STRETCHED TOO THIN
Drawing out the NBA's first round to absurd lengths could kill
Raptors forward Vince Carter has said his first playoff
appearance would be something to tell his grandchildren about.
What he didn't know was that by the time Toronto has finished its
first-round series with the Knicks, Carter may be old enough to
have some grandkids. In a move inspired by sagging television
ratings, the NBA has turned the playoffs into the layoffs,
stretching the opening round further than spandex on Oliver
Miller. If the New York-Toronto series goes the full five games,
for instance, it will extend over three weekends. The Jazz-Sonics
series includes a four-day gap between Games 2 and 3 and a
three-day break between Games 3 and 4. The drawn-out schedule
allows more games to be played during the afternoon hours on
Saturdays and Sundays, when NBC can televise them, and keeps
Turner Sports from having to split the weeknight audience by
airing overlapping games on TNT and TBS, as it has in past years.
Outside the offices of the NBA and its television partners,
hardly anyone is in favor of the new schedule. "This is
absolutely insane," said Heat coach Pat Riley. "It allows people
to almost get bored. You've made them wait all year long, 82
games, and now you're going to make them wait two weeks to get
through five games?"
Even if the league earns a few extra 10ths of a point in the
ratings--no sure thing--it will lose something that's harder to
quantify: the sustained drama that is part of the playoffs'
appeal. The pace of the postseason should be relentless: play,
rest for a day, play again. In the NCAA tournament, 48 games are
played in the first four days, creating a delightful frenzy that
generates the kind of buzz the NBA should be doing its best to
April 30, 2000
Instead the league is going in the other direction, with a first
round that's moving at about the pace of the Clippers' rebuilding
process. These series are like a basketball with a slow leak, the
excitement steadily dissipating. As their interest wanes, fans
may discover other things to do while they wait out the layoffs.
That's what happened during last year's lockout, which is how the
NBA got into this audience-chasing mess in the first place.
Eventually viewers will do what they always do when a made-for-TV
miniseries moves too slowly: change the channel. --Phil Taylor
SEEKING GOOD CARMA
The Niners look to Hofstra, of all places, for their quarterback
of the future
Joe Montana. Steve Young. Giovanni Carmazzi?
The 49ers' third-round pick chuckles at the mention of his name
in such company. "Come on," Carmazzi says. "That doesn't fit. I
can only hope to be half of what they were."
Carmazzi has reason to be humble. When his original college,
Pacific, dropped football after his freshman year, he transferred
to noted football factory Hofstra, where the offensive
coordinator told him he wasn't sure Carmazzi could play on the
Division I-AA level. Plus, Carmazzi hasn't quarterbacked a
pro-style offense since 1994, his senior year at Jesuit High in
Sacramento; Hofstra ran a close relative of the old
run-and-shoot. No wonder eyes rolled when San Francisco made him
the second quarterback taken in the April 15 draft.
But the Niners think they have a player. Bill Walsh has run 12
drafts for San Francisco, and three times he has used fairly high
choices to acquire quarterbacks. In '79 he spent the 82nd
selection on Montana. In '87 he traded the 50th and 106th choices
to Tampa Bay for Young. This year, after passing on Marshall's
Chad Pennington in the first round, Walsh took Carmazzi at 65.
"It's not a gamble at all," Walsh says. "He reminds me a lot of
Ken Anderson, whom I scouted at a small college [Augustana] and
picked in the third round when I coached with the Bengals.
Everyone wondered who he was, and he led the league in passing a
couple of years after we picked him."
Carmazzi has three things the 49ers crave in a backup to--or
possible replacement for--Young: speed (at 4.63 in the 40,
Carmazzi is the fastest of this year's quarterbacks), accuracy (a
64.4% college completion percentage) and brains (3.9 grade point
average in business administration) to master a tough offense.
"He throws the best on the run of anyone coming out this year,"
says Niners offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
It's a tall order, asking Carmazzi to go from the wide-open
attack he ran at Hofstra to San Francisco's precise West Coast
scheme, and asking him to go from playing Delaware State and
South Florida to facing the Cowboys and the Rams. But concerning
the latter, at least, Carmazzi will have company: tackle Dave
Fiore and safety Lance Schulters, both Hofstra alumni, were
starters last year for the 49ers. "The guys I'll be playing
against are better than those I've faced," says Carmazzi, "but
remember, the guys on my side of the ball are better too."
Much to the dismay of Mr. E, the pugnacious pastor mascot who
looked like the Notre Dame leprechaun's evil twin, North
Carolina's Elon College ended a decade of debate last October by
retiring its nickname, the Fightin' Christians, and will shortly
unveil its new identity. Unlike recent college nickname switches
spurred by complaints of insensitivity (e.g., St. John's Redmen
becoming the Red Storm), Elon's change was born of confusion.
