Who needs the Next MJ when the NBA may have Bird-Magic II?
Every few years the NBA trots out another beta version of Michael
2.0, the latest contender for the title of Next Jordan. So far
none have lived up to the billing. Now, though, the NBA finds
itself with not one but two players, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers
and the Raptors' Vince Carter, with claim to the title--and with
it the responsibility of carrying David Stern's tattoo-scarred
league to another golden age.
If one thing has become obvious in the two years since MJ
retired, however, it's that there will be no Next Jordan. Even
were a player to approximate his talent--and Bryant, at 22, may be
further along than Jordan was at the same age--he would still have
to vie with the legend of Michael, burnished as it is by six
rings. Ten years down the road someone may astound fans the way
Jordan did, but not now. His supremacy is too fresh in the
The answer to the NBA's post-Michael prayers may lie in the
pre-Michael era, when the league was propelled not by one player
but by the interplay of two: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Back
then, as Johnson described it, "When the new schedule would come
out each year, I'd grab it and circle the Boston games. To me it
was The Two and the other 80."
While no pair today is as perfectly cast as Bird and Magic were,
the best candidates to match that rivalry's dynamism may well be
Carter, 23, and Bryant. Both are prolific offensive players
(through Sunday, Kobe led the league with 29.3 points per game
and Vince was third at 28.1), both are young leaders on
contending teams, and both are capable of acrobatics most players
couldn't pull off on a Nerf hoop. Most important, each possesses
The parallels aren't perfect. Even in the wide open Eastern
Conference, the Raptors aren't yet championship material. Also,
Toronto lacks L.A.'s media presence and Boston's basketball
lineage. As for Bryant, he must share top billing with a certain
Even so, Bryant and Carter have become, along with Allen Iverson
(the Isiah Thomas to their Magic and Bird?), the game's most
compelling players not named O'Neal. A sure sign of their
grassroots appeal is how often you hear Who's better? debates
among fans. No less an authority than Jordan stoked the fire last
spring when he proclaimed that Bryant was better all-around
because Carter "doesn't play defense."
This Sunday, Vince will have a chance to prove His Airness wrong
when Kobe's Lakers come to Toronto for the teams' first meeting
of the season. Here's to hoping it turns into Game 1 of The
Two. --Chris Ballard
The Men Who Would Have Been King: Five Former Airs Apparent
Ron Harper Got Next Jordan tab from Cleveland State coach Kevin
Mackey in 1986; played in oblivion with Clippers before riding
MJ's coattails to three titles.
Harold Miner Baby Jordan hype flared after he won slam dunk
titles, in '93 and again in '95; by fall '96 he was out of the
Penny Hardaway Averaged 19.7 points in first four years; since
slowed by injuries and breakup of would-be Orlando dynasty.
Grant Hill Five-time All-Star and triple-double machine has the
goods (career 21.6 point scorer) but has yet to advance past
first round of the playoffs.
Jerry Stackhouse Like Jordan, left North Carolina early and
shoots at will; has unMikelike .416 career field goal percentage.
THREE RIVERS STADIUM, 1970-2001
Upon its debut in 1970, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh was
heralded as a shrine to modernity: an efficient two-sport venue
boasting wall-to-wall, ultrapractical synthetic turf. The New
York Times dubbed the edifice "baseball's newest magnificent
ballpark." The Sporting News called it "swank," "plush" and "an
Times change. On Saturday, Three Rivers, a steel-and-concrete
period piece as cutting-edge as an eight-track player and as
eye-pleasing as a leisure suit, will host its final game. Built
during the wave of multipurpose parks that included Cincinnati's
Cinergy Field (ne Riverfront Stadium, which also opened in 1970)
and the Vet in Philly ('71), Three Rivers had the misfortune to
come about when minimalism and monotony were stadium virtues. "At
that time architecture's primary direction was what you could
call brutalistic," says William Sippel, 76, one of Three Rivers'
architects. "The emphasis was on raw, common and massive forms."
Form followed function, and dual-use parks that wedged baseball
and football into the same space were a cost-effective solution
to finance stadiums. "The extreme difference in configurations is
why we've since decided to build separate venues," says Sippel.
"But in the 1960s, by God, it seemed much more logical. The
seasons didn't interfere, so why go to the expense of two
stadiums?" Indeed, adjusted for inflation, Three Rivers cost
about $160 million. The new parks for the Pirates and Steelers
will run a combined $470 million.
