As foreign players struggle with English and teenage draft picks
struggle with, well, everything, the NBA invents a new position:
Of the 116 players selected in the last two NBA drafts, 22 were
from foreign countries and six others were from an even stranger
and more alien place--high school. The resulting amalgam of
heterogeneous dialects has produced not only a wondrous locker
room babble but also a secondary labor force of assistant
coaches, advisers, translators, dieticians and all-around
cultural tutors brought aboard to guide the young 'uns, foreign
and domestic, through the NBA minefield. Colin Pine, who was
hired to ease the transition of the Houston Rockets' No. 1 pick,
7'5" Yao Ming, attends practices and sits behind the bench during
games, yelling over the crowd noise and music in Mandarin to Yao
if the player, whose grasp of English is limited, doesn't
understand a stratagem. Plus, he lives with him. Yao's agent,
Erik Zhang, defines Pine's role as
While the Rockets plan to keep Pine around the pine for as long
as Yao needs him, the Denver Nuggets have been weaning their
Brazilian rookie, Nene Hilario, off his translator, Joe Santos.
But at least Hilario got that initial help. The first wave of
Europeans to come into the NBA in the late '80s (Alexander Volkov
of the U.S.S.R., Zarko Paspalj of Yugoslavia and Sarunas
Marciulionis of Lithuania) was hurt by having a limited support
system. "Teams didn't realize how hard it was to make all the
basketball adjustments and the cultural adjustments," says Vlade
Divac of the Sacramento Kings, a Yugoslav who spoke almost no
English when he was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989.
Not to mention dietary adjustments. Months after the Chicago
Bulls landed high school phenoms Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry in
the 2001 draft, they hired a dietician and chef and charged them
with introducing the teenagers to offerings other than those in
the burger-and-fries food group. In addition former Bull Bill
Wennington was brought in specifically to mentor the youngsters.
"Players used to be more interactive and helped each other more,"
says Wennington, who came into the league in 1985. "Now these
young guys go off on their own, and there's a lot more to be
learned." Wennington reports to a shrink, Steve Julius, who heads
the Bulls' player relations program. Twelve other NBA teams
participate in a similar program run by the league, most
employing former players in the Julius role. "When I came into
the league, my orientation was Walter Davis and Alvan Adams
telling me not to get in trouble," says Miami's
player-development rep Ed Pinckney, who was a rookie in '85. "Now
the orientation guide is 12 inches thick."
December 2, 2002
Player assistance is cost-effective, too, particularly
considering the salaries (Chandler and Curry will have made a
combined $19 million by the end of the 2003--04 season unless
they renegotiate upward) that are being paid to young players.
For all his slashes, Pine, 28, makes an estimated $70,000--that
to ease the transition of Yao, who looks as if he will be a
franchise player some day.
The best part of Yao's support system is that his parents have
moved from China to live with him and Pine. "For a player to have
people around who love him is best," says Mike Bantom, head of
the NBA's player relations department, "but that's not the
reality. Making sure we hire people to help the player is the
next best thing."
A fed up star wades into an unlovely legal battle with his former
He has kept his private life private and his legal record clean,
steering away from scandal and never losing a lawsuit in two
decades as an A-plus celebrity. But two recent court filings
suggest that Michael Jordan has become embroiled in the kind of
ugly public battle that he once would have done anything to
What's startling is that Jordan slung the first mud. On Oct. 23
he sued his former lover Karla Knafel, 39, for attempting to
extort money from him in excess of the $250,000 he had previously
paid her to keep mum about their relationship. Knafel says that
she and Jordan began seeing each other in December 1989, three
months after he married his wife, Juanita, and they continued
their affair for a couple of years. Jordan's decision to file the
suit in Chicago is significant: The former Bulls star has won two
civil cases in the city where jurors have been known to gawk at
him and ask for his autograph.
