The trouble with All-Star games--and how to make them better
In case you missed them--and many of you did--the All-Star
showcases for three major sports took place over the past two
weeks. Larger events obscured them: The NHL All-Stars faced off
on Feb. 2, the day before the Super Bowl; the NFL and NBA
exhibitions were last weekend, during the first two days of
Even in years without conflict, All-Star weekends don't stir
sports fans. (The ratings for the 2001 NBA game barely eclipsed
that day's coverage of the Buick Invitational golf tournament.)
The events' failings are many--too many gimmicks and too heavy a
cold, corporate hand are two--but the main shortcoming is that the
games betray their implicit promise: that pitting the best
players in a sport against one another will yield first-class
Of course you can't expect professionals to risk injury or even
to expend much energy in a game that has no bearing on the
standings and doesn't count in a player's stats come contract
time. We've learned what we can expect: half-hearted and sloppy
play. You catch a lot of All-Stars yawning.
February 18, 2002
This is why the leagues market All-Star events more as celebrity
gatherings than as competitive showdowns. The problem with that
is that with very few exceptions athletes only become celebrities
because of how they perform in high-intensity competition. We
don't revere Michael Jordan for his smile during shootarounds.
Here's our modest plea: that the NBA, NFL and NHL do something to
add a sense of urgency to All-Star games. And here's our modest
proposal: Think Rocky. The NBA should set up a street-ball
tournament in which top playground teams from Harlem to Venice
Beach compete for a chance to play the All-Stars on national
television. The NHL might pluck a worthy team off a pond or bring
in the winner of a tournament among elite European teams. The NFL
All-Stars could play the reigning CFL champs.
The idea is to bring in hard-scrapping opponents juiced by the
prospect of having everything to gain (namely to open scouts'
eyes and get a shot at the big time). Suddenly we'd have a game
on our hands. When one side is going all-out, the other has no
choice but to follow. Ask Apollo Creed.
We don't mind how the leagues dress up their All-Star weekends.
Keep your slam-dunk competitions and your fastest-skater races.
Keep your luaus. All we're asking is that somewhere in there you
give us a game worth watching. --Kostya Kennedy
KORBUT AND THE POLICE
Two years ago Tracy Lee, a deputy in the Gwinnett (Ga.) County
sheriff's office, stood at the front door of a house in Duluth
and asked the woman inside, "You're not the Olga Korbut, are
you?" Lee was delivering legal papers in a minor dispute
involving repairs to the legendary Russian gymnast's
3,000-square-foot house. "She was so nice," Lee says. "She took
me in and showed me her Olympic memorabilia."
In December, Lee was at that house again, this time to deliver an
eviction notice because of missed mortgage payments. Police say
that Korbut, 46, who won three gold medals as a 17-year-old at
the 1972 Olympics and another in '76, no longer lived there but
that her son, Richard Bortkevich, 22, did. On Jan. 10 officials
began removing property from the house, including Korbut's
Olympic memorabilia--and much more. Federal agents are
investigating the discovery of $30,000 in counterfeit bills that
was found during the eviction process. Police told SI that child
pornography was also found on the premises. "She hasn't lived
there for two years," says Andre' Gleen, a part owner of an
Atlanta gymnastics facility where Korbut teaches. "She knows
nothing about any of this."
That wasn't the only recent embarrassment for Korbut. On Jan. 31,
in an unrelated incident, she was arrested and briefly jailed on
charges of shoplifting $19 worth of groceries from a supermarket.
Through a spokesperson Korbut denied the shoplifting charge, and
she refused to comment on the material found in the house.
In 2000 Korbut divorced Leonid Bortkevich, a Russian rock star
and Richard's father. (She has remarried and moved to Norcross,
Ga.) Leonid kept the Atlanta house and let Richard live there.
When no one responded to eviction papers, Lee searched the
residence on Feb. 6, which appeared to have been empty for
several weeks, and found freshly printed counterfeit $100 bills.
