No Ring, No Respect
Does a player need a championship to certify his greatness?
According to Shakespeare, "Some are born great, some achieve
greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Pity the
modern athlete, then, who may have achieved greatness but had it
taken from him.
Another NBA playoff run has left Karl Malone, Alonzo Mourning and
John Stockton without a championship. Patrick Ewing may soon join
them. The NHL postseason has spit out Ray Bourque. Now the media
pundits and barroom sages will consign them all to that bleak
corner--over there with Barry Bonds and Tony Gwynn and Dan
Marino--reserved for players who have failed to win the Big One.
The new logic dictates that all their achievements don't mean a
thing if they ain't got that ring.
When did that become the law of the land? Was Ted Williams a
loser because the sad-sack Red Sox never won a World Series with
him? Wasn't it part of Ernie Banks's greatness that he loved the
game so much he could hit 512 homers for a lousy outfit like the
Cubs? Now we have the sorry spectacle of players like Roger
Clemens jumping from team to team in search of a championship.
Does anyone really think Clemens is somehow great only now, after
winning a ring with the 1999 Yankees, a team that surely would
have won without him? If anything, the rancorous way that Clemens
left Boston and then Toronto, visions of rings dancing in his
head, only detracted from his legacy.
June 4, 2000
If there's one person to blame for this front-running culture,
it's Vince Lombardi, who promulgated the notion that winning
isn't everything, it's the only thing. The results of that
thinking have infected sports like a computer virus, the message
worming its way through all levels of sport, even down to Little
League. Along the way it destroyed something: the appreciation
for great players.
Has there ever been a better power forward than Malone? Doubtful.
Would the Heat have extended the Knicks to seven games in the
conference semifinals if Mourning hadn't forced New York to
double-team him? Not a chance. Is Bourque a lesser light, despite
his 403 goals and five Norris Trophies, because he doesn't have
his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Hardly. These are men who
have achieved greatness, ring or no ring. --Greg Kelly
Rocket's Red Glare
From an early age, Maurice Richard burned with an uncommon fire
Longtime Montreal hockey broadcaster Dick Irvin reflects on
Canadiens legend Maurice (Rocket) Richard, who died last Saturday
at age 78.
The first time I saw Maurice Richard play for the Canadiens, he
broke his ankle. It was December 27, 1942, and I was the
10-year-old son and namesake of the Canadiens' coach. Early in
the game Richard, then a 21-year-old rookie, scored two goals,
the fourth and fifth of his career, on Bruins goaltender Frank
In the third period Boston defenseman Johnny Crawford leveled
Richard with a heavy body check. The rookie crumpled to the ice,
his right ankle broken. As an amateur Richard had fractured his
left ankle and a wrist. Now another broken bone had people saying
he was too brittle to play in the NHL. Obviously they had the
wrong idea. Richard would go on to play 978 NHL games, score 544
goals and win eight Stanley Cups.
A few nights before that Bruins game, Richard had arrived for the
first time in the Canadiens' dressing room at the Montreal Forum.
My father told him he wouldn't be playing that night. Instead of
taking the news quietly, as was expected of a rookie, Richard, in
an early display of the temper that would become part of his
legend, stormed out of the room, slammed the door in his coach's
face and went home. His new teammates were shocked by the
disrespectful outburst, but my father wasn't offended. "That's
the kind of guy I want on my team," he told his players.
Obviously he had the right idea.
Hail the Mountain King
EVEREST SPEED RECORD
Babu Chhiri Sherpa doesn't tow 18-wheelers with his teeth or chop
through three-foot logs in under 10 seconds, yet he's inarguably
one of the world's biggest studs. On May 15 and 16 the
unassuming, 5'6", 150-pound mountaineer climbed Everest in record
time, traveling from base camp at 17,500 feet to the 29,035-foot
summit in 15 hours, 56 minutes. That obliterated the mark of 20
hours, 24 minutes, set in 1998 by Kaji Sherpa. Even more
remarkable, while most Everest climbers use bottled oxygen to
help fight off dizziness and altitude sickness, Babu, 34, relied
exclusively on his lungs as he raced up the mountain through snow
and 60-mph winds to summit for the 10th time.
