Round Mound of Renown
Senior writer Jack McCallum reflects on Charles Barkley's career
One easy way to rile up a roomful of middle-aged white guys is
to suggest that Charles Barkley is a nice fellow. I witnessed
this phenomenon on several occasions while speaking to some
Rotary or booster club about the NBA stars I covered. Many fans
never knew what to make of Barkley, whose 16-year career ended
last week when he tore his left quadriceps tendon (page 64). He
complained, told his bosses off, feuded with teammates and fans,
pouted, acted boorish. But he also had a gift that's rare among
superstar athletes--rare among people, in fact. He made you feel
good when you were in his presence.
At a get-together before the 1992 Olympics, I introduced my
family to most of the Dream Teamers, who were unfailingly polite
but predictably distant. But Barkley sat down at our table, put
my sons in a gentle choke hold, picked a shrimp or something off
my plate and popped it into his mouth, and told my wife, Donna,
that she seemed far too nice "to be stuck with a moron like
Jack." At that moment he became Donna's favorite player--the
only player she cared anything about.
A couple weeks later I was playing golf in Monte Carlo with
Barkley, Clyde Drexler and another sportswriter when David
Robinson joined us. Robinson had recently become a born-again
Christian and was upset by our profanity. He politely asked
Barkley to cease and desist. Barkley waited until Robinson stood
over a drive. "David's right," he announced. "We're acting like
a bunch of f------ a-------."
December 20, 1999
Barkley's finest moments came later that summer in Barcelona,
where on most evenings he would ramble onto Las Ramblas and Pied
Piper his way from bar to bar, a throng of all ages in his wake.
His teammates, remember, were ensconced in a first-class hotel
under 24-hour security, their separatist celebrity a
much-chronicled sore point during the Games. Charles's nocturnal
excursions spread more goodwill in Barcelona than anything the
Dream Teamers did on the court.
He also elbowed an Angolan player for no good reason in the
U.S.'s opening game. That, too, was Charles. As he became
frustrated by his inability to win a title, he criticized
younger players for doing the same things he had done earlier in
his career. But consistency is mandatory in a souffle, not a
human being. Nothing I'll ever do in this business will be as
entertaining as covering Charles Barkley.
A blind-side check put a teen's future on ice
Hockey got another black eye on Dec. 7 when prosecutors in Lake
County, Ill., charged a 15-year-old player with two counts of
aggravated battery after he allegedly delivered a cross-check
from behind that left another 15-year-old paralyzed from the
chest down. The scene was a Nov. 3 junior varsity game between
club teams in suburban Chicago, the bitter rivals New Trier and
Glenbrook North. The Glenbrook North jayvees had beaten New
Trier's junior varsity in the state championship game last
season, the last time the two squads had met. This time New
Trier won 7-4, led by co-captain Neal Goss, who had a hat trick.
As the final seconds ticked down, Goss skated toward the boards
to get the puck. That's where he was cross-checked from behind
by a Glenbrook North player. The state's attorney's office
contends the hit came after the game ended. "The victim was not
playing hockey," says George Strickland, chief of the criminal
division for the Lake County state's attorney's office. "He was
attempting to leave the ice and was not facing the defendant,
nor was he aware that the defendant was skating at him, picking
up speed or raising his stick."
The hit drove Goss headfirst into the boards. He fell and lay
stricken on the ice. Strickland says the other boy then taunted
Goss, saying, "That's what you get for messin'."
The young defendant will plead not guilty and claim the
cross-check happened as the buzzer sounded. He faces up to six
years in a youth correction facility if he is convicted, though
prosecutors would probably recommend a lighter sentence. Goss
family lawyer Philip Corboy Jr. has also brought a civil suit
against the boy and others including Northbrook Hockey League
and Glenbrook North coach Adam Young, who the suit claims
"persistently heckled and derided" Goss and encouraged his
players to "target [Goss] during as well as after the game."
(Young was unavailable for comment.) The matter may take months
to untangle in court.
