THE BAD AND THE UGLY
There's more than lockout rust messing up today's NBA
The NBA asked us to bear with it, but we can bear no more. Our
patience, unlike Oliver Miller, has grown thin. We were prepared
for a few weeks of inartistic play to start this
lockout-shortened season, but almost two months have passed and
fans are still being subjected to ham-handed hoops. If pro
basketball is a form of dance, then this season, with precious
few exceptions, has been Swan Lake as interpreted by Moe, Larry
The Jazz have a 56-point abomination on their record, the
Nuggets put up 61 last Saturday, the Bulls and Knicks have
traded 63-point performances (remember a certain Bull who could
score 63 all by himself?), and the 76ers had 67 and 69 in
consecutive games. This is soporific stuff, and excuses that
once seemed to hold water are beginning to spring leaks. The
players were supposed to be rusty and out of shape, and goodness
knows they haven't disappointed us in that regard. But lack of
conditioning should affect defense as well as offense, so that
can't be the reason 100-point games now occur about as often as
Hillary and Monica exchange recipes.
Conventional wisdom has it that the compressed schedule--50
games in 90 days--is hurting the quality of play. For sheer
absurdity, this notion rivals anything Patrick Ewing said during
the lockout. Players ride chartered planes, stay in swank hotels
and have trainers to massage every muscle individually, if
necessary. Under such conditions, three games in three nights
isn't exactly a week on the graveyard shift. Besides, most NBA
players grew up playing pickup games from morning until
midnight, seven days a week. Suddenly three straight games is
the Bataan death march?
True, the crammed schedule gives teams less time to practice,
which is especially damaging because so many clubs are working
new players into their systems. But the real reasons for the
NBA's inferior product have little to do with the circumstances
of this season. The simple truth is that offenses have devolved
into all-too-predictable searches for the dunk or the
three-pointer, that the consistent outside shooter is going the
way of the manual typewriter and that referees have allowed the
rough, brutish defense once seen only in the playoffs to seep
into the regular season.
These flaws can't be blamed on the 1999 season, so you can stop
waiting for the NBA to show you the best it has to offer. You're
already looking at it.
Death of a Flawed Rule
THE NCAA LOSES ITS PROPS
Few rules in sports history have triggered more fiery debate
than the NCAA legislation that was born in 1983 as Proposition
48 and was struck down last week as an example of racial bias.
Designed to raise graduation rates among college athletes, Prop
48 and its '92 successor, Proposition 16, required incoming
freshmen to meet academic standards--including minimum scores on
the SAT or the ACT--to play sports their first year.
The rule's demands became part of college sports shorthand.
Athletes who failed to meet the minimums were called Prop 48s.
Recruits were divided into those who "had the score" of 700 on
the SAT and those who fell short. The stakes got higher when
Prop 16 lifted the bar by imposing a sliding scale requiring
recruits with a 2.5 grade point average in high school core
courses to score at least 820 on the SAT and those with a 2.0 to
score at least 1010.
Critics said the requirements discriminated against minority
students, and on March 8 judge Ronald Buckwalter of the U.S.
district court in Philadelphia agreed. In a case brought by the
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice on behalf of two athletes ruled
ineligible under Prop 16, Buckwalter wrote that the NCAA's use
of the SAT and ACT had an "unjustified" impact on black
students. In the opinion Buckwalter cited evidence showing that
21.4% of black students who applied for Division I eligibility
in 1997 failed to meet Prop 16 standards, compared to 4.2% of
"Prop 48 should never have taken place--never," Temple
basketball coach John Chaney said after last week's decision.
Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, a longtime foe of Props 48 and
16, began his news conference at the West Regional in Denver by
crowing, "I'm a happy man."
Yet celebrations of the rules' demise may be premature. Unless
the NCAA comes up with an alternative that the court accepts,
the power to determine who plays and who doesn't will revert to
the universities. That's bad news, given the depths to which
some schools sink when wins and losses are at stake.
A stark reminder of how tawdry institutional abuse can get came
last week when a former clerk in the University of Minnesota's
academic-counseling unit claimed that she had done schoolwork
for 20 current and former Gophers basketball players. "Without a
rule [like Prop 16], some institutions will exploit kids," says
Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, an
advocacy group that opposes the use of standardized tests in
Props 48 and 16 weren't all bad. "They pushed marginal athletes
to work harder in the classroom," says Lee Boyko, basketball
coach at Rich Central, a predominantly black high school in
suburban Chicago. The late Arthur Ashe also supported high
standards for athletes. "Black educators were incensed," Ashe
said of Prop 48's minimums. "I was incensed that they were
incensed. They should have complained that the number wasn't
Props 48 and 16 may have been misguided, but their goal was
admirable. "There have to be certain standards if this is going
to be college athletics," says Indiana basketball coach Bob
Knight. "Not everybody can go to college."
