Can Sinners Be Winners?
In the NBA the pros might be cons; two SI writers debate the
value of troubled stars
Teams that win NBA championships--the Lakers of today and the
1980s, the Bulls of the '90s, the Celtics of the '60s and the
'80s--are almost invariably peopled with players who act like
professionals. Yet no sport keeps its bad boys, head cases and
out-and-out reprobates in play as persistently as pro hoops.
It's the Marvin Barnes Hope Springs Eternal syndrome. Four NBA
teams and another in the ABA gave the infamous Bad News Barnes
(a rebounding fool of a power forward who eventually racked up
four prison terms and 19 stays in rehab) a chance in the '70s,
and it never paid off. Hoping that high-scoring swingman Isaiah
Rider would eventually show up on time and play hard, five NBA
teams added the talented enigma to their rosters. He
disappointed every time. The Trail Blazers will not win as long
as their star forward, Rasheed Wallace, is a loutish
technical-foul machine. The Knicks may have come to the end of
the road with All-Star guard-forward Latrell Sprewell, who once
choked his coach and sometimes barely makes it to Madison Square
Garden before tip-off.
Not all problem players can be herded into one corral. The 76ers'
Allen Iverson has a rap sheet, Rider's brand of alarm clock and a
legendary distaste for practice, but during games he busts his
butt, and his teammates respect that. Still, AI has already taken
the Sixers as far as he can (to the Finals), and his inability to
lead like a true franchise player makes it unlikely he'll take
them there again. The link between all of the problem players is
that inevitably they bring the team down from within while
alienating the fans. "It sounds harsh," says one G.M., "but we
believe that once an a-hole, always an a-hole. And you won't win
with a-holes." --Jack McCallum
It's hard enough to beat the Lakers. Now teams are supposed to
do it with a roster vetted for miscreants? The mere suggestion
could send Trail Blazers fans into paroxysms of fear. This,
after all, is the NBA, a league responsible for popularizing the
word allegedly. In the past year alone some 5% of the NBA's
workforce, from stars to scrubs, has been arrested--and that
doesn't include the Pistons' Clifford Robinson, who's facing a
$20 million suit for allegedly giving a woman herpes. (He denies
Sure, it'd be swell if every player had the moral compass of,
say, Spurs center Tim Duncan. But franchises aim to field winning
teams, not Boy Scout troops. Where are the Nets without reformed
wife-beater Jason Kidd? The Kings without alleged perjurer Chris
Webber? (He pleaded innocent.) The Sixers without Allen Iverson,
whose transgressions form an epic? As for the idea that bad
apples spoil whole teams, it just ain't so. Often the knaves are
popular teammates. (Rasheed Wallace is a Portland co-captain.)
Delinquency doesn't even deter customers. A year after choking
Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo, Latrell Sprewell had a new shoe
deal and the adoration of Knicks fans. When Iverson was arrested
in July for allegedly threatening a man with a gun (the charges
were thrown out), sales of his Reeboks skyrocketed. "Kids in
these neighborhoods know what it's like to get a bum rap from the
police, and they're showing support," Iverson's adviser "Que"
Gaskins told The Wall Street Journal. Conversely, Gaskins says
that Kobe Bryant, a stranger to the police blotter, "lacks a
little credibility" on the street.
So there. The real crime in the NBA is neglecting to keep it
real. If you like your pro hoops played by sellouts who "lack a
little credibility" and don't get arrested, fear not. WNBA
training camps open in April. --L. Jon Wertheim
A Mole in Hootie's Midst?
A USOC official says he's changing Augusta from within; some are
Lloyd Ward, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, has made only
one visit to Augusta National since joining the all-male golf
club two years ago. He was there on Sunday, April 8, 2001, to see
Tiger Woods win the Masters. Ward, one of a handful of
African-American members of the club, played the fabled course
the next day. Now there's a chance that Ward, who says he's
working from the inside to integrate women into the club's
membership ranks, will never play there again. His employer could
make certain of that.
