THE NBA FILES
What's behind all the basketball conspiracy theories?
That sound you heard on Sunday was a collective gasp of disbelief
as the Wizards didn't end up with the top lottery pick in the
2000 NBA draft. The conventional thinking, you see, was that
despite the long odds against Washington, somehow the Ping-Pong
balls would bounce in favor of Michael Jordan's new team.
This was only the most recent conspiracy theory adopted by fans
and players who suspect that the NBA has become as orchestrated
as WWF Smackdown, that David Stern is a Machiavellian puppeteer
manipulating the strings of his marionettes. Trail Blazers
forward Rasheed Wallace is convinced that Portland is victimized
by corrupt officiating because the Blazers "don't have a lot of
poster boys." Reggie Miller believes that the Pacers will never
get "benefit-of-the-doubt calls like New York, L.A. or Miami--the
big market teams--do." Raptors coach Butch Carter asserts that
evil forces soon will conspire to extradite his star Vince Carter
from Canada to a U.S. market. What in the name of Oliver Stone is
going on here?
In reality such theories are probably as far-fetched as magic
bullets and Paul McCartney's death. But the point is this: The
liberty the NBA has taken in blurring the lines between sports,
entertainment and business has resulted in a disquieting
credibility gap. When Stern unapologetically admits that the
schedule for the playoffs will be determined by television's
interests, it's only natural that small-market teams grow
suspicious. When the league has a history of forcing its idea of
who's a superstar down the public's throat, it's no wonder
eyebrows were raised when rookie of the year balloting resulted
in a tie for the second time since 1995. When Hoop, the NBA's
official magazine, takes an airbrush to Allen Iverson's jewelry
and tattoos as if they were zits on a supermodel, one can see how
the skepticism of Wallace, a first-team cynic, might take root.
Perhaps those clouds of suspicion will dissipate should Indiana
face off against Portland for the championship, which would mark
only the third time in 15 seasons that no team from New York,
L.A. or Chicago was represented in the Finals. Then again, a team
from Nike's home state versus one coached by Larry Bird?
Coincidence? Hmm.... --L. Jon Wertheim
Art Schlichter's life continues its downward spiral
Art Schlichter's high school coach described him as "a passer who
can run and a runner who can pass." He was referring to
Schlichter's quarterbacking talents. In the two decades since
leading Ohio State to the Rose Bowl, Schlichter, 40, continued to
pass (bad checks) and run (from the law).
Schlichter's is a textbook case of a man of promise destroyed by
gambling. A star quarterback at Miami Trace High in Ohio, he
started betting by the time he began his All-America career at
Ohio State in 1978. When the Colts made him their first-round
pick in the 1982 NFL draft, he was a full-fledged addict. Midway
through his rookie season he had already blown his entire
$350,000 signing bonus and $140,000 salary betting on baseball,
basketball, college football and horse racing. Schlichter was
suspended by the NFL for the '83 season for gambling, reinstated
in '84, then permanently banned in '86. From there his life
spiraled downward from one sorry incident to the next. He has
done two two-year stints in Indiana prisons on charges including
bank fraud, forgery and theft; he once stole checks from his
employer, a Las Vegas radio station, to support his habit.
Schlichter had to call on all his scrambling skills this month in
an attempt to elude friend and foe. On May 1 a Columbus
motorcycle cop pulled him over for a routine traffic stop.
Schlichter allegedly sped from the scene in a 1999 Buick leased
to his father, nearly running the cop over. One week later
Schlichter spent two nights at the Grove City, Ohio, house of a
friend, Chuck Grubbs, 33. Again he left suddenly--not long before
Grubbs discovered that his bank card and credit cards were
missing. Police believe Schlichter took them.
That wasn't even the latest in the litany of felonies authorities
say Schlichter has committed. On May 15 federal marshals in
Indiana charged him with money laundering for allegedly
attempting to use his father's credit card to obtain cash to pay
off debts (he had accepted money for sports tickets he didn't
have). After a three-day manhunt, Schlichter, who was living out
of the Buick, was apprehended peacefully in a diner in Ravenna,
Schlichter could face 20 years in prison on the federal charges.
His life, and that of his family, long ago was torn asunder by
his addiction. His wife, Mitzi, left him in 1994, and their
divorce was finalized in '98; she has custody of their two
daughters, Taylor, 10, and Madison, 6. Prison is no cure for
Schlichter's addiction: Last year, shortly after his release from
his second two-year term, he was charged with having used the
prison's pay phones to place illegal bets on football and hockey
(he pleaded not guilty). "When you start stealing from your
family and friends," Schlichter told PEOPLE from prison in 1996,
"you know that it's only a matter of time before you're put in
jail or you put a gun to your head."
One Brand of Reasoning
While most of America was stunned at the light punishment handed
down to Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight by university
president Myles Brand, those who had read philosopher Brand's
1984 page-turner, Intending and Acting: Toward a Naturalized
Action Theory, might not have been shocked. "Sometimes actions
are performed involuntarily, which include those done from strong
emotion or instinct...." Brand wrote. "Some actions are performed
in a state of ignorance, by accident, or by mistake. From the
viewpoint of the ascription or diminution of responsibility,
legal or moral, the manner in which these distinctions are drawn
is crucial. For example, in many circumstances moral
responsibility for what we do is diminished to the degree to
which an action is involuntary."