Knafel, however, does not seem intimidated. With noted Chicago
trial lawyer Michael Hannafan at her side, she countersued on
Nov. 19, alleging that Jordan has reneged on an oral agreement to
pay her $5 million when he retired from the NBA. (Jordan has so
far retired twice.) She also says that Jordan called Juanita a
The matter is not likely to end there, or soon. Knafel has been
corresponding with Jordan and his lawyers since she confronted
him at a Las Vegas blackjack table in 1998. Her attorney says
that she never signed what's known as a "release and
confidentiality agreement" setting financial terms and
contractually binding her to silence. She herself is vulnerable
to criticism as a woman too interested in athletes. On Nov. 20,
Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that Knafel
successfully sued Portland Trail Blazer Dale Davis for support of
their now two-year-old daughter. She also has an 11-year-old
child with a former minor league baseball player. Both sides
agree that Jordan, thinking for a time that the older child was
his, paid her $250,000 over four years, paid hospital bills for
the child's delivery and even sent Knafel roses. More money may
yet change hands; there is little chance of flowers.
--Lester Munson and John O'Keefe
49-43 Record of the Lakers in games without Shaquille O'Neal
since he joined the team in 1996.
4 Major league teams that have contacted Hideki Matsui through
week's end, according to the free-agent slugger.
24 Field goal attempts missed by Steelers kickers since the start
of the 2001 season, the most in the NFL.
2,747 Total punches thrown in the two fights between junior
welterweights Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward.
5 Styles of Valley Sports Little League Tshirts sold at a new
memorabilia store devoted to the Little League World Series
champs, near Louisville.
11 Players on the Red Sox' 40-man roster who are younger than new
general manager Theo Epstein, who, at 28, is the youngest G.M. in
4 Races won (on 36 mounts) by Julie Krone since she returned to
racing Nov. 1.
24 Straight games in which Virginia Tech tailback Lee Suggs has
scored a touchdown, an NCAA Division I record.
2,686,640 Fans who attended the 19 CART races this season, a
record for the racing series.
PIAZZA'S EUROPEAN VACATION
Though Mike Piazza looked like a celebrity tourist, meeting the
pope and posing by the Brandenburg Gate, the Mets catcher was a
man on a mission. During his three-week trip through Europe,
Piazza was also spreading the gospel of Major League Baseball. It
may be hard to draw fans in Miami, but MLB dreams of a day when
50 million Frenchmen will watch its games on TV, spend Euros on
caps and Tshirts, and support local leagues that will serve as a
feeder system for the U.S. Says Paul Archey, senior vice
president for MLB's international business operations, "We'd like
to get in at the grassroots level." Piazza, who offered hitting
and fielding tips to groups of kids along the way, could see that
was already happening. Pro leagues are thriving in Italy, the
Netherlands and Germany, which has three players on major league
farm teams. "There's a real future for us in Europe," says
Archey. "We can produce players at the youth level, and if not,
hopefully, we'll produce some consumers." Fine, but who does the
pope root for when the Cardinals play the Padres? --Mark Beech
FOR THE RECORD
CITED For misdemeanor marijuana possession after the car they
were in was stopped by police near Centralia, Wash., Portland
Trail Blazers co-captains Damon Stoudamire and Rasheed Wallace.
The players were set to appear in Lewis County District Court on
Dec. 6. Under Washington law, misdemeanor possession is
punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail.
"They're deeply sorry for what happened, as we all are," said
Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks.
NAMED To the advisory board of the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws, former Cowboys and Oilers center Mark
Stepnoski, 35. As a spokesman for NORML, the former Pro Bowler,
who retired last January after 13 seasons, will push for the
reform of marijuana laws. Says Stepnoski, "After a game you hurt
so much, you need something to relax. I'd rather smoke than take
APOLOGIZED For antigay remarks, San Francisco running back
Garrison Hearst. In an interview with The Fresno Bee published on
Nov. 1, Hearst--reacting to former NFL player Esera Tuaolo's
revelation of his homosexuality--derided gays and said he
wouldn't want a gay teammate. After initially standing by his
quotes, Hearst reversed field, saying, "Being African-American, I
know that discrimination is wrong." Though several team officials
condemned his remarks, he was not disciplined by the 49ers. Lorri
Jean, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task
Force, called the apology "too little and too late." In September
the New York Giants' Jeremy Shockey apologized for saying he
hoped he didn't have any gay teammates.
SHOT In the left arm during an attempted carjacking in Venezuela,
Houston Astros outfielder Richard Hidalgo. The 27-year-old
slugger, who bats and throws righthanded, was attacked while
waiting in his truck for a friend in Valencia, about 90 miles
west of his native Caracas. He was hospitalized briefly and then
returned to Houston for further tests. The Astros released a
statement on Monday saying that Hidalgo had suffered muscle and
nerve damage in his left forearm from the nine-millimeter slug.
