DAVIS SLAYS GOLIATH
McEnroe's outsized ego proves no match for U.S. apathy
It was a Faustian bargain. When USTA officials named John
McEnroe as Davis Cup captain last fall, they knew they'd be
getting his unfettered opinions and lapses in decorum. But he
was also supposed to do what his predecessor, Tom Gullikson,
could not: coax/menace/humiliate the top American players into
participating in the century-old international competition. On
the night of his appointment, McEnroe, providing television
commentary for the U.S. Open, mischievously phoned Pete Sampras
at home and, live on the air, prodded him about playing.
Yet after Spain's doubles team of Alex Corretja and Juan Balcells
finished off Todd Martin and Chris Woodruff in five sets last
Saturday, giving host Spain a 3-0 lead on the way to a 5-0 sweep
at the Davis Cup semifinal, McEnroe was left commiserating with a
U.S. team that was strictly jayvee. McEnroe had been as
obstreperous as ever. He arrived wearing only a bathrobe for a
meeting with Spanish team captain Javier Duarte and a Davis Cup
judge and dismissed the heavily favored Spaniards as "chokers."
But Sampras and Andre Agassi--who lobbied vigorously last year for
McEnroe to be captain--had begged off Davis Cup duty with
suspiciously convenient excuses: Sampras blamed sore shins from
Wimbledon; Agassi cited a back injury from an auto accident (one
he never reported to police). "I'm disappointed and hurt," said
McEnroe. "I believed that my presence would be a way of uniting
the team, but I have come up against players who promise to play
and then a couple of days later say no."
It's unlikely McEnroe will hear many yesses in the near future.
The demands of the Davis Cup schedule--four weekends of
best-of-five-set matches each year--are high, especially
considering that Sampras and Agassi are in their sunset years and
need to ration their energy. The USTA has attempted to throw
money at the problem by paying players $100,000 per weekend. But
as Sampras has noted, "American fans simply don't care enough"
about the Davis Cup to make it worth his while.
All of which raises an obvious question: How long before the
captain jumps ship? McEnroe, perhaps the most unflinchingly loyal
Davis Cupper in U.S. history, has a three-year contract, but it's
hard to imagine his continuing to oversee such a halfhearted
endeavor. "This hasn't worked out the way I planned," he
concedes. "But I still believe Davis Cup is an event worth
fighting for." Rest assured that somewhere Tom Gullikson is
chuckling. --L. Jon Wertheim
ISIAH AND THE CBA
WANNA BUY A LEAGUE?
The second-best basketball league in the world can no longer
claim that its future is as bright as Isiah Thomas's trademark
grin. Nine months after buying--and buoying--the nine-team CBA with
$10 million and visions of a network of 300 teams in cities
across the country, Thomas has cut bait. Last Thursday the
12-time All-Star and member of this year's Hall of Fame class
accepted a reported four-year, $20 million offer to coach the
Pacers and, following NBA requirements, agreed to divest himself
of the smaller league.
Whither the 54-year-old CBA? No one seems to know. "The [league]
is prepared...to move forward confidently with the plans
inspired by the leadership of Isiah Thomas," said CBA president
Don Welsh last Thursday. One small problem: "We don't know the
plans of the [league's] new owners, or even who the new owners
will be," says Tommy Smith, CEO and part owner of the Sioux
Falls Skyforce and regional vice president of four other CBA
teams. Although Thomas signed a letter of intent in June to sell
the league to the National Basketball Players Association, as of
Monday a deal did not appear imminent.
When Thomas took over the CBA last October, he adopted rules
changes to encourage high scoring, revamped his marketing staff
and announced expansion plans in hopes of forming closer links to
the NBA. But now Thomas is gone, and the NBA is proceeding with
plans for its own developmental league, to tip off in 2001. So
much for moving confidently forward. "Uncertainty in the CBA is
the norm," says Smith, who's been a top executive in the league
since 1994. "It's like a cold shower--after you've taken them for
so long, you forget what hot water feels like."
Maaco's new TV campaign, starring Pete Rose
SYNOPSIS Each of the eight commercials opens with images of cars
in disrepair and Rose delivering such lines as, "Everyone could
use a little spring training," followed by the tag line, "Get
your car to Maaco for a Maaco-ver."