A cleaning crew went through the house, removing life-sized
photos of Korbut, an oil painting of her as a young gymnast,
family albums and dozens of Olympic-related items, and dumped
them out on a curb. "There were so many people picking through
their stuff, it looked like a feeding frenzy," says neighbor
Chuck Webster, who gathered some of the memorabilia and personal
effects in hopes of returning them to Korbut.
Last Saturday, Korbut taught a gymnastics class while reporters
hovered nearby. As one session ended, she pulled two students
aside to tutor them on the final move in every routine--the forced
smile. --Don Yaeger
Former Virginia basketball coach Terry Holland used to crow about
naming his dog Dean, after Tarheels coach Dean Smith, because,
Holland said, "it whines so much." In honor of the Westminster
Kennel Club Dog Show, which was held this week, we look at other
dogs belonging to sports figures and what their owners say about
Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking: Neapolitan mastiff, Butkus,
named for his football idol. "He's as big as Dick Butkus, and he
hasn't even filled out yet."
Arizona pitcher Curt Schilling: Rottweiler, Slider (left, with
Slugger and Rodney). "I can't throw one, so I bought one."
Bulls forward Ron Mercer: Rottweilers, Kato and Gotti. "After
Kato Kaelin and John Gotti."
Jonathan Bender, Pacers forward: Presa Canario, Liberty. "She's
like the statue. She rules and has a big presence."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: Labrador retrievers, Cameron (after
Cameron Indoor Stadium) and Defense. "I love my dogs. If someone
said [my players] were in the doghouse, it's the house of love,
not of hate."
Coyotes defenseman Teppo Numminen: Bichon frise, Elmo. "I know
all about Elmo on Sesame Street [Numminen has a toddler], but the
dog's not named after him. Elmo is just a popular name in
Oakland University softball coach Steve Ogg: German shorthaired
pointer, Sammy Sosa. "Her name was just Sammy until one day when
we were watching television and we yelled out that Saaammy
Sooo-sa had just hit a home run. The dog came running into the
room, so we changed her name."
Forward Jeff Odgers is the Thrashers' designated brawler, and he
has a ready explanation for how a tough guy can be a teddy bear
around children. "A lot of the scrapping has to do with caring
about your teammates, standing up for them," says Odgers, who's
logged more than 2,000 penalty minutes in his 11-season,
four-team NHL career. "That's not much different from caring
Since arriving in Atlanta before the 2000-01 season, Odgers has
volunteered regularly with Special Olympics Georgia, conducting
hockey clinics, serving as a spokesperson and filming
public-service announcements. For four months he's coached a
Special Olympics floor hockey team of 15 sixth- to ninth-graders.
Even when a broken ankle kept him off the ice for 10 weeks, he
ran weekly drills. He also secured the Thrashers' practice rink
for an afternoon with his club, which won the gold medal at the
state Special Olympics indoor games in January. "I enjoyed seeing
the same faces every week," Odgers says. "You could see their
self-confidence growing." Says Georgia Milton-Sheats, executive
director of Special Olympics Georgia, "Jeff is very competitive,
but he's also very kind and open-minded. Sometimes people don't
know how to react to those with intellectual disabilities; they
tend to look at their disability. Jeff looks for their ability."
About the only person Odgers hasn't impressed is himself. "The
people who do the real work are the full-time volunteers," he
says. "I can come in and make an impact, but the real heroes do
it every day." --Daniel G. Habib
The Super Globetrotters
Take some of the grooviest icons of the 1970s--Dr. J, Scooby-Doo,
Parliament-Funkadelic, Fat Albert--mix them together, throw them
into a Saturday morning cartoon, and you might come up with
something half as strange as The Super Globetrotters, the
animated series that ran in the last year of that decade.
The premise was this: The Globies, who had already gotten the
Hanna-Barbera treatment in the early '70s, were endowed with
powers that exceeded the ability to make behind-the-back
half-court shots. When alerted to trouble by the Crime Globe--a
great basketball in the sky that said things like "Right on" in a
robotic voice--members of the team dashed to their lockers and,
with a cry of "Go, go Globetrotters!" emerged as their alter
egos. There was Spaghetti Man, who could stretch to any distance;
Liquid Man, who turned into water; Sphere Man, whose powers were
undefined but whose body was a giant basketball; self-replicating
Multi-Man; and, most memorably, Gizmo Man, who pulled surfboards,
ladders, rescue rafts and various other deus ex machinas from his
It may not have been the most obvious skill set, but it worked.
