For the two years since agents from the FBI and the IRS staged a highly publicized raid on Don King's New York City office and were videotaped hauling away documents by the cartonload, observers in the boxing community had been expecting the controversial promoter to be hit with a broad range of hair-raising charges. Thus, last week's announcement that a federal grand jury in Manhattan had indicted King for an alleged $350,000 insurance scam elicited a resounding "Is that all?"
But the charges, while limited in scope, are serious. According to the nine-count indictment, King devised a scheme to defraud Lloyds of London of $350,000 after a scheduled June 1991 King-promoted fight between Julio Cèsar Chàvez and Harold Brazier was canceled because Chàvez sustained a cut while sparring. The feds charge that King submitted a bogus insurance claim to Lloyds, which had issued him a $750,000 policy covering losses in the event one of the fighters failed to appear or the fight was canceled for other reasons. King allegedly drew up a phony version of the contract between him and Chàvez and claimed he had paid the boxer $350,000 in nonrefundable training expenses. According to the indictment, King then submitted the fake contract and bogus expenses to Lloyds. The government says that King never paid Chàvez the $350,000, either during his training or after Lloyds paid the claim.
If convicted, King could spend five years in federal prison and owe the government $2.25 million. In a written statement issued last week, King declared, "I am completely innocent. I have done nothing to warrant this action.... I will be cleared."
July 24, 1994
It wouldn't be the first time. King, who served four years in an Ohio prison for manslaughter (he was pardoned in 1983 by then-Governor James Rhodes), has been the subject of at least two other grand juries, which failed to indict him, and in 1985 was acquitted of federal charges of tax evasion.
The question arises, then, whether the government this time settled for a lesser charge with a greater chance of conviction. "They want a simple, straightforward trial that won't give him any opportunity to counterpunch," says one well-informed source. "The idea is for prosecutors to land a lot of left jabs and finish with a right cross so that King is down and out in the first round, with no chance to come back."
NBA free agents Danny Manning and Horace Grant face some impossible choices. A court decision handed down Monday in New York City leaves Manning, Grant and 114 other free agents caught in a legal jumble that would baffle most law professors.
The ruling by U.S. District Court judge Kevin Duffy preserved the NBA's salary cap and college draft, at least for now. Duffy told NBA players they could not challenge the cap or the draft in court until they decertify their union (Duffy ruled a labor union cannot sue management for antitrust violations; only individual members of the union can sue after the union decertifies), the same lengthy litigation process the NFL players' union used in its successful attempt to bring free agency to pro football. Charles Grantham, executive director of the NBA union, says he will appeal Duffy's ruling and hopes for a quick reversal.
But where does that leave the Atlanta Hawks' Manning or the Chicago Bulls' Grant? Should they try to cut the best deal possible under the prevailing restrictions of the salary cap? Should they hold out, hoping that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will overturn Duffy's decision within the next couple of months, thereby allowing them to auction their services to the highest bidder without any cap? Or should they and others file individual antitrust lawsuits, the kind that ultimately made wealthy men of NFL stars like Reggie White and Keith Jackson?
The one thing Manning and Grant have going for them is that the ruling was rendered quickly. The NBA players have already reached a point in the legal process that their NFL counterparts took three years to achieve. Duffy's fast decision on the cap and the draft gives them a couple of months before the season starts to make their decisions. They'll need it.
Out of Bounds
For a man who has been exposed to many cultures in his world travels and who has flourished in the media spotlight for more than three decades, Jack Nicklaus should know better. But his recent comments on blacks and golf evoked the worst of Al Campanis and brought into question Nicklaus's perspective on golf history.
Nicklaus was in Whistler, B.C., visiting Green Lakes, a course he designed, when the subject of blacks in golf was brought up by reporter Don Harrison of The Province, a daily newspaper in Vancouver. Among other things, Nicklaus rejected the notion that golfers like himself and Arnold Palmer could have been more influential in bringing blacks to the game if they had spoken out against racism in private clubs; he denied, in fact, that racism had much to do with the paucity of black golfers and even inched into Jimmy the Greek territory by saying, "Blacks have different muscles that react in different ways."
