The NBA deals a severe blow to the T-Wolves
Crime in the sports world has ceased to shock. Punishment, on the
other hand, can still surprise us, at least when the discipline
is as severe as the blow administered to the Timberwolves for
their artless attempt to circumvent the NBA salary cap. To entice
forward Joe Smith to sign as a free agent for below market value
in January 1999--a time when Minnesota had little room under the
cap--the T-Wolves made an illicit side arrangement that would
reward Smith with a reported seven-year, $86 million contract
beginning next year. On Oct. 23 an arbitrator ruled the deal
violated the cap. Two days later commissioner David Stern fined
Minnesota $3.5 million and stripped it of its first-round draft
choices until 2006, the harshest penalty in league history.
Stern is still considering disciplining team owner Glen Taylor
and vice president Kevin McHale, and he has asked the NBA Players
Association to decertify Smith's former agent, Eric Fleisher.
Stern also voided Smith's Larry Bird rights, which allow a player
who has spent three seasons with a team to re-sign with that team
for any amount. Smith has appealed. A hearing is scheduled for
While the NBA's dirty little secret is that arrangements like the
Smith deal are far from uncommon, in Smith's case the
Timberwolves put the deal in writing, which turned the affair,
says Stern, into "a fraud of major proportions." Stern's message
is clear: Don't mess with the cap.
Why did the T-Wolves leave the paper trail? League sources
indicate that Taylor's heart problems--he had a triple bypass in
1999--were among the "unusual circumstances" he says led to the
deal. Whether Taylor wanted to make sure his promises were kept
in case he was incapacitated or whether Fleisher wanted to make
sure a future owner couldn't wriggle out of an oral agreement
isn't clear. Either scenario would have caused one side to push
for something more ironclad than a handshake.
Taylor has admitted his involvement and apologized, and he seems
certain to be suspended. The role of McHale is murkier. He has
denied knowledge of the deal all along. It does seem odd that
McHale, who has a longstanding antipathy toward agents, would
become a coconspirator with one--particularly Fleisher, with whom
he had acrimonious negotiations over Kevin Garnett's six-year,
$126 million contract.
While Stern declared Smith an immediate free agent, the good news
for Minnesota is that despite the penalties, Garnett, its biggest
star, seems willing to ride out the storm. "I am a loyal cat,"
says Garnett. "I don't just jump ship when stuff gets bad."
That loyalty could be rewarded, because the loss of the draft
choices doesn't necessarily doom the T-Wolves. The Heat and the
Knicks, two of the leading contenders for Smith's services, have
contended for at least five years without much help from the
draft. They've restocked their rosters with savvy trades and
free-agent deals. To duplicate that success, Minnesota will need
a creative, aggressive front office. The Timberwolves' brain
trust has shown those qualities--just in all the wrong ways.
Four Hard-to-Believe NBA Bargains
1. Gary Trent, Mavericks Instead of testing free-agent market,
signed one-year deal with Dallas that raised his salary by only
2. Maurice Taylor, Rockets Nixed Raptors' three-year, $17.5
million offer for Houston's $2.25 million.
3. John Amaechi, Magic Took $600,000 from Orlando after turning
down Lakers' $17 million for six years.
4. Chauncey Billups, T-Wolves Magic or Jazz would have given him
more than Minnesota's $2.25 million.
The former Packer, accused of sexual assault, emerges from his
In the weeks following his arrest last April for sexual assault
(Scorecard, April 24), Packers tight end Mark Chmura rarely left
his suburban Milwaukee home. If he did go out, he kept his head
down, a hat pulled low over sunglasses, a new goatee further
obscuring his identity.
He had reason to hide. Waukesha (Wis.) County district attorney
Paul Bucher had issued an 11-page, single-spaced complaint
containing lurid details of drinking and partying by the
31-year-old Chmura and his 42-year-old friend Robert Gessert in
the wee hours of April 9 at Gessert's Hartland, Wis., house
following a high school prom. A 17-year-old girl who had
occasionally babysat Chmura's two young boys told police that
Chmura had pulled her into a bathroom, locked the door, pulled
down her jeans and had intercourse with her.
"I realized that you're not presumed innocent in something like
this," says Chmura, who pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and
child enticement. "The media even blasted my wife for sticking
As Chmura sees it, there also wasn't much presumption of
innocence in the Packers' front office. Eight weeks after the
incident Green Bay released him, calling it a business decision.
Chmura had missed all but the first two games of 1999 with a neck
injury. There also was the little matter of a referendum (since
passed) to finance Lambeau Field renovations. "My neck has been
checked by three specialists around the country," Chmura told SI
last week. "It's fine. [The Packers] claim they're such a loyal
and family-driven organization, and when things were tough for
me, they weren't there."