This marked the second straight year in which Babu has been the
talk of the mountaineering world. During the 1999 Everest
climbing season--May has the best weather for ascents--he
shattered the record for time spent on the peak when he
bivouacked on top of the world for a daunting 21 hours. No one
else has lingered on the summit for more than a few hours and
survived. To help keep his head clear for that stretch, Babu made
crank calls on his radio to various camps on the mountain.
In the days before his record speed ascent Babu had stocked tents
at 21,000-foot Camp II and 26,000-foot Camp IV while guiding two
paying clients up the mountain. (They failed to summit.) Once he
began his solitary climb, however, he traveled light, carrying
only water, a few chocolate bars and extra clothes. He made brief
stops to rest and drink hot fluids but didn't pause to report his
progress by radio. "I needed to walk fast," he told the Web site
everest2000.com. "I didn't have time to talk to Base Camp."
Anxious base campers and Internet alpinists who were following
the attempt breathed easier when the news broke that Babu had
descended safely to Camp IV. Several days later a grinning Babu
responded to concern about his near 20-hour disappearance: "You
shouldn't have worried about me. I had beer waiting for me down
here. I had to get back."
Stew or Be Stewed
The grudgingly teetotaling Yankee Stadium Bleacher Creatures who
are upset over the stadium's new selective beer ban (enacted last
week, but only in the bleachers) need look no further than
section 607, row A, seat 2, in the upper deck for a reason to
grumble about being singled out. In the bottom of the third
inning of the Yanks' 4-1 win over the Red Sox last Friday, Steve
Laurenzi, 27, plummeted from that lofty perch into the protective
netting directly behind home plate--after, according to
eyewitnesses, heavily imbibing a mixture of Bacardi 151 rum and
Coke. Apparently unknown to Laurenzi as he idiotically frolicked
in the net was that two years ago, his antics probably would have
gotten him killed.
"We didn't have the net in the early '90s because it obstructed
some fans' views, but after the '98 season we decided our screen
was too low to protect against the foul balls flying directly
back," says Yankees spokesman Rick Cerrone. "So our operations
guys found a top-of-the-line net." Luckily for all
involved--especially Laurenzi, who was charged with reckless
endangerment--the guys found a net that protects against foul
falls as well.
No Singlet Required
If Olympic medals were awarded for audacity, the Australians
would already be up to their (bare) behinds in gold. In the
summer of 1994 came heptathlete Jane Flemming's calendar of
scantily clad members of the women's track and field team. Last
November the women's soccer team bared all for a wall adornment
of their own. This month 29 male and female members of the Aussie
Olympic team are de-briefed in a special issue of Black+White, a
glossy magazine with what its editors call "an artistic bent."
Black+White editor Marcello Grand waxes heroic about the 236-page
special issue, which he says harks back to the days when Olympic
athletes ran, wrestled and tumbled in nary a singlet. "Through
the compelling medium of artistic nude photography we have
captured the strength, speed and symmetry of these extraordinary
Australians," says Grand. "These highly developed bodies, in rest
and motion, draw us back to the fountainhead of the Olympic
idea--faster, higher, stronger."
The athletes themselves, hailing from a country whose shores
boast 24 legal nude beaches, offer less Olympian motives for
modeling nude. "I can express myself freely. I decide whether I
want to look like an angel or a devil," says pole vaulter Tatiana
Grigorieva, the only athlete who agreed to an unobstructed
full-frontal photo. "On the track I look like a horse, with a
ponytail at the back of my head [and] no makeup." Weightlifter
Damian Brown bared his posterior for posterity: "If I have kids,
I'll be able to show them what I used to look like."
