There has been much talk lately about the possibility of Hakeem Olajuwon (page 28) playing for the U.S. in the 1996 Olympics. But barring a successful appeal of a recent ruling by FIBA, the international governing body of basketball, it's just not going to happen.
The Nigerian-born Olajuwon, who became an American citizen in April, faces two obstacles in his appeal. First, as a 17-year-old in 1980, he competed for the Nigerian junior national team in the All-Africa Games. FIBA's bylaws state that any player who has participated in international competition for one country cannot play in international competition for another country. Through the years FIBA has assiduously enforced that rule, which is designed to keep athletes from jumping countries, either for money or to better their chances of winning a gold medal. Rare exceptions have been granted to players from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and East Germany, instances in which entire nations broke up.
Second, Olajuwon was one month late in turning in his application to FIBA to change his basketball nationality. FIBA guidelines require a player to sit out three years before he is eligible to play for his new country, and Olajuwon did not file until September of this year—the Atlanta Games are set for August 1996. Perhaps FIBA would be willing to overlook one of these elements but almost certainly not both.
Dave at the Brickyard
Maybe you saw the news that David Letterman, a longtime fan of auto racing, is thinking about financing his own Indy Car racing team. We know we shouldn't attempt this. We know it has been overdone. We know we'll never make it as funny as Dave would. But we can't resist presenting...
The Top 10 Reasons Dave Is Thinking About Buying an Indy Team:
10) Leno has his Harleys—we want something that makes even more noise!
9) Need some big-time prize money to pay for speeding tickets incurred on drives home to Connecticut.
8) Stupid Pit-Crew Tricks.
7) Strapping Paul Shaffer into a four-wheel death missile loaded with highly flammable fuel and sending him down the straightaway at 235 mph just seems like the thing to do.
6) Figure it's the easiest way to meet Miss Crankshaft '94.
5) Golly! A chance to hear Jim Nabors sing Back Home Again in Indiana in person.
4) Late Show female staffers would really like to "get to know" Danny Sullivan.
3) Hey, look what it did for Paul Newman.
2) Nothing to do on Memorial Day weekend since Cher canceled the cookout.
1) Decals! Decals! Decals!
It's clear who came out as the losers in the recently settled NHL officials strike—the fans and the players. For an agonizing 16-day period fans watched a product that was damaged by the corps of replacement officials, whose inconsistency and incompetence robbed most games of any flow.
The NHL should feel fortunate that a big name was not seriously injured during the strike, when players were exposed to more high-sticking and righting than normal. That increase in mayhem, in turn, undermined the progress that the league had been making in reducing gratuitous violence.
What can be learned from the strike? Jeffrey Pash, the NHL's legal counsel, might learn to check his brain before he opens his mouth. Pash gloated before the settlement that the strike had been a "dismal failure." Pash's reasoning: "The purpose of any strike is to inflict economic hardship on the employers. This strike hasn't done that. Our arenas are full." Not so. Attendance woes continue in Hartford, Washington, Edmonton, Winnipeg and New Jersey, among other venues.
But beyond that, the NHL, having come face-to-face with a vision of disaster, should change the current officiating system and empower one of the two linesmen, in addition to the referee, to call penalties. That would focus an extra pair of eyes on the off-the-puck infractions that can lead to trouble.
Grappling with Decline
The legal difficulties of Vince McMahon, who was recently indicted in federal court on charges involving steroids, are but the latest blow to the, uh, sport of pro wrestling. McMahon, the Don King of the stranglehold set, faces up to eight years in prison and a $500,000 fine for possessing anabolic steroids and conspiring to distribute them to his, uh, athletes.
Of greater import, however, has been the inability of the spinning-toehold community to find a true crossover hero since Hulk Hogan retired and went into, uh, acting full-time. According to Dave Meltzer, editor and publisher of Wrestling Observer Newsletter, a number of would-be heroes—Ultimate Warrior, Bret (Hit Man) Hart, Lex Luger—have been trotted out as successors to the Hulkster, and all have failed miserably.
