STOP THE INANITY
A modest proposal to end the lockout and get the NBA back in the
In July, when the NBA lockout began, there were several
unanswered questions. Would players agree to be tested for
marijuana? Would the owners consider raising the minimum for
veterans? Would both sides agree to a modified rookie salary
cap? The answers, it turns out, are yes, yes and yes. When a
deal is finally made, marijuana will be added to the league's
list of banned substances. Owners will pay more to journeyman
veterans, and there could well be two unconditional years added
to the rookie cap. Yet the core dispute over how to treat star
free agents still threatens to wipe out the season.
The owners are determined to implement a hard salary cap by
shooting down the Larry Bird exception, which allows a club to
pay any price to re-sign a free agent who has been with the same
team for three years or more. The players say they will never
accept a hard cap.
It's difficult to weep for the 348 NBA players, whose average
pay last season was $2.6 million. Union president Patrick Ewing
says players are "fighting for their lives." In fact, they're
fighting for their second and third Porsches. These guys are so
out of touch they staged their latest pep rally in Las Vegas
Billy Hunter, the union's executive director, has kept his
membership unified so far, but neither side has yet offered a
viable exit strategy, any scenario that might lead to peace and
at least a partial 1998-99 season. Here is one for Hunter to
Rather than continuing to treat the Bird exception as holy writ,
the players should recognize the exception for what it is: a
humongous bargaining chip. The exception tends to advance the
interests of only a few players, a superrich elite. Hunter
should give it up, and make the owners pay dearly for the
On Oct. 16 management proposed that on free-agent signings for
salaries between $2.6 million and $10 million a luxury tax of
50% be assessed on the amount over $2.6 million. Teams signing
free agents for more than $10 million would be taxed at rates
ranging from 100% to 150% on anything exceeding $10 million.
After two years, if the players' share of league revenue got too
high, a hard cap would take effect. The players have indicated
that they would accept a luxury tax that kicked in at $18
million, a level that now applies only to Ewing and Michael
Clearly, there's room for compromise. Here's a solution: a deal
featuring a labor-friendly luxury tax on all free-agent signings
(a 50% levy on salaries greater than $10 million might work),
and no Bird exception. Even if salaries continue to creep
higher, there would be no hard cap. Both sides could claim
victory--a vital part of any agreement. --Jackie MacMullan
GOLDEN MIKE AWARD
He could have gone for an off-season swim in the green waters of
free agency and scored a few million more. But last Saturday
catcher Mike Piazza accepted the New York Mets' seven-year, $91
million offer, making him the highest paid player in baseball
history--and richer even than his father, Vince, a car salesman
and entrepreneur said to be worth $70 million.
Why New York? "You know where you stand with these people," the
30-year-old Piazza said after signing. He was speaking of the
Shea Stadium regulars, who have been by turns hostile and
grateful to Piazza during his four months as a Met. But he might
also have been speaking of the Mets brass. The deal happened
because Nelson Doubleday, who co-owns the Mets with Fred Wilpon,
wanted it to happen. Doubleday likes Piazza's style and
toughness, his numbers (.333 average, 200 home runs in seven
years) and the way New York fans warmed to him after he emerged
from a midsummer funk.
For his part Piazza sought and received from the Mets the signs
of respect he felt he never got from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers took a chance on Piazza in the 62nd round of the
1988 draft, and some Angelenos believed he owed the club
unending gratitude. But last February he spurned a six-year, $80
million offer from Los Angeles. He wanted a seventh year and a
no-trade clause. The Dodgers, then being sold by the O'Malley
family to Rupert Murdoch and Fox, would not give in, and after
the new owners took over, they shipped Piazza to the Florida
Marlins on May 15. A week later, the Marlins dealt him to New
Last week the Mets gave Piazza the seventh year he craved, plus
a limited no-trade clause. Piazza's contract also calls for a
hotel suite on the road. At home he'll get a luxury box for his
family and friends. Respect.
