When Bobby Orr, Ted Williams and Larry Bird appeared together on Boston's WBZ-TV on Dec. 6, it raised this question: What other city can boast three living legends of such stature from three different team sports? Cleveland has Jim Brown and Bob Feller, but who else? Ditto San Francisco with Joe Montana, Willie Mays and...nobody. L.A. has Magic Johnson and Sandy Koufax, but you can't really count Wayne Gretzky, because he spent his best years in Edmonton, not in Los Angeles. New York could start with Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle—but they played the same sport, so stop right there. Pittsburgh offers Terry Bradshaw, Willie Stargell and Mario Lemieux—good, but not good enough.
Chicago comes closest, with, say, Walter Payton, Michael Jordan and Bobby Hull. Yet consider this: Beantown could have subbed Bill Russell for Bird with no loss of luster whatsoever.
December 21, 1992
The NHL named a commissioner. The baseball owners voted to reopen collective bargaining talks. The NFL neared agreement with its players' union on free agency. These seemingly unrelated developments last week were, in fact, critically linked. They meant that those three leagues were all moving toward what only the fourth major league, the NBA, now has: a salary cap.
It was no accident that the man hired as the NHL's first commissioner—until now the league's top gun has worn the title of president—is 40-year-old Gary Bettman, who, in his previous job as the NBA's senior vice-president and general counsel, was instrumental in creating that league's salary cap. The cap, which provides for fixed and equal payrolls for all teams, has helped bring the NBA stability and prosperity, and Bettman is expected to push for a similar scheme for the NHL.
A salary cap was also on the minds of baseball's free-spending owners when, exercising an option in their four-year contract with the Major League Baseball Players Association, they voted 15-13 to reopen talks for a new contract a year early, a move that could lead to a spring lockout for that troubled sport. And the deal that the NFL was close to working out with the NFL Players Association would provide not only for free agency for most veteran players but also for a salary cap that would kick in when total player salaries for the league rise to a set share of the league's gross revenues.
Ironically, the other pro leagues are angling for salary caps at a time when the concept is under fire in the NBA. Some NBA general managers complain that the cap ties their hands in making trades, but the biggest objection comes from the NBA Players Association, which last year filed a suit accusing the owners of underreporting the revenues to which the cap is pegged. A settlement was reached in which the NBA made concessions to the union, which now contends that the cap has outlived its usefulness.
The NBA's cap has become less attractive for another reason: The rules governing the cap are complex, and it's generally accepted that the departed Bettman was the only person who really understood how it works.
The choice of the bright and youthful Bettman as commissioner is only the latest sign that the NHL is finally getting its ducks in a row. Did we say ducks? How about a kind word for the league's lame-duck president, Gil Stein, who will stay in that position until June, when he'll probably assume a lesser role under Bettman. Stein has been running the NHL since John Ziegler resigned as president last June, and despite an occasional misstep—allowing players to serve suspensions on off days rather than on game days, for example—he accomplished more in live months than Ziegler did in 15 years, by, among other things, reducing fighting and increasing the league's U.S. television exposure by returning games to ESPN.
And how about an animated welcome for the Mighty Ducks, which is how Walt Disney Co. chairman Michael Eisner jokingly (we think) referred to the expansion team in Anaheim. Calif., that the NHL awarded to Disney last week. Rounding out its third expansion in as many years, the league increased its number of teams to 26 by also awarding an expansion franchise in Miami to Wayne Huizenga, owner of Blockbuster Video and baseball's Florida Marlins. The new teams could begin play as early as next season, and while their arrival will further dilute the NHL's already shallow talent pool—the league had six teams until 1967 and 21 teams as recently as '89—the addition of Disney and Huizenga will give the NHL financial muscle and marketing know-how.
Although Disney and Huizenga will each pay $50 million for their franchises, $25 million of Disney's outlay will go as territorial indemnification to the Los Angeles Kings, who play their home games 30 miles northwest of Anaheim. In the past such territorial payments have been assessed on top of expansion fees; it is a measure of how much the league wants Disney that its payments will be held to $50 million total.