BACKGROUND After tapping Rose to speak at a franchisee
convention, Maaco chairman Tony Martino enlisted the Hall of
Fame pariah as the company's celebrity spokesman. (Rose thus
follows in the footsteps of Charo.) Given that it's the first
national endorsement for Rose since he was banned from baseball
in 1989, Maaco queried its franchisees about the choice. The
response was positive (although one letter did ask, "Isn't O.J.
available?"). "We were looking for the hardest worker in
baseball, since we're the hardest workers in auto painting,"
says Maaco ad exec Eileen Moran. Reached last weekend in
Cooperstown, Rose said, "Corporate America's letting me back in.
The Maaco door is going to open other doors."
BOTTOM LINE How ironic that ads for slick paint jobs are so
colorless. Still, if mainstream is what Charlie Hustle is
shooting for, he's definitely on target.
LASER EYE SURGERY
See No Evil
It's hardly newsworthy that the Redskins are officially outfitted
by Adidas, but the billboard at FedEx Field for Washington Laser
Eye Center, the Redskins' official laser eye center, is a sign of
the times. The growing number of athletes singing the praises of
LASIK, the 15- to 30-minute laser surgery that can correct many
common vision problems, raises the question, Should pro athletes
and teams be endorsing a surgical procedure?
The ethics of such endorsements are dubious. Some physicians are
paying topflight athletes like Tiger Woods and Bernie Williams
hefty fees to let the doctors perform the surgery on them or use
their names in marketing. "People should put that [information]
up front," says Atlanta surgeon Alan Kozarsky, whose patients,
including Greg Maddux and Bob Tway, have not been compensated.
"Paid athlete endorsements can oversell the product. People go
into surgery expecting miracles the next day. But athletes are
younger than the typical LASIK candidate and heal faster. They
start with better ingredients."
Often with better physicians, too. "Pros are not going to a
doctor who has just completed one of those LASIK weekend
courses," says Kozarsky. Indeed, although TLC Laser Eye Centers,
which Woods endorses, has more than 11,500 affiliated doctors,
Woods's physician, Mark Whitten, performs up to 1,000 procedures
a month and has a monthlong waiting list.
There's also the question of efficacy. While an estimated 95% of
LASIK patients have no postoperative complications, not everyone
in sports is convinced that the procedure, which was approved by
the FDA only two years ago, is risk-free. The Dodgers' Michael
Mellman is one team doctor who is unconvinced that the surgery
can help hitters. Mark McGwire, whose 20/600 vision is possibly
the worst in baseball, has no plans to get zapped. "He wears his
contacts comfortably and hits a ton of home runs," says Kozarsky.
"He'd be crazy to mess with that."
Five Notable Tennis Withdrawals of 2000
June 25, 2000 Spain's Alex Corretja and Albert Costa pull out the
night before Wimbledon begins, angry that they're not seeded in
May 31, 2000 After losing his first two sets of the French Open
to Tommy Haas, Marcelos Rios packs it in and exits the
tournament. "If I know I'm not going to feel good the rest of the
week, it makes no sense to play," he says.
May 14, 2000 Moments before the Italian Open draw, top seed
Martina Hingis, who had lost the day before in a German Open
semifinal, withdraws with an ankle injury.
February 11, 2000 Saying that he had sprained his ankle in a
pickup basketball game, Todd Martin, two-time champion of the ATP
tournament in Memphis, backs out just before the draw is made.
February 8, 2000 Top-ranked Andre Agassi cancels on the eve of
the Sybase Open in San Jose, citing lower back strain that was
exacerbated by plane trips from Zimbabwe to London and then to
San Francisco for tournaments.
Amount Formula One mogul Bernie Ecclestone, who controls the
commercial rights to F/1 racing for the next decade, will pay to
extend his hold on the circuit an additional 100 years, through
Dec. 31, 2110.
Bonus Redskins running back Stephen Davis will earn if he catches
one touchdown pass this season.
Amount Lance Armstrong won for finishing first in the Tour de
Amount France's Olivier Perraudeau won for finishing 128th and
last, nearly four hours behind Armstrong.
Home rain delays in Mariners history, after a computer error
prevented the Safeco Field roof from closing during heavy
showers, which held up a Texas-Seattle game for 54 minutes.
Sport? Not a Sport?
THIS WEEK: POOL
NOT A SPORT "That's like saying shooting craps is a sport."
--Heat forward P.J. Brown
NOT A SPORT "It's something you do on a date."
--Blue Jays outfielder Jose Cruz
SPORT "It takes hand-eye coordination and concentration. It's got
something in common with hitting a baseball."
