Viva Las Vegas
A WNBA team playing in a casino? And the problem is...? SI's
Frank Deford says pro sports needs to quit moralizing and get
real about the so-called threat of gambling
This was a revolutionary week in American sport. One of our major
leagues finally managed to make it past 1919. This happened when
the National Basketball Association allowed its women's league to
relocate a failed franchise to a casino, the Mohegan Sun in
Naturally, this brought on crocodile tears and breast-beating
from sanctimonious moralists across the land. Oh, the shame of
it: impressionable professional athletes actually playing under
the same roof as the reprobates who crank slot machines! Last
week a doomsaying New York Times columnist lamented that such a
pernicious step was the "worst news under the sun."
The Times also doesn't see fit to print the news known as point
spreads, on the Tagliabuean theory that sports fans cannot deal
with the hard truth. It was NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, of
course, who refused to allow commercials for the Las Vegas
Convention and Visitors Authority that would have appeared on the
Super Bowl telecast. The decision was so absurd it didn't even
make the commissioner into a Comstock; rather, he just came off
as small and clueless.
It is also true that the NBA commissioner, David Stern, has been
just as childish in the past. He wouldn't permit a franchise for
Toronto until NBA games were taken off sports books in Ontario.
And baseball is historically hysterical on the subject of
gambling. The defiantly coarse personality of Pete Rose has
obscured the larger truth, that the penalty against him for
wagering on baseball has been absolutely draconian.
Is it even unsuitable to bet on your own self? Illicit, perhaps,
in Rose's case, but jockeys are permitted to do it, and we find
it reassuring that an athlete cares so much. In any case, it is
hardly a universal taboo and it is often an accepted part of the
competition. Golf would go the way of quoits if there weren't
Nassaus. For American sports leagues to stretch to outlandish
lengths to pretend to insulate themselves from the make-believe
evils of gambling is transparent and puerile.
The straw man is the fix. To hear the leagues carry on,
beady-eyed fixers are everywhere, ready to lure well-paid
professionals into throwing games. Once, in a distant era, yes,
this was common--and not only with the Black Sox. But has there
been serious talk of a fixed baseball game in the past 80 years?
The last known serious attempt to fix an NFL game was in 1946,
and it failed. The NBA did suffer Jack Molinas, a singular
Lucifer of an athlete, but he was banned half a century ago. The
odds (excuse me) of anybody pulling off a fix now in a major
league game are off the board (beg your pardon). As a point of
fact, the diligence of the books in Vegas themselves serve more
to protect sport than to menace it. Sports commissioners worrying
about fixed games is like President Bush fearing an attack by the
Drugs threaten the integrity of our sports. Booze and babes will
periodically affect performance. But gambling today is a
by-product of pro sport, not a risk to it, and it is nonsensical
of the major leagues to carry on with policies as if the same
economic situations and temptations exist as they did back when
the indigent Black Sox took a dive.
Good for the grown-ups at the NBA. And, as for the new
Connecticut Suns of the WNBA, may they hit the jackpot, make
their point, double down and beat the dealer--and all the
righteous bluenoses, too.
Some baseball players are taking a pay cut. Tough times or
Remember the euphoria and goodwill surrounding the baseball labor
agreement of six months ago? It didn't last long. The two sides
have a long history of distrusting one another, which explains
last week's news that the players' association has filed a
request with the commissioner's office that teams turn over
documents related to negotiations with free agents this winter.
It's the union's first step toward a possible grievance charging
that owners acted in collusion to keep salaries low.
The union believes that an inordinately large number of players
have received below-market contract offers this off-season; it is
also responding to feedback from agents who say their clients
were tendered suspiciously similar offers from several clubs. If
that sounds farfetched, remember that the baseball owners were
found guilty of collusion in 1985, 1986 and 1987 and had to pay
$280 million in damages to the players.
