TALKIN' THE TALK
Michael Johnson may have won the 200 and the 400 meters in
Atlanta, but he lost his chance for a less aerobic, more acerbic
double on Aug. 7 by forgoing a morning heat on Rosie O'Donnell
to save energy for an appearance on The Late Show with David
Letterman. (No, Johnson didn't petition network execs for a
schedule change.) While Johnson chose Jay Leno's Tonight Show
for his second leg eight days later, soccer striker Mia Hamm and
swimmer Amy Van Dyken pulled off a Rosie-and-Dave double, though
not on the same day. Meanwhile, beach 'ballers Karch Kiraly and
Kent Steffes did Tonight, and Carl Lewis executed a rare triple
stump: Leno, Conan O'Brien and Tom Snyder. Letterman also horsed
around with the women's gymnastics team, albeit without Kerri
Strug, who spurned her pixie pals for a solo turn on Leno.
Our favorite post-Olympic TV tale comes from Chicago, where on
Aug. 5 softballer Dani Tyler, following an appearance on the
local Fox affiliate, emerged from the studio to find that her
car had been towed. Perhaps that wasn't surprising; Tyler had
famously parked her foot in the wrong place, failing to touch
the plate after hitting a home run against Australia, a misstep
that led to the U.S.'s lone Olympic loss. All's well that ends
well, however. Fox footed the bill for the tow.
THE WETHEAD IS DEAD
In addition to being coach and president of the Miami Heat, Pat
Riley charges corporations $45,000 per appearance to dispense
wisdom on how to become a more successful executive. But one
business tenet seems to have escaped Riley. It's a maxim even
the kid in the mail room should know: Before you hire anyone,
check with the folks in accounting.
Riley learned that lesson the hard way last week, when Miami
lost free-agent forward Juwan Howard to his original team, the
Washington Bullets, because the NBA ruled that the seven-year,
$100.8 million contract Howard signed with the Heat on July 17
violated the salary cap. The league contended that Miami did not
have available under the cap the $9 million it had agreed to pay
Howard next season. Miami's miscalculation was the result of two
Riley blunders: First, the Heat failed to count against the cap
$2.5 million in incentive clauses in the contracts of Tim
Hardaway and P.J. Brown; and second, according to the league,
Miami agreed to terms with center Alonzo Mourning before signing
Howard, which meant that Mourning's salary would count against
the cap as well. (The league eventually dropped the latter
charge as part of last week's settlement.)
The Heat contended that the incentive clauses--which go into
effect if Miami wins 27 home games and 43 overall--should not
have counted against the cap because they were "unlikely" to
kick in. This is disingenuous in light of the coach's
championship-or-bust mentality. Riley also denies that any
agreement with Mourning was reached before Howard's signing. But
the Heat apparently didn't feel comfortable enough with its
position to risk sending the dispute to arbitration, which, had
Miami lost, could have resulted in a $5 million fine and a
one-year suspension of Riley in addition to losing Howard. It
hardly matters whether these were two innocent oversights or
furtive attempts to circumvent the cap. The bottom line, as a
CEO might say, is that this cost the Heat one of the best young
forwards in the game and dropped Miami from budding contender
back to the ranks of the also-rans.
As the G.O.P. gathered in San Diego last weekend for its
presidential nominating convention, a program that has been a
source of contention among Republicans resurfaced in Kansas
City. The political football in question was actually a
basketball--midnight basketball, the crime-prevention program
hailed as a Point of Light by the Bush Administration, only to
be reviled as pork and denied federal funding by the Republican
Congress that came to power two years ago.
Despite having to rely entirely on local financing, leagues from
11 cities sent teams of at-risk urban adolescents to the second
Mayor's Urban Symposium and Tournament (M.U.S.T), hosted by one
of the most evangelical proponents of midnight hoops, Kansas
City mayor Emanuel Cleaver. The participants spent their
afternoons in workshops devoted to such topics as conflict
resolution and job-skills development before tipping off each
night and running past the witching hour. Playing beneath an
OVERTIME IS BETTER THAN SUDDEN DEATH banner stretched across one
wall of the gym at Kansas City's Central High, a team from St.
Louis wound up defending its title.
