HIS MOMENT MISSED
When the Madison Square Garden lights go down on Feb. 7 and the
NBA All-Star teams are introduced during the league's
night-before-the-game extravaganza, there will be no spotlight
on the New York Knicks center who dislocated his right wrist in
December and is out for the season. That's a shame, for this
year's All-Star Weekend should have belonged to Patrick Ewing.
I write even though I never had a close personal relationship
with Ewing--who's a rather frosty sort--and never particularly
enjoyed watching him play during my eight years of covering the
NBA for this publication. He chugs up and down the court like a
man carrying a sack of feed on his back, and he carves out
low-post space with an awkward assault of elbows and knees like
a man crowding onto a rush-hour subway. Among back-to-the-basket
centers, he has the best outside touch of all time, yet his
shot, a fallaway jumper, is never pretty to watch, an exercise
in inexplicable biomechanics.
But game after game, season after season, Ewing has played hard,
indomitably, courageously and, inevitably, without the ultimate
reward, an NBA title. Ewing reminds me of boxer Larry Holmes
(minus the championships). As there was with Holmes, there's
always someone around who's more fun to watch. Hakeem Olajuwon
is sleeker and quicker, David Robinson smarter and faster,
Shaquille O'Neal stronger and more cartoonishly menacing.
February 2, 1998
Yet there's something about the stone-faced immutability of
Ewing that makes me root for him, particularly now, as I watch
him jam his 7-foot, 240-pound body onto the Knicks bench and
cheer on his teammates. Like Holmes, Ewing conducts himself
honorably and with a kind of cumbersome dignity, both on and off
the court. All-Star Weekend would have been the perfect time to
salute that. But Ewing is 35, and his creamed-corn knees won't
hold out much longer. The moment, I fear, may be gone. --J.M.
The NFL had a terrific moment last weekend in San Diego. Sure
there was Sunday, when the Broncos beat the Packers before
68,912 at Qualcomm Stadium. But there was also Saturday, in a
meeting room in the San Diego Convention Center, before about
200 family members and reporters. That's when former Cincinnati
Bengals tackle Anthony Munoz, having just learned that he'd been
elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, sniffled through an
acceptance speech, and when Canton-bound receiver Tommy
McDonald, speaking by phone from his house in King of Prussia,
Pa., kept choking up and actually said something that sounded
At a time when the NFL's biggest postseason news was a new
television deal, it was refreshing to see displays of raw
emotion and passion for the game when the selections of Munoz,
McDonald, safety Paul Krause, linebacker Mike Singletary and
center Dwight Stephenson were announced. Standing in the back of
the room, linebacker Ted Hendricks, who was elected to the Hall
in 1990, relished the scene. "It's not corny," he said. "This is
a game, man. This is such an overwhelming moment. When I go to
the Hall every summer for the induction ceremonies, we have a
members' luncheon, and we always have a pool on which inductee
will choke up the fastest."
On Saturday the quickest tear ducts belonged to the 6'6" Munoz,
who became the Bengals' first Hall of Famer and who misted up as
he said, "What I had was a gift, and I appreciated that gift
every day." McDonald, who played for five teams in the 1950s and
'60s (most memorably the '60 champion Philadelphia Eagles) and
caught 84 touchdown passes, couldn't hold back his delight--not
after having been spurned by the selection committee for 24
years. "I'm with the big boys now!" he bellowed. "There's only
one better place to be right now, baby, and that's heaven!
OOOO-EEEE!" The game could use a few more of those oooo-eeees
right now. --PETER KING
BACK IN THE BALLGAME
The news about Ted Williams in recent years--his three strokes,
the fading of his legendary eyesight, the autograph forgeries
and memorabilia scams of which he was a victim (SI, Nov. 25,
1996)--hasn't been too splendid. So it was gratifying last week
to see 79-year-old Teddy Ballgame, despite his failing health,
as pertinacious and peppery as ever.
First, Williams and Bob Feller petitioned acting baseball
commissioner Bud Selig to make Shoeless Joe Jackson (who,
despite having been acquitted in court, received a lifetime ban
from the game following the 1919 Black Sox scandal) eligible to
join them in the Hall of Fame. "I want baseball to right an
injustice," said Williams. Then Williams, who rarely leaves his
home in Citrus Hills, Fla., went to New York City for the annual
awards dinner of the Baseball Assistance Team, an organization
that provides financial help to needy former players.
But the most improbable event of his week came on Jan. 20 when
Williams yukked it up as a guest on Late Night with Conan
O'Brien. The Splinter continued his crusade for Shoeless Joe,
praised friend and senior-citizen astronaut John Glenn for his
plan to go "back to the moon" and said it was likely that
someone would soon hit .400. He also came dangerously close to a
Campanis-type misstep. "I've seen some good Irish hitters," he
told O'Brien. "But the best hitters are the Latins and the
blacks because...." At this point Williams stopped for a moment
before issuing a let's-end-the-subject "you know."