What's next? As a first step, the NCAA should end freshman
eligibility. If first-year students were prohibited from
playing, as they were from 1939 to '72, the Prop 16 dispute
would disappear. Even Arkansas' Richardson favors making
freshmen ineligible to give them time to hit the books.
Razorbacks forward Dionisio Gomez, who's sitting out his
freshman year as a nonqualifier, agrees. "Looking back," says
Gomez, "it's been a good year for me to practice, learn defense,
train hard in the weight room and get ahead in academics." After
failing to measure up academically a year ago, he now has a 3.11
Keeping freshmen from competing might help restore the balance
between academics and sports. The alternative is anarchy.
Nervous in NASCAR
Don't get hurt or you might get fired--that's the message in an
obscure clause in most NASCAR contracts, and it prompts some
drivers to return to the track before they're fully recovered
from smashups. The clause says an owner can fire a driver who
misses as few as four consecutive races for any reason, and
while it's seldom enforced, some drivers race hurt for fear of
losing their rides.
Last year Derrike Cope and Mike Skinner felt compelled to get
behind the wheel while recovering from serious injuries--broken
ribs for Cope, a fractured shoulder and torn knee ligaments for
Skinner. "I would have been in danger of termination if I'd
stayed out four weeks, which was how long I needed to stay out,"
says Cope. He crashed in the Primestar 500 at Atlanta last March
and again four weeks later in the Texas 500, sat out one race
and then got back in his car for the DieHard 500 at Talladega.
"I couldn't breathe or take a step without excruciating pain,"
After busting himself up at the same two races that sidelined
Cope, Skinner missed three events. "I got back in the car way
too quick," he says. "Of course I was worried about my job. [Car
owner] Richard Childress was telling me he wasn't going to
exercise the clause, but let's face it--after a while, he'd have
to." Says Childress, "Just about every driver has something like
that in his contract, but the owner has to use discretion. If a
guy is hurt in my car, he's got a job when he comes back."
Owners say the clauses protect them in case of substance abuse
or other misbehavior by drivers. Bahari Racing boss Chuck Rider,
who owns Cope's car, insists he would never have dumped Cope
because of his injuries. Nevertheless, the injury clause remains
in Cope's contract.
Trouble in Paradise
HONO-LULU OF A FOOTBALL MESS
Fred vonAppen's stormy stint as football coach at Hawaii wasn't
what the Rainbow Warriors expected when they signed the former
Colorado defensive line coach in December 1995. The next fall
vonAppen blew off a dinner for boosters hosted by Hawaii
governor Ben Cayetano. In '97 he compared his job to riding a
mule at the Kentucky Derby. After refusing to speak at a lunch
he attended that year for the Rainbows' principal TV sponsor,
vonAppen spurred his charges to a 3-9 season. He followed that
with an 0-12 record in '98 to run his three-year mark to 5-31.
Hawaii fired vonAppen after the '98 season and reassigned him
to Honolulu Community College, which has no athletic program.
Last week vonAppen went looking for a pot of gold at the end of
his reign--he sued Hawaii for $400,000 in salary plus other
damages, charging that he was humiliated by the way the school's
board of regents handled his dismissal.
Red Sox Sawbones
DUCKING THE DOC
After spending two of the last three seasons on the Boston Red
Sox' disabled list, Mariners lefty Butch Henry feels lucky to
have escaped the Hub intact. "There's a reason a lot of players
have a clause in their contracts specifying no trades to
Boston," Henry told The Seattle Times last week. "The Sox are
notorious for having differences of opinions with injured
Henry believes Boston team physician Arthur Pappas, an
orthopedist who owns a small part of the Red Sox, misdiagnosed a
knee injury Henry suffered last spring. Henry says Pappas told
him he had a partial ACL tear but could still pitch. Two wobbly
starts later, Henry sought the opinion of knee specialist
Richard Steadman. "He told me I had a 90 percent tear...and was
risking my career if I pitched," said Henry, who opted for
Pappas, the Red Sox' team doctor since the '70s, did not respond
to SI's calls. He has disputed Henry's account, saying he gave
the pitcher the option of having surgery. But Henry isn't the
first player to point a finger at Pappas. In '95 former Sox
second baseman Marty Barrett won a $1.7 million judgment against
Pappas. Barrett alleged that Pappas failed to disclose the
extent of a torn ACL, hastening the end of Barrett's career (SI,
Nov. 6, 1995). Last year Boston DH Reggie Jefferson and
infielder Lou Merloni suffered injuries that other doctors
diagnosed as more dire than Pappas had. Jefferson was told he
had a lower back strain. In fact it was a stress fracture, and
he missed the rest of the season. Merloni hurt his left knee
last May, then played for more than a month on what Pappas
called a bone bruise, only to find out in August that he too had
a stress fracture.
