The demolition of the NBA champions may be a sign of things to
Michael has left the building. So have Scottie, Dennis, Phil,
Steve, Luc and anyone else who has gotten a whiff of the near
future in Chicago's United Center.
There'll be no four-peat--Jordan's retirement sealed that.
Instead, this year's gelded Bulls ought to four-feit. NBC will
feature Air Kukoc on its national game of the week zero times
while the Lakers will appear 11 times, the league limit. When
the champs open their title defense next week at Utah, not even
TNT will televise the game. "We don't look at it as a rematch of
the NBA Finals because of the complete overhaul of the Bulls,"
says a TNT spokesman.
Championship teams used to let their fans down more easily. Now
we get the spectacle of a great club nuking itself before last
season's champagne has gone flat. The Florida Marlins started
the process: Owner Wayne Huizenga gutted the 1997 World Series
winners, slashing the team's payroll from $52 million to $13
million and selling the club. Florida fans had barely stopped
waving foam forefingers--We're No. 1!--when they had to switch
digits to salute last year's 54-108 Marlins.
While no one should equate the Chicago dynasty with Florida's
one-hit wonders, both fire sales are due to the same forces. One
is economic. Huizenga, having spent so much to win and--he
claims--still drowning in red ink, slammed his wallet shut.
(Last week the under-new-management Marlins re-signed young
slugger Cliff Floyd to a four-year, $19 million contract, with
an eye toward contending again in 2001 or '02.) Bulls owner
Jerry Reinsdorf, who had no desire to bleed slowly through a
long post-Jordan decline, has done the same. Reinsdorf opted for
what may become the new paradigm: stink for a few years and save
up for another all-out run at the top. With the cost certainty
provided by the NBA's new labor deal, he and general manager
Jerry Krause can clear salary-cap space for future free agents
and plot a resurgence that might begin as early as next season.
Another reason for championship seppuku is the all-or-nothing
attitude that pervades modern sports. Bulls management is like
Jordan: It figures anything less than total victory is tantamount
to failure. Today's win-at-all-costs sportsmen would rather win
once, stink for 10 years and win again than contend honorably, if
ringlessly, year after year. Such a binge-purge approach makes
for wild mood swings among fans.
Still, given the current costs of winning--clashing egos,
burned-out coaches, rising salaries all around--the trend toward
the instant self-nuking of title teams will probably accelerate.
That's why there's no time to lose. Break up the Broncos today.
Bears Coaching Debacle
MORON OF THE MIDWAY
According to Chicago legend, Bears founder and longtime coach
George Halas was on his deathbed in 1983 when someone asked who
should succeed him atop his beloved franchise. "Anyone but
Michael," Halas supposedly said, referring to his bookish
grandson, former Harvard Business School professor Mike McCaskey.
Roll over, Papa Bear. Last weekend McCaskey, the club president,
bungled as no NFL executive has bungled in recent memory. On
Friday he announced the hiring of Arizona Cardinals defensive
coordinator Dave McGinnis--even before negotiating a contract
with him. Suddenly distrustful, McGinnis decided to stay with
the Cardinals, and McCaskey had to settle for Jacksonville
defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.
The screwup was crushing to McGinnis, who was the Bears'
linebackers coach under Mike Ditka in the 1980s and whose dream
was to patrol the sideline at Soldier Field. Speaking through a
crackling cell phone while he drove home from the Phoenix
airport on Saturday night, he couldn't hide the hurt. "My
feeling is sadness," he said. "Overwhelming sadness."
Bears insiders tried to spin McGinnis's turnaround as a case of
cold feet. Ridiculous. McCaskey clearly tried to capitalize on
McGinnis's eagerness for the job by putting out a press release
announcing the hiring before a contract was signed. When a leery
McGinnis entered talks with the Bears after McCaskey jumped the
gun, he was offered a head coaching contract unlike any other in
the league: a four-year deal in which only the first two years
were guaranteed. Only a fool would accept such terms from a team
that has gone 8-24 in the past two years and desperately needs
rebuilding. In this case, McCaskey was the fool. By Saturday,
when he tendered a realistic offer--four years, $4
million--McGinnis knew he couldn't trust the Bears' president.
Next year McGinnis should rank high on the list of any team
that's searching for a coach with guts and principles. In the
NFL, anyone who tells the Man to take a job and shove it earns
respect. --Peter King
SOUTH PARK SNEAK ATTACK
Many computer games include so-called Easter eggs, which give
players access to special game levels or graphics. Last week
video gamers found a rotten egg in the popular Tiger Woods '99
PGA Tour. Electronic Arts, the game's maker, recalled 100,000
copies infected with an obscenity-laced South Park cartoon.
