DRAWING THE LINE
If Dennis Rodman is looking for more fodder to fuel his
persecution complex, he needs to look no farther than the
quartet of rule modifications approved on June 27 by the NBA's
Board of Governors. Flinging up wild threes, forearm-checking,
flopping to draw a charge and calling timeouts while flying out
of bounds are just a few of the pet theatrics that the changes
will force him to curtail in the 1997-98 season. But is what's
bad for Rodman good for the league? In this case, definitely.
First, the three-point arc will be moved back from 22 feet to
its original 23'9" (except in the corners, where it will remain
the same). Scoring in the NBA has been slipping for 15 years,
dropping last season to 96.9 points per game, a 3.4-point dip
from 1995-96 and the lowest average since 1954-55. The stripe's
proximity prompted too many iffy shooters--like Rodman, though
he's hardly the worst offender--to let fly. Teams averaged 16.8
three-point attempts last season; in 1993-94, the year before
the arc was moved in, teams averaged 9.9.
In addition to discouraging low-percentage shots, the redrawn
line will create wider spacing on the floor. Those extra 21
inches should make it more difficult for perimeter players to
both guard a three-point marksman and double-down on a post
player. That will in turn create more room for cutting and
passing, rebounding and fast-breaking--and scoring.
Making defense more difficult was also the intent of two other
changes. Defenders won't be able to use a forearm to slow a
player facing the basket, thus making it harder to impede forays
to the hoop by slashing players like Michael Jordan, Grant Hill
and Penny Hardaway. And once the slasher nears the goal, he'll
feel less constrained: The no-charge area underneath the basket
will be expanded to a four-foot semicircle. A player who bowls
over a defender in this area, long Rodman's favorite hangout on
defense, won't be called for an offensive foul.
The last rule was more aesthetic than essential. A player can no
longer call timeout if both of his feet are in the air and any
part of his body has passed the out-of-bounds plane. Once
considered a heady, hustle play, the frequency with which the
hurtling TO has been used recently has made it an annoyance. No
wonder it was a Rodman specialty.
The folks at USA Track & Field have been known to gripe about
the lack of media coverage their sport receives. Perhaps they
should take some of the blame themselves. The credentials issued
to reporters covering last month's national championships in
Indianapolis carried a lengthy Conditions of Acceptance passage
printed on the back. Among the 34 lines of legal boilerplate was
this sentence: "Holder agrees not to transmit or aid in
transmitting any description, picture or reproduction of event."
Wayne Huizenga's announcement last week that he would have to
sell the Florida Marlins because they are on track to lose $30
million this season engendered musings by pundits about the sad
financial state of the game and finger wagging from his fellow
owners about overspending on free agents. But Huizenga's red ink
may not run as deep as he says.
Huizenga owns Pro Player Stadium, where the Marlins play, and
70% of SportsChannel Florida, which broadcasts Florida's games.
He claims as a baseball expense the $2 million the Marlins pay
in stadium rent, but that money is essentially going from one
pocket into the other. And while according to Financial World
the Marlins receive only $23.9 million a year in rights fees, a
sum that is $1.3 million below the major league average, that
deal helps Huizenga's TV operation as much as it hurts his ball
Even by Huizenga's calculations, the Marlins are projecting
revenues of $60 million this season, thanks to a 32% increase in
attendance that through Sunday had lifted Florida's average
crowd to 29,525. The Marlins' payroll is $49.5 million. (Though
Huizenga says he has spent $175 million on player contracts
since last season, he is counting the full value of long-term
deals like Gary Sheffield's $61 million blockbuster, of which
only $6.1 million is to be paid in 1997.) To lose $30 million,
Huizenga would have to incur $41 million in nonplayer
expenses--an unlikely sum. The nonplayer costs of the
high-spending New York Yankees are $32 million.
By poor-mouthing the Marlins' operation, Huizenga may be looking
for an excuse to liquidate his baseball holdings to help cover
his other corporate costs, which include the recent purchase of
Value Rent-A-Car for $77.5 million. He also could be positioning
himself to make a stock offering of the Marlins, as he did with
the Florida Panthers last year. In that deal Huizenga sold half
the NHL team to the public and reaped $70 million. In any case,
it's unlikely he'll sell the franchise (estimated value: $123
million) to a buyer who would move it. That would diminish the
value of Pro Player Stadium, and Huizenga has indicated recently
that he has no interest in unloading that property.