Fortunately, one of the greatest players of all time can still
make a good catch.
Three days after Sylvia Crawley won the ABL's first slam-dunk
contest with a blindfolded, one-handed, full-fledged jam on Jan.
18, the Colorado Xplosion center was traded to the Portland
Power. While the timing of the trade seems odd given that only
10 games remained in the regular season, one thing seems clear:
The dunk queen is calling the shots.
Her sightless slam during the ABL's All-Star Weekend has been
the highlight of the 6'5", 170-pound Crawley's otherwise
disappointing season. Last year, as a starter, she averaged 11.8
points and 5.6 rebounds. This year she split time with beefier
centers and at the time of the trade was averaging just 15
minutes, 4.9 points and 2.2 rebounds. In two games with the
Power through Sunday, she had played a total of 12 minutes,
shooting 1 for 3 with no rebounds.
Upset with her diminished playing time, Crawley says she
requested the trade three months ago and believes that "the
slam-dunk contest had a major impact on the trade." League
cofounder and CEO Gary Cavalli denies that, claiming the trade,
which included a two-year contract extension, was approved
before the historic dunk.
Whatever the truth, had Crawley bolted, the ABL, which after
last season lost league MVP Nikki McCray to the WNBA, would have
been scrambling for stars. "She was certainly of value to our
league before the contest," Cavalli says, "but the dunk made it
apparent that we needed to keep her." Now the ABL has the
marketer's dream--a poster-perfect moment featuring the
blindfolded Crawley above the rim. Cavalli says Crawley promos
will start appearing on TV next month, in time for the ABL's
playoffs, in which the dunking dynamo's new team, the 21-15
Western Conference-leading Power, could play for the championship.
When Matt Zelen, ace butterflyer at St. John's University in
Collegeville, Minn., hit the water during an invitational meet
on Jan. 17 and felt his swimsuit slip to his knees, then to his
ankles, then off completely, his first thought was, What will my
grandmother think? As it turned out, 74-year-old Jane Heimbach's
first thought as she sat watching, along with 500 others, in the
St. John's natatorium was, Why are my grandson's goggles
floating in his lane? Then she realized those weren't goggles
and that her grandson's bare bottom was popping repeatedly out
of the water as he plowed forward in the 100-yard race. "She was
a little surprised, I guess," says Zelen, who had forgotten to
tie the drawstring, "but eventually she just started cheering
like everybody else."
Zelen, a junior, finished the race in first place, and his life
hasn't been the same since. He has been interviewed by
newspapers across the U.S. and even took a call from the BBC. He
has been deluged by E-mail, assaulted by catcalls and showered
with nicknames, Naked Boy being the one that seems to have stuck
among his teammates. On Tuesday or Wednesday he was scheduled to
be on The Tonight Show.
"I'm astounded," says Zelen, whose first-place finish was
expunged because losing the suit was ruled a uniform violation.
"I figured the local newspaper might interview me or something,
and that would be about it. I can't figure it out."
Zelen's exposure might not have been so widespread were it not
for his sense of humor about the incident. His best postrace
line, which made the AP wire, was "If it would've been the
backstroke, I obviously would've stopped." Does he think anyone
got an eyeful of him from a frontal perspective? "On the turns
there aren't many waves," says Zelen, "and I have to think the
people close to the pool, well...I was thinking about it during
the race. I'm actually a very modest person, not the kind of guy
who would enjoy this."
Considering that, one couldn't help but wonder if Zelen had ever
seen the Seinfeld episode in which George has a problem with,
well, shrinkage. "Didn't see it, but I heard about it," says
Zelen. "And I can tell you, that pool water was pretty cold."
SUPER DAY DOWN UNDER
The streets were quiet. The stores and banks and municipal
buildings were closed. Families gathered, sometimes traveling
long distances to be together. Concerts were held in the parks.
Fireworks were planned for the night. I always thought that this
was the way Super Bowl Sunday should be, a national holiday,
everyone bonding, having fun.
I didn't know I would have to travel 10,500 miles, from Boston
to Melbourne, to find it. I also didn't know that Super Sunday
would be a Monday.
I watched the game at the All-Star Cafe, in the Crown Casino in
Melbourne, the largest casino in the southern hemisphere.
Kickoff was at 10:30 a.m., 19 time zones ahead of the start at
Jack Murphy Stadium, or whatever the place is named now, in San
Diego. The holiday was Australia Day, the Aussie version of the
Fourth of July. It commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet
from England in 1788, the founding of the colony. The All-Star
Cafe was packed with Super Bowl and holiday revelers.
"I'm rooting for the Broncos," I explained to the elderly couple
next to me, who obviously knew nothing about American football.
"I put a little wager on them because they're the underdogs and
we're, heh-heh, Down Under."
"We're rooting for the Packers," the elderly woman informed me
in fine Wisconsin English, "because we're from Green Bay."