While Chmura's mere presence at the post-prom party raises
serious questions about his judgment, it's also becoming apparent
that the prosecution's case against him is less than airtight.
The account given in a May 30 preliminary hearing by his unnamed
accuser, now a college student, differs from what she told police
in the hours after the party on two points: the color of the
towel Chmura was supposedly wearing in the bathroom and whether
Chmura had on underwear when the alleged attack began. The
defense also plans to stress that a hospital exam found the
girl's hymen intact and uncovered no DNA evidence from semen
Most significant for Chmura is a high school football star's
eyewitness account. According to several sources close to the
defense, Mike Kleber, a 6'3", 280-pound lineman who has committed
to Wisconsin next fall, will testify that he told the alleged
victim that Chmura was in the bathroom and that she should stay
out, but that she entered the bathroom anyway, smiling back at
Kleber as the door closed behind her. Prosecutor Bucher disputes
Kleber's account and claims it has been retracted. Bucher
acknowledges that Kleber has "information about aspects of the
case" but suggests that the accuser, the hospital personnel who
found swelling and tenderness near the girl's genitalia, and
other medical experts are "witnesses who are more important."
The trial is expected to begin in January. In the meantime Chmura
has shed the sunglasses and the goatee and is regaining the 25
pounds he lost after he was charged. "I feel like I have the
presumption of innocence back," he says. "People say hello, and
they tell [my wife and me] they're praying for us."
Denzel's firing up more than just the Titans
Football coaches will go to extreme lengths in the name of
motivation. (Remember Jackie Sherrill and the castrated bull?)
Luckily, the inspirational ploy du jour requires only a bus trip
to the local multiplex. High school, college and even NFL teams
have been getting a quick morale boost by going to see Remember
the Titans, the schmaltzy but uplifting story about (what else?)
a football squad overcoming adversity. After its players saw the
film, winless Colorado upset Texas A&M 26-19. "It showed what a
football team is all about," says Buffaloes quarterback Zac
Colvin. Similarly, Alabama, California, Oklahoma, Tulsa and UNLV
all went on to victories after taking in the Denzel Washington
flick. Says Runnin' Rebels coach John Robinson, "I may see if I
can buy a print of it to show to our team before every game."
On the pro circuit, Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt rented out a
theater on Oct. 7 for his team to view Titans. The Dolphins
responded with a 22-13 victory over Buffalo the next day. Later,
Wannstedt promised his players a day off if they all joined
together and sang, "We are the Titans, the mighty, mighty
Titans." They happily complied. "The film was about coming
together, gelling together and fighting for a common goal--to
win," says Dolphins linebacker Robert Jones. "Watching that movie
together, we could feel a cohesiveness before the game."
Naturally, the filmmakers have been pleased by the response.
"This is a love letter to jocks," says director Boaz Yakin. "It's
gratifying to see people reacting this way to it."
What happened to the pieces of Mike Piazza's broken bat?
The most coveted shards of lumber since the True Cross have
fallen into civic-minded hands. Piazza has the barrel that Roger
Clemens threw toward him during Game 2 of the World Series; Fox
Sports' Keith Olbermann nabbed the handle after the game; and Ron
Rosenberg, a managing director at Merrill Lynch, has the bat's
21-inch midsection. Rosenberg (left) was sitting in the first row
by the Mets dugout as a guest of Marlins owner John Henry and
asked a batboy for the timber. "To my surprise he gave it to me,"
Rosenberg says. "I knew I had a piece of Series history."
The Hall of Fame wasn't interested, so Piazza and Rosenberg will
ask Olbermann to join them in reassembling the bat so it can be
sold, with the proceeds going to charity. Brian Marren of Mastro
Fine Sports Auctions says the reconstituted lumber could go for
as much as $100,000.
By The Indianapolis Star in Marion County Superior Court, a suit
seeking to force Indiana to open all its records relating to the
firing of basketball coach Bob Knight. Legal experts say the
suit could establish a new standard in the state concerning the
people's right to know about disciplinary action taken by public
Barbados, by the U.S., by two wickets in the Red Stripe Bowl
cricket tournament in Jamaica, the biggest win by the U.S. in
recent history. Barbados's daily Nation compared the upset to
Buster Douglas's defeat of Mike Tyson.
