Guts and Gaul
The French scrupulously pronounce his name with the accent on the first syllable—always LEM-ond, so it sounds like the citrus fruit. But Americans have grown accustomed to the sound of Le-MOND. A you-bet, gee-whiz kid from Reno wasn't going to win three Tours de France unless he had a little continental je ne sais quoi to go with his brassy, Yankee willingness to take on the world. Why, the idea of an American winning the Tour was so preposterous that Greg LeMond himself, while flying to Europe in 1981 for his first international season, couldn't even bring himself to tell an inquiring seatmate that he was a pro cyclist. He fudged it, saying instead that he was in "sports marketing."
There was felicity in that characterization, as LeMond went on to become the greatest stateside salesman for the world's most sprawling sports event. But that career ended with his announcement last Saturday in Los Angeles that he's suffering from a rare muscle disease. "I've had to overcome a lot of obstacles," he said in breaking the news, "but now I have one I can't overcome."
LeMond, 33, hadn't won a stage race since 1992, when he began to complain of fatigue for which there seemed to be no good explanation. At first he blamed allergies; then he suspected he was carrying too much weight. Finally, in August, his doctors, noticing an alarming drop in his ability to carry oxygen, performed a muscle biopsy. They needed seven slices of muscle tissue from his left quadriceps, but they couldn't administer anesthesia because it might have affected the test results. So they strapped LeMond down and, in an excruciating procedure, sliced seven slivers of muscle out of his thigh, he says, "like sashimi."
December 12, 1994
The tests revealed that LeMond is suffering from mitochondrial myopathy, an impairment of proteins in his muscles that prevents them from delivering the kind of power a world-class cyclist needs for hours a day, every day of a stage race. The malady isn't life threatening, and it-shouldn't interfere with his daily routine, but because no cure or treatment has been found, LeMond will have to give up his dream of competing in the 1996 Olympics. Doctors don't know if there's any connection between the disease and the 30 lead shotgun pellets still inside him as a result of a turkey-hunting accident in 1987. As the father of three children, Jeffrey, 10, Scott, 7, and Simone, 5, Greg is fervently hoping the condition isn't hereditary. "Greg is still in denial about all this," his wife, Kathy, said on Saturday. "Today is hard because we're here in front of everyone. Before, it's just been me and Greg in the kitchen."
After his legendary win in the 1989 Tour, in which he made up 50 seconds on the final day with two of those pellets still lodged against his heart lining, this magazine named him Sportsman of the Year. A few talk-radio know-nothings objected, reviling the choice by pointing out that riding a bike is something anybody can do. Which, of course, it is. But no rider among tout le monde did it quite as astonishingly as he did.
Ho, Ho, Ho
We know what Dale Brown's voodoo instructor is getting the LSU basketball coach this Christmas. A 29-inch-high, limited-edition Bob Knight doll can deliver good cheer under your tree too, for the modest sum of $545 plus tax, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Indiana University library. The porcelain-and-cloth Bob doll comes in a little red duffel bag and is outfitted in a red sweater, Converse shoes and dark trousers over boxer shorts. In its next venture, perhaps the company manufacturing and marketing the figurine—Treasure Me Dolls of Kendallville, Ind.—can hook up with the makers of Chatty Cathy dolls and World Wrestling Federation action figures. Although it's billed as "so realistic, people are amazed," the Bob doll can't be considered truly lifelike until it curses and throws chairs.
Not a Potted Plant
We're accustomed to umpires hearing the grievances of others, not airing their own. But Joe West, the colorful and confrontational National League ump, recently accepted an undisclosed settlement from Upper Deck, the baseball-card company, for alleged unauthorized use of his likeness. It seems that West appears in an action photo on the back of a Gary Redus card, looking on as Redus scrambles back on a throw to first. With the lawsuit, West's attorney, Kevin Murphy of Covington, Ky., who's representing nine other umpires in similar complaints against various publishers, may have provided something historical: the first documented instance of West's objecting to being in the spotlight.
Feat of Clay
Clay-court specialists make up a tennis subculture, baseline-hugging their way to mild success on the tour, but few have ever parlayed such a one-dimensional game into the kind of ranking and money that Spain's Alberto Berasategui enjoyed in 1994. He finished the year with seven tournament titles (second only to Pete Sampras's 10), a No. 8 world ranking and nearly $940,000 in prize money. And he did it with all but two of his 65 match wins coming on the slow stuff.