The crowd was multinational. Two guys from Switzerland favored
the Broncos because one of them had lived in the States and, he
said, "I like John Elway." A contingent from Sydney favored
Green Bay but thought that the "AFL is much tougher than the
NFL." (The AFL? Did these guys think they were about to watch
the Jets against the Colts? The AFL, it turns out, is the
Australian Football League.) The predominant jersey in the
place--I spotted three--was that of the San Francisco 49ers.
The game unfolded on 30 or more television screens around the
circular room. Beer was served. A lot of beer. The plucky
Broncos took their early lead, held strong when the Packers came
back and then scored at the end to win. The elderly woman from
Green Bay said a word that I didn't think she knew. The two guys
from Switzerland exchanged high fives. A cricket match,
Australia versus South Africa, appeared on the 30 or more
screens. The contingent from Sydney stayed.
I collected my money and went onto the streets of Melbourne. The
time was three o'clock in the afternoon--Monday afternoon. The
weather was warm. I stopped to watch a band concert on the way
back to my hotel. The holiday fun had just begun. --LEIGH
NOT KEEPING UP
The committee that decides the field for this week's Pebble
Beach National Pro-Am rejected PGA Tour player Mike Springer's
request to team up with New York Mets pitcher Bobby Jones.
Despite having signed a three-year, $13.35 million contract last
week that will keep him in the Big Apple through the 2000
season, the righthander apparently wasn't high-profile enough to
please the committee.
Since when isn't Bobby Jones a big enough name in amateur golf?
Percentage of NBA All-Star starters who can't legally order
alcohol, now that the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, 19, has
become the youngest starter ever.
Percentage decline in Major League Soccer attendance from 1996
Height, in feet, of the center on the women's basketball team at
Seminole Community College in Sanford, Fla., Estonia-born Jaana
Kotova, who says of her stature, "I so tall, it not really fair."
Times each NBA game ball is "prebounced" at Spalding's Chicopee,
Mass., factory before being shipped to a team.
Asking price, in dollars, for the Farmington, Conn., mansion
owned by Mike Tyson.
20, 6, 4, 1
Bedrooms, "gourmet" kitchens, conference rooms and dance clubs,
respectively, in the 56,000-square-foot Tyson house, according
to the newspaper listing.
DON'T SHOW THEM THE MONEY
When Canadian Football League star DOUG FLUTIE last week signed
an incentive-laden contract with the Buffalo Bills that could be
worth $5 million, he proclaimed, "It is not about money." That
may be true in the case of the 38-year-old Flutie, the former
Heisman Trophy winner from Boston College, but is it always true?
KEVIN GARNETT, Minnesota Timberwolves
You Mean I Actually Get Paid? "It was never a money issue," the
21-year-old forward said. Dollars He Doesn't Care About: Turned
down Wolves' first offer of $103 million over six years;
eventually signed six-year deal worth $126 million.
SERGEI FEDOROV, Detroit Red Wings
You Mean I Actually Get Paid? "It's not about the money," the
1993-94 MVP said. "It's about what I believe in." Dollars He
Doesn't Care About: Spurned five-year, $26 million offer from
Wings; hasn't played this season and may sit it out entirely.
JAY BELL, Arizona Diamondbacks
You Mean I Actually Get Paid? "It's not about the money," said
the 32-year-old shortstop. Dollars He Doesn't Care About: Left
Kansas City Royals for five-year, $34 million pact with
expansion team that will probably finish last in N.L. West.
DARRYL KILE, Colorado Rockies
You Mean I Actually Get Paid? "It was not about money," said
Barry Axelrod, agent for the righthanded starter. Dollars He
Doesn't Care About: Rejected Houston Astros' three-year, $21
million bid to retain him and accepted Rockies' $8
MO VAUGHN, Boston Red Sox
You Mean I Actually Get Paid? "If it was all about money, we
would be a Grand Canyon apart," said Mark Gillam, financial
adviser to the first baseman. Dollars He Doesn't Care About: Has
turned down $25 million, three-year contract extension--he's
asking for $50 million over five seasons.
The U.S. Postal Service has unveiled the first sports stamps
(covering the years 1900 to 1920) in its Celebrate the Century
series. Honorees from later decades will be chosen by a public
Jim Thorpe, hero of the 1912 Olympics.
Red Sox beat Pirates in the first World Series, in 1903.
Manassa Mauler Jack Dempsey ruled in 1919.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Among the gewgaws vying for "sports product of the year" next
week at The Super Show in Atlanta is CounterSTRIKE, a set of
handheld weights for jogging and power-walking that are equipped
with pepper spray, and, according to its inventor, it is "legal
in all states."
THEY SAID IT
New Jersey Nets center, on the distance his friends were from
celebrity row at courtside in Madison Square Garden for a recent
Nets-New York Knicks game, despite his having bought them $300
tickets: "The only way they'll ever see Spike Lee is if I rent
one of his movies."