Each week the Crime Globe dispatched the gang to fight such
villains as Whaleman, Bullmoose, Banana Bob and, most chilling of
all, Museum Man. More often than you might think possible,
victory depended on an impromptu game of basketball. Of course,
the bad guys went down as reliably as the Washington Generals.
Alas, the formula wasn't as elastic as Spaghetti Man. After three
months The Super Globetrotters' run ended. By then the 1980s were
upon us, and the world was a little less groovy--and a little less
fun. --Brett Martin
And loving it, the members of Scotland's Robert Gordon
University crew team, who, according to captain Andrew Shannon,
are training in the buff to "find out what natural assets we have
for rowing." The team, which has braved wintry conditions while
preparing for next month's Aberdeen Universities boat race,
consists of four female rowers, four male rowers and a female
After 18 years, the sterling silver trophy that was to have
gone to trainer Woody Stephens for winning the 1984 Kentucky
Derby. Stephens had been in the hospital when his horse, Swale,
won that race, and he said until his death in '98 that he'd never
gotten the trophy, which Churchill Downs execs said they'd
mailed. Last week workers found the prize in a sealed box in a
track storage vault; it'll be given to Stephens's widow, Lucille.
O.J. Simpson, to tell jokes, throw signed footballs into the
crowd and introduce acts at a hip-hop concert scheduled for March
2 at Cincinnati's Music Hall. Simpson says his goal is to promote
peace in the city. The artist Little Ronnie is expected to unveil
his song In the Mind of O.J. at the show.
By three years, Angels pitcher Ramon Ortiz, after an official
at the U.S. consulate in Ortiz's native Dominican Republic
checked Ortiz's birth certificate and discovered he is 28, not 25
as his passport says. Says Angels spokesman Tim Mead, "We're
excited he's gained three years of knowledge."
Hundreds of visitors daily, the exhibition Pele, the Art of the
King, at the Sao Paulo Museum of Art. Viewers enter through a
fake stadium tunnel and emerge onto an ersatz soccer field to the
recorded sound of cheering fans. Items on display include Pele's
first ball (a sock stuffed with newspaper), the net into which he
scored his 1,000th goal and the shoe-shine box he used to earn
money as a boy.
Sports On Stage
A musical version of Rocky and a stage show based on the life of
Jesse Ventura are just two of the sports-themed productions in
the works for Broadway. Here are some jock-centered shows that
have already hit the footlights.
Runt of the Litter
WHERE MCC Theater, New York City, opened Jan. 31 SYNOPSIS Written
and performed by former Oilers defensive back Bo Eason, the
one-man show follows the ruminations of defensive back Jack Henry
in the locker room before a Super Bowl. Henry is to face his
older brother Charlie, dubbed "the greatest quarterback of all
time." The plot is partly autobiographical: Bo's older brother
Tony had a 10-year career as a quarterback and led the Patriots
to Super Bowl XX. Bo played four unspectacular seasons. CRITIQUE
"Semiautobiographical solo [shows are] often a prescription for
indulgence. Eason delivers the rare exception with this funny,
sometimes lacerating but ultimately sunny view of a life deformed
by the mistake of living someone else's dream." --Robert Hofler,
WHERE Storm Theater, New York City, opened Feb. 8 SYNOPSIS
Written by Tony Award winner William Hauptman, the play features
Hall of Fame NFL running back John Riggins (above, with costar
Shaula Chambliss) in the lead role of Mickey Hollister, a
self-proclaimed good ol' boy from Texas who journeys to
Gillette, Wyo., to work on oil rigs. On the way he picks up a
hitchhiker who's an aspiring country singer fleeing his day job.