Though the Pirates won two World Series and the Steelers four
Super Bowls during Three Rivers' first decade, its architectural
legacy won't be so glorious. "This stadium is so divorced from
its site it could have gone in a suburban parking lot," says
Blair Kamin, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic of the
Chicago Tribune. "I mean, it's called Three Rivers, and you can't
even see the rivers. It's a dinosaur, a concrete monster. It's
It's getting hairy in the NBA. The clean-pated look that had
been the players' 'do--or 'do not--of choice is giving way to a
furrier feel. Among those who have grown out their hair are
Vince Carter (who sported a mini-Afro at the Olympics before
rechroming his dome after his mom and several friends pleaded
with him to get a cut), Shaquille O'Neal (who says he wants to
look more like his fuzzy-headed infant son, Shareef), Gary
Payton and Chris Webber. Why the return to a tress-filled life?
"I guess the bald-heads and fades got old," says Heat guard
Ricky Davis, who also has gone hirsute this season. "It's the
2000 fad." At least one of the bushy leaguers hopes the trend
doesn't advance to the next stage: braids, which are now worn by
only a few players. "Pervis Ellison has taken it too far with
that stuff," says O'Neal. "He did a spin move last time we
played, and he hit me in the eye with his hair." What's the call
on that: intentional coif-tending?
The NFL's "Show Me Something" campaign
SYNOPSIS It'll be hard to miss the NFL's latest ad blitz, which
launches on Dec. 17 and will air until the end of the playoffs.
The commercials feature voice-overs by actor Samuel L. Jackson
and star 32 playoff-bound players. In a typical spot, Jets
receiver Wayne Chrebet talks about what he has had to overcome
since graduating from Hofstra: "Five-foot-10. Not even drafted.
You know I'm going to show you something."
BACKGROUND The NFL tapped filmmaker Spike Lee to create the
ambitious ads because, says league spokesman Brian McCarthy, "we
wanted to do something over the top. Spike's storytelling ability
and the way he translates intensity onto the screen are what sold
us on him." Lee, who created the memorable Mars Blackmon ads for
Nike in the late '80s and early '90s, saw an opportunity to
increase the visibility of his four-year-old ad agency, SpikeDDB,
and indulge his fan side. "I love all sports," says Lee. "People
think all I follow is basketball, but that's not true. I have a
great rapport with all athletes, and that enhances the product."
BOTTOM LINE Over the last five years ratings for the playoffs
have steadily declined, which is why the league felt the need for
something other than a standard NFL Films-type promotional push.
How wide is the league casting its net for fans? The spots will
even be turning up on daytime soap operas.
--Pele, as Player of the Century by FIFA, soccer's world
governing body. He won the balloting by FIFA's football
committee and readers of its magazine, but when Diego Maradona
outpolled the Brazilian great in voting on its website, FIFA
quickly whipped up a special Internet Award to honor the
--For the second time in two months, Jazz center Olden Polynice,
with impersonating a police officer. The latest charge stems
from a September incident in which a Salt Lake City couple
alleged that Polynice flashed a badge during a traffic dispute
and told them, "I'm with the California Sheriff's Office, and I
can have you arrested." In October he also allegedly flashed a
badge at a West Valley, Utah, couple. His lawyer says they're
working with police and prosecutors to resolve the cases.
--By the city of Beijing, standards for toilets as part of its
quest for the 2008 Olympics. The city will institute a one- to
four-star ratings system for public rest rooms; according to the
China Daily, amenities that will earn top ranking include granite
floors, automatic flush capability and "lively music."
--By CBS, a $2.5 million Super Bowl ad buy from the People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for a spot in which cows sing
out against leather. CBS said it doesn't take advocacy ads.
--To some Bank of America clients, a poster celebrating the
Giants' first season in Pacific Bell Park. The accompanying
letter notes, "While the team didn't make it to the playoffs,
they nevertheless had a very special year." The Giants won the
National League West.
He works weekends under hazardous conditions, and about the only
time he gets noticed is when he screws up. To compensate, a
veteran NFL official can earn upwards of $100,000 annually. Not
bad, considering he has to work only 50 days a year.
NFL officials make up one of the most exclusive clubs in sport:
There are only 116 positions. Each year some 200 officials,
mostly from the college ranks, apply for the eight or so NFL
spots that open up. The league selects 30 candidates whom it
sends for a season or two to NFL Europe. Based on their
performance there, the field is narrowed to 10 finalists, who are
then subjected to psychological exams and reference checks.
Compensation for those who survive the process is reasonable, if
not extravagant. Rookie officials make $1,450 per game, while
20-year vets pull in the maximum of $4,500. Officials who are
selected by merit to work the postseason receive $10,000 per
playoff game, $15,000 for a Super Bowl. So a mid-level official
making $3,000 per who works four preseason, 15 regular season and
one playoff game would earn $67,000. Keep in mind, too, that
nearly all NFL officials have day jobs. For example, Walt
Anderson, who has worn the black and white for five NFL seasons,
is also a dentist in Houston. Imagine that--two jobs in which he
watches guys spit and get drilled.
