A Father Lost
As the son of a sharecropper and the father of Michael Jordan, James Jordan had a singular vantage point from which to consider how fortune doles out its favors. Even in the final days of his life, before he was found murdered last week, floating in a snake-infested creek near the South Carolina-North Carolina border with a single gunshot wound to the chest, the elder Jordan, who was 56 when he died, never lost that sense of perspective. The last public event he attended, the funeral of a former coworker, Willie Kemp, on July 22, only reinforced his worldview. "He said he was going to stop working and enjoy the rest of his life," says a friend and fellow mourner, Carolyn Robinson. "He said, 'Look at Willie. He planned his retirement so well, and now he's gone.' "
Although the senior Jordan wasn't without a shadow in his past—he pleaded guilty in 1985 to having accepted a $7,000 kickback from a contractor while he was in charge of inventory control at a General Electric plant—as of Monday it appeared his death was the result of a random robbery. Early Sunday morning Robeson County (N.C.) sheriff's officers arrested two 18-year-old North Carolina men, Daniel Andre Green and Larry Martin Demery. Each was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.
As SI went to press, local and federal authorities said that no evidence had turned up to indicate the murder was tied in any way to James Jordan's, or his son's, well-known affinity for games of chance. For now, the death takes its place alongside several other dissonant notes that have sounded during the younger Jordan's three straight NBA championship seasons.
After the Chicago Bulls won their first title in 1991, James Jordan draped an arm around his son and told all who would listen that "I raised him." Michael even said he traced his trademark habit of sticking his tongue out to watching his father do the same as he concentrated on some household task. That is a simple and innocent image, from a simpler and more innocent time—when Michael looked up to one man, and before the time when it seemed as if all mankind decided to look up to Michael. It's not a bad image to remember James Jordan by.
A Loopy Deal
Two weeks ago the NBA rejected free-agent Chris Dudley's contract with the Portland Trail Blazers (SCORECARD, Aug. 16), charging it circumvented the league's salary cap. Now the NFL—only two months into its collective bargaining agreement—finds itself wrestling with the same problem of creative contracts.
Last Friday, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue voided first-year quarterback Rick Mirer's contract with the Seattle Seahawks, calling it a sham. Mirer, the second player chosen in the April draft, had signed the richest contract ever for an NFL rookie, a five-year package worth $15.7 million. However, to stay in line with Seattle's rookie-pool limit—a cap mandated by the agreement as a way to shift the big money being paid to rookies toward veterans—the deal included an array of incentive clauses that would account for more than $6 million of Mirer's contract. Amazingly, 59 of the contingencies did not even require Mirer to play a down. Tagliabue termed those clauses "the functional equivalent of a signing bonus" and ruled that they put the Seahawks over their rookie-pool maximum.
Mirer's deal further allowed him the option of canceling the contract for the 1996 and '97 seasons while it gave the Seahawks the right to retain Mirer by paying him more. To Tagliabue, such "voidable years" are nothing more than a deferred signing bonus—which should be subject to the rookie-pool cap.
On Saturday, playing under a gentleman's agreement between his agent and Seattle, Mirer threw for 69 yards and a touchdown in the team's 23-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. His contract will now be assessed by an arbritrator, who could yet reverse Tagliabue. Whatever the decision, it's clear that the league should void the voidable-years loophole, and any others, and that the poor-mouthing owners should try living within their means, which was the point of the bargaining agreement in the first place.
ABC's coverage of this week's World Track and field Championships in Stuttgart (page 18) notwithstanding, the sport remains virtually invisible in this country between Olympics. Now, however, thanks to Vic Holchak, results-starved U.S. fans have a new resource: the telephone.
A lifelong track devotee who covers sports for National Public Radio, the BBC and ABC, Holchak has started a phone service—the number is 1-800-94-TRACK—that allows callers to hear, toll-free, daily reports from the European circuit. Each installment, taped at meet sites by Holchak, runs about two minutes and includes race calls, results, interviews and previews. Since its debut on Aug. 1, the number has received as many as 3,000 calls a day, much to the delight of Holchak's European sponsors, who for now insist on remaining anonymous.