This past April, Ward told USA Today that Augusta National should
allow women to be members. By becoming the first member to
publicly address the issue, he violated the club's rule of
omerta, under which only chairman Hootie Johnson speaks for
Augusta. Students of the club's ways figured that Ward's days as
a member were numbered. But Johnson, unpredictable though he is,
is unlikely to banish Ward. Instead, the USOC's executive
committee might force him to turn in his green jacket.
Herb Perez, one of 22 executive committee members, believes equal
opportunity is the foundation of the Olympic movement and that
Ward's membership at Augusta sends the wrong message. "We are
believers in Title IX, in women in sport, in women in
leadership," says Perez. "I like Lloyd, but he cannot change
[Augusta] from the inside. I don't think he would join the Klan
and try to change it from the inside."
Says USOC president Marty Mankamyer, "Lloyd Ward's membership at
Augusta is not a minor issue. I intend to have it on the
[executive committee] agenda as soon as I can." The executive
committee next meets on Nov. 1.
Ward, a Michigan State basketball player in the late 1960s and
the CEO and chairman of Maytag Corp. in 1999 and 2000, is not
alone in calling for Augusta to open its doors to women. Earlier
this month two other Augusta National members, Sanford Weill of
Citigroup and Kenneth Chenault of American Express, issued
carefully crafted statements endorsing the idea of female
members. But Ward remains the favorite inside agitator of Martha
Burk, the head of the National Council of Women's Organizations
who has been pressuring Augusta National to admit women. "If I
were a USOC board member, I'd probably give Lloyd Ward three to
six months to help initiate change at Augusta," she says. "Put
some sort of time frame on it. Because at some point 'working
from the inside' starts to sound like an excuse for staying at
the club." --Michael Bamberger and Lester Munson
350 Resumes received by Erik Zhang, agent for Rockets center Yao
Ming, for the job of Ming's translator; Colin Pine, 28, who'd
been translating documents for the U.S. government, landed the
10-1 Career record of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops against Top 10
teams after Saturday's 35-24 win over Texas.
$5 Paid to Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski by his mother, MaryJane
Harrelson, each time he walks; he earned $75 for 15 walks in 472
regular- and postseason at bats.
5,000 Estimated attendance at the defending NBA Eastern
Conference champion Nets' open practice at Continental Airlines
Arena last week.
5,227 Attendance at the Nets' third home game last season.
11 Wins by Formula One driver Michael Schumacher during F/1's
17-race season, breaking his own record.
24 Consecutive match wins, a USGA record, for Carole Semple
Thompson, 53, who won the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur
championship last week.
0-30-2 Record of N.C. State's women's soccer team against North
Carolina before a 2-1 win last Thursday.
Why you should know his name His statistical rankings of football
and basketball teams are vital to the BCS and the NCAA tournament
selection committee and have appeared in USA Today since 1985.
The 54-year-old mathematician from Bloomington, Ind., is one of
the most influential people in college sports.
Is this all he's ever done with his knack for numbers? Pretty
much. In 1972 the MIT grad took a $75-per-week job doing rankings
for Pro Football Weekly and began freelancing for other sports
publications. He's done various stat projects over the years and
provides rankings of NBA players to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
"I'm getting paid for doing what I would have done for free when
I was 11," says Sagarin.
What's the method to his madness? Sagarin incorporates many
factors and emphasizes strength of schedule. Partly because he
has determined that to date Virginia Tech's schedule has been the
20th most difficult in the nation and Miami's the 77th, Sagarin's
is the only major college football rating system that ranks the
Hokies No. 1.
How does he measure his success? "In terms of how close I am in
guessing point differential," Sagarin says, "and in how many
favorable e-mails I get from people who bet on games."
FOR THE RECORD
WON By Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe, 28, the Chicago Marathon,
in a world-record time of 2:17:18. She beat the previous record,
set by Kenya's Catherine Ndereba in last year's race, by 1:29. A
fourth-place finisher in the 10,000 meters at the 2000 Olympics,
Radcliffe was running in only her second marathon. "Even when I
was a little girl," Radcliffe told SI, "my coaches told me that
someday the marathon would be my best event."