Pappas's apparent errors are magnified by the conflict inherent
in his dual role as doctor and owner. He seems unfazed by such
criticism. Earlier this month he told the Providence
Journal-Bulletin that the conflict charge "doesn't bother me. I
render my honest medical opinion and that's it."
Secret Cuba Visit
SLIDING UNDER THE RADAR
On March 28, Cubans will watch a major league team play in their
country for the first time in 40 years, but the Orioles won't be
the first U.S. team to play ball on Cuban soil this year. That
honor goes to the Maidstoners, an East Hampton, N.Y., bar league
softball team that sneaked onto the island earlier this month,
violating a U.S. ban on trade with Cuba.
It started as a joke. One night a softballer in Peter
Honerkamp's Talkhouse bar said he wished the Maidstoners could
play winter ball in Cuba. While the Orioles, the State
Department and the Castro government were mired in red tape,
Honerkamp twice flew to Cuba by way of Jamaica to meet with the
players, managers and sponsors of four Havana softball teams.
After a blowout fund-raiser at the Talkhouse, 33 beer leaguers
flew to Cuba, where los gringos went 1-4 against barrio and
company teams and raised cervezas and eyebrows at Havana's Hotel
Ambos Mundos, an old Ernest Hemingway haunt.
"The Cuban police were all over the hotel, eyeing us up and
down," says Honerkamp. "It must have been bizarre seeing 33
Americans walking down the street with softball bats." Before
the first game the teams sang The Star-Spangled Banner and Himno
de Bayamo, the Cuban national anthem. After the game the
Maidstoners unfurled a 5-by-20-foot banner that read, in English
and Spanish, THE FORTY-YEAR RAIN DELAY IS OVER.
HE FEELS MARVELOUS
When we last heard from Marvin Hagler, in 1990, the former
undisputed middleweight champ had launched an action-movie
career in Italy. Today Meraviglioso Marvin is bustin' teste on
screen while many of his boxing contemporaries chase one last
dollop of glory in the ring. Twelve years removed from his last
fight, Hagler lives in Milan and stars in the occasional
low-budget shoot-'em-up. With four prominent roles under his
belt, he's a major meatball in the spaghetti-action genre. In
his favorite vehicle, Indio 2: The Revolt, he punches his fist
all the way through a villain's midsection. In Virtual Weapon,
he uses maracas to beat some sense into a couple of thugs.
"Sometimes directors ask me how I want to hurt the dude," says
Hagler, who turns 45 in May. "I'm always thinking of ways besides
just shooting him." While he waits for another script, Hagler
takes lessons at Berlitz. His Italian is "only coso coso," he
says, but his second career is more dolce than the sweet science:
"Doing a good scene is just as exciting and rewarding as winning
a fight, and your body feels better afterward."
SONGS FOR A PADRE'S PADRE
If there were a Grammy for most inspiring album, San Diego
Padres third base coach Tim Flannery might have won it for his
latest CD, Pieces of the Past. Flannery, a singer and guitarist,
recorded a collection of Celtic bluegrass tunes he wrote for his
father, Ragon, 74, who has Alzheimer's disease. As Ragon
gradually loses touch with the outside world, his son's music is
often the only thing that can reach him. "Some days he can't
remember anything or anyone. Then you play one of the songs, and
he starts reciting the lyrics," says Tim, who was backed up by
Jackson Browne and Bruce Hornsby on the CD. "It shows how
powerful music is--it's healing our whole family."
Last summer, on a trip with his three kids to see Ragon's old
homestead in Owsley County, Ky., Tim stuck a lump of coal in his
pocket. When he returned to San Diego, he handed the black
nugget to Ragon, a former minister in that coal-mining region.
Ragon's eyes filled with recognition, and he began rattling off
memories of his Kentucky childhood. Tim, a Padres infielder from
1979 to '89 who has two other albums to his credit, released
Pieces of the Past in January. It's available through his Web
"The music is my father's and my way of connecting," Tim says.
The track Immigrant Eyes, which recalls the perilous
transatlantic crossings Irish immigrants endured en route to
Ellis Island, connected with country star Garth Brooks, who's
working out with the Padres in spring training. "You made me
cry," Brooks told Flannery after hearing the song. Browne had
the same reaction to an early version of the title track. "To
write a song as good as the one Tim wrote about his dad," says
Browne, whose late father also suffered from Alzheimer's,
"that's kind of what everybody's in music for."
--That Don King will pay for seeing-eye judges for
--That the fashion folks at FCUK never try to spell Szczerbiak.
--That we'd had Gonzaga in the office pool.
PGA Tour-leading average driving yardage of John Daly, who leads
runner-up Tiger Woods by 16 yards but has no top 10 finishes and
ranks 73rd on the money list.
Gallons of Sparkletts water provided to quench the thirsts of
runners in the Los Angeles marathon.