According to the Kansas City police department, violent
offenses, nonaggravated assaults and offenses against property
each declined by one third to two thirds among juveniles in
1994, the fifth year of Mayor's Night Hoops, which is open to
boys and girls ages 10 to 21. Given that the cost of
incarcerating a single juvenile offender runs to nearly $30,000
per year, the $100,000 annual cost of the program, in which
1,200 youngsters participate, would appear to more than justify
itself. Yet Cleaver finds himself only half kiddingly urging his
constituents to park illegally and pay their fines, so the
city's coffers might fill up and Night Hoops continue. "The
thing I'm most proud of is that we haven't had one incidence of
violent behavior at any of the Night Hoops games," says the
mayor, who believes the program could reach even more youth
nationwide with the additional muscle of federal dollars. "And
that's with rival gang members facing off in competition at
Were there any players in the tournament who owed their lives to
midnight basketball? "Here," said Nate Wilkins, director of the
K.C. program. "Let me introduce you to about a hundred."
Is it too late to cobble a maplewood floorboard back into that
RAMBLE ON, ROSE
Few horseplayers had the charm and grace of Rose Hamburger, the
105-year-old nag queen who spent the last seven months
handicapping races for the New York Post (SCORECARD, March 25).
When Gamblin' Rose, as the paper billed her, died Aug. 6 after a
brief bout with pneumonia, the news sparked a flood of calls to
the Post, many from hard-boiled racing readers who lamented the
loss of Hamburger's savvy. Indeed, with eight decades of
horse-betting experience, Hamburger was a reliable source. And
she held form to the end: Her final pick, Capote Bell in the
eighth race at Saratoga on July 27, came home a winner.
Gwenn Perkins, a fly-fishing instructor for the Orvis School in
Manchester, Vt., had been teaching women-only classes for four
years when a call last winter from two prospective students
brought a new dimension to her work. The women were breast
cancer survivors whose surgeon, believing that the casting
motion can improve a patient's arm and shoulder mobility
following a mastectomy, had recommended fly-fishing. Eager to
provide a supportive atmosphere, Perkins developed Casting for
Recovery, a two-day program first held in May on a stream in
Millbrook, N.Y., and attended by six women. The class was
successful enough that two more courses are scheduled for this
For patients who spend long, often harrowing hours in hospitals
and treatment centers, getting away for a while to wade in a
cool, clear stream has proved invaluable. And not only is the
casting motion therapeutic and the communing with nature
exhilarating, but also the camaraderie of the class is a source
of comfort. "You play together, you learn together," says
Casting for Recovery alumna Matson Sewell of Hanover, N.H., who
underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery six years ago.
"Since my diagnosis nothing has been as hope-building."
SERVING TENNIS WRONG
It would be easy for Americans to look back contentedly at the
Olympic tennis competition, inasmuch as the U.S. won gold in
three of the four events. But some Americans, including women's
singles champion Lindsay Davenport, found the experience
unsatisfying, and the International Tennis Federation (ITF),
which oversees the Olympic tournament, should heed their
grousing. "This is so bogus," says Davenport of a format
featuring the usual looking-out-for-number-one,
single-elimination slog characteristic of the rest of the tennis
calendar. "We do everything as a team, eat together and room
together, and then we go off and play separate matches."
Olympic tennis sorely needs a team element to distinguish it
from ordinary tour stops, but the ITF can hardly be counted on
to come up with a fresh format for the Sydney Games in 2000. The
sport's international governing body can't even work out enough
of a truce in its feud with the ATP to keep the men's tour from
holding tournaments during the Olympic fortnight.
Any of several alternative formats would enliven the Olympic
competition. Round-robin play using the simple Van Alen scoring
system--31 points wins the match, just as 21 points wins a game
in table tennis--would treat Olympic spectators, who typically
aren't hard-core tennis fans, to shorter matches and the chance
to see more players on a given day. The World Team Tennis
format, in which matches consist of one set in each of five
categories (men's and women's singles, men's and women's
doubles, and mixed doubles), with the winner determined by total
games won, would make each point more meaningful. Mixed doubles,
in particular, would underscore that tennis is that rarest of
sports, one in which men and women can compete together.
At the very least the ITF should identify players' nationalities
on the scoreboard, and establish some parallel team competition,
as gymnastics has, for the world's dozen or so most powerful
tennis nations. The aforementioned changes would exalt the team
over the individual and thereby enrich the sport. Without them,
this Admiral Stockdale of Olympic events will continue to raise
the questions, What is it? Why is it here?