Hockey officials in Illinois assailed the state's decision to
file criminal charges. "I think it's a terrible thing that the
police have to get involved in something that happened during
the contest of a sporting event," Northbrook Hockey League
president Alan Kray told the Chicago Tribune. "There are
checking-from-behind [penalties] every game."
That's the problem. Spinal cord injuries are becoming
horrifyingly common in hockey. Players keep getting stronger and
hitting harder while coaches, referees and league officials fail
to treat checking from behind as the potentially catastrophic
act that it is. One kid who spends the rest of his life in a
wheelchair after a hit from behind is one kid too many. If it
takes criminal proceedings and civil suits to hammer that
message home, so be it. --E.M. Swift with Lester Munson
Order on The Court
Even ardent tennis fans scratched their heads last summer when
Pete Sampras thrashed Andre Agassi in the Wimbledon finals only
to lose the No. 1 ranking to Agassi after the match. Starting
next year such nonsense will be history. Last week the ATP Tour
hit a screaming winner by announcing that it will scrap its
confusing ranking system, under which players were ranked based
on their 14 best showings over the previous 52 weeks. Instead
everyone will start the season at zero and amass ranking points
as the year rolls on.
Under the new format a player's points will be based on his 18
best tournament finishes, with one important catch: His
performances in the four Grand Slam events and the big-ticket
Super Nine tournaments--repackaged as the Masters Series--will
all count among the 18, even if he fails to show up. "We want
fans to know something important is happening more than just
four times a year," says Mark Miles, the tour's CEO.
The improved ranking system coincides with a marketing face-lift
for men's tennis. The tour recently sold its television and
licensing rights for the nine Masters Series events to the
European marketing giant ISL for $1.2 billion over 10 years.
Under ISL the tour will pare 212 sponsors of Masters Series
events to a dozen or so heavy hitters who'll pay between $4
million and $11 million for global sponsorships. Further, ISL
Television will triple current spending on ATP tournaments.
"This will be good for the game, for spectators, for our backers
and for us, the players," says No. 7-ranked Todd Martin.
But with players all but required to play 13 tournaments--the
Slams and Masters Series--what will become of lower-tier events?
Will the new system blow a fuse when top players suffer (or
feign) injuries, as happened this year? At least the new plan
proves tennis has finally recognized that sports and
fan-friendly entertainment can coexist. There's room for more
improvement, but last week's move was a strong first serve.
--L. Jon Wertheim
Recker and The Wreck
In May, Indiana's Luke Recker announced he would transfer to
Arizona. Hoosiers fans called the state's 1997 high school Mr.
Basketball a traitor. Recker slipped out of town, and out of
coach Bob Knight's clutches, toward a worse fate. On July 10 he
and his girlfriend, Kelly Craig, an Indiana cheerleader, were
driving with her brother Jason and three friends near Durango,
Colo., when a truck crossed the center line and crashed head-on
into their car at 70 mph. John Hollberg, the driver of their car,
was killed. Jason is still in a coma, and Kelly is paralyzed from
the neck down. Recker lost part of his left ear in the crash and
needed 250 stitches to close wounds to his head, but by the end
of November he was practicing with the Wildcats.
Last week the 21-year-old Recker, who's sitting out his transfer
year, spoke of his decision to transfer again--this time to
Iowa. "I'm not leaving Arizona for any reasons but personal
ones. If the accident hadn't happened, I'd be staying here," he
said. Kelly, 19, who had planned to join him in Tucson, has been
bedridden in her hometown of Jasper, Ind., since the crash.
"Mentally, she's doing O.K., but a spinal cord injury is tough
to predict," Recker says. "She's doing daily therapy."