Television ratings are slipping, and according to Meltzer, attendance at live wrestling events is down since 1991 by 50%. And though McMahon tried to foster a wholesome image for his Stamford, Conn.-based Titan Sports Inc., the parent company of the World Wrestling Federation, former Titan employees have taken to the tabloid talk show circuit to charge that his empire was built on sleaze. Rita Chatterton, a former referee, accused McMahon and other members of his organization of sexual harassment. (McMahon has filed suit against Chatterton in response to the allegations.) Murray Hodgson, a fired announcer, said he and others had been pressured to have sex with homosexual WWF executives. And others talked about rampant use of steroids.
According to Meltzer, McMahon's company could survive with McMahon behind bars. (His trial is set for May 2; he has pleaded innocent.) But it doesn't seem likely that pro wrestling will see another era like the late '80s, when schoolchildren toted around Hulk lunchboxes. Imagine: Years from now some Americans will look back with nostalgia at the Hogan Era.
A Hair-Raising Ride
Aficionados of the sitcom Seinfeld might be wondering about the mountain bike that hangs on a wall in Jerry's apartment, even though the title character rarely does anything sweaty. It's there because Kramer, the big-haired sidekick played by Michael Richards (above), is a biking enthusiast who told the set decorator that a bike would give the apartment a more interesting look than a bookcase.
The character is a man of manic entrances and exits, but the actor says he rides "purely for the pleasure." That attitude evolved after he took a horrific fall two years ago while preparing for the Kamikaze, a California downhill bike event. "I went off the side of the mountain and fell through an oak tree, which broke my fall," says Richards, 43. "I got up and heard a voice in my head say, You just can't ride like this."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Greg Norman, who is reportedly about to buy an 85-foot yacht for $3.4 million, became angry when some of his colleagues walked off with the range balls he had provided for last week's Greg Norman Holden Classic, in Sydney.
They Wrote It
•Casey Millsaps, a second-grader at John L. Hanby Elementary in Mesquite, Texas, in a cheer-up letter to Dallas Cowboy Thanksgiving Day goat Leon Lett: "I have made so many mistakes that I can't remember half of them. I'm still your fan. By the way, Miami stinks."
They Said It
•Shaquille O'Neal, Orlando Magic center and endorsement Goliath, on the possible consequences should his respiratory ailments prove to be asthma: "I could do a Primatene Mist commercial."
Sports figures have long been involved in the food business, whether as silent partners, greeters, absentee owners or active managers. Success is not guaranteed, however, just because a celebrity puts his name on a sign. Here's the wrap-up on some restaurants (and former restaurants) named after sports celebrities.
You saw Da Bears skit, you saw Ditka's. Fame couldn't compensate for mediocre food.
Harry Caray's, Chicago
Celebrates the Old Chicago sporting scene. What a surprise.
Holy Cow! The steaks are good. Restaurant much more successful than the Cubs.
Tommy Lasorda's, Marina del Rey, Calif.
Ol' Blue Eyes even made the scene occasionally. But the pasta wasn't nearly as famous as the clientele.
L.T.'s, East Rutherford, N.J.
Scenic Rt.17 location couldn't overcome wallet-sacking cover charge and so-so food.
Mickey Mantle's, New York City
Memorabilia, nonstop videos, c possibility of drop-in by Mick lures fans of all ages.
Doing well. There's a kids' menu but no cutesy items like Pinstripe Pancakes or Yogi's Yams.
Rusty Staub's On 5th, New York City
Some baseball memories on the wall, but the wine list is far more noteworthy.
Thriving. Staub was that rare athlete who knew a bèarnaise from a bunt.
Wayne Gretzky's, Toronto
The place is a virtual museum to the Great One. And the burgers don't taste like hockey pucks.
Opened four months ago. He was never a Maple Leaf, but his hometown of Brantford is 50 miles away.