At the bottom of it all, the attention-grabbing photographs are
free publicity for low-profile athletes. Apart from top
1,500-meter swimmer Grant Hackett, who skinny-dipped in a
custom-built fish tank for his nude debut, and a few others,
most of the athletes in Black+White have yet to become
Australian household names. Says water polo player Thomas
Whalan, whose pictorial features a cheeky shot of himself and
three of his teammates, "I'm happy to do this to promote my
They're freeing up jail space in Holland and readying the morgues
in Belgium, which can only mean one thing: It's almost time for
the Euro 2000 soccer championships. After the violence that
marred England's 1998 World Cup appearance and the pitched
battles involving Turkish and English fans during this year's
UEFA Cup, officials from Belgium and Holland, co-hosts for the
16-team tournament that runs from June 10 to July 2, are
preparing for the worst.
The police presence will be huge during the tournament, and
authorities will use emergency powers to detain troublemakers
without trial. Indeed, prison inmates may be the only people in
the host nations who are unreservedly looking forward to Euro
2000. To accommodate hooligans the Dutch are going so far as to
release convicts who have less than a month remaining on their
The greatest trepidation surrounds the June 17 match between
England and Germany in the Belgian city of Charleroi. The stadium
there holds only 30,000, and authorities fear that thousands of
ticketless English and German fans will descend on the narrow,
cobbled streets of the town, an invitation to trouble. Planners
have divided Charleroi into color-coded zones, hoping to restrict
Germans to hotels and campsites in the yellow zone and Brits to
the blue. Even Charleroi's morgues will be segregated. "The
bodies of the English and Germans should be taken to two separate
mortuaries," said police chief Jean-Pierre Levaux. "We don't want
to risk rival families and friends coming face-to-face outside
the same morgue, where emotions will be running high and there
could be even more bloodshed."
Guide to Bettor Business
The single most important activity on which you should spend
time outside the office is getting more customers." So reads the
gospel according to James Jeffries in his newly released primer
for budding bookmakers, entitled The Book on Bookies. Here's
J.J., who claims to have run a large Southeast book for several
years in the 1990s, on how to build a solid client base of
--Think links: "Whether it is on the fairway or in the clubhouse,
most [golfers] will enjoy a friendly wager from time to time. You
should be discreet when divulging how you make your living, but a
cell phone call from a cart while the other three are deciding
which club to use will start the conversation."
--Scour the pubs: "Select a few bars in different parts of your
city and become a regular.... I am not talking about a T.G.I.
Fridays or Chilis. I am talking about real bars. You know, the
kind where when you walk in you can't see anything for a minute
or two until your eyes adjust.... Go in, sit at the bar, and
begin watching television. When you curse a basketball player for
missing a free throw when his team is up by 17, the gamblers in
the joint will know why you are upset. Most likely they will be
the ones to bring up sports wagering. 'Who ya' got?' is a common
opener. When you reply, 'I've got something on every team,' the
conversation is started, and pretty soon you have another reason
to visit the bar: Settle-up day."
--Create good word of mouth: "The best thing you can do to
expand your client list is continue to treat the customers you
already have with respect, courtesy and professionalism--and to
always pay in full, on time and in cash. People like to talk,
especially when they just spent their lunch break picking up a
sack of money...."
A DIMPLE PLAN
It's gotta be the balls! In his second tournament using a Nike
instead of a Titleist off the tee, Tiger Woods knocked the swoosh
off the ball and crushed the field to become the first repeat
winner of the Memorial, earning his 11th victory in his last 20
PGA Tour events. On second thought, Tiger could probably win
Billiards-related injuries in England in 1998 that resulted in
visits to hospital emergency rooms.
Packers' operating loss in '99, the first reported by the
publicly owned team in more than a decade.
Round-trip miles Nebraskans Michael and David Yonker traveled
to each Denver Nugget home game.
Cost to rent soon-to-be demolished Wembley Stadium in London for
a daytime soccer game.
Minutes and seconds spent in a 212[degree] sauna by Ari Petroff
to win Sweden's national sauna title.