"I don't regret for a minute not signing with the Dodgers," says
Piazza. "I went through a lot this year and learned a lot. I
like playing in New York. I like the intensity. And the
recognition I received from my teammates--I couldn't believe
it." That was something he never felt in L.A.
Last season Piazza rented an apartment in Manhattan. Now he's
looking to buy a house, maybe on Long Island's so-called Gold
Coast, near Doubleday's estate. "Maybe I'll just rent a room
from him," a giddy Piazza said on Sunday night. "You think they
got a Starbucks out there?"
Maybe he could take Doubleday out for morning coffee. As a sign
of respect, Piazza could even pay. --Michael Bamberger
Battle of the Caddies
LOOPED LOOPERS AT ST. ANDREWS
Recently, a dozen caddies from the Pebble Beach Golf Links flew
to Scotland to duel their St. Andrews counterparts in the
inaugural Caddie Challenge, the bag-toters' Ryder Cup. Everyone
had a staggering time, and the golf wasn't bad, either.
With two scratch players on its roster, the tanned California
team was favored in the matches held on Oct. 21 and 22 at St.
Andrews's Old and Jubilee courses. "Their team is stronger. We
have an 18 handicapper and a 15," said Richard MacKenzie, St.
Andrews's caddie master and the author of A Wee Nip at the 19th
Hole, a history of caddies. "At least that's what we told them."
MacKenzie's men welcomed their foes with a banquet on Oct. 16.
Billed as "a buffet with running refreshment," it became a
refreshment marathon that ran into the wee hours. The eve of the
match found players on a pub crawl. Finally, on the 21st, the
bleary Americans woke to do battle with the Scots and some
serious St. Andrews weather. With howling winds off the North
Sea making rain--and a few putts--go sideways, the Scotsmen won
in a blowout, 13-7. "Their local knowledge was a mystery to us,"
said Pebble Beach's Bob Keenan.
Afterward, MacKenzie hoisted the victors' trophy, a Scottish
drinking bowl called a quaich. He upended two bottles of
single-malt whisky into it, and the quaich made the rounds.
Players from both teams then hit the old town's crooked streets
while MacKenzie and Mike Lehotta, Pebble Beach's caddie master,
stayed behind to plan a rematch.
"This could be the beginning of a great rivalry," MacKenzie says.
"We hope to make a tradition of trashing them on the course and
in the bar."
The Moceanu Case
WHOSE MONEY IS IT, ANYWAY?
Teenage gymnast Dominique Moceanu's nickname is Unique, but her
conflict with her parents is all too familiar. Last week, more
than two years after springing into the limelight at the 1996
Olympics, where she was the youngest member of the
gold-medal-winning U.S. women's team, Moceanu, 17, asked a
district court in Houston to declare her an adult, with full
power to control her own finances.
In her suit Moceanu states that she "has reason to believe that
her father has mismanaged" millions of dollars she earned from
endorsements, exhibition tours and other work, including an
autobiography in which she wrote, "My parents were amazing...
the best." A trust fund established in her name "is, for all
practical purposes, broke," her suit contends. "I never had a
childhood," Moceanu told the Houston Chronicle. "[My parents]
haven't been working since 1996. Where is their income from? Me."
Dumitru Moceanu, a former used-car salesman and restaurateur,
used some of his daughter's earnings--with her consent, he
says--to construct a 70,000-square-foot gym in Houston and to
found Moceanu Gymnastics, Inc., a coaching and promotional
venture. The business is registered in Dominique's name, and
Dumitru says it's solvent.
If anyone is taking advantage of his daughter, he contends, it's
a posse of hangers-on that includes coach Luminita Miscenco,
with whom, as of Monday, Dominique was living in a Houston
apartment. Dumitru recently fired Miscenco and threatened to
contact the INS about having her deported to Romania. Dumitru is
also considering filing "tortious interference of parental
rights" charges against Brian Huggins, a married, 32-year-old
family friend, whom Dominique contacted after she left home on
Oct. 17. Huggins denies having an improper relationship with
Dominique or designs on her money. "Both parents are extremely
upset," says Katherine Scardino, the lawyer for Dominique's
parents. "Their position is that she lacks the maturity to
handle her own affairs."
