There's another conflict in the pro basketball family besides the NBA's labor difficulties with its players (page 30), but in this one it's clear who's playing the heavy. Because NBA players who retired before 1965 receive only half the pension benefits provided to those who quit in '65 or later, the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) has staged exhibition games and peddled shirts and other merchandise with its XNBA logo to raise funds to bring the old-timers up to parity. But late last year the NBA, claiming trademark infringement, ordered the retired players to cease and desist using XNBA or any variation thereof. League commissioner David Stern is unapologetic about the NBA's position. "What if a bunch of former AT&T employees got together and started something called the XAT&T Telephone Company?" he says. "Don't you think AT&T would have a problem with that? It's exactly the same to us."
It isn't to us. You would think a league that blathers on about "a partnership with our players" would recognize the difference between people and fiber-optic cable. Further, rather than trying to make a profit, the NBRPA's primary goal is to provide support—in some cases, critical support—to the game's aging pioneers and their survivors, "the guys who set the table for people who are eating quite well right now," says NBRPA general counsel Dennis Coleman. "We're prepared to go to court, if necessary, to get the right to use the trademark."
The league's stance has only sown resentment among the former greats and journeymen who played in the 1940s and '50s, when salaries barely allowed for subsistence, much less something extra to set aside for a nest egg. "The ones I know about aren't doing well," says Oscar Robertson, who's the NBRPA president. "And there are a lot I don't know about. We were told by the NBA that those guys' problems aren't the NBA's problem."
October 9, 1994
It's easy to look small when you work among so many outsized people, but Stern & Co. are outdoing themselves.
Beginning next spring, Izzy (nè Whatizit), the ringworm being pawned off as the mascot of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, will star in three syndicated TV specials, as yet untitled, to be produced by the same Hollywood animation studio responsible for The Simpsons. If that news is enough to make you have a cow, man, you probably won't want to know that the producers are threatening to make even more episodes, if $1.3 million per installment in additional funding can be found. Bet we could raise that much with a promise to keep Izzy off the air.
With Boston Garden facing the wrecker's ball next fall after the scheduled 1994-95 NHL and NBA seasons (whether or not there are NHL and NBA seasons), Garden president Larry Moulter has decided to give former Bruin Terry O'Reilly, who spent more than 40 hours in the penalty box during his 14-year career, a special souvenir to remember the old Garden by: the penalty box itself.
Amid all the labor strife plaguing pro sports, it's worth remembering that the college basketball season nearly ground to a halt last January in the face of a threatened boycott by some coaches over academic standards and scholarship cutbacks. In an effort to mollify those coaches, the NCAA Presidents Commission last week moved ever so slightly off the stubborn stance it has adhered to since introducing tougher standards in 1986. In a proposal that will go before the NCAA convention in January—and legislation originating with the presidents is virtually always approved—colleges would be permitted to award an incoming freshman an athletic grant-in-aid regardless of how low his test scores might have been, as long as he maintained a 2.5 grade point average in his college-prep courses. Under the proposal, such "partial qualifiers" would still have to sit out their freshman season. But they would be on scholarship, and in deference to the impassioned pleas of coaches, they could practice with the team. The NCAA estimates that this rule could affect some 2,000 athletes, 1,400 of them black.
The proposed legislation doesn't go as far as the Black Coaches Association would like; if you don't score 700 on the SAT, you're still benched for your first season. "It's what I call another drive-by solution," Temple basketball coach John Chancy said, a comment suggesting that a boycott may still be in the offing this season. But the legislation would give coaches one thing they've been clamoring for: the opportunity to work with a larger number of marginal students in a college environment.
At the same time the presidents announced this concession, they withdrew an earlier offer to restore a fourth season of competition to freshman nonqualifiers who go on to prove that they can do college work. That's a shame for two reasons. One, that extra season would be a compelling reward for an athlete who beats the odds and makes something of his stay on campus. Two, nonathletes typically take closer to five years to graduate. It's unrealistic to expect an athlete to complete his studies in less time.
Even if the presidents are unwilling to offer a scholarship for a fifth year to a player who had been academically ineligible as a freshman—and we can understand why, given the additional cost involved—they could at least let him play if he were to pay his own way. At that point he would be a negligible academic risk and a poster child for tenacity.