He was to be monitored for another 10 to 14 days, but the team
was "cautiously optimistic" that even if surgery were necessary,
he would be ready for the start of spring training.
HEADED To the Olympic village for the 2004 Summer Games in
Athens, the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, certain to be 12
of the highest-paid athletes in professional sports. USA
Basketball president Tom Jernstedt announced that both the men's
and women's teams will live in the village for security purposes
and to build camaraderie. At previous Olympics the men have
bunked at such luxury hotels as Barcelona's Ambassador, Atlanta's
Omni (where Reggie Miller groused "the room service is terrible")
and Sydney's Pacific International.
CONVICTED Of assaulting New York Yankees pitcher David Wells,
Rocco Graziosa, a 27-year-old bartender from Yonkers, N.Y.
Graziosa, who clashed with Wells in an all-night diner in
Manhattan several hours after Wells's complete-game win against
the Tigers on Sept. 7, faces up to a year in jail when he is
sentenced on Jan. 15. During the four-day trial, Wells, listed at
6'4" and 235 pounds, testified that Graziosa mocked his weight
after the player ordered an egg-white omelette, saying, "Why
don't you order a f------cheeseburger?" Wells, 39, said he then
approached the 5'7", 150-pound Graziosa, who punched Wells,
knocking out two of his teeth. Bleeding from the forehead and
mouth, Wells dialed 911 and in a profanity-laced call told the
operator, "My emergency is I just got offended."
Two Too Young
Died Two stars of U.S. track and field in the 1980s,
middle-distance runner Kim Gallagher, who won two Olympic medals
in the 800 meters, and discus thrower Ben Plucknett, who twice
set a world record.
Gallagher, who was 38 when she succumbed to a stroke at a
hospital near her home in Philadelphia after long battles with
colon and stomach cancer, began running at age seven. At eight
she ran a 5:37 mile and in 1982 set a high school record in the
800 (2:00.07) that still stands. After a semester and a half at
Arizona, she left to train full time for the '84 Olympics. A
fierce competitor with a sparkling kick, Gallagher took the
silver in L.A. and four years later earned the bronze in Seoul
with a time of 1:56.91, the third fastest ever by an American
woman. Gallagher, who had a 13-year-old daughter, Jessica Smith,
insisted she never loved running. She competed, she said, because
"I like excelling in things that I am good at."
Plucknett, 48, died of a brain aneurysm in Essex, Mo. A mountain
of a man at 6'7 1/2" and 300 pounds, he was something of a
mountain man as well--a bushy-bearded native of Beatrice, Neb.,
who lived in the hills above Woodside, Calif., in a log cabin
decorated with animal hides and stocked with elk meat. His
approach to his sport, however, was anything but rustic. "The
discus is graceful ballet, magical and absorbing," he once said.
Plucknett, who made the Olympic team in the boycott year of 1980,
had his greatest moments in '81, when he threw the discus 233'7"
to break the world record; two months later he upped the mark to
237'4". A week after that he was suspended for 18 months by the
International Amateur Athletic Federation for testing positive
for anabolic steroids at an earlier meet. --R.O.
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
NOVEMBER 29--DECEMBER 5
FRIDAY 11/29 -- ESPN 10:30 PM -- ROCKETS AT SONICS
Mr. Mean (Sonics point guard Gary Payton) meets Mr. Ming (as in
Yao) in a matchup of two of the Western Conference's best.
SATURDAY 11/30 -- CBS 1 PM -- NO. 6 DUKE VS. NO. 14 UCLA
Shouldn't UCLA dominate a tournament named for its famed coach
(the Wooden Tradition, in Indianapolis)? Not this year: The
Bruins are underdogs against the Blue Devils, who feature junior
guard Chris Duhon and a vaunted freshman class.
SATURDAY 11/30 -- CBS 8 PM -- ICE WARS: USA VS. THE WORLD
Scott Hamilton joins Brian Boitano, Tara Lipinski and Nicole
Bobek as the Yanks face Maria Butyrskaya and Ilia Kulik (Russia),
Kurt Browning (Canada) and Surya Bonaly (France) in a team figure
skating competition. One question: Who bribes whom here?