Boris Becker has split from his wife of seven years, Barbara
(below, left). According to German press reports, the breakup
was caused by an affair Becker was having with German rap star
Sabrina Setlur. In an interview with Bild, Germany's
best-selling daily, Becker denied that another woman was in the
picture. "We fought for our marriage for a very long time," said
Becker, adding, "There was no concrete reason, it was
just...building for some time."...
Actor Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump), just landed the role of
Don King in director Michael Mann's biopic of Muhammad Ali.
Williamson shadowed King at the Felix Trinidad-Fernando Vargas
bout on Dec. 2 in Las Vegas. What nuggets did the actor glean?
Says Williamson, "Well, he enjoys being the center of
attention." Hmmm, you think?...
Citing insiders on George W. Bush's transition team, the
Washington Times reports Roger Staubach is under consideration
to be Bush's Secretary of the Navy. Staubach, who runs a Dallas
real estate firm, would only say through a spokesperson, "At
this time, [I] have not been contacted to serve in the Bush
administration." A Bush spokesman says, "We are not speculating
on any appointments."...
Not too long after Will Smith finished filming The Legend of
Bagger Vance, he told an assistant to find an African-American
golfer he could help out. The assistant discovered Tim O'Neal,
27, who has been pursuing his PGA Tour card for three years.
Since then Smith has been O'Neal's sole sponsor, picking up the
tab for his expenses and arranging for coaches and a sports
psychologist. At this year's Q school, O'Neal missed qualifying
for the Tour by two shots after triple-bogeying the final hole.
If only he'd had Bagger Vance as a caddie.
WORD FOR WORD
Juice on the Line
After Miami TV station WSVN aired a report on a Dec. 4 traffic
altercation, it got a surprise call from one of the principals,
O.J. Simpson. Jeffrey Pattinson of Miami told police that
Simpson had run a stop sign and then--after Pattinson had honked
his horn at him--pulled in front of Pattinson's car, yelling,
"So I blew the stop sign! What are you going to do, kill me and
my kids?" Simpson gave the station his version of events.
Q: What happened last night?
Simpson: To be honest, it's hard to remember, it was so quick. I
was riding with my two kids, taking them home from dance class,
and some guy was right on my heel with his bright lights on me,
blaring on his horn. And so I kind of pulled over to let him go
by, and he didn't go by. He kind of pulled over with me, and I
stopped, thinking, Well, maybe it was somebody I knew. Or maybe
I had a flat, or something was wrong with the back of my car.
And I looked back, and the guy did not look threatening, and I
said, "Excuse me, what's going on?" And he started yelling about
something, and I said, "You got your bright lights on me,
sitting on my heel, blowing your horn. I got two kids in this
car, guy, you know, what are you doing?" And he said something
else, and I kind of told him, you know, where he could go with
it, and I got in my car and took my kids home.
Q: He says that you grabbed him at that point and alleges that
you scratched him....
Simpson: Ha, ha.
Q: ...with his glasses, when you ripped the glasses off his
Simpson: That's not true. That's not true.
Q: Are you talking to detectives about this today?
Simpson: I haven't talked to anybody.
Q: So there was no contact last night by the Miami-Dade police
department at all?
Simpson: Absolutely none.
Q: I would expect that you are expecting to hear from them
Simpson: Well, after seeing your report I do. [Laughs.]
Simpson was questioned by Miami-Dade police on Dec. 6. No charges
have been filed. The investigation is ongoing.
Three-pointers made, out of 43 attempted, by Taurean Moy of
Memphis's Booker T. Washington High in a 115-59 victory over
Manassas; both of his numbers are national high school records.
Average attendance this season for Indiana basketball games at
17,257-seat Assembly Hall.
Average home attendance for Indiana last season, the final one in
Bob Knight's coaching reign.
Rating for the Dec. 4 Monday Night Football game between the
Chiefs and the Patriots, second lowest in the show's history,
behind the 8.8 earned by a 1986 game between the Giants and the
Redskins that was broadcast opposite Game 7 of the Mets-Red Sox
Amount Starbucks is paying annually to be the official coffee of
University of Washington athletics.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
On Monday, the same day that it heard oral arguments in the
Florida election dispute, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it
would take on another case of vital national interest, the
racketeering lawsuit brought by boxing promoter Cedric Kushner
against Don King.
Warriors guard who's in the third year of a four-year, $18
million contract, asked why his team is so inconsistent: "If I
knew the answer, I'd be a rich man."