The raunchy five-minute cartoon can't be played on Sony's
PlayStation console, but some youngsters in Florida put the game
disc in a computer's CD-ROM drive and opened a normally
inaccessible file, launching The Spirit of Christmas, the South
Park short in which Jesus and Santa Claus engage in a fistfight
while Cartman, Kyle and the rest of the gang cheer them on.
Electronic Arts calls the snafu an accident.
GAMBLER WITH A MIDAS TOUCH
For a man who once lost his house pitching nickels, Bill Walters
has made a good dollar. Walters, 52, a former cardplayer,
pool-hall hustler and car salesman from Louisville, moved west
17 years ago to Las Vegas. Though he took home $300,000 for
winning the 1986 Super Bowl of Poker, he made his fortune in
computers. Walters is a very Vegas version of a software
In the early and mid-1980s he and 16 confederates, the Computer
Group, developed software that beat Nevada sports books at their
own game. By weighing myriad factors mathematically, Walters
says, "we found favorable bets." If Indiana, say, was a
four-point favorite against Purdue, but the Computer Group
program said the Hoosiers were seven points better, Walters and
dozens of beards--surrogate bettors--would make simultaneous
wagers. That way they could "move the money without moving the
line," as big-time bettors say.
During the fall of 1983 and the winter of '84, the Computer Group
earned a profit of $4.8 million on wagers of a little less than
$42 million. Walters made millions more by placing side bets of
his own. (Prosecutors charged the group with gambling conspiracy
in '84 and with money laundering last year. The first case ended
with blanket acquittals. The second was dismissed.)
Today the man who once gambled away a house (his creditor let
him off the hook that time) develops land, malls and country
clubs. His latest project is a links-style golf course that
opened last month. "American golfers don't know what they're
missing," he says, "so we've re-created the old Rembrandts." The
Royal Links, 18 near-perfect replicas of famed holes in Britain,
cost $32 million to build, more than double the average for a
resort course. Except for its cart paths and the weird sight of
the Vegas Strip in the distance, it is remarkably accurate:
heather and gorse--or similar species better suited to the
desert--red phone booths, a small castle for a clubhouse. The
low wall at the 10th hole, architect Perry Dye's version of the
Road Hole at St. Andrews, was treated with acid to make it look
centuries old. The wall alone cost $200,000.
"I've been fortunate, had some successes," says Walters, a one
handicapper whose net worth is about $80 million. "This was a
chance to do something exactly right." He still bets hundreds of
thousands on football while splitting time between business and
civic duties. "I don't play hunches," says Walters, who is
betting millions that the Royal Links can turn a profit on its
greens fees of $195 to $225. That's petty cash in Vegas, where
the 1997 Nevada Philanthropist of the Year is as much a pillar
of his community as the Corinthian columns at Caesars Palace.
Williams Sisters' Newsletter
LOVE NOTES FROM VENUS
Athletes who hate being misquoted can take a tip from the
tennis-playing Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. Since
December they've been publishing The Tennis Monthly Recap using
their laptop computers. Five hundred copies of the January
issue, a four-page newsletter, turned up in the players' lounge
at the Australian Open. "So much publicity is negative," said
fifth-seeded Venus, 18, who was to face top seed Lindsay
Davenport in Tuesday's quarterfinals. "Our newsletter is nice."
Venus's January tribute to Steffi Graf, in which she calls Graf
"a woman of will, strength, grace, heart and class," is nicer
than 17-year-old Serena's critique of Jan-Michael Gambill and
Justin Gimelstob. Serena praises both as future stars but writes
that the 21-year-old Gambill's "speed, agility and...shot
selection need some improvement," while Gimelstob, 22, "has yet
to show some real consistency."
Readers looking for a betting angle in the free Monthly Recap
got exactly their money's worth in Melbourne. In her Australian
Open preview Venus called Serena "the most dangerous unseeded
player to ever compete in any draw." But France's Sandrine
Testud skirted the danger, beating Serena in the third round.
Katrina Price, 1975-1999
TRAGEDY IN TEXAS
At 7:20 a.m. on Jan. 18, personal trainer Josh Belson was
picking up the phone to call his friend Katrina Price, who was
late for her scheduled workout. Belson was wondering how many
push-ups Price's tardiness would cost her when a coworker told
him, "Katrina's not going to make it in today." About 20 minutes
earlier Price had been found in her apartment, dead at 23 of an
apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Price graduated from Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, Texas,
last year as the Ladyjacks' alltime leading scorer, with 2,278
points. A two-time Southland Conference Player of the Year and a
1997-98 Academic All-America, she joined the Philadelphia Rage
of the ABL only to return to Nacogdoches last month when the
league folded. Price talked about becoming a coach but was
staying in shape to try out for the WNBA in April. "If you gave
me the names of 25 kids, Katrina would be the last one I'd
expect to do something like this," says Royce Chadwick, her
The night before her death Price talked on the phone with Belson
for more than an hour. She was worried about the fierce
competition for WNBA jobs after the ABL's demise. "Her chances
of playing out her dream were possibly coming to an end, and she
wasn't ready to quit basketball," says Belson. Yet he says Price
did not sound distraught, which made the next day's news all the
more shocking. "She was everyone's best friend. Everybody went
to her for advice," Belson says. "It's hard for someone like
that to turn to someone else for help."