Wrong, according to Dominique's former agent, Stan Feig. Dumitru
"was going to build an empire off her," says Feig, who
represented Moceanu during the Atlanta Games. "I think Dominique
realized that if she didn't get control of her life, she would
not have a dime left to her name."
Ellen Yarrell, a court-appointed guardian for Dominique, says
Dumitru rejected a compromise whereby Dominique would be
declared an adult but have her assets entrusted to a financial
manager. "My goal is to bring both parties together and work out
a resolution," Yarrell says, "but that will take cooperation.
Right now I can't say that I'm encouraged."
Soccer and Sex
In 1990 an Iraqi man named Sam Hashimi tried to buy the English
soccer club Sheffield United. Hashimi, who had a wife, two kids
and a Saddam Hussein mustache, was introduced as the club's new
owner before financing problems forced him to pull out.
Last week, in meetings with the Sheffield United board, a tall
blonde woman named Samantha Kane proposed a plan to invest in the
club and become CEO.
The connection? Kane and Hashimi are the same person, thanks to
a $70,000 sex-change operation in 1994. If she succeeds in
buying the club, Kane will become--we think--sports' first
DANGER: FALLING MOUNTAINS
Half a mile offshore in Half Moon Bay, near San Francisco, waves
the size of five-story buildings crash with such force that they
register on seismographs at Berkeley. Welcome to Maverick's, the
most notorious big-wave break in the world.
"We're giving Maverick's the event it deserves," says Jeff
Clark, tournament director of Quiksilver's Men Who Ride
Mountains, the first surfing contest to be held at Maverick's.
Starting on Nov. 1 Clark will be on the lookout for the
conditions--a northwesterly swell, no wind--that make surfable
waves 20 to 50 feet high. Such waves can drop tons of water on a
competitor's head and hold the strongest swimmers underwater for
a minute or more. "Maverick's holds you down like you owe it
money," says Clark.
In 1994 Mark Foo, one of the most famous big-wave surfers,
drowned at Maverick's, yet the place still attracts big-wave
riders, a kamikaze brotherhood with little regard for safety.
Unlike stars of the pro tour, who perform in far smaller surf,
big-wave surfers seldom make magazine covers or appear on TV.
All they do is risk their lives for a thrill Clark likens to
"hanging on the edge of a crazy rock."
The waves at Maverick's don't always break bigger than those at
Oahu's Waimea Bay, Maui's Jaws or Mexico's Todos Santos, but
they're nastier. The water temperature falls to a bone-chilling
50[degrees]. The rocks in a spot called the boneyard can snag a
surfer's ankle leash and hold him under. Other perils include
"sharks, lots of them," says Maverick's vet Mark Renneker. What
kind of sharks? "Right from central casting--that kind."
Clark insists his event will be as safe as a big-wave contest
can be. When conditions are right he'll put out the word by
phone, fax and Web site. Sixteen of the world's best big-wave
surfers will have 24 hours to get to Half Moon Bay, where
they'll try to survive and earn enough style points to win the
$10,000 first prize. "This isn't about Maverick's as a huge
wave," Clark says. "It's about Maverick's as a performance wave."
Cybersurfers can catch the action live on www.mavsurfer.com.
A Halloween Gas
Halloween, the eve of Sunday's Marlboro 500, will feature some
high-octane trick-or-treating at the California Speedway. Fans
under 12 can take a spooky stroll through the VIP area, where
drivers including Mark Blundell, Dario Franchitti, Paul Tracy
and Al Unser Jr. will be lurking in costume. Whatever getup
Tracy--known in CART circles as Captain Crunch for his
wheel-banging recklessness--dons, it won't be half as scary to
kids as the sight of Tracy in a helmet and driving gloves is to
--That Reds fans bid a fond, final farewell to Marge Schott and
the Saint Bernard she rode in on.
--That the Falcons' Chris Chandler returns before Steve DeBerg
takes any more denture-rattling hits.