MISSING At the site of the terrorist bombing in Bali, Jake Young,
34, an All-America football center at Nebraska in 1988 and '89. A
lawyer in Hong Kong, Young was in Bali to play in a tournament
with his rugby team, which at press time was unable to account
for nine members of its traveling party. "Jake was by far the
hardest-working lineman I've coached," said Cornhuskers offensive
line coach Milt Tenopir on Monday. "He always strained to be the
MANDATED By Little League Baseball, that all managers, coaches,
administrators and other volunteers be checked against their
states' lists of convicted sex offenders. Little League, which
has about one million adult volunteers, is currently defending
several suits which were filed after an SI story (Sept. 13, 1999)
detailed the presence of convicted child abusers in Little League
DISTRIBUTED To Angels fans before each home game in the ALCS,
45,000 pairs of ThunderStix. The 24-inch, dark-red, inflatable
plastic sticks, which fans bang together as noisemakers, first
appeared at Asian sporting events in the late '90s and made their
Anaheim debut in a July series against Seattle. They'll be given
out before World Series games in Anaheim.
EXTENDED To 130 games, the winning streak of De La Salle High, in
Concord, Calif. The Spartans beat Long Beach Poly 28-7 last
Saturday in a matchup of the nation's top-ranked teams. De La
Salle running back Maurice Drew (left) ran for 161 yards as the
Spartans (5-0) had 474 yards of offense. De La Salle's streak,
the longest in the U.S., dates to Dec. 7, 1991.
REFUSED By National Women's Football League (NWFL) founder
Catherine Masters, the NFL's request to change the name of her
two-year-old, 30-team league. Masters offered to change the name
for $500,000, but the NFL offered $25,000, an ad in the Super
Bowl program and spots on its subscription TV services. Masters
did, however, agree to change the name of the NWFL title game
from SupHer Bowl.
DIED While breaking the world free diving record last Saturday in
the Dominican Republic, Audrey Mestre, 28. The French diver, who
reached a depth of 558 feet, was pulled up nine minutes after she
had descended below the surface without oxygen, attached to a
200-pound sled. Mestre broke the record of 531.5 feet held by her
husband, Cuban diver Francisco Ferreras.
--Of pneumonia, Ben Eastman, 91, who set world records at four
distances between 1932 and '34 while a student at Stanford. Known
as Blazin' Ben, Eastman appeared on the July 11, 1932, cover of
Time four weeks before winning the silver medal in the 400 meters
at the Olympics in Los Angeles. Sportswriters credit him with
changing the quarter- and half-mile races to sprints.
--Of a heart attack, Chuck Rayner, 82, an NHL Hall of Famer and
the second goalie to win the Hart Trophy (1950) as league MVP.
Suspended indefinitely by the NHL, Blackhawks winger Theo Fleury,
who last week revealed that he had violated the terms of the
league's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Chicago
signed Fleury, 34, to a two-year, $8.6 million contract in
August, though Fleury had previously received treatment under the
program--which maintains strict confidentiality as to the reasons
for a player's participation--in the summer of 2000 and in 2001
when, as a Ranger, he missed 20 games.
SI has learned that upon signing Fleury, the Blackhawks hired a
caretaker for him. Jim Jenkins--a plumber and recovering alcoholic
whom Fleury befriended while spending summers in Santa Fe--signed
a one-year, $200,000 contract. His responsibilities include
making sure Fleury attends AA meetings, reports for the random
urine tests mandated by the NHL's aftercare program and stays
clean. "This experiment isn't off to the best start," says
Chicago G.M. Mike Smith, "but in the long run the people who run
Fleury's [aftercare] program will tell us whether having a sober
companion helps. J.J. knows what he's doing and has Fleury's best
interest at heart."