The two meet a pair of women and fall in love, after which the
trip goes awry. CRITIQUE "Riggins, the best thing about the
play, has more charisma than you'd expect. He has a future on
the stage and deserves more than this sleazy production to work
with." --Jason Zinoman, Time Out New York
Joe Louis Blues
WHERE 14th Street Playhouse in Atlanta, opened Feb. 9 after a
six-week run in L.A. SYNOPSIS A fictional account of Joe Louis's
relationship with musicians in a Harlem nightclub, it examines
boxing and music in African-American life. Louis wanders into
the New York City club the night he wins the heavyweight crown,
meets Leila, a jazz singer, and the two begin a steamy
relationship. Ultimately, Leila's ambition to become a star is
thwarted by racism, and Louis's boxing talent can't help the
couple overcome harsh social realities. CRITIQUE "Playwright
Oliver Mayer's characters are authentic and his evocation of
early 1940s nightlife (helped by dozens of classic recordings
from the period) maintains a grip on audience interest."
--Joel Hirschhorn, Daily Variety
No one had a more camera-friendly NBA All-Star weekend than
rapper Lil' Bow Wow, who was in Philly filming scenes for his
upcoming movie Like Mike. Bow (below) stars as a 14-year-old
orphan who dons a pair of old sneakers with mj written on them
and morphs into a trifecta-dropping, dunk-slamming superstar. Fox
rented the Spectrum from last Thursday through Saturday to film
cameos by, among others, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Gary Payton
and Rasheed Wallace. Chris Webber also came by on the final day
of shooting and was cheered on by girlfriend Tyra Banks, who sat
courtside wearing sunglasses, a pair of macadamia-sized diamond
earrings and cornrows curled into Princess Leia-style buns. Bow
also found time to walk the walk: He won MVP in last Friday's MTV
Rock 'N Jock game.... Yankees pitcher and veteran pub crawler
David Wells may soon earn the nickname Waterboy. After drinking
only water during a night out at Veruka in December, Wells again
stuck to H2O while cohosting the New York City launch party for
the Jaguar X-Type last Thursday. Miss USA, Kandace Krueger,
cohosted, but it was the slimmed-down Wells (he's dropped 25
pounds since last season) who drew whistles for his appearance.
More than 1,000 people showed for the bash, held in a Jaguar
showroom, including Nets rookie Richard Jefferson.... For his
latest IMAX film, Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa, David
Breashears, who also directed Everest, assembled five trekkers to
be led by a guide on a 10-day ascent of the mountain. The most
surprising choice for the group? Model Heidi Albertsen, who
Breashears first noticed on the cover of a fitness magazine. Says
Breashears, "I chose Heidi because in her interview it was clear
she has a deep connection to the outdoors. She was tough." Says
Albertsen, "It was so nice not to have to worry about how you
lookfor once. I washed my hair one time." What about the rumors
she brought along lipstick? "It was lip balm," Albertsen swears.
"I didn't care about my lips' color. I cared about them getting
Years that Wyoming senior Clinton Haskins could spend in prison
after pleading guilty to eight counts of aggravated vehicular
homicide in a September car crash; the truck he was driving while
drunk veered into an oncoming lane and struck a Jeep that was
carrying eight members of Wyoming's cross-country team, killing
them all (SI, Nov. 26).
Bay Area households that are missing the Olympics because NBC
recently switched affiliates in the region and hasn't set up an
antenna to transmit to those homes.
Amount, in cash, that Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa lost after he
unintentionally left the money, wrapped in a towel, on a desk in
the lobby of the Caracas Hilton.
Discount on tickets offered by Brazilian soccer club Nautico to
fans who come to a game dressed as a clown.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
A Cameroon soccer coach was banned from the sport for a year
after allegedly dropping a charm believed to contain black magic
onto the field during a semifinal match at the African Cup of
"The doghouse is the house of love, not the house of hate."
They Said It
Recently retired Ravens tackle, placing his dinner order at
Emeril Lagasse's restaurant in New Orleans: "Keep it coming until
I puke. Then hit me again."