This time, however, the union's case seems less obvious. Unlike
the big freeze of the mid-'80s, when even Andre Dawson and Jack
Morris couldn't arouse interest, the owners lately have ponied up
some good money to Jim Thome, Tom Glavine, Ray Durham and Mike
Remlinger, among others. Ivan Rodriguez, who got a five-year $42
million contract extension in 1997, did settle for less, but he
still got a $10 million one-year deal with the Marlins. The union
may simply be having a hard time adjusting to baseball's economic
reality, brought about by the new luxury tax and the downturn in
the U.S. economy. Players have become accustomed to a world in
which journeymen pitchers such as Dave Mlicki (who has a career
record of 66--80) pull down more money ($6.2 million last year)
than the best running back in football, Marshall Faulk ($4.3
million). Imagine: Mlicki won't be able to buy a vowel after
being forced to take a one-year, $750,000 deal from Milwaukee.
The owners, so often criticized for profligate spending, are
showing the restraint and the smarts to flood the market with
mid-level players (Brad Fullmer, Jose Cruz Jr., John Thomson) by
not tendering them contracts. G.M.s finally realized they were
paying too many players on the basis of service time rather than
performance. Baseball's executive vice president of labor
relations, Rob Manfred, called the allegations of collusion
"ludicrous." For the union to prove its case, it will need a
paper trail. The owners couldn't be that reckless. Could they?
6 Seton Hall players on the floor for the final 12 seconds of
regulation during last week's game against Georgetown; each team
scored once in that time and the Pirates went on to a 93--82
10 Major league teams who have hired new managers since the
season ended in October.
7 NHL teams who've hired new coaches since the season began in
80.8 Average points per game scored by the Nuggets, 1.1 below the
NBA's alltime low, by the 1998--99 Bulls.
3:59:98 Time in which U.S. runner Regina Jacobs completed the
1,500 meters at the Boston Indoor Games, setting a world indoor
record and becoming the first woman to break the 4:00 barrier
0 Foreign-born NBA players (who make up roughly 20% of the
league) who've competed in the slam-dunk contest at All-Star
weekend, a streak that will continue this year.
0 Major league games attended by Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi,
75, the founder of Nintendo, who bought the team in 1992;
Yamauchi plans to watch the Mariners' season opener against the
A's in the Tokyo Dome on March 25.
FOR THE RECORD
DIED In a Moscow hospital after an extended illness, Valery
Brumel, 60, the last Olympic high jumping champion to use the
straddle style (above). After winning a surprise silver at the
1960 Rome Olympics at age 18, the Siberian-born Brumel dominated
his event for the next four years. He won gold in Tokyo in '64
and raised the outdoor world record six times; his 7'531/44"
stood for eight years. On Oct. 4, 1965, Brumel shattered his
right shin and ankle in a motorcycle accident. He spent three
years in a cast, underwent more than 25 operations and never
returned to international competition. After retiring from track
he published a novel and wrote a play and an opera libretto, all
based on his life.
SUSPENDED For 10 days by Major League Baseball, umpire Bruce
Froemming, for calling umpiring administrator Cathy Davis a
"stupid Jew bitch." Froemming, 63, a 32-year veteran who in a
1995 SI poll of pitchers, catchers and managers was voted the
National League ump they'd least like to see behind the plate in
a crucial postseason game, was to call the two-game
season-opening series between the A's and the Mariners in Tokyo
on March 25--26. Froemming apologized for the remark, which he
left on Davis's voice mail after he became upset about his travel
arrangements to Tokyo. He will be replaced in Japan by Steve
PROMISED By Miller Lite, a coupon for a free six-pack to every
fan of legal drinking age in attendance at the Feb. 16 Daytona
500 if Rusty Wallace, who drives a Miller Lite car, wins the
race. Daytona seats 168,000. Wallace has 54 career Winston Cup
victories but has not won the Daytona 500 in 20 starts. "The fans
will be behind me," Wallace says. "Who wouldn't want to receive
free Miller Lite?"
