My Own March Madness
In this season of instant elimination, a youth basketball coach
reflects on why the game is more than worth the effort and the
It was barely March and our Big Dance was already over. Eight
straight wins, a budding league powerhouse, and there we were:
one and done, knocked out in the first round of our own little
NCAA tournament. "Way it goes," said one of the team dads, as if
watching us get beaten by the jerky Orange Crush, whom we'd
creamed by 20 in the regular season, was one more thing to cross
off the parental to-do list. Way it goes, my behind. Try telling
that to my 12-year-old, edge-of-manhood Blue Storm crew. They
were sitting in a corner with towels over their heads. At least
no one was crying. A few years ago, when they were nine, we lost
in the playoffs and the bawling echoed throughout our section of
Now, in a ritual that will be repeated by 63 somewhat more
polished teams in the next few weeks, there was nothing left to
do but put our hands together one last time, and after so many
full-throated shouts of "defense!" and "hard work!" break with a
final, still defiant "Blue Storm!"
From Connie Hawkins to Billy Cunningham (the Kangaroo Kid), and
the King brothers (Bernard and Albert), Brooklyn will always have
great players, potential Final Four stars. But if there are any
budding Jordans (born here, in '63) currently in our 78th
Precinct Youth Council league, their game is well hidden. We have
some nice drivers and dishers and bounders and shooters, but in
the 78th, if your parents pay the $140 and you bring your uniform
to the games, you make the team. Even the most hopeless
nonathlete is assured two eight-minute quarters of playing time.
This makes for a somewhat erratic team concept, but still, we
play hard; we're into it.
After five years of picking up kids from school for practice,
cleaning pizza rinds and Gatorade bottles from my car, spending
hours on Internet coaching sites trying to grok the matchup zone
and screaming "Box out, WILL YA!" I am not yet breathing down
Mike Krzyzewski's neck. Like most of my players, I won't be going
to the next level. It has been a career of ups and downs, with
regrettable moments, like the time I went off at the ref, got a
T, which was converted, and we lost by a point. To apologize to
saddened 10-year-olds, promising to never, ever do that again, is
to know true humility.
Mostly, however, it is a gift. Blue Storm players have included
Darwin, Pierre, Dakota, Seth, Sam, Sebastian, Skylar, Miles,
Omari, Luke, Ryan, Kevin, Tarique, Julio, three Aris, half a
dozen Mikes, and my son, Billy. Most were well-loved, some a
pain. But all improved, at least a little. Given the chance to
play, kids get better. What you hope they understand is that this
isn't just one more slice of fleeting, negotiable video game
"reality." You want them to know that when we come together as a
team, as a Blue Storm team, we enter a realm where every steal,
defensive stop and put-back is somehow important, a pure thing.
It is a place where things matter, a special zone of 12-year-old
Beyond the joyful surprise of seeing them actually reverse the
ball for once, it's hard to say what's in it for me without
lapsing into maudlin sportspeak. Except a few weeks ago I heard
someone yelling as I walked down the street. I didn't think much
of it; I had a million things on my mind. One of my players,
Medhi, came running up. "Didn't you hear me calling?" he said,
out of breath. "I kept saying, 'Coach! Coach!'" He wanted to know
when the game was that week. I told him and asked if he was ready
to play. "Yeah!" he shouted. --Mark Jacobson
Jacobson's book 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time, about traveling
with his family, is due out this summer.
A huge gambling debt preceded Jaromir Jagr's IRS problems
For an athlete who makes his living on the ice, Jaromir Jagr
spends a lot of time in hot water. In August the IRS filed a lien
against the Capitals wing, saying he owed about $350,000 in taxes
for 1999, when he played for the Penguins and earned $10 million.
According to his management agency, IMG, Jagr satisfied that debt
as soon as he learned of it. Then on Feb. 28 the IRS filed a lien
stating that the Czech native, now in the second year of a
seven-year, $78 million contract, owes about $3.3 million in
taxes for 2001. And these aren't the first financial missteps for
the 31-year-old Jagr. Several years ago he owed more than
$500,000 to an Internet gambling company.