At Iowa, Recker will play for Steve Alford, another former
Hoosiers star who has fallen out of favor with Knight. The two
coaches don't talk, and Recker, who averaged 16.1 points for
Indiana last season, hasn't heard from Knight since he left the
Hoosiers. His latest transfer--which will cost him a semester's
eligibility unless the NCAA makes an exception for him--will put
Recker in Iowa City. That's a short drive from his father's
house in Washington, Iowa, and about six hours by car from
Luke's mother and four sisters in Auburn, Ind. He's also about
six hours from Kelly in Jasper. "I talk to her every day on the
phone. My phone bills are huge," he says.
Some Hoosiers fans still snipe at Recker, suggesting that if he
really wants to be close to his girlfriend he could transfer to
Louisville or Evansville. "It's a valid question," says the 6'6"
swingman, who sees Iowa and Alford as better suited to his game,
"but I'm trying to keep basketball as something of a priority
too. This allows me to be close to my dad, my sisters and my
mother, and I can get in a car and be with Kelly in a relatively
After leaving Tucson this weekend he'll head to his mother's for
Christmas, then drive to Jasper to see Kelly on the 26th. "She
can wiggle her toes and raise her left arm a little bit," he
says. "She's the bravest person I ever met."
First Kansas defensive end Dion Rayford got stuck while trying
to climb into a Taco Bell drive-through window after workers
left a chalupa--crisp and flaky outside, soft and chewy inside,
with beef, sour cream, tomatoes and three cheeses--out of his
order. Now the taste treat has caused a minor feud in the NBA.
Seattle-area Taco Bells offer ticket holders two chalupas for
the price of one when the Sonics score 110 points or more.
Against Minnesota on Dec. 8, Seattle led 107-94 with 11 seconds
left. As chants of cha-lu-pas rang through KeyArena, Brent Barry
hit a three-pointer, sending fans into cheesy, flaky ecstasy.
But Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders wasn't ecstatic. "I chew
guys out for taking a shot like that," he said.
To keep the peace, maybe Taco Bell should drop the chalupa from
its menu. Or at least send some our way, so we can keep them from
making more trouble.
WOMEN'S WORLD CUP
Messing With Success
When 1999 Women's World Cup CEO Marla Messing heard that FIFA,
soccer's world governing body, was changing the dates of the
tournament's next edition, tentatively set for 2003 in
Australia, she guessed the women's event would run concurrently
with the 2002 men's World Cup in Japan and South Korea. She
guessed wrong. Last Tuesday, FIFA announced that the Women's
World Cup will move, but most likely to October 2002 in
Australia--four months after the men's tournament. Having
presided over the biggest women's sporting event in history last
summer, Messing was shocked. "This seems like a step backward,"
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the switch will "give greater
exposure to women's soccer" by allowing for a qualifying
tournament in 2003 for the '04 Olympics. Others weren't buying.
"You can't help but think, Is this a sabotage effort?" says
former U.S. women's coach Tony DiCicco. "You don't put an event
that has great potential right after the biggest sporting event
in the world."
As DiCicco points out, holding the Women's World Cup in the same
year as the Winter Olympics and the men's World Cup will
relegate the event to third-class status. Sponsors and the media
may be reluctant to commit themselves to a third major
international event in one year, and national federations will
surely favor their men's squads if forced to make budget
The effects will be harshest outside the U.S. Leonardo Cuellar,
coach of the Mexican women's team, says there are only 700
registered women soccer players in Mexico City, a city of more
than 15 million. "Having both events in the same year will
suffocate the sport," says Cuellar, who can only hope FIFA
reverses this call, just as it shelved the cockamamy idea of
holding the men's World Cup every two years.
Indiana's record in basketball's annual Indiana Classic before
Indiana State upset the Hoosiers last week.
Price range of tickets to the dress rehearsal for the Sydney
2000 Opening Ceremony.
Amount that Salton Inc. will pay George Foreman for the right to
use his name and image on cookware.
Legal fee that Orioles owner Peter Angelos wants for helping
Maryland win a $4.2 billion tobacco settlement.
Jury pool members for Hornets owner George Shinn's Columbia,
S.C., civil trial who said they were Hornets fans.