--That the silver medals of Olympians who lost to drug-enhanced
East Germans be instantly turned into gold.
Police-escorted stretch limousines used to transport the guest
of honor and his entourage during last week's Don King Day in
Strokes taken by Casey Martin in the season-ending Nike Tour
Championship--his worst 72-hole score of the year by 25 shots.
Percentage of likely voters who support former pro wrestler
Jesse (the Body) Ventura in his race for governor of Minnesota.
Points scored in the fourth quarter by Brown and Penn in Brown's
58-51 overtime win, which set an Ivy League record for points in
Points scored in 1998 by Vikings kicker Gary Anderson, who is 15
for 15 on field goals and 28 for 28 on PATs.
Double faults by Anna Kournikova in her last two matches, losses
to Dominique Van Roost and Silvia Farina.
Hot dogs pledged by Hebrew National to San Diego food banks for
every Padres home run hit at Qualcomm Stadium during the World
Padres home runs hit at Qualcomm during the Series.
DO IT YOURSELF
Once in his life, every guy should drive a 10,000-pound,
1,500-horsepower truck over a few innocent automobiles. The
crush rush is normally reserved for pro gearheads, but for $499,
monster-truck racer Denny Maerkisch of Terminator III Racing in
Norwalk, Ohio, will give you a private lesson at his muddy arena
near Cleveland. After a skull session, you'll don a flameproof
jumpsuit and hoist yourself into Terminator III (below), a
15-foot-high Ford with a supercharged 500-cubic-inch engine that
can be heard three miles away. Then it's off to the races,
climaxed by a steel-smashing, windshield-shattering assault on a
row of junk cars. How's it feel? "Heavy," says Maerkisch.
A record 125 wins is one thing, but the number George
Steinbrenner is eyeing after his Yankees' dream season is really
big: one billion, as in dollars. The Boss is rumored to be ready
to unload the team he has owned since 1973, and in the
post-World Series glow, he'd benefit from a seller's market.
Here's how the Yanks' price has fluctuated each time they've
been sold in this century (value in 1998 dollars in parentheses).
($6.9M) Colonels Ruppert and Huston buy from original owners
($22.6M) Ruppert's estate sells to trio of owners
($59.8M) CBS eyes, buys the Bombers
($26.8M) Big Stein gets a bargain from CBS
Spring 1998 650M
Cablevision mogul Dolan reportedly offers $650M
Fall 1998 900M
Series champs' price said to jump as high as $900M
The Jordan Watch
Attends players' meetings in Vegas, says, "My mind is open to
next year. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't get involved. It
doesn't matter if I play or not." Stay tuned....
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The Earth Liberation Front claimed to have set fires that burned
down three buildings and caused $12 million in damage in Vail,
Colo., to protest new ski slopes that might imperil a lynx
EVERY NFL team has its own site, but the standard fare at these
on-line tailgates--stats, injury reports, feel-good features--is
as predictable as a winning quarterback taking a knee late in
the game. Some cyberteams throw a little razzle-dazzle into
their game plans, though. Here are some of the more interesting
and offbeat links to be found.
Don't want to be seen at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium these days? You
can wallow in the winless Redskins' misery at home by visiting
their Gametime link (above) on Sundays, where, thanks to
laptop-toting techies wandering in the stands, you can watch
live footage of the scene and commiserate with fans on the inside.
It's hard for Texas Stadium fans to watch the game when their
binoculars are trained on the Cowboys' cheerleaders. Luckily,
the 'Boys devote almost as much cyberspace to the squad as they
do the team. Log on for bios, off-field appearances and, most
important, up-close photos.
Rabid Browns backers impatiently awaiting the team's debut in
1999 can call up Cleveland's Construction Cam to monitor
progress on their soon-to-be-finished stadium; the images are
updated every minute, every day.
sites we'd like to see
On-line therapy group for disconsolate Padres fans.
Dominique Moceanu's tips for rebellious teens.
Couch's national career record for passing yardage could mean to
his town: "A place like Nitro isn't going to get a lot of
national exposure unless there's a chemical leak or something."