On Feb. 6 the population of Haugan, Mont., will quintuple when
600 snowmobilers from across North America arrive for the 11th
annual Super Poker Ride. Starting from the only bar in town,
riders will ante up $5 a hand and rumble 50 miles through the
woods of Mineral County, stopping to draw a card from a bucket
every 10 to 15 miles until everyone has a complete five-card
hand. That evening, back in town, those with the best dozen or
so hands will split a pot of about $6,000.
Festivities will start on the eve of the race, when riders
guzzle champagne, build a bonfire and sacrifice an effigy of
their snow goddess, Elibomwon (snowmobile spelled backward, sort
of). After that the Super Poker Riders need fear no evil except
the one cited by Haugan bartender Kristie Smith: "drinking too
much on the trail."
Manning vs. Martin
Last winter Knoxville gave a short stretch of road near the
University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium a new name: Peyton
Manning Pass. Now some members of the city's African-American
community say Vols quarterback Tee Martin deserves at least as
much pavement as Peyton. After all, Martin won a national
championship and beat Florida--two things Manning never
Martin, however, has thrown a roadblock in front of his fans.
"If anything, a street should be named National Championship
Boulevard," he said last week. Martin's modesty won him still
more fans in Knoxville and gave city hall a new chore: scouting
for some extra-long street signs.
--That the Super Bowl doesn't come down to a blown call.
--That Latrell Sprewell and New York fit together like hand and
--That this Olympic scandal would end so we can all get back to
concentrating on luge season.
Potato chips consumed by TV viewers watching last year's Super
Holes of golf played during last week's Bob Hope Chrysler
Classic by Pete Sampras, who skipped the Australian Open because
Double faults by Anna Kournikova in the Australian Open, where
she won three matches before succumbing to Mary Pierce--and
perhaps to arm fatigue--in the fourth round.
Value of a trove of stolen golf gear recovered from a Tampa man's
car after police arrested him for shoplifting a Big Bertha driver
from a golf shop.
MAC men's championships in golf, soccer, tennis and wrestling won
by Miami of Ohio, whose president recommends dropping all four
sports to bring the school into compliance with Title IX.
Amount the SuperSonics spent to refurbish their team jet, a
Boeing 727-200 that now features 14 leather easy chairs, 10 TVs
and three VCRs and is, according to a Sonics exec, "the best
plane in the league."
Look Who's Stalking
Sometimes you just want to disappear. Here's how: with a Ghillie
suit from Custom Concealment Inc. of Zanesville, Ohio.
Designed for everything from bow hunting and bird-watching to
law enforcement and military special ops, Custom Concealment's
polyester, nylon and burlap Ghillies are made to blend into any
background: forest (left), desert scrub, grassland, snow and
even city streets. Options include pockets for canteens or
communications equipment, rifle and camera covers and Ghillie
Becoming one with the environment ain't cheap--from $220 for a
Special Operations Poncho to $775 for a Full Military
Ghillie--but whether he's ducking from a duck or just hiding his
hide, the stylish stalker wouldn't be unseen in anything else.
Sad that you won't see the Vikings' Randall Cunningham airing it
out to Randy Moss and Cris Carter in the Super Bowl? Don't
despair--Chris Chandler, Tony Martin, Terance Mathis and the
rest of the guys in the Falcons' passing game combined for
bigger gains, on average, than Minnesota racked up this year.
Atlanta's aerial attack ranked fourth in total yardage during
the regular season. The Falcons didn't throw as often or for as
many yards as the Vikings or even the Broncos, but they gained
the most yards per catch in the league and tied for second-best
in the percentage of catches that went for touchdowns. Here are
the five teams that made their receptions count the most.
TEAM YARDS PER CATCH TD PERCENTAGE (RANK)
Falcons 15.8 11.8 (T2nd)
Vikings 13.7 12.5 (1st)
Patriots 13.6 7.8 (13th)
Bills 13.5 10.4 (T5th)
Broncos 13.1 11.0 (4th)
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Two birds were expelled from last week's Swedish national pigeon
racing championships after they tested positive for cortisone, a
They Said It
Flyers coach, on allowing his players to spend a four-day break
in New Orleans: "I was a little worried about the drinking, but
they assured me they would be drinking anywhere they went."