsythias bloom faster.)
CBS started slowly Monday night, with one of those fancy-schmancy technotrick openings. The opening should have been like the beginning of a Woody Allen movie—run the titles and start the darn thing. But pretension was bound to creep in when CBS decided to call the 22 minutes of programming before the game "Prelude to a Championship." Geez, it used to be just "the pregame show." What is this, The Nutcracker Suite?
But CBS—like Duke's Laettner—recovered splendidly from early sluggishness. Nantz was solid and understated. Packer, pausing from his corporate/commercial/keeper-of-the-coaching-flame duties, showed his usual sharp eye for court detail. CBS, between commercials and promos, put on its customary big-game face. The cameras and conversation stayed focused on the action: few crowd shots, few sideline shots, little idle chatter. It helps when Dick Vitale works for another network.
Only the game itself could've been better—if it had not turned into a and, of course, if Duke had lost. Actually, I like Coach K and Grant Hill, but the rest of the Dukies seem like the cast from Falcon Crest.
With the game in hand, Duke called time with 13.5 seconds left. Why the timeout? Well, that was so that the Duke scrubs could get into the game, so that CBS could do its let's-survey-the-scene-and-hear-the-bands-play thing and, most important, so that Duke students could phone home for more money.
During the postgame show—I guess that would be "Aftermath to a Championship"—CBS's Pat O'Brien told us, "We're having fun now." Actually, we weren't having fun, Pat, at least nobody in my anti-Duke party was.
So, regrettably, same time same team next year? Our only hope is that CBS continues the recent trend toward "reality programming," which would pretty much eliminate the Duke campus from the picture.
Replay: 25 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
UCLA sophomore Lew Alcindor bounded—and rebounded—onto the cover of our April 3, 1967, issue as the Bruins capped a 30-0 season with a 79-64 win over Dayton. Reflecting on the unpopularity of top dogs like UCLA, Bruin forward Kenny Heitz said, "I'm learning to understand these things. I used to root for all the underdogs myself. Now I'm a big fan of Green Bay and Muhammad Ali. See, I even call him by the right name. We all have to stick together."