The All-Century Team's youngest player just turned 30. He
already has 398 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves, but he's having a
hard time fitting under anybody's tree. How could the Reds or
anyone else give up a package of future stars for a present
featuring Ken Griffey Jr., who might walk as a free agent next
fall? Here's one way: Trade for Junior; sign him, his
five-year-old son, Trey, and any future Griffeys for $1 billion;
and have a merry Christmas and a happy new millennium.
David Casper, 26-year-old son of golf Hall of Famer Billy
Casper, on charges of robbing the Bunkhouse bar in Las Vegas.
Police say Casper was carrying a pistol, had a sawed-off shotgun
and another handgun in his room at the Wild Wild West Hotel and
is wanted in connection with at least three robberies in San
The Heat's Dec. 7 flight out of Portland, which flew to Las
Vegas instead of Sacramento on coach Pat Riley's orders. "Mash
[Jamal Mashburn] opens up the blinds and says, 'Hey, that's the
MGM Grand!" said Alonzo Mourning. "I said, 'There's no MGM Grand
in Sacramento.'" Riley was rewarding his club for beating the
Trail Blazers that night.
The tale of two ferrets at the Las Vegas estate of Mike Tyson.
After a woman from 24 Carat Ferret Rescue reported that Tyson
had "one dead ferret and another scared one," Tyson assistant
Darryl Francis said the animals belonged to him. "Mike ain't no
ferret abuser," said Francis. "If we were neglecting or abusing
them, we could have just thrown them over the fence into Wayne
Plans for a USA Network TV movie based on the book Marge Schott:
Unleashed. Cincinnati can now play the parlor game of casting
the film. Examples: Roseanne as Schott, Beethoven the dog as
Schottzie and Joe Pesci as Pete Rose.
In October, on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy,
Wisconsin's Ron Dayne wrote a tribute to his uncle, Pentecostal
minister Rob Reid. Dayne's very free verse, titled The Heisman,
begins by referring to the day in 1993 when the 15-year-old
Dayne, whose mother and father had divorced, was taken in by
Reid, his wife and their three children in Berlin, N.J.
I began to think about you and the Heisman Trophy.
I remember when I first came to live with you and Aunt Deb. The
first thing we did was have a family meeting; all of us were
sitting around the kitchen table, you, Aunt Deb, Rob Jr., Jaquay
You announced that no one was going to get any new clothes until
I had as many outfits as everybody else. Well, Joel did not care
about clothes then, Jaquay wore uniforms to school, but Rob got
"swole." Rob had so many clothes it was ridiculous. And soon
after that, I did too. For that Uncle Rob, you win the Heisman.
I remember you traveling with me on my college visits to
Wisconsin and Ohio State. We hated Ohio State, didn't we Uncle
Rob? That is why we beat them so badly last week. For traveling
with me and helping me make the right decision, you win the
Uncle Rob, you go see Rob play football in Virginia; you go see
Jaquay run track in Virginia; but you still come out to
Wisconsin to see me, too. For that Uncle Rob, you win the Heisman.
And when you do come to Wisconsin, you slip one or two hundred
dollar bills in my hand. For that Uncle Rob, YOU REALLY WIN THE
When Rob left for college, I started to try some of our tricks,
by myself, and got caught every time. We never got caught when
Rob was home. Like when I squeezed out of the bathroom window
one night to see a girl--when I tried to get back in at 1:00
a.m., you had locked that window and the rest of the windows in
the house. I had to ring that doorbell and look in your face.
You never said a word. You didn't have to. For that Uncle Rob,
you win the Heisman.
Uncle Rob, for never making me feel like a nephew, but always
making me feel like a SON, for that Uncle Rob, you win the
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Sponsors of an Australian amateur golf tournament are offering
breast-enhancement surgery to the women's champ and a penis
enlargement to the man with the longest drive.
Barkley had a gift rare among superstars--he made you feel good
in his presence.
They Said It
New Expos owner, vowing to spend more to keep players in
Montreal: "We will no longer be the farm system for the major