--Brewers infielder Charlie Hayes
SPORT "You need hand-eye coordination, and you have to line
something up. It's the same as bowling."
--Cardinals pitcher Garrett Stephenson
SPORT "Pool could be an Olympic sport."
--Mavericks guard Damon Jones
NOT A SPORT "If you're going to shoot pool in the Olympics, do it
right. Everyone in the competition has to be working on a pitcher
of beer while he's playing."
--Orioles pitcher Pat Rapp
NOT A SPORT "It's good for gambling, but not a sport."
--Blue Jays designated hitter Brad Fullmer
NOT A SPORT "If you're going to make pool a sport, why not
Monopoly or Yahtzee?"
--Angels coach Mickey Hatcher
SPORT "I guess it's a sport. They show it on TV once in a while,
so I think that qualifies."
--Brewers pitcher Jeff D'Amico
Rockets guard Steve Francis, of jewelry, by armed assailants
while he was getting a haircut in a Harlem barber shop. Francis
is the latest NBA star to be held up this off-season, joining
the Nets' Stephon Marbury, the 76ers' Nazr Mohammed and the
Celtics' Antoine Walker.
Wild, the Canadian Wildlife Federation's magazine for kids, by
NHL Entertainment and the expansion Minnesota Wild. The NHL
fears its ability to market Wild jerseys and other merchandise
will be threatened by the trademark the Canadian government
granted the magazine last year.
Army's traditional logo, a kicking mule with the letter A, by a
new one showing a sword-wielding knight astride a horse; the
nickname of the Military Academy's sports teams has been changed
from Cadets to Black Knights.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, to commission lyrics for his
country's wordless national anthem, by members of Russian soccer
champion Spartak Moscow who wrote to tell Putin, "We don't want
to hang our heads any longer when our country's anthem is played
in international arenas."
Jonathan Kiser, 22, America's top steeplechase rider, from head
injuries suffered when he fell off a swing at his sister's home
The heads of players on a boys' soccer team from Chaman,
Pakistan, while they were in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for a series
of matches. Local officials of the Taliban, the hard-line Muslim
movement that rules Afghanistan, arrested the players during a
game and buzz-cut them as punishment for violating its
strictures against wearing shorts.
Athletes Who Have Undergone Laser Eye Surgery
Tiger Woods Tom Kite
Greg Maddux Kenny Rogers
Troy Aikman Jeff Bagwell
Wade Boggs Patrick Ewing
Al Unser Jr. Laura Davies
Darryl Strawberry, always a big swinger as a player, recently
joined Trapeze II, a swingers club in Fort Lauderdale. The
slugger, serving a one-year suspension for violating baseball's
substance-abuse policy, first dropped in at the club last month
with a friend. When told membership was required for entrance,
Strawberry signed up. Since then the Straw, who wrote the book
Recovering Life with his wife last year, has been back three or
four times and, according to a Trapeze insider, always leaves
with a different woman. The source does add that Strawberry never
checks out the back room where the other members, uh, mingle....
Shaquille O'Neal is close to purchasing a unit in Las Vegas's
Park Towers, a luxury high-rise due to open in the fall. Before
he closes on the deal, however, Shaq wants a hoops court
installed on the premises. The builders are considering the
Darius Miles, the high school phenom whom the Clippers drafted
in the first round, is really young. (How young is he?) He's so
young he had to withdraw from Alonzo Mourning's recent charity
basketball game because he came down with chicken pox....
When Felix Trinidad gets ready to splurge, he thinks big. The
WBA super welterweight champ is eyeing a specially built Jaguar
XJ8, with a 24-karat-gold gearshift, an interior hand-painted to
look like jaguar skin, and a gold-highlighted dashboard adorned
by a sculpted Medusa's head. Cost: $110,000....
Though the openly gay Martina Navratilova has had trouble in the
past getting endorsement deals, Subaru's signing of the tennis
star as a spokesperson in March isn't surprising. The carmaker
has been courting the lesbian market, with campaigns featuring
slogans such as "Different Drivers. Different Roads. One Car."
Recent ads have even shown license plates that read CAMP OUT and
XENA LVR. The unconventional strategy seems to be working: Some
members of the gay community have taken to calling the car the
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
The XFL's Chicago franchise will be coached by Dick Butkus.
KEN GRIFFEY JR.
on his game: "I was much happier five years ago, because I was
five years younger."