Nicklaus did not deny his comments but says they were taken out of context. "I said the kids today are gravitating to the sports that best fit their body and the environment where they're growing up," Nicklaus told SI last week at the British Open. "The white society to a large degree is becoming nonfunctional. [Whites are] spending time in cars, they're sitting behind desks, they're not out exercising, whereas the young black kid is in an environment where he is exercising. His muscles develop, and they develop to the degree of that type of sport. I think the opportunity is there for young black kids to play golf, just like the opportunity is there for young white kids to play basketball. But I don't think they're gravitating to the same level."
Well, there's no doubt they're not "gravitating to the same level." Between veterans Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe and 18-year-old Tiger Woods, who may or may not live up to his much-publicized potential, there is not a single African-American golfer making an impact at either the professional or high amateur level. To pretend that the exclusionary policies of private clubs have had nothing to do with that is plainly absurd. And for Nicklaus to pretend that greats like himself and Palmer couldn't have done more to turn that situation around by speaking out more forcefully against the racism—subtle and otherwise—that still pervades the game is equally absurd.
First, there was Graig Nettles, who in 1974 livened his bat by stuffing it with Superballs. Then there was George Brett, who in 1983 slathered his bat with excessive amounts of pine tar. And now there is Albert Belle, who packed cork into his bat to give it extra pop.
At least that's what the American League said Belle did, thus answering one of the questions raised by The Curious Case of the Purloined Bat, a Colomboesque melodrama far more entertaining than major league baseball's usual spine-tingling mysteries, Is there going to be a strike? or Who'll be the next commissioner? The league hit Belle with a 10-day suspension, which he immediately appealed. The suspension thus is delayed until his hearing, which has been set for July 29, thereby giving us all time to ponder the questions raised in this corker of a whodunit. To wit:
What second-story man crawled through air-conditioning ducts and around electrical tubing to steal Belle's bat from the umpires' dressing room in Comiskey Park and replace it with an imposter? At the behest of Chicago White Sox manager Gene Lamont, the bat had been impounded by umpire Dave Phillips in the opening inning of a battle for first place last Friday between the Indians and the Sox. Have G. Gordon Liddy's whereabouts been accounted for?
Having had the audacity to steal the bat in the first place, why did the thief—who even Cleveland general manager John Hart conceded was "someone internally with the Indians"—turn in what was apparently Belle's corked bat? An attack of conscience? A nudge from Indian management? A threat from Frank Thomas to put a big hurt on him?
How will the incident affect Belle, one of the league's most feared hitters this season? Now that the cork is out, will his performance go flat? Will he suddenly start bunting for base hits? And has he heard about Superballs?
Finally, is it time to stop talking about the lively ball and start talking about the lively bat?
Well, here's a marriage made in heaven. Or somewhere else. The St. Louis Blues, long known for their profligate spending and loopy decision making, and Mike Keenan, he of the arena-sized ego and penchant for bridge burning, are now united. It's doubtful they'll stay together till death do them part, but there you are.
Keenan's sudden landing on Sunday night in St. Louis, where he will hold the dual titles of coach and general manager, put a surprise ending on a turbulent three days. A brief chronology:
•Last Friday, 31 days after coaching the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years, Keenan abruptly quit, claiming the Rangers had breached his contract by failing to pay him his postseason bonus of about $600,000 within 30 days of the end of the season. Never mind that none of the other Rangers had received their bonuses; Keenan used the loophole to declare himself a free agent, despite having four years remaining on a Ranger contract that was to pay him $980,000 a year.