So did Knight act involuntarily when he tossed a vase in the
direction of a secretary, hurled a sports information director to
the floor, choked guard Neil Reed and manhandled assistant coach
Ron Felling? Brand could argue that he did. Knight surely acts
with strong emotion, and Brand admitted that Knight suffered from
ignorance, since Indiana had never set down guidelines for
acceptable behavior. Brand's own logic compelled him to give
Knight another chance. In philosophy, after all, it's better to
be consistent than to be right.
TUMBLING SWIM MARKS
Hot Times in a Fast Pool
After Aussie butterfly monarch Michael Klim swam the
fourth-fastest 100-meter time ever last Thursday in the
semifinals at the Australian Olympic trials, he emerged from the
water to cheers of approval--and sighs of disappointment. Pool
flies at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre (SIAC), which
will be the swimming venue for the Olympics in September, have
come to expect historic performances at the pool, where the
announcement of world records over the P.A. system has begun to
sound like, well, a broken record.
While the controversial neck-to-ankle suits worn by a handful of
top swimmers could be contributing to the falling marks, it's no
coincidence that of the 26 world records that have been set over
the past two years and still stand, 14 have come at the SIAC.
Last week three Aussies combined to set five world marks: Geoff
Huegill in the 50 fly (a non-Olympic event), Susie O'Neill in the
200 fly (breaking Mary T. Meagher's 19-year-old record, the
oldest mark in swimming) and Ian Thorpe, twice in the 200
freestyle and once in the 400 free.
What makes Sydney's six-year-old facility a swimmer's
Shangri-la? For one thing, the pool was designed to be fast,
beginning with the steeply sloped starting blocks. An uncommonly
high minimum depth of two meters helps reduce waves, as do thick
plastic lane ropes, the closing of the two outside lanes and the
fact that the water is level with the deck. The water is treated
with ozone to reduce the irritation, odor and taste of chlorine
and is kept at 78.8[degrees], slightly warmer than in most other
top pools. These factors add up to what U.S backstroker Lenny
Krayzelburg, who set three world records at the SIAC last
August, calls "the smoothest, nicest swim you ever had."
The pool's builders have also created a high-intensity atmosphere
outside the water. Rock music blasts before each event, and
powerful lights blaze overhead, lending the place an intense,
Thunderdome feel. Then there are the swim-crazy Australian fans,
whose primary objective during the Olympics will be to boo the
home team's biggest rivals, the Americans, out of the water.
Recent expansion increased the venue's capacity to up to 17,000
spectators in super-steep bleachers. Thorpe says the SIAC is the
only place where he can hear fans cheering during a race.
Techno- and psychobabble aside, many insiders attribute the
recent rash of records primarily to a crop of swimmers that's the
best in more than a decade. "If you're going to swim fast," said
Australian coach Don Talbot after six records were broken in
three days at the Pan Pacific Championships last August, "you'll
swim fast in molasses."
Drive Indy From Your Desktop
If you've ever wanted to race in the Indianapolis 500 but
considered the multimillion-dollar cost of a car a bit steep, you
might want to check out netracelive.com. Anivision, the
Huntsville, Ala., company that created and operates the site, has
come up with the ultimate race simulator: Not only do you drive
on virtual representations of real tracks alongside virtual
representations of real cars, but you also do so in a re-creation
of a real Indy Racing League event.
Anivision collects telemetry from onboard computers in all the
cars in each IRL race to re-create the race on-line. Using a
keyboard, a joystick or a steering wheel, a Web surfer can drive
a car of his own in the virtual race. So if Greg Ray tries to
pass Eliseo Salazar on the outside and instead spins out and taps
the wall in Turn 4 on Lap 123 of the Indy 500 on Sunday, he'll do
roughly the same on your computer screen when you run the race.
For now, netracelive.com offers only IRL races, but Anivision is
negotiating to add other racing leagues. Also in the works is a
plan to run the simulated races in real time, allowing a fan--or a
driver who fails to qualify--the opportunity to watch a race on TV
while driving it on his computer. Seat belts not required.
NBA MOP-UP DUTY
The Sweat Science
Some might attribute the Knicks' playoff success (page 36) to
Latrell Sprewell's agility, others to Allan Houston's deft
shooting touch. But the most important cog in the New York
machine may well be 15-year-old Gary Rojas, a 5'9" freshman at
Manhattan's Fashion Industries High, who can be spotted hovering
near one of the basket stanchions during home games. Better known
around Madison Square Garden as Towel Boy, Gary keeps the Garden
hardwood dry despite the walking sweat shower that is Patrick
"He's my main concern," says Gary, who takes his mop to the paint
about 30 times a game. "No man sweats more than Patrick. I
thought that Alonzo or Shaq might be a problem, but they don't
even come close. I've saturated two mops in one night because of
While Gary gets heavy-duty flak from his friends about his job,
he refuses to let his term on perspiration patrol dampen his
spirits. "I get to hang out with celebrities--what more could I
ask for?" says Gary. Besides getting to put his uniform (khakis
and a golf shirt) in Larry Johnson's locker and play one-on-one
with John Wallace, he pulls in a small per-game sum, which he
declines to reveal. Gary figures he earns it. "I watch guys who
mop for other teams on TV, and I have to say that no one mops as
fast as I do. I'm in and I'm out. It's all about instinct."