A source who was close to Jagr when the five-time scoring champ
played for Pittsburgh says Jagr gambled mostly on football. There
is no indication that Jagr bet on hockey--a violation of NHL rules
that would be punishable at the commissioner's discretion--but his
losses are laid out in a June 2000 agreement with a Belize-based
gambling website called CaribSports. A document obtained by SI
shows that Jagr proposed making nine monthly payments of $37,500
and one lump-sum payment of $112,500, a total of $450,000, after
the site's owner, William Caesar, discounted his debt. Jagr, who
got a line of credit from the site in '97, made several payments,
then stopped, according to Caesar, who says he then made little
effort to collect for two years. Last April, as a way to pressure
Jagr to pay, Caesar leaked the story to buzzdaly.com, a webzine
that covers the gambling industry. He says he immediately
received "a little more than 20 percent" of the balance from
Jagr's lawyers--an amount he says he accepted as the final
Jagr's lawyers maintain that Jagr did not make all the bets
himself because a friend had used his password. Caesar says he
had technicians configure Jagr's betting page so he could not
wager on NHL games. "We did that for our own protection, not just
his," Caesar said. "That would destroy us, if he destroyed the
On Monday, Jagr declined to comment on either the gambling or the
tax matters, referring questions to IMG, which handles his
contract but not his finances. IMG also would not discuss the
gambling but issued a statement to SI claiming the tax lien was
filed for "underestimation of tax withholding and a disqualified
write-off," and added, "The taxes for 2001 will be resolved
within the time line and procedures dictated by the IRS."
--Michael Farber and Don Yaeger
21 Ivy League losses in basketball (14) and football (seven) for
Columbia, the first Ivy team to go winless in league play in both
sports in one academic year.
59 Straight games in which Damian Costantino, a junior outfielder
at Division III Salve Regina in Newport, R.I., has hit safely,
breaking Robin Ventura's NCAA record of 58.
34 Straight games that Tracy McGrady has played, in which he has
been the Magic's top scorer.
21 Fourth-quarter comebacks led by new Broncos quarterback Jake
Plummer since 1997, most in the NFL during that time.
47 Fourth-quarter comebacks led by former Broncos quarterback
John Elway, most in NFL history.
54 Points scored on dunks (26) and layups (28) by the Grizzlies
in a 115-89 win over the Cavaliers last Saturday.
1,000 Junior hockey wins for Ottawa 67's coach Brian Kilrea, who
joins Scotty Bowman as the only pro hockey coaches to break the
four-digit mark in career wins.
60,278 Paid attendance for pro rodeo's Xtreme Bulls tour stop in
Houston on March 6, a record for a single-day bullriding event.
FOR THE RECORD
THREATENED The Hall of Fame riding careers of Laffit Pincay Jr.,
56, and Julie Krone, 39, who suffered separate falls at Santa
Anita. Pincay, the winningest jockey in history with 9,531
victories, will be in a halo cast for eight weeks; he sustained
two fractures to a bone in his neck when his mount, Trampus Too,
clipped heels with another horse and went down on March 1. "I
wouldn't count him out," says his agent, Bob Meldahl. "He heals
better than anyone." Krone, the winningest female jockey ever,
returned to riding in November after a 3 1/2-year hiatus. She was
thrown on March 8 when her horse, Sublet, stumbled and sent her
tumbling over his head. She sustained two broken bones in her
lower back and two fractured vertebrae, and is expected to be out
for two to three months.
RESIGNED As coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste.
Marie Greyhounds, after using a racial slur to describe his team
captain, former NHL goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck. The 1986
Vezina Trophy winner admits that during a tirade at the home of
two Greyhounds players he used the n word "more than once" in
talking about Trevor Daley, a 19-year-old defenseman. Daley, who
is black, heard about the slurs and left the team on the advice
of his agent, Bobby Orr. "This is an old wound with me," said
Vanbiesbrouck, who is from Detroit. "I grew up with it. I'm as
sorry as anybody that it's stuck with me."
JOINED The Premier Development League, the BYU men's soccer team,
which purchased a franchise for $40,000 and this spring will
become the first college team in any sport to play in a league
with pro squads. After winning seven club championships in 10
years, BYU coach Chris Watkins said he wanted tougher
competition, but because of Title IX restrictions the school
wouldn't add a men's varsity sport. Joining the Premier League
also allows players to travel internationally without being
subjected to NCAA restrictions, which would have made it
difficult for student athletes to follow the Mormon precepts
about preaching the faith. "I'm not sure about other teams, but
it fits BYU," Watkins told SI.
CALLED Mistakenly, by NCAA investigators looking into wire
transfers received by Louisville center Marvin Stone, 53-year-old
Marvin Stone, a project engineer in Atlanta. The elder Stone (no
relation) received a $450 transfer from a relative in Louisville
on Nov. 15, 2002, which prompted a call from NCAA representative
Deana Garner. "I had a thousand things running through my head,"
said Stone. "All I do is watch college basketball. What did the
NCAA want with me? You're not going to confuse us. He's 6'10",
and I'm 5'7"." The younger Stone was held out of Louisville's
100-59 win over Charlotte last Saturday.