•Twenty-four hours later Keenan and his lawyer met with Detroit Red Wing owners Mike and Marian Ilitch. That meeting seemed to confirm earlier reports that the Red Wings and Keenan had been negotiating even as the Rangers made their historic run for the Cup. But just as everyone was ready to transfer Keenan to the Motor City, Keenan struck his deal with Mike Shanahan, chairman of the Blues.
Keenan is unquestionably a successful coach (476-311-77 in his nine seasons), but he is also a power-hungry egotist who has gone out on a sour note wherever he has been. Keenan said he had adopted a kinder, gentler attitude with the Rangers, a claim disputed last week by some players, including forward Craig MacTavish, who, after signing as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers, told a friend he had left the Stanley Cup champs because he couldn't stand playing for Keenan. Also, the relationship between Keenan and New York general manager Neil Smith had been strained since October when Keenan publicly stated he couldn't win with the players Smith had given him.
Perhaps Keenan is in the right place at last. But the Blues should take note: For a man who demands team play of his charges, Keenan has proved to be anything but a team player himself.
There were more developments last week in Florida State's athletic-department scandal (SI, May 16, 1994, et seq.). In yet another embarrassment for the Seminoles, Florida State president Talbot (Sandy) D'Alemberte suspended athletic director Bob Goin with pay while the school investigates reports that Goin may have violated state ethics laws. Goin reportedly used his influence and free football tickets to persuade a contractor working on the Seminoles' stadium expansion project to put a new roof on Goin's house at a big discount.
Even more troubling than Goin's suspension were indications that Florida law-enforcement officials were going out of their way to punish those who reveal wrongdoing involving the Seminoles. One of the authorities' targets, Doug Andreaus, pleaded no contest last week to violating a law requiring anyone who solicits an athlete attending a Florida university, for the purpose of becoming that athlete's agent, to register with the state. Andreaus, who was fined $1,000 and placed on 18 months' probation, was the first person charged under the six-year-old law, and Willie Meggs, Florida's state attorney, says he expects "three or four" more agents to be charged. Meggs would not identify those under investigation, but they are believed to include Raul Bey, Nate Cebrun and Paul Williams.
Other than the fact that all have sought business from Florida State athletes without registering as agents, what Bey, Cebrun and Williams have in common with Andreaus is that they all told SI about improper payments of money or gifts to Florida State football players; in addition, Andreaus tried to warn school officials about a $6,000 agent-financed Foot Locker shopping spree involving Seminole players that SI ultimately brought to light. Meggs has evinced no interest in pursuing other unregistered individuals, among them such well-known figures as Don King, Spike Lee and former Washington Redskin player Brig Owens, all known to have recruited Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward. Others who have apparently violated the law include agents Steve Endicott of Dallas and Leonard Armato and Michael Harrison, both of Los Angeles. Also, Eugene Parker of Fort Wayne, Ind., who represents Ward, did not register until May 24, several months after he first recruited Ward.
Why would Meggs leave these offenders alone? It's true that there has been no allegation that any of them made payments to Florida State players. It's also true that King, Lee, Owens and author Ralph Wiley wooed the Ward family at its home in Georgia, which, according to Meggs, means, "We have no jurisdictional hook." Yet the statute makes it a felony for unregistered agents to recruit athletes, even if no payments are made. Also, there is nothing in the language of the statute that says the recruiting must take place in Florida for an offense to occur.
The conclusion seems inescapable: Florida authorities are less concerned about law-breaking than they are about muzzling a whistle-blower. Significantly, the investigation into possible violations of the agent-registration law is being conducted not by state officials but by Florida State's campus police. Meggs told SI that he sees no conflict in this. Neither, apparently, does D'Alemberte, who last week heralded Andreaus's conviction as having sent "a message."
It certainly did.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Japan's Sumo Association was forced to ban silicon scalp implants after at least three wrestlers used them to meet the sport's 5'8" height minimum.
They Said It
Former president, speaking at his induction into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame: "If you think you're a big shot in politics and you want a lesson in humility, campaign with Ted Williams at a fishing show in Manchester, New Hampshire."