WON By Jeremy Bloom, a gold medal in the dual moguls event at the
World Freestyle Championships in Deer Valley, Utah. Bloom, the
Colorado wide receiver and punt returner who is skiing without
sponsorship in order to keep his NCAA eligibility intact, also
won silver in the individual moguls event. Bloom wore a gold
helmet with his school's buffalo logo over each ear and earned
his first world title despite breaking a ski during the first
round of the dual moguls. "I got back into the starting area with
10 minutes until the next run and I realized my ski was just
about broken in half," Bloom told SI. U.S. coaches rushed a
replacement to him from the bottom of the hill, and he strapped
it on with one minute to go before his next run.
DROPPED From the Lincoln Journal Star, Nebraska's second-largest
newspaper, certain Native American nicknames and symbols in
sports. The Washington Redskins will be called simply Washington,
and alternative graphics will replace caricatures such as Chief
Wahoo of the Indians. The move came after a plea by the Native
American Journalists Association. Several papers, including
Minnesota's Star Tribune and The Kansas City Star, have also
stopped using such names and symbols.
Nicole Kidman (below, left) wears a prosthetic nose as Virginia
Woolf in The Hours (below, right). With not much going on in the
battle over Augusta National's exclusion of women, we thought
we'd see who looked better in Woolf's nose, Hootie Johnson or
RICHARD MEEK 1923--2003
Man of Many Angles
DIED Of natural causes at his home on Long Island, N.Y., Richard
Meek, one of SI's original three photographers. Meek, 79, shot 45
covers for the magazine, as well as numerous photographic essays
on such diverse subjects as auto racing, billiards, NFL football
and a gathering of fantastically dressed Arabian horse owners in
Arizona. "His versatility was fascinating," says longtime SI
photographer Neil Leifer. "He was a superb studio photographer,
but he was equally good on the sidelines at the Olympics or at
the America's Cup. His pictures ran the gamut."
Meek was raised in Richmond, Ind., where, in his early teens, he
converted the back of his father's bakery into a darkroom. As one
of his first projects he took pictures at a high school football
game, raced home to develop them, then raced back to sell the
prints in the stands. He came to New York City in the late 1940s
to work in the photo lab at LIFE magazine, and when SI debuted on
Aug. 16, 1954, he was one of a trio of full-time photographers
that included Mark Kauffman and Hy Peskin. Meek stayed on staff
until '58, then worked as a contract photographer--while also
shooting covers for LIFE--until 1970. In a 1966 letter to the
readers, SI publisher Garry Valk discussed Meek's exceptional
range and called him "a man of quiet genius. Meek has sampled
more of sport for us than anyone else."
Meek had more than 550 assignments for the magazine, so many that
he shot cover portraits of enduring athletes like Muhammad Ali
more than once. In an era when the magazine often focused on
animals--not just racehorses, but dogs, seals, bears and fish--he
frequently got the call. In recent years Meek created abstract
art in a darkroom at his home, where he lived with his wife,
Barbara. "I have never been able to decide whether photography is
an art or a craft," Meek once said. "For me it doesn't really
matter. I am satisfied that it is something unto itself."
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
FRIDAY 2/7 > ESPN2 7 PM > SATURDAY 2/8 > NBC 2:30 PM > Verizon
Hitting the boards at Madison Square Garden has a different
meaning at the world's oldest indoor invitational track meet. The
60-meter showdown between Olympic gold medalist Maurice Greene
and England's Dwain Chambers is a highlight.
SATURDAY 2/8 > ESPN2 NOON > Argentina versus U.S. Soccer
U.S. coach Bruce Arena has a 23-man roster comprised entirely of
MLS players--including 20-year-olds Landon Donovan and DaMarcus
Beasley--for this friendly against the two-time World Cup champs
SUNDAY 2/9 > NBC 3 PM > Chicago Rush at Dallas Desperados
NBC's coverage of the Arena Football League comes with less
swagger than its ill-fated XFL Xperiment. Still, look for sparks
from the combustible mix of studio hosts Michael Irvin, Glenn
Parker and Al Trautwig.
MONDAY 2/10 AND TUESDAY 2/11 > USA 8 PM > The Westminster Kennel
Club Dog Show
Former CBS weatherman Mark McEwen replaces host Joe Garagiola at
the 127th show, which hosts 2,603 pooches. We were hoping for
Fred (Best in Show) Willard.