Jenkins, who has relocated to Chicago, will continue to serve as
Fleury's companion. While no other NHL team is known to have
hired a "minder," such caretakers are common in the entertainment
industry. Fleury, a seven-time All-Star who has scored 30 or more
goals eight times and was pivotal in Canada's gold medal
championship at the Salt Lake City Olympics, had chosen the
Blackhawks over other suitors partly because of the team's
sympathetic stance toward addictive players. Bob Probert, 37, who
has battled alcoholism and was suspended from the league for a
drug offense, is the team's top enforcer. "We still believe in
Theo Fleury," said Smith. "We believe Theo will be back."
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
SATURDAY 10/19 > ESPN 10 PM > No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 18 Air Force
The Irish are 6-0 for the first time since 1993, when they won
their first 10 games. But Air Force is soaring, too, and ranks
eighth in the nation with 40.5 points per game.
SUNDAY 10/20 > CBS 4 PM > Professional Bull Riders: The Columbus Open
No bull here: Indeed, the Tiffany Network is airing its first
ever PBR event as the world's top 45 riders battle for more than
$100,000 in prize money.
SUNDAY 10/20 > FOX 4 PM > Chargers at Raiders
If you think bulls are an angry bunch, check out the tempers in
this ferocious AFC West rivalry. Lately the Raiders have done the
bullying, with four straight wins in the series.
SUNDAY 10/20 > NBC 4:30 pm > Gravity Games
To satisfy your Evel Knievel jones, it's the freestyle motocross
finals featuring modern-day daredevils Mike Metzger and Travis
TUESDAY 10/22 > ESPN2 2:30 PM > AEK Athens at Real Madrid
Forget the Yankees. When it comes to buying a winner, Real
Madrid, the reigning Champions League titlists, has no equal with
a roster that includes three of the most expensive players in the
world--midfielders Zinedine Zidane ($64.4 million transfer fee)
and Luis Figo ($56.1 million) and striker Ronaldo ($46.3
>> DON'T MISS
SATURDAY 10/19 > FOX 7:30 PM
Baseball World Series, Game 1 (Game 2, Sunday 7:30 PM; Game 3,
Tuesday, 8 PM; Game 4, Wednesday 8 PM) Real-life Angels in the
outfield--Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon (right,
dousing Erstad)--are hoping to create a heavenly ending against
--Nessler in the Crunch
--Deion's Trash Talk
--HBO's Inside Man
--Brad Nessler might lack the Q-rating of ABC colleagues Al
Michaels and Brent Musburger, but the veteran college football
announcer provided a memorable call during the frantic, final
moments of the Miami-Florida State game as the Seminoles suffered
a field goal tragedy yet again against Miami. ("For the win. The
kick on the way.... He missed it! Wide left! Wide right so many
times, and when it came down to dethroning a champion ... it was
wide left!") Later this month Nessler, 46, begins his most
high-profile gig yet as the lead play-by-play voice on NBA
telecasts for both ABC and ESPN. Among his tougher jobs:
harnessing partner Bill Walton when he goes off on one of his
--CBS has had better weeks. Following Andy Rooney's comments on
female sideline reporters comes this bit of coarseness from The
NFL Today's resident blowhard Deion Sanders. On Sunday's pregame
show Sanders, describing a fight between Cowboys teammates Emmitt
Smith and Reggie Swinton, said, "Emmitt pimp-slapped him.... He
pimp-slapped him with an open hand." Guess prostitution
references are what passes for clever commentary on CBS these
--Though he serves on Fox's No. 1 announcing team as an analyst,
Cris Collinsworth is most effective on HBO's Inside the NFL, on
which the former player is given the freedom to riff on a variety
of subjects. Two weeks ago he blasted Randy Moss ("He is not
bigger than the game. Get him out of there"), and this week he
offered some fine insight into Kurt Warner. ("You always find out
more about guys in bad times than in good times. He stands up and
answers the tough questions so that his teammates won't have to.
That's what leadership is truly all about.") --R.D.