MAC IS BACK
Oh, yeah, him. With so many other guys knocking balls out of the
park over the early part of the big league season, it was easy to
overlook Mark McGwire. Not anymore. Big Mac's recent power
surge--six homers in seven games through Monday--put him back atop
the league leaders in dingers and on pace to threaten 70 again.
Cost to attend Michael Jordan's Las Vegas summer fantasy camp,
for which all 100 slots have been taken.
Wizards first-round picks in the 2000 draft, the fourth time in
the last five years they haven't had one.
Price of a limited-edition 29-inch porcelain Bob Knight doll at
Indianapolis's Treasure Me Dolls.
college wrestling programs in 1999-2000, 61 fewer than there were
Sydney Olympic events to be carried live during the 437 1/2
hours of coverage on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC.
A spot on the U.S. Olympic taekwondo team, by Esther Kim, 21,
who at the start of the flyweight final at the Olympic trials in
Colorado Springs conceded the match by bowing out, allowing her
best friend and training partner, Kay Poe, to win. Poe, 18,
top-ranked in the world, had injured her left knee in the
semifinal and couldn't continue.
Colombia, by Robert Garside, 33, on his 3 1/2-year jog around
the world. The globetrotter ventured about 15 miles into the
violence-ravaged country before hightailing it back to Venezuela
to plot another route.
From the ring, sumo wrestler Asanokiri, whose mawashi unraveled,
allowing his privates to slip out during a nationally televised
bout in Japan. The humiliated fighter became the first in 83
years to be disqualified for overexposure.
Kobe Bryant, to Vanessa Laine, 18, a senior at Marina High in
Huntington Beach, Calif., whom he met while shooting a video.
Bryant was a big hit on a recent visit to the school. Gushed
junior Erika McWilliams, "I saw his forehead when he came to pick
[Laine] up at school. I was all, 'Whoa,' and I ran up to the car,
and I was all, 'Ohmigod!' and he was all, 'Hi,' and I was all,
'It's all about Kobe.' I was shaking."
Sugar and Spikes
Cross-dressing volleyballers are a Thai-tanic smash
Call it Major League meets Torch Song Trilogy. You've seen a
ragtag bunch of misfits scrap its way to the top, show up its
naysayers and dramatically win the big tournament just before the
credits roll. But have you seen them do it in heels and a halter
Released in March, Satree Lex, which means "iron ladies" in Thai,
has become the second-highest-grossing Thai film ever by going
flamboyantly against the grain. The movie is based on the true
story of a volleyball team composed almost entirely of
cross-dressing gay men, called katoey in Thai, who won the 1996
national amateur championship.
"We maintained the crux of the story and rough personality of the
real players, but we wove in imaginative details to dramatize the
plot and strengthen the characters," says director Yongyoot
Thongkongthun. Thus the brooding striker hates men because of a
domineering father, and the team captain, who is straight, must
get over his unease about his teammates.
Like the real-life team, the movie's iron ladies overcome bigoted
officials to win the hearts of the public. They've also won over
some high-profile theatergoers. "I love this film," says katoey
kickboxer Nong (Va-Voom) Toom, who's renowned for competing in
makeup and outfits to die for. "It shows the real life of the
The film is a comedy, but the real Satree Lex is no joke. The
team still plays and will seek a spot at the 2002 Gay Games.
These katoey don't just want to be loved--they also want to win.
Forgive parents if they're confused by all the kid talk about
Aladar this week. America's youth haven't suddenly become
horse racing buffs--they're turned on by another herbivorous
quadruped, Aladar, the iguanodon hero of Disney's new movie,
Dinosaur. How to tell the two apart? Here's a guide.
Species Equus caballus Iguanodon anglicum
Era Post-Secretariat Early Cretaceous
Height 16 hands 16 feet
Weight A half ton Five tons
Top speed 40 mph 12 mph
Bloodlines Raise a Native Michael Eisner and
and Sweet Tooth Disney Animation
Trained by John Veitch Lemurs
Winnings $957,195 $38.6 million
(career prize money) (weekend gross)
Big Showdown Thrice finishes second Defeats archrival Kron
to archrival Affirmed for mastery of herd
in Triple Crown races
Performance Sires Alysheba, Easy Goer, Sires cuddly iguanodon
at stud Strike the Gold hatchlings
Legacy More valuable dead than Values of wisdom,
alive; allegedly whacked in resourcefulness,
1990 for insurance money courage ensure
survival of species
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Court TV has hired NFL sideline reporter Lynn Swann as a
commentator for its coverage of the Ray Lewis murder trial.
created a disquieting credibility gap.
Quebec-born Devils winger, to Flyers captain Eric Desjardins:
"What's the C on your sweater stand for--selfish?"