SUNDAY 12/1 -- ESPN 8:30 PM -- Buccaneers at Saints
Payback I: You know the Bucs are still smarting from the Saints'
overtime win in Week 1, a freakish 26--20 victory that happened
when Tampa Bay punter Tom Tupa, standing in his own end zone,
tried a desperation pass that fluttered into the hands of Saints
linebacker James Allen.
TUESDAY 12/3 -- ESPN 9 PM -- No. 11 Maryland vs. No. 19 Indiana
Payback II: You know the Hoosiers are still smarting from the
Terps' 64-52 victory last April in the national championship.
This time Indiana--led by senior guard Tom Coverdale--gets the
home crowd, at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
SATURDAY 11/30 -- NBC 2 PM
Grambling vs. Southern
The annual clash between these two historically black powerhouses
still features the halftime performances of the schools' famously
funkalicious marching bands. But the football should drum up some
excitement too. Grambling is 10-1; Southern is 5-6 but has won
four of its last five.
--Eric the Good
--Magic on Ming
--Watching the Waltons
Fox Sports Net's The NFL Show is usually an exercise in
lackluster tomfoolery, but last Saturday's installment was a
welcome exception, and you can thank a guest appearance by (don't
fall out of your chair) Eric Dickerson. During his two seasons as
a sideline reporter on ABC's Monday Night Football, Dickerson was
lambasted and lampooned for his ineffectual interviewing skills
and weakness as a reporter. But as part of FSN's roundtable he
offered insight on the often highly effective art of cutback
running and took the Cowboys' Troy Hambrick to task for knocking
Emmitt Smith. Clearly, Dickerson was the wrong choice to put on
the sideline, but if some network gives him a shot as a panelist,
he could be a find.
Unlike his TNT colleague Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson is no
recent convert to the Tao of Yao. Here's what Johnson told SI
before the season: "I think Yao Ming will make probably the
biggest impact of any player ever coming from international
basketball. He has the skill level to be a great player in the
NBA. I remember everybody kept talking about [Arvydas] Sabonis
before he came over and how he would do. It was a shame that by
the time he got here, his knee was hurting. Now we have a healthy
Yao Ming surrounded by great players in Houston. It's going to be
Bill Walton will have offsetting allegiances when he works as the
analyst on ESPN's telecast of the Dec. 7 Arizona--San Diego State
basketball game. Walton's boy Luke, the third oldest of his four
sons, is an AllAmerica forward for the Wildcats. Chris Walton,
Bill's youngest, will redshirt this season for San Diego State.
A League of Their Own
A 14-9 victory over Michigan on Saturday made Ohio State the
first Big Ten school to earn an invitation to a Bowl
Championship Series title game. The Buckeyes will enter the
Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3 in Tempe, Ariz., ranked no worse than
second in the BCS standings. Before this season, what was the
only Big Ten school to finish in the BCS Top 5 since the system
started in 1998?
a. Illinois c. Ohio State
b. Michigan d. Penn State
We're No. 1
The No. 1 team in the AP poll has come from the Big Ten a total
of 10 times. Which of the conference's schools has the most AP
This Week's Matchup
Pair the Big Ten rivalry with the trophy awarded annually to
the winner of the game played between the two teams.
1. Indiana-Purdue a. Floyd of Rosedale
2. Michigan-Minnesota b. Little Brown Jug
3. Michigan State--Indiana c. Old Brass Spittoon
4. Minnesota-Iowa d. Old Oaken Bucket
Call to Order Put these Big Ten schools in order from earliest to
most recent admission into the conference.
a. Iowa c. Northwestern
b. Michigan State d. Ohio State
PARTY INVITE: c. In 1998 the Ohio State Buckeyes finished the
season ranked fourth in the BCS. Since then only Wisconsin (7th
in '99), Michigan (8th in '99), Michigan State (9th in '99) and
Illinois (8th in '01) have ended up in the Top 10.
WE'RE NO. 1: The Minnesota Golden Gophers have finished first in
the AP poll four times ('36, '40, '41 and '60). Ohio State is
next with three ('42, '54 and '68).
THIS WEEK'S MATCHUP: 1. d; 2. b; 3. c; 4. a
CALL TO ORDER: Northwestern (charter member); Iowa (admitted in
1899); Ohio State (admitted in 1912); Michigan State (admitted in
"Jordan has become embroiled in the kind of ugly public battle he
once would have done anything to avoid." --Crossing Jordan, page