For his part, Eisner sees the NHL franchise as a merchandising bonanza and a boon to Anaheim-based Disneyland. He pointed to the box-office success of a recent Disney movie about a kids' hockey team, The Mighty Ducks—hence his name for his new club—as the "market research" that prompted him to ally his family-entertainment empire with the rough-and-tumble NHL.
A study commissioned by the national governing body for track and field—formerly The Athletics Congress but now known as USA Track and Field—casts that sport in a harsh light. The study contains results of a poll of public attitudes toward track and field in which 82% of the respondents said drug use by athletes is what bothered them most about the sport. A second poll, eliciting the views of people involved in the sport, found that 90% of the respondents believe that such use is "prevalent" or "very prevalent." Given these disquieting figures, it seems odd that one of the study's main conclusions is that the sport should promote itself by marketing its stars as the "truest athletic heroes."
A press release for a sports medicine symposium in Teaneck, N.J., included this sentence: "This year's program is highlighted by live cadaver surgeries performed by four of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country."
Race drivers often compete into their dotage—52-year-old Mario Andretti, 53-year-old Al Unser Sr. and 57-year-old A.J. Foyt are still active, and Richard Petty was 55 when he retired last month—and there was no reason to think that four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears would be an exception. A relative pup at 41, Mears is tied with Foyt and Unser for Indy 500 wins, and if he'd hung around a few more seasons, he might well have become the first five-time (or more) winner. Thus it was a shock last week when Mears announced his retirement.
Mears says he was contemplating quitting even before he escaped a spectacular crash during practice at Indy last May with only a broken wrist and foot. The injuries, Mears says, "speeded up the decision process" in that, while having to sit out races, he came to realize he was "not really missing being in the car."
Like a lot of athletes, Mears always said he wasn't motivated by records. Apparently, he was one who meant it.
Change of Heart
"What we asked Danny to do is, come in and take a look and to help."—Interim Arkansas football coach Joe Kines, announcing that he had hired former Clemson coach Danny Ford as a "consulting assistant." Sept. 28, 1992
"I assure you that will not happen.... I'm here for eight weeks, and I have a ticket back."—Ford, when asked if he would take the Arkansas coaching job if it was offered. Sept. 28, 1992
"It's like getting kicked in the stomach by an elephant. The thing I'm most disappointed about is that I didn't get it done."—Kines, after being passed over as Arkansas coach in favor of Ford. Nov. 30, 1992
"Thank goodness Joe is a bigger man than most people I know."—Ford, announcing that Kines had agreed to be his assistant. Nov. 30, 1992
Because he says he needs more room—honest—for his family of three, Magic Johnson (right) is selling his Los Angeles house, a 12,000-square-foot dwelling with four bedrooms, servants' quarters, gym, game room, swimming pool and tennis court. In listing the property, Rodeo Realty of Beverly Hills incorporated Magic's retired number with the Los Angeles Lakers, 32, into the asking price of $6.32 million. Nice gimmick, but given the soft Southern California real estate market, it's a safe bet that any would-be purchaser can get that 32 retired, too.
An Apostrophe Apart
One of boxing promoter Dan Duva's lawyers is Ray D'Uva, who is no kin. They met when Duva sat in front of D'Uva at Seton Hall Law School. "His family's from Ban, I think," says D'Uva. "My father is from Molise, and my mother is from Lazio."
They wrote It
•Mike Lupica in the New York Daily News: "I know what you're thinking. How did the Republican Convention miss Marge Schott as a speaker?"
They Said It
Garry Shandling, comedian, explaining why late-night host David Letter-man has been offered $16 million a year by CBS while Barry Bonds will have to settle for $7.3 million per from the San Francisco Giants: "Bonds doesn't have to do a monologue."
•Dale Brown (right), LSU basketball coach, on why he dyed his graying hair: "It makes me feel 56 instead of 57."
•Buck Showalter, New York Yankee manager, when told that general manager Gene Michael had gone to see Miss Saigon: "What was he doing with Miss Saigon?"