By Nike, a print ad for its ACG Air Dri-Goat trail-running shoe,
after complaints that the ad demeans the disabled. Its copy
implied the shoe would prevent a wearer from slipping and
becoming a "drooling, misshapen non-extreme-trail-running husk of
[one's] former self, forced to roam the earth in a motorized
By Firestone, full-page newspaper ads in which 25 CART and 26
IRL drivers attest, "We race at over 200 mph with confidence and
control on Firestone tires." The company has recalled millions of
passenger tires after fatal crashes were linked to them.
The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and other ABC Saturday
morning kids' programs by KGO-TV in San Francisco and by several
other West Coast affiliates, to air the Nebraska-Oklahoma game.
The affiliates were responding to pressure from fans irate over
the network's plan not to preempt kiddie shows for the big game.
Six Degrees of Don Zimmer
Hollywood got it wrong: Don Zimmer, not Kevin Bacon, is the
center of the universe. As shown below, you can connect the
Yankees' coach to practically anyone else in only a few steps.
Yanks fan and Zimmer pal
Was in When Harry Met Sally with Crystal
Father of Star Wars' Princess Leia, played by Fisher
Beat the Zimmer-coached Red Sox in the '75 World Series
Tommy Lee Jones
Played Ty Cobb, whose career hits record was broken by Rose
Roomed with Jones at Harvard
Coached by Zimmer on the '87 Giants
George W. Bush
Owned the Rangers while Clark played for them
Coached by Zimmer
Once married to Justice
Starred in The Last Boy Scout with Berry
Was in Armageddon with Willis
Was in Good Will Hunting with Affleck
Played by Williams
Coached by Zimmer
Direct ancestor of O'Neill
Ulysses S. Grant
His memoirs were published by Twain
Robert E. Lee
Surrendered to Grant
Lee's father delivered his eulogy
Managed Zimmer on the '62 Mets
Managed by Stengel
Married to DiMaggio
Wrote Candle in the Wind about Monroe
Family friend of John's
Wills's e-mail correspondent
While the rest of New York was focused on the Subway Series, Bob
Knight quietly slipped into town to explore business
opportunities. He interviewed with CBS Sports president Sean
McManus about an analyst's job; McManus is apparently torn about
hiring him. Knight also visited publishing houses to push his
planned autobiography. Reportedly he's asking for $2 million, a
surprising price given that the book is far from a sure sell.
According to a publishing insider who's seen the proposal, the
book lacks drama because Knight admits to no wrongdoing and makes
no concessions to critics....
Sprinter Michael Johnson (below) is moving to San Francisco and
has sold his $1.3 million house in north Dallas. The buyer? New
Maverick Christian Laettner....
Shortages of the newly launched Sony PlayStation 2 video-game
system created widespread havoc last week--and not only among
the juvenile set. A number of pro athletes were sent scrambling
in a bid to secure one of the coveted units. "I was going to go
to Japan just to get it," says Bulls guard-forward Ron Artest.
Complained Ravens receiver Brandon Stokley, "I wish Sony would
do something for the players." At least one jock benefited
indirectly from the shortage: "If I'd gotten it," says Flyers
defenseman Chris Therien, "I'd also have to get a divorce."...
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hosted a reception at his home for
Princess Anne, who visited Dallas last week for a charity
appearance. Jones presented the princess with a sterling-silver
replica Cowboys helmet. He also dropped in a plug for Dallas,
which is in the hunt to host the Olympics in 2012. The Princess,
who's the president of the British Olympic Association,
responded by saying, "This [helmet] will come in handy when the
next city is announced."
Touchdowns scored by the Ravens in their five games in October.
Amount Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden will earn this season, most
of any NFL player.
Increase in the number of newborns named Derek in New York City
from 1998 to 1999, according to city health officials.
Population, according to 2000 census estimates, of El Paso, the
17th biggest U.S. city and the largest without a major league
baseball, NBA, NFL or NHL team.
Police officers needed to break up a brawl involving players and
parents at a peewee hockey game in Laval, Que., less than 48
hours after the province's minor hockey federation unveiled a
program to reduce violence.
Percentage of NHL players who are Canadian, an alltime low.
Total won on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire by U.S. Olympians
Julie Foudy, Rulon Gardner, Maurice Greene, Gary Hall Jr., Lenny
Krayzelburg, Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres and Laura Wilkinson;
half of their winnings went to charity.
Figure skating tournaments that aired simultaneously on major
networks on Sunday afternoon: the Grand Slam on Fox, the Skate
America International on ABC and the World Professional
Championships on NBC.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Penn State's faculty senate passed a resolution denouncing
"negative cheering," which will be read before football games in
Patriots tackle, on why he never went trick-or-treating as a kid
in Miami: "In my neighborhood you didn't wear a mask and go
knocking on strangers' doors."