GOING FOR THE (BLUE AND) GOLD
If athletes from UCLA had competed as a nation in Atlanta, they
would have finished sixth in the gold medal count, with 10. And
that's not counting the three golds won by Irish swimmer
Michelle Smith, who is coached by her husband, Erik de Bruin.
Runs given up in one inning by pitcher Nolan Ryan to a team of
country music stars in the City of Hope Celebrity Softball
Challenge in Nashville.
Distance in meters of a race proposed by Donovan Bailey's agent
between the Olympic 100-meter champion and world-record holder,
and 200 champ and record holder Michael Johnson.
World record for Macarena dancers in one place, established by
fans at a Mariners home game on June 29 and set to be challenged
at Yankee Stadium Friday night.
Total lengths by which Citation won a record 16 consecutive
races from 1948 to '50; Cigar, whose 16-race streak ended Aug.
10 (page 64), won his races by a total of 56 3/4 lengths.
Years since Jack Kemp, then a quarterback for the Canadian
Football League's Calgary Stampeders, was last a backup.
ARTISTS AT PLAY
For the Baseball Show, an exhibit at New York's Curt Marcus
Gallery, 76 artists were given balls and free rein. Results ran
from the screwy to the reflective.
AGENT OF LAUGHTER
Arli$$, weekly half-hour comedy series on HBO, premiered Aug. 10
Unless you're devoid of ethics and have only money on your mind,
you're not going to feel much empathy for sports agent Arliss
Michaels. And you're not going to like him much either. But that
doesn't mean he won't make you laugh.
The yuks come courtesy of the sharp, satirical writing of Robert
Wuhl (left), who also produces Arli$$ and plays the title role.
Wuhl, who starred as journalist Al Stump in the film Cobb and
played a hilarious blabbermouth coach in Bull Durham, takes aim
at the morally challenged world of sports agentry and usually
hits the mark.
"My job is to make [athletes'] dreams come true," Michaels says.
He does that in cutthroat negotiations, like those with Dallas
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that unfolded in the series' debut as
the pair sat at a breakfast table spooning up puffed rice. A
session with another owner, which appears in the second show,
ends when Michaels's client (a pitcher demanding $2 million a
year after a one-win season) emits an impossibly powerful stream
of urine across the owner's desk.
Not all the humor is that puerile, though neither is it exactly
highbrow. There's verbal play (one of Michaels's clients, a gay
skater planning to marry a man who plays Prince Charming in an
ice show, says, "I've been looking all my life for Prince
Charming") and slapstick (Michaels gets berated by the
handbag-brandishing mom of his high-school-to-NBA client). The
point of the show is satire, and it's strengthened by
appearances of many celebrities, starting with the opening
montage in which Michaels chats with Bill Parcells, banters with
Magic Johnson and tees off with Arnold Palmer. Michaels is also
shown at a banquet receiving a good citizen award while keeping
tabs on a football game on which he has bet $500,000. Another
time you hear him think, "God, I love what I do" right after
securing a $30 million guaranteed contract for an NBA rookie who
faints from a heart condition before playing a game.
No, Michaels is not anybody's favorite guy. But for a half hour
each week, the s.o.b. gives you your money's worth. --K.K.
Olympic delegations that underachieved in Atlanta returned home
last week to some lacerating appraisals.
Erstwhile Olympic power Great Britain won only 15 medals, a
showing that had the Evening Standard headlining the question,
WHY ARE WE SO USELESS?
Japan won only three gold medals, two in judo. "Even the North
Koreans won two gold medals," said an anonymous newspaperman.
"And North Koreans don't even eat rice!"
The second-most populous nation on earth, India, won but a
single medal. "The next Olympics should also have brass, tin,
wood and plastic [medals] to give our players a chance to bring
glory to the nation," snorted the Times of India.
Egypt's failure to win a single medal led to this observation
from a columnist in Cairo's Al-Akhbar: "A lot of people suggest
that we merge the sports authority with the sewer authority."
Mexico was able to win only a single medal, a bronze--"in
walking," sniffed an editorial in the Mexico City Times.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones, who is under an $8.25 million
contract, refused to sign autographs at a charity function,
citing a "conflict of interest" because he receives $200,000 a
year to sign for a memorabilia firm.
Undefeated but untested heavyweight, on his surprising signing
to fight George Foreman on Sept. 15: "I'm not saying I'm the
mastermind behind this, but I'm the mastermind behind it."