Acting baseball commissioner Bud Selig affirms that Huizenga is
losing as much as he says he is on the Marlins. But skeptical
South Floridians aren't likely to have their doubts about
Huizenga's bottom line allayed soon. According to The Miami
Herald, Marlins president Don Smiley agreed to show the team's
books to reporters last week, then canceled the meeting.
GAMES AND SWEET MUSIC
The World Scholar-Athlete Games unfolded over the past two weeks
at the University of Rhode Island with a very international,
decidedly un-Olympic feel. The nearly 2,000 competitors,
students ages 16 to 19, from 144 countries and all 50 states,
played with, as well as against, their counterparts from other
countries. "We had kids from Israel and Egypt playing doubles
tennis together," says Dan Doyle, the former Trinity College
basketball coach who created the Games, which were first held in
1993. "We had kids from Ireland and Northern Ireland on the same
basketball team. There were cultural differences, and not
everybody loved everybody else. But everyone got along."
Held under the auspices of the Institute for International
Sport, the Games featured seven sports and several Division I-A
prospects, including seven-foot Ajou Deng of Sudan, who has a
basketball scholarship from UConn. Some students eschewed the
rough and tumble for such cultural endeavors as dance, theater
and music. Paul Fede, a two-sport star at Mount St. Charles
Academy in Woonsocket, R.I., opted to play the French horn.
"It's a sacrifice not to play sports at the Games," Fede said.
"But the idea of people from all over the world coming together
to play in an orchestra appealed to me more."
Lefthander Ila Borders, the only woman to pitch in a
regular-season professional baseball game (SCORECARD, June 16),
was traded last week from the Class A Northern League St. Paul
Saints to the Duluth-Superior Dukes. Saints manager Marty Scott
wanted to "give her a chance to pitch more and find out more
about her ability."
The Dukes have the league's worst ERA, so they were happy to get
Borders for infielder Keith English. The 23-year-old English,
however, was a bit unnerved. "I'll probably be the most hated
person in St. Paul--they're losing their Ila," he said shortly
after the deal. Then he added, "I got traded for a girl. It
can't get any worse than that."
Poor English was wrong on both counts. St. Paul fans never booed
him, but that's because things did get worse. Before he played a
game for the Saints, they demoted him to the Canton (Ohio)
Crocodiles of the Frontier League.
A LEGEND REMEMBERED
Don Hutson, who died last week at 84, set 19 NFL receiving
records while playing for the Green Bay Packers from 1935 to
'45. SI's Paul Zimmerman reflects upon a Hall of Famer who
redefined his position.
Don Hutson was one of the legends we of a certain era grew up
with. Greatest team: Chicago Bears. Greatest runner: Bronko
Nagurski. Greatest receiver: Don Hutson. You didn't question it;
it was simply accepted.
I just missed seeing Hutson play, but I heard the stories about
him. Used to swing around the goalpost with one hand and catch a
touchdown pass with the other. Once caught a pass in full
stride, one-handed, with his palm facing downward. All the
Ten years ago I met him at an old-timers' reunion and asked him
about those tales. "Well, the goalposts were on the end line in
those days," he said, "so I kind of used the post as a pick.
Swung around it? Well, yeah, I used to do that. As for catching
a ball from on top...if I did that I was just showing off."
The 6'1", 180-pound Hutson came into the NFL as a two-time
All-America at Alabama, where he was known as the Alabama
Antelope. Pro football wasn't ready for him. Back then defense
ruled the league. The year before Hutson showed up, the average
team completed just four passes per game. Within five years he
owned all the receiving records; 11 stood for at least 50 years.
In 1942 he caught 74 passes, more than four of the league's 10
teams. Short and long posts, square-outs, down-and-ins, hooks,
stop-and-go routes, deep flies, he had them all. Hutson also
played safety and kicked for the Packers. In '45 he scored 29
points in one quarter against the Detroit Lions by catching four
touchdown passes and converting five extra points.
In 1989 I flew to Green Bay and spent an afternoon in the
Packers' film room watching footage of Hutson. I wanted to see
the legend come to life. What I saw was a Ray Berry on the
possession routes, blessed with the grace of a Lynn Swann, plus
a great hunger for the ball at the point of the catch, like a
Jerry Rice. For 11 years--99 touchdowns, three championships, a
pair of MVP awards--he was the best.