"They see track dying in this country, and they want to save it," says Holchak. "So do I. The sport is going to get a boost from the Atlanta Olympics, but we can't wait until 1996 to do something."
Under cover of darkness last Thursday, Major League Baseball's owners departed Kohler, Wis., unable to agree on a plan to share revenues with one another. Their chief labor negotiator, Richard Ravitch, who after eight months of groundwork had sequestered the owners at a resort an hour north of Milwaukee to finalize just such a plan, was a master of understatement following 28 hours of fruitless debate over two days. "It's a lot more complicated than I thought," said Ravitch.
Indeed. Ten high-revenue teams—the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Orioles, Rangers, Red Sox, Rockies and Yankees—turned down a plan to share among all 28 teams the proceeds from local television contracts and some other sources of local revenue. (Such a plan would require the support of 21 clubs.) About the only two things the owners can agree on these days are not to reveal the details of their talks to anyone and to find more time to get their act together.
For now, the owners have formed a six-member committee to continue the complicated dialogue that seems to have overwhelmed some of them last week. Said one owner, "I'm surprised at the lack of sophistication in some cases about understanding the numbers."
One positive result, however, came out of the Wisconsin impasse: The owners' failure to iron things out among themselves virtually guarantees that baseball will be played at least through spring training of next year. Ravitch vowed that the owners will not order a lockout next spring or unilaterally change the free-agency or salary-arbitration rules this winter. That appeared to remove the need for the players to strike in September, as they had threatened. "It has a significant impact on whether the players will walk in September," said Gene Orza, associate general counsel for the players' union. "It has a positive bearing." Despite themselves, it seems, the owners have returned the focus of this baseball season to such welcome matters as pennant races and batting titles.
One caveat: The Wisconsin sessions presage troublesome negotiations with the players whenever the two sides do come together. After all, the owners are linking revenue sharing with a salary cap. The players have expressed no appetite for a cap. And if the owners have this much difficulty in reaching agreement among themselves, what will battle with the union be like?
Would you let a man called Boogie name your football team? Last week Leonard Weinglass—yes, even his friends call him Boogie—and Malcolm Glazer, leaders of the two groups vying for ownership of a proposed NFL expansion franchise in Baltimore, announced that they had agreed on a name for the prospective team: the Rhinos. The response in Baltimore has been underwhelming, yet the name seems fitting. After all, considering the abuse traditionally heaped upon expansion teams, the players in Baltimore will need thick skins.
The Sweat Science
Despite rumors of a comeback, Sugar Ray Leonard insists his fighting days are over. But that doesn't mean the five-time world champion—who will marry Bernadette Robi on Friday in Los Angeles—is out of shape. This week Leonard releases his first exercise video. The hour-long tape, Boxout, features Leonard and Victoria's Secret model Jill Goodacre (above, with her coach) performing aerobic boxing moves to a throbbing dance beat. Of the tape's target audience, Leonard says, "Women never ask me about my great fights, against Hearns or Hagler. They just ask, 'How do you keep your buns so trim?' "
They Wrote It
•Ron Rapoport, in the Los Angeles Daily News: "Let's see, we've got dirty secrets, conflicting stories, a whole cast of unsavory characters and more overheated media coverage than all of Elizabeth Taylor's marriages put together. Heidi Fleiss? Forget her. It's the Little League World Series I'm talking about."
They Said It
•Lawrence Taylor, New York Giant linebacker, when asked in the presence of New Jersey governor Jim Florio, who was visiting the Giants' training camp, if he was considering a postfootball career in politics: "Nah, they've got too much dirt on me already."
•Craig (Ironhead) Heyward, Chicago Bear running back (right), blaming his 300-plus pounds on heredity: "My mom goes about four bills."