The runner-up at the French Open, Berasategui dodged Wimbledon's grass and lost a first-round match to No. 135 Marcos Ondruska on composition courts at the U.S. Open. But back on his beloved clay he grabbed one of the final berths in last month's ATP Tour World Championship in Frankfurt. There he was a stain on the carpet, winning only eight games in three matches but nonetheless walking away with $75,000. It's bad enough that the ranking system allows a player to mire himself in clay and still finish in the Top 10. An Elite Eight berth in the game's climactic event should be reserved for those who show competence on all surfaces.
Pulling the Plug
Sports agent Leigh Steinberg, a Los Angeles native who is well connected to that city's celebrity scene, seems to have picked up some tricks of the Tinseltown trade. Last week Steinberg announced plans to hold a conference on head injuries in the NFL and stressed the need for further scientific study of the subject. "Unlike other parts of the body, the nature of the brain function is not totally understood," said Steinberg, who then offered this inexplicable comparison: "We know more about Diet Coke than we do about our own brain." Could Steinberg, who counts six of his clients among the NFL stars recently appearing in a Coca-Cola promotion, be indulging in a little Hollywood-style product placement?
Reports in Britain carry the astonishing news that Kim Jong II, North Korea's apparent leader, recently shot a 34 for an 18-hole round at the Pyongyang Golf Club, including five holes in one and an eagle 2 on the 400-yard par-4 1st hole. Robert Green, editor of the British publication Golf World, has greeted the news with understated skepticism. He suggests that Kim permit "a wider audience to get a sight of his remarkable prowess" by entering next year's British Open at St. Andrews. Writes Green: "Given the brilliance and alacrity with which he clearly takes to new sporting challenges, there must surely be a chance that next year he could accomplish an unprecedented British summer double by taking possession of the old claret jug just a fortnight after winning Wimbledon at his first attempt."
This Just In
Gerald Polley, who goes by the title of the Reverend Speaker Polley and describes himself as "an internationally known psychic working out of Ellsworth, Me.," has some interesting news for baseball fans. He reports that he has "been in contact for some years with Babe Ruth and several other well-known baseball players," and that the Bambino and the other old-timers, whom he does not name, are "enraged by the current situation" in the game. In a recent issue of his Voices from Spirit magazine, Polley outlines what he says is Ruth & Co.'s proposal for a solution to the strike. "First of all," writes Polley, "they want an end to the draft system, which they consider legal slavery." While that's no surprise, from beyond the grave comes a clear, if disembodied, call for a salary cap. The Ruthian proposal stipulates that "no player may receive a salary in excess of a million dollars a year."
Neither side in today's labor dispute has responded. As far as we know.
If you've seen Hoop Dreams, the documentary about inner-city life that's currently in theaters, you're not likely to forget Arthur Agee and William Gates, the Chicago high school stars at the center of the film. While neither appears on any NBA scout's radar screen, both are still in college and playing ball, a small miracle given the tumult they've experienced in the three years since they graduated from high school and filmmakers Steve James, Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert finished chronicling their lives.
Agee put in two seasons at Mineral Area J.C. in Flat River, Mo., and then moved on to Arkansas State, where he's a senior starting at point guard. College has been a refuge from troubles back home. In Chicago he has a son, Anthony, and a daughter, Ashley, by two different women, and on Thanksgiving morning a half-brother, DeAntonio Agee, was killed in a drug-related shooting. But at Arkansas State, Agee is a campus celebrity, a broadcasting major whose sports reports can be heard twice a week on student station KASU. The Indians are 2-1 after their 76-65 victory at Tennessee-Martin last Thursday night, in which Agee contributed 12 points, five assists and four steals. "European ball or the CBA would be great if it worked out," says Agee, who's still the uneven student he was in high school. "If not, I'd like to go into acting or radio."