Size in square inches of the sweet spot on a baseball bat,
according to research by Australian physicist Rodney Cross.
Years since Navy played Maryland in football, a rift that began
when a Terrapins linebacker gave the Midshipmen the finger in
the 1964 game.
Dozens of new Titleists shipped to the driving range at each
week's PGA Tour event.
Tickets to the 2000 Sydney Olympics that went on sale on Monday
in the U.S.
Top price for seats at the opening and closing ceremonies in
Winning streak of the Harlem Globetrotters, who won their
20,000th game last week to run their alltime record to 20,000-332.
do it yourself
Be the Boss
Could you get your hands on $46,000? If so, you can round up a
dozen affluent friends and buy a minor league team. The low-end
price in the rookie league is about $600,000, says Bob Richmond,
a Scottsdale, Ariz., lawyer who in 1981 founded Baseball
Opportunities, a brokerage firm for minor league clubs. Richmond
has set up nearly 100 proto-Steinbrenners, including Mark and
Bob Sperandio, a Rochester, N.Y., father-son duo who bought the
Everett (Wash.) AquaSox this year.
For farm clubs the big league parent team pays player salaries
but the minor league owner pays for almost everything else, even
some of the bats and balls. "It's not a business to get rich
in," says Richmond, "but it's fun." As a low-minors owner you'll
sell hot dogs, not sign them for millions, but you can park
anywhere you want.
GAZE AT THE END OF THE BENCH
Picture Michael Jordan riding pine in some superleague. That's
the plight of Andrew Gaze. A hero in his native Australia, where
he has led the National Basketball League in scoring 11 times
and been MVP seven times since '91, Gaze is best known in the
U.S. as the gunner who carried Seton Hall to the 1989 NCAA
finals. Now he sits on the Spurs' bench.
Gaze was cut by the SuperSonics before the '89 season, and he
played seven games with the Washington Bullets in '94. So why
leave glory Down Under for another chance to play a few minutes
a week in the NBA? "I'd have wondered forever about my ability
to mix it with the world's best if I'd said no," he says. "Even
so, I'm nervous."
As of Monday the 6'6" guard was averaging 3.5 minutes and 1.3
points. "There are times when I feel grossly inadequate," says
Gaze, 33. At other times he feels pampered: "I was most amazed
to realize that nobody tapes his own ankles here."
Rating the Rookies
Hope springs eternal in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues, but
only a few prospects have much chance to be Rookie of the Year.
Here are a couple of hotshots and a longshot.
J.D. Drew Eric Chavez Garth Brooks
Cardinals A's third Padres
outfielder baseman mascot
Bats/Throws L-R L-R R-EZ
Scouting Power and Robin Ventura- John Kruk body,
report speed of type bat Wynonna Judd
Barry Bonds bat speed
Pluses Total package Gap power Work ethic
Minuses Stigma of No Ventura Fields grounders
contract with the glove like he's ropin'
holdout the wind
Needs Experience To lay off Tim McGraw's genes
Highlight Hit .417 with Had 126 RBIs Hit three BP
five homers as 1998 minor homers--one off '84
in brief league player Cy Young winner
call-up of the year Rick Sutcliffe
Lowlight Whiffed in Whiffed in Went 0 for 5
first big first big in spring games;
league league fielded a liner
at bat at bat with rib cage
Trivia Devout Baptist Best whiskers Met wife while
corner may be majors' in the league breaking up bar
only virgin fight in
Odds 2 to 1 5 to 1 1,000,000,000 to 1
Future National American League National anthem
League MVP All-Star
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The babycenter.com Web site offers a Sports Conflict Catcher to
help prospective parents plan pregnancies so childbirth won't
conflict with major sports events.
Tearing yourself away from the television during tournament time
can be tough, but everyone needs a breather. So exercise your
mouse-clicking muscles and log on to these sites to stay on the
road to the Final Four.
The official NCAA men's and women's site has brackets,
up-to-the-minute scores, TV schedules, a tournament history and
an on-line souvenir shop. You can also subscribe to Final Four
Flash to have daily news, video clips and analysis slam-dunked
into your E-mail in box.
The College Hoops Insider columnists dish out tournament info;
the Insider also posts audio interviews with coaches and, in
conjunction with Broadcast.com, live audio play-by-play from
every NCAA game.
Stuck running the office pool? Download Sideline Software's pool
management program to streamline the task. The full software
package costs $29.95. There's a free, less extensive version
available at www.dogcowsoft.com.
sites we'd like to see
Video clips and transcripts of tantrums by Angry Albert in the
O's clubhouse this season.
Chat room for fans still rooting for the Clippers to get that
record 18th straight loss.
Montreal Symphony but not a new park for the Expos: "Ask a first
violinist and a first baseman how much they make, and you will
have your answer."