Two years ago Detroit Lion running back Barry Sanders appeared at an Athletes for Abstinence press conference and in a video called It Ain't Worth It to denounce premarital sex. Last week Sanders confirmed that he was the father of five-month-old B.J. Sanders, who lives with his mother in Dallas. He added that he had no plans to marry B.J.'s mom. What about premarital sex? "My position on that has evolved," says Sanders, sounding like any number of politicians this election season. "I've just changed."
The execrable nonsense uttered by Chicago Blackhawk muscle brain Chris Chelios last week is unforgivable. "If I was [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman, I'd be worried about my family, about my well-being right now," Chelios told the press last Wednesday. "Some crazed fan or even a player, who knows, might take it into his own hands and figure that if they get him out of the way this might get settled."
The notion that violence is a solution has prevailed in the NHL for far too long, and Chelios—an oft-penalized cheap-shot artist playing to form—gave us a chilling glimpse of what that attitude looks like when it leaves the ice. Chelios's apology notwithstanding, one can only hope that Bettman, who took special security precautions for himself and his family after that outburst, will fine and suspend Chelios when and if the hockey season finally begins.
Brought to Heel
If God is a Tar Heel, how come the North Carolina women's soccer team had its 92-game winning streak snapped on Sunday? Probably because Carolina faced Notre Dame, home to Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Dome and all sorts of divine trappings of its own. The Irish, who held the Tar Heels to a scoreless overtime tie in the Collegiate America's Cup in St. Louis, have ended two other record college winning streaks (SI, Oct. 3): Oklahoma's 47-game football streak in 1957 and UCLA's 88-game men's basketball streak in 1974.
Up on the Roof
The bewigged judges of Britain's High Court seem to be the epitome of all that is pompous and staid. So when a British lawyer named Nigel Wilkinson recently hit his ball onto the clubhouse roof adjacent to the 507-yard par-5 14th hole at Woking Golf Club in Surrey, he expected I that his partner in the alternate-shot com-I petition. Lord Justice Simon Brown, I would most assuredly assess their team a penalty stroke and take a drop.
However, perhaps because he wasn't wearing his robe and wig, the good judge went against type. In a moment of Pythonesque inspiration he scrambled up a I ladder and, using a putter, knocked the ball off the roof to within a few feet of the hole. Alas, Wilkinson missed the putt. Double alas, the Wilkinson-Brown team also dropped its match, which was part of something called the Scrutton Cup.
Was the judge's shot legal? Absolutely. The Woking clubhouse is an "integral part of the course," and when a ball lands within an integral part of the course, it must be played from where it lands.
You didn't think a lord justice would break the rules, did you?
NHL labor and management can find at least one thing in common. River Majesty, owned by Los Angeles King star Wayne Gretzky, won the $114,800 Niagara Stakes Handicap at Woodbine Racetrack in Etobicoke, Ont., on Sunday. Finishing second was Roche Rock, wearing the silks of Toronto Maple Leaf owner Steve Stavro. Together they made up an exacta worth $18.10.
Field of Dream
The Baseball strike kept Ed Kelly, a 70-year-old Rochester, N.Y., man who is terminally ill with cancer, from making a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Camden Yards to see his beloved Baltimore Orioles play. But through the Orioles and a syndicated television show, The Crusaders, which learned about Kelly from a letter that his son, Ed Kelly Jr., wrote to SI (LETTERS, Sept. 12), a heartwarming variation of Kelly's dream came true in Baltimore last week. He met such former Orioles as Mike Flanagan, Ron Hansen and Tippy Martinez and played catch with Elrod Hendricks. When his favorite Bird, Boog Powell, was nowhere to be seen, Kelly remarked upon the absence of "the skinny little first baseman." Soon enough a portly figure snuck up behind him. "He ain't so skinny anymore," said Powell (above with the two Kellys).
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The Philadelphia 76ers announced the hiring of World B. Free as their strength and conditioning coach.
They Said It
The 40-year-old tackle, on the 1951 uniforms his Los Angeles Rams have worn on Throwbacks Weekends: "Contrary to public opinion, I have not worn this uniform before."