THURSDAY 2/13 > FX 1 PM > Gatorade 125s
NASCAR revs its 2003 engines with two 125-mile qualifiers for the
Daytona 500. The fields include Winston Cup champ Tony Stewart
and recent SNL host Jeff Gordon.
>> DON'T MISS
SUNDAY 2/9 > TNT 8:30 PM
NBA All-Star Game
For the first time since 1987 Jazz forward Karl Malone wasn't
chosen for the game. He'll miss Yao Ming's debut and Michael
Jordan taking his final AllStar bow after 13 appearances that
began when he played for East coach K.C. Jones (right) as a Bull
Too Much Richard
Too Much Bob
Just when it seemed Richard Williams had mercifully taken a
backseat to his tennis-playing daughters, Venus and Serena, the
DVD Raising Tennis Aces: The Williams Story (Xenon Pictures)
reminds fans of the bluster they had scarcely missed. The
just-released documentary has some nice moments, particularly
home movies of the preteen sisters practicing at night on a
public court in Compton, Calif., and cavorting at a family
barbecue. But Aces is, unfortunately, the Richard Williams Show.
The filmmakers have chosen to show Daddy uncorking such gems as,
"I think people look up to me wherever I go," "I think [people]
have meetings on how to beat Richard Williams out," and "I feel
I'm the greatest father on Earth." The narration is equally
grating about the "so-called controversial father," proclaiming,
"his influence is something Venus and Serena have never
questioned." Not surprisingly, the DVD's executive producer is
Leland Hardy, the family's business adviser and a longtime
confidant of Richard's.
While ESPN2 generally gave the UConn-Duke women's hoops showdown
the big-game treatment it deserved, the network showed too much
respect for the General. It was smart to cut to the end of the
Texas Tech--Texas A&M game, where Bob Knight was shooting for his
800th win, but ESPN2 stayed away from the women's game too long.
Even after Kevin Turner hit two free throws to put A&M up six
points with 0:13 left, the network showed the uneventful closing
seconds--more than 2:30 in real time--before returning to
UConn-Duke. All that while the Blue Devils were in a rally that
would cut a 28-point deficit to six. ESPN2 didn't seem to realize
where the real action was. --Pete McEntegart
Love Stinks The Beatles' declaration that "all you need is love"
doesn't hold on the tennis court, where "love" means you have
nothing at all. Who is the only player in the open era (male or
female) to have won a Grand Slam singles final by beating an
opponent six to love in each set?
a. Arthur Ashe c. Martina Navratilova
b. Steffi Graf d. Pete Sampras
Cupid-like Aim In Bulls history only two players have averaged 25
or more points per game in a season. One is Michael Jordan, who
did it 12 times. Who is the other?
This Week's Matchup Pair the athletes who have been engaged to be
1. Mia Hamm a. Roberto Alomar
2. Mary Pierce b. Nomar Garciaparra
3. Gabrielle Reese c. Laird Hamilton
4. Kristi Yamaguchi d. Bret Hedican
Call to Order Rank these athletes in order of the number of
seasons they played in their respective major leagues.
a. Richmond Flowers c. Candy Maldonado
b. Guy Lafleur d. Darnell Valentine
LOVE STINKS: b. Steffi Graf skunked Natalia Zvereva 6--0, 6--0 in
the final of the 1988 French Open. No men's final in any of the
four majors has been a complete shutout.
CUPID-LIKE AIM: Forward Bob Love averaged 25.2 points per game in
1970--71 and 25.8 in '71--72 for the Bulls. Love still ranks
second to Jordan with a 21.3 career scoring average for Chicago.
THIS WEEK'S MATCHUP: 1. b (still engaged); 2. a (no longer
together); 3. c (married); 4. d (married)
CALL TO ORDER: Lafleur (17 NHL seasons); Maldonado (15 baseball
seasons); Valentine (nine NBA seasons); Flowers (five NFL
Australian Open." --THE BEAT, PAGE 30