For years school administrators found themselves debunking the
notion that progressive, liberal arts Elon is a conservative
Christian institution like Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.
Says Nan Perkins, Elon's head of fund-raising and its former
admissions director, "I've had anxious parents of prospective
Jewish students see the nickname and pull me aside to ask, 'What
does this mean?'"
While Elon is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, its
mascot derives from a 1921 football game against Guilford, a
Society of Friends college in Greensboro, N.C., a matchup one
sportswriter dubbed the Christians versus the Quakers. For better
or worse, the name stuck.
Elon (enrollment: 4,000) has long been a favorite lower-division
sports patsy for nearby Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State. Last
fall the school upgraded to Division I-A in all sports except
football, a move that propelled the final push for a revamped
identity. With the help of SFX Sports Group--to which Elon paid
$40,000 to help come up with a new nickname and logo--a task force
of trustees, faculty, alumni and students has spent months
whittling a list of more than 150 candidates, ranging from the
mundane (Bears, Lions, Tigers) to the ridiculous (Ewoks,
Fat-tailed Geckos, Lyme Ticks, Rancorous Existentialists). The
committee even considered Blaze and Flames, invoking the 1923
fire that reduced most of the campus to ashes. Elon will announce
its decision on May 9. Until then, the new Mr. E will remain a
mystery. --Tim Crothers
A Really, Really Big Show
When you get a look at Lennox Lewis and Michael Grant on Saturday
night, standing toe to toe in Madison Square Garden (during the
ref's instructions before their heavyweight title fight, at
least), you might let out a gasp. Lewis, the champ, stands 6'5"
and weighs 250 pounds. Grant is 6'7" and 250. They are sleek,
muscular and well-tuned. This, it seems, is where boxing was
headed all along--a match of physical specimens the likes of which
have never before battled for the crown.
Unfortunately, boxing's no beauty contest, or the pear-shaped
Larry Holmes wouldn't have ruled for so long. Same goes for the
squat Mike Tyson and the undersized Evander Holyfield. Primo
Carnera, who fought at 6'6" and 260 pounds, would be in the Hall
of Fame, and muscular Andrew Golota of Poland would be the
undisputed champ. This is one sport in which bigger isn't
necessarily better. This may be one more fight to prove that fact.
The 34-year-old Lewis, for all his size and gifts, remains
something of an underachiever, a powerful puncher whose lack of
passion prevents greatness. Although he has shown fire in
isolated bouts, his refusal to lower the hammer in his two
fights with Holyfield has frustrated his handlers and fans.
What's with this guy? Doesn't anything make him mad enough to
throw his legendary caution, not to mention his right hand, to
Nonetheless, Lewis is a cut above the 27-year-old Grant, a nice
enough kid (a piano-playing heavyweight? how sweet) whose success
is more the result of good management than of his talent. Grant's
November fight with Golota, in which he was knocked down and
outscored before Golota simply quit, doesn't encourage the idea
of parity here. Grant showed heart against Golota, getting up
twice, but Lewis may hit harder than Golota. In any case, Lewis
does not quit.
So the easy prediction is that Lewis's confidence and superior
skills will carry the day. Whether he wins in a tentative
performance or convincingly is the bigger question. Perhaps in
this fight he will overcome his reluctance to expose himself to
danger and will do something explosive and brilliant--that's been
the hope for years. Then editors can trot out the old "harder
they fall" line. --Richard Hoffer
Athens on the Outs?
The headline in one Greek paper read ETHNIKO REZILIKI--national
disgrace. Last Thursday, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch
warned that Athens, the birthplace of the modern Olympics, is
jeopardizing its status as host of the 2004 Summer Games. Citing
insufficient hotel accommodations for 25,000 expected visitors,
delays in venue construction and poor traffic-control and
security plans, Samaranch declared that Athens faced the worst
organizational crisis of any Olympic city during his 20-year
Samaranch's criticisms were jarring, especially in light of his
mid-May pronouncement that despite Sydney's nearly $125 million
budget deficit just six months before showtime, this summer's
Games were on track to be "the best ever." The Greek capital,
which upset Rome and Cape Town for the 2004 Olympics, was shamed
into immediate action. Not 12 hours after Samaranch issued his
report card, Greek culture minister Theodoros Pangalos met with
minister of public works Costas Laliotis to break through the red
tape that has kept five Olympic venues still in the planning
stages, and prime minister Costas Simitis assured parliament and
his countrymen that the 2004 Games were "of first national
priority and will be organized with success."