--Weeds at a Camas, Wash., cemetery, by two-time U.S. figure
skating champion and temporary civil servant Tonya Harding, who
took up landscaping as part of the sentence she received for a
February hubcap assault on her boyfriend.
--O.J. Simpson, by girlfriend Christie Prody, 25, who allegedly
struck and kicked the football Hall of Famer during a dispute at
Miami's Wyndham Hotel. Juice, who was unhurt, declined to press
domestic-violence charges with Miami-Dade police.
--The NHL's Web site, NHL.com, which was disrupted for four days
last week by saboteurs who flooded the site with millions of page
requests, making access by other users nearly impossible.
--By MLS, a one-game suspension imposed on Jimmy Conrad of the
San Jose Quakes, so that his terminally ill stepfather could
watch Conrad play in the Quakes' 1-1 draw with the Los Angeles
Galaxy at the Rose Bowl.
--Singer Bob Dylan, by sultry cinema star Gina Gershon. She told
Interview magazine that after taking up boxing while training
for her role in Bound, she sparred against the '60s icon and
floored the Tambourine Man after he landed a blow to her kisser.
Two Roman stadia still host fights to the death
The arenas in Gladiator were creations of special effects and set
design. For greater verisimilitude the filmmakers could have
headed to the southern French cities of Arles and Nimes, about 20
miles apart, where well-preserved Roman coliseums survive to this
day--and still host sports events. Constructed between the late
first and early second century A.D., the two ovals each
originally seated more than 20,000 spectators, who would watch
gladiators battle one another or beasts such as bulls and bears.
So well constructed were the amphitheaters, with their wide
stairways and arcades, that it took only five minutes for a full
house to empty out. The designs ensured that various classes of
spectators never mingled.
Over the centuries the two arenas served as quarries, fortresses
and even housing complexes. Today man again battles beast inside
the old Roman walls during southern France's bullfighting season.
Nimes's big festival, the Feria (above), will be held June 8-12.
Unlike their Roman predecessors, the Feria's fans have to pay to
see the show.
What's It All About?
Diversity, it seems, judging by the dizzying array of "It's all
about..." quotes offered up by sports figures over the past
month and a half. See if you can match the statement with the
speaker and what he or she was talking about.
It's all about...
1. " ... marketing."
2. " ... W's and L's."
3. " ... confidence."
4. " ... attitude."
5. " ... home court advantage."
6. " ... women."
7. " ... the diet."
8. " ... the franchise."
9. " ... luck."
10." ... examples."
11." ... male ego."
12." ... evolving."
13." ... passion."
14." ... watching the ball."
Who said it, about what
A Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, on preparing for
the NBA draft
B Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie, on improving the WNBA's
C New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, on Latrell Sprewell's
D Former Boston Celtic Bob Bigelow, on what's wrong with youth
E Miami Heat guard Tim Hardaway, on resting his injured foot
during the playoffs
F Royals manager Tony Muser, on K.C.'s hot start
G Pittsburgh Penguins center Alexei Kovalev, on losing in five
H Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning, on the NBA postseason
I Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller, on NBA suspensions
J Seattle Mariners DH Edgar Martinez, on hitting
K Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, on getting on
L Detroit Tigers pitcher C.J. Nitkowski, on his affinity for
M Journeyman receiver Marcus Nash, on sticking with the
N Broadcaster Jim Nantz, on covering the Masters
Answers: 1-K, 2-E, 3-M, 4-F, 5-H, 6-B, 7-L, 8-A, 9-G, 10-I,
11-D, 12-C, 13-N, 14-J
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
A British government pamphlet recommends that schools ban the
game musical chairs because it favors stronger and faster
Pundits will now consign Bourque and Malone to the bleak corner
reserved for those without a crown.
They Said It
Orioles owner, on North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms's request
that the Justice Department investigate rumors that the Orioles
refuse to sign defectors from Cuba: "This presents the best
argument yet for term limits."