Gates's personal life has been more stable than Agee's, but his basketball path rockier. After two seasons at Marquette, he married Catherine Mines, the mother of his five-year-old daughter, Alicia. But by November 1993, under the combined stresses of family life, school and his increasingly limited role on the team, Gates gave up basketball and would have dropped out were it not for the pleas of his family back home. Without basketball he began to do better in school, earning a 3.0 average for the spring semester of 1994. And he started telling people he didn't miss the game—or so he said until he saw his former Marquette teammates upset Kentucky on TV last March. This season, after deciding to suit up for new coach Mike Deane, Gates has come off the bench to play 14 minutes a game for the 4-0 Golden Eagles. He seems to bear no weight at all on his hunched shoulders, and he attributes his prosperity on and off the court to one thing: his decision to stay in school. "It's ironic how me and my brother Curtis's lives were so similar," he says of his rueful sibling, a former small-college player and prominent figure in the movie. "We both became fathers in high school. We both had problems with our college coaches. There's only one difference. I'm getting my degree."
Hoop Dreams is already a hit with critics (a recent San Francisco Chronicle survey of 40 leading film reviewers ranked it No. 1 among the year's releases, ahead of Quiz Show and Pulp Fiction) and moviegoers (in only six weeks of limited release, it's already closing in on $1.5 million in. gross receipts, an unusally high figure for a documentary). As the movie goes into more theaters in January, Gates and Agee figure to become bigger stars—just not in the NBA, as they had hoped.
Over the years Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the British composer of such musicals as Cats, Phantom of the Opera and this season's Sunset Boulevard, endured some vicious cuts from former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, a.k.a. the Butcher of Broadway. Now Webber, a racing buff who owns more than 20 thoroughbreds, has exacted some revenge. He named a newly acquired horse Butcher of Broadway and had it gelded.
Most pregame renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner fade from memory even before the action starts, but now and then a performance comes along either so good or so bad that it becomes a part of history. Super Bowl XXIX, scheduled for Jan. 29, has already generated its bit of anthem lore. It seems that plans were in the works to have Barbra Streisand sing. But according to a report in the Miami Herald, which the NFL calls "apocryphal," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said he had already "told Frank his wife could do it." That would be Frank as in Gifford, whose wife is the preternaturally perky morning-show host Kathie Lee Gifford. Thus one of the most coveted gigs of the year went from Babs to worse. Here are some other notes—both high and low—in anthem history.
May 25, 1965. St. Dominic's Youth Center, Lewiston, Maine. Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston, world heavyweight title fight.
Canadian-bred Broadway heavyweight and eternal Camelot star Robert Goulet's command of the song lasts for one brief, shining moment before he forgets the words. After that he hums his way through.
Oct. 7, 1968. Tiger Stadium, Detroit. Game 5 of the World Series, Tigers vs. Cardinals.
In the 1960s' most turbulent year, Latin soul star Jose Feliciano hits a liner into the Generation Gap, lighting a fire of controversy with his hip, stylized rendition.
Feb. 13, 1983. The Forum, Los Angeles. NBA All-Star Game.
Marvin Gaye's driving, three-minute masterpiece has the crowd clapping along and the players mesmerized. "We didn't want to go on," Magic Johnson said. "We just wanted to sit there and hear him sing some more."
April 9, 1990. Shea Stadium, New York. Opening Day, Mets vs. Pirates.
Some sweet strokes at home plate, as Hall of Fame violinist Itzhak Perlman performs a classic solo.
July 25, 1990. Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego. Padres vs. Reds.
It's Working Woman's Night, and comedian Roseanne Barr does a job on the anthem, punctuating her screeching by spitting in the dirt and grabbing her crotch as "a joke on the players." President Bush calls the performance "disgraceful."
Jan. 27, 1991. Tampa Stadium. Super Bowl XXV, Giants vs. Bills.
Taking no chances, Whitney Houston prerecords her spectacular version and lip-synchs it on-site. Released days later as a single, it rockets up the charts amid the patriotic fervor of the Persian Gulf war, selling 720,000 copies.
Jan. 21, 1993. Meadowlands Arena, East Rutherford, N.J. Nets vs. Bulls.
Legendary Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis pulls a vocal hamstring halfway through his a cappella rendition. "Don't worry, I'll make up for it," he tells the crowd, then limps to the finish while players cover their heads with towels.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
In Birmingham, where 25% of the population lives in poverty and 11% has less than an eighth-grade education, the city council has voted to give the University of Alabama at Birmingham $2.2 million in public funds to start a Division I-A football program.
They Said It
The owners' primary negotiator, on talks to end the baseball strike: "I'm confident that the progress that will be made next week will be progressive."