I ran one catch back frame by frame, an impossible reception on
a sideline route. His momentum was pulling him out of bounds,
but he somehow corkscrewed his body back in and kept extending
his arms--they seemed five feet long--and the ball stuck to his
fingertips. I've seen only one other like it, Swann's against
the Dallas Cowboys in the 1976 Super Bowl.
He was an unexplained force in the NFL, a meteor that lit up the
sky. An original. A legend.
Consecutive winning games played in, as of Sunday, by New York
Liberty forward Rebecca Lobo, who went 35-0 during her senior
season at UConn and 60-0 with the U.S. national team before
joining the Liberty.
Price, in dollars, paid by New York Yankees pitcher David Wells
for a cap worn by Babe Ruth, which Wells donned for a game last
Length, in miles, of traffic jams anticipated by organizers of
next year's Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Age, in years, of Matthew Draper, whose ace on the 120-yard 4th
hole at Cherwell Edge golf course in Middleton Cheny, England,
made him the youngest Briton ever to get a hole in one.
Price, in dollars, of the sterling-silver medal produced by
Franklin Mint in commemoration of Tiger Woods's Masters win--and
removed from the market after Woods sued over the unauthorized
use of his likeness.
SOMETHING TO CHEW ON
Mike Tyson's gruesome chomping of Evander Holyfield's ears last
Saturday night (page 32) should not have been a complete shock.
The day before the fight the English daily The Sport ran a
picture of a grinning Tyson and predicted he was "ready to show
his teeth and sink them into Evander Holyfield." Certainly,
there had been plenty of biting precedents in sports. Here are
some of the jaw-dropping highlights.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Pedro Borbon
During a 1974 bench-clearing brawl, Borbon gnaws on the left ear
of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Daryl Patterson. Says Patterson of
Borbon (You listenin', Mike?), "He fights like a woman."
Patterson retires after that season; Borbon goes on to bite the
heads off crickets in dugouts, the bills of opposing players'
hats and, in 1979, the chest of a Cincinnati nightclub bouncer.
Atlanta Hawks center Tree Rollins
After munching on Boston Celtic Danny Ainge's fingers while
scuffling for a ball in a 1983 NBA playoff game, Rollins
responds to a reporter's inquiry by asking, "What bite?"
Rollins is fined $5,000 and suspended five games; Ainge gets
stitches and a tetanus shot. Both players go on to coach in the
St. Louis Cardinals offensive lineman Conrad Dobler
When he finds fingers of Minnesota Vikings tackle Doug
Sutherland poking through his face mask, Dobler clamps down. He
later explains that Sutherland "was not there to stroke my
In his autobiography, They Call Me Dirty, Dobler calls
finger-biting "a great technique" for success in the NFL trenches.
Chris McSorley, defenseman for the IHL's Toledo Goaldiggers
In '85 game versus the Indianapolis Checkers, McSorley, a noted
nosher, nips off the tip of opposing forward Marc Magnan's nose;
claims Magnan bit his cheek first.
McSorley is suspended; Magnan, citing McSorley's "known
propensity to bite," threatens to sue him, the Goaldiggers and
the IHL. Threat has no teeth; suit is never filed.
The freedom America declared on July 4, 1776, included the
freedom to develop a national pastime. Still, it wouldn't be
cricket to ignore the charms of the British game.
1 The Brits' bat is wider, so it's easier to hit the ball.
Cricket bat: 41/4" wide--and flat.
Baseball bat: 2 3/4" in diameter.
2 Cricketers run between two wickets.
And they don't have to run so far to score.
In cricket, 1 run is 66 feet.
In baseball, 360 feet.
Cricket run totals can reach a hundred or more...
...even though the batsman must carry his bat when he runs.
3 Cricket fielding positions have interesting names.
Silly mid off
Short fine leg
Short third man
Deep square leg
Backward short leg
Plus dozens more for the captain to choose from for his 11-man
Then again, the game does go on a bit.
Some international cricket matches, called tests, last for five
six-hour days, including breaks for lunch and tea.
All in all, baseball fans, independence ain't so bad.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Veteran defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, who gained fame for
his role in the O.J. Simpson trial, has registered to become a
Milwaukee Brewers manager, on this season's bad weather, which
included a June 21 deluge that swamped the field at Milwaukee
County Stadium: "We had a snowout, a rainout and a coldout. And
now we have a floodout. What I want to know is, When do the