If Athens fails to show what Samaranch called "drastic progress"
by the end the year, IOC insiders say the Games could be handed
to 1988 host Seoul, which is willing to take over if need be. The
IOC, however, has never stripped the Games from a host city and
isn't likely to this time. Said IOC vice president Dick Pound,
"You're better off dancing with the girl you brought."
Wristed from the right circle, off a defenseman's left leg,
nothing but net. The magical third-period goal by Jaromir Jagr
that clinched the Penguins' opening-round upset of the Capitals
was improbable, but no more so than his winning a third straight
scoring title despite missing 19 games. Next trick: weathering
the Flyers, whom Pittsburgh has yet to beat this season.
Times that Suns center Luc Longley was bitten by a scorpion
while sorting through his CD collection.
Last year in which the previous season's Stanley Cup runner-up
returned to the Cup finals.
Price per pair on the Dallas Cowboys' Web site for socks worn
by the team's players.
Years between complete games for Indians lefties, from Dennis
Cook in 1992 to Chuck Finley on April 16.
Bulls home losses in 1999-2000, the same number they suffered,
total, during their six title seasons.
Yarmulkes bearing the Nike swoosh, from Judaica shops in New
York City. Unlicensed use of the Nike trademark on Jewish
skullcaps is part of a growing trend to adorn the traditional
headwear with team and corporate logos. Said Nike executive Vada
Manager, "The yarmulke, as venerable and honorable as it is, is
not something we sell among our performance athletic line."
Four Waukesha, Wis., corrections officers, for soliciting
autographs from Packers tight end Mark Chmura, including one on
his mug shot, while he was in custody on sexual assault charges.
A clerk was disciplined for printing out the mug shot.
The college bowl scene, thanks to the addition of the
galleryfurniture.com Bowl in Houston and San Jose's Silicon
Valley Classic. Those two newcomers bring to 25 the number of
Fans at the April 18 Angels-Blue Jays game at the SkyDome, by
fragmenting franks fired from the Hot Dog Blaster between the
second and third innings. The promotional projectile launcher
propelled the red hots with too much force, causing the wieners
to explode in midair.
Giving new meaning to the term occupational hazard, in January,
Troy Harman--cohost of MTV's Senseless Acts of Video--skydived from
one plane to another, which was nosediving at 120 mph with the
engine off. Like all the show's stunts, Hartman's senseless
skydive was an homage to a scene in a music video--in this case,
the Foo Fighters' Learning to Fly. "We got to 12,000 feet in the
plane, and I knew it was then or never," says Hartman, a 1996
world champion sky diver, who free-fell 800 feet during the
stunt. "I aimed for the plane's midsection so I wouldn't damage a
wing or propeller, and just tackled it."
The Sheen Collection
Looking for a package of Champ prophylactics featuring Ted
Williams's unauthorized image? Hungry for a piece of wedding cake
from Joe DiMaggio's 1939 marriage to starlet Dorothy Arnold?
Seeking a used Mike Tyson mouthpiece? At this week's Leland's
auction of actor Charlie Sheen's memorabilia (www.lelands.com),
only serious sports fans need apply. How serious? A business card
from Shoeless Joe Jackson's liquor store carries a $500 reserve
price, and a canceled $20 check signed by Ted Kluszewski will set
you back at least $100.
After 11 years of serious collecting, Sheen is letting go of most
of the stash he once insured for $6 million. "I can only own so
much stuff," says Sheen, who appeared in the baseball movies
Major League and Eight Men Out. "It's time to put it back in
A lifelong fan who sports Reds and Yankees tattoos on his biceps,
Sheen has been collecting memorabilia since 1989, when the guys
building a display case for his newly purchased Williams jersey
made it too big for one item. Among the novelties he's putting on
the block are the ball Mookie Wilson grounded between Bill
Buckner's legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the glove that
missed it and the cleats betwixt which it rolled.
Sheen isn't selling everything. Among the keepsakes he's hanging
onto are Willie Mays's 1954 Silver Bat and the contract covering
the Red Sox' sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. "I might wake up
one day and say this isn't that important," he says of the
contract. "But right now it's like the Shroud of Turin in the
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Major League Baseball this season will fine players who put
personal messages, including the number of an injured teammate,
on their uniforms.
As in the NCAA tournament, the pace of the postseason should
be relentless: play, rest for a day, then play again.
They Said It
Red Wings center, on media scrutiny of his relationship with
tennis vixen Anna Kournikova: "When I was with her, I was living
in a soup bowl."