Brooks Kieschnick, 30, is trying to make the Brewers as an
outfielder and a pitcher. How's he doing? SI's Kieschometer tells
Milwaukee has cut six pitchers but not Kieschnick. He threw two
shutout innings against the A's and had a scoreless inning versus
Arizona, lowering his spring ERA to 1.50 in six innings. At bat
he went 0 for 1 last week (1 for 4 overall). His arm may be his
ticket. "He's a nice surprise," says pitching coach Mike Maddux.
"He's using both sides of the plate, throwing breaking balls in
any count and showing a good changeup."
Not in the Script
KO'd WBO heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko, by journeyman
southpaw Corrie Sanders of South Africa. Klitschko, 26, a
Ukrainian with a huge following in Germany, where the bout was
staged, succumbed to a barrage of potent lefts 27 seconds into
the second round. The upset delivers another blow to the troubled
sport, which is hurting for star power (SI, March 10). The 6'6",
243-pound Klitschko, whose brother, Vitali, 31, is the No. 1
ranked heavyweight by the WBC and the WBA, was supposed to be one
of the division's big draws. Before his loss to Sanders, Wladimir
was 40-1 with 37 knockouts; wins against Ray Mercer and Jameel
McCline had led HBO to sign him to a nine-fight deal late last
With 37 years--and ample paunch--under his belt, Sanders had been
traveling a different path. Despite a 38-2 record heading into
Saturday's fight, the amiable father of two had experienced
career stasis since being knocked out by Hasim Rahman in 2000.
Lately, Sanders had spent more time on the golf course, where he
has whittled his handicap to one, than in the ring, where he had
fought three rounds in 33 months. Sanders's main advantages
against the heavily favored Klitschko were a big left hand--rare
among heavyweights--and his opponent's iffy jaw. Using tips from
his sparring partner, Ross Puritty, who handed Klitschko his only
loss (a TKO in 1998), Sanders dropped the Ukrainian with a left
hook to the chin with 33 seconds left in the first round, then
knocked him down seconds later and again in the second before
finishing the job with a straight left to the face.
Klitschko called the fourth knockdown punch "lucky" and said
he'd like a rematch. Although he's hardly what the boxing world
was looking for--a golfer on the brink of middle age--Sanders is
game. "This match changed my perspective," he says. "I want a
few more good fights." --Kelley King
Sports in a Troubled Time
A possible war with Iraq and increasing fears of terrorism are
starting to have an impact on the games played around the globe
SOCCER IN THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES FIFA postponed the Under-20
championships, which were to start on March 25.
IN JAPAN/CALIFORNIA Japan canceled a trip to the West Coast, then
reversed course; its March 26 game against Uruguay was moved
from San Jose to San Diego for security reasons.
IN BRAZIL Botafogo players entered the stadium for a Feb. 16
game wearing T-shirts reading GUERRA NAO (No war).
WRESTLING IN IRAN The Iranians will boycott the world freestyle
championships--to be held in September in New York--because of the
Defense Department's decision to fingerprint all participants.
GOLF IN THE MIDDLE EAST Tiger Woods withdrew from last week's
Dubai Desert Classic, saying, "I felt it most prudent to avoid
international travel." About 40 golfers have pulled out of this
week's Qatar Masters.
CYCLING IN FRANCE Lance Armstrong will ride in the Tour de France
even during a war but is wary of "[having] to deal with a billion
angry Muslims." He has publicly said that he opposes a war.
HORSE RACING IN DUBAI As part of his preparation for the $15
million Dubai World Cup on March 29, U.S. trainer Bill Currin
said he has been planning his will and estate "in case I don't
get out of there."
BASEBALL IN JAPAN Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar backed out
of a deal to play for the Chunichi Dragons, saying he was afraid
to leave the U.S.; several A's players don't want to travel there
for the season opener with Seattle. "We may as well have big
targets on our backs saying, WE'RE AMERICANS, COME BOMB US," said
Oakland pitcher Tim Hudson.
FOOTBALL IN EUROPE NFL Europe may play its entire 2003 season in
BASKETBALL IN TURKEY/LEBANON/ISRAEL Several U.S. players have
turned down opportunities to play in the Middle East.
WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL IN NEW YORK/VIRGINIA Manhattanville
senior Toni Smith and Virginia freshman Deidra Chatman have
turned away from the U.S. flag during the national anthem in
SAILING IN NEW ZEALAND A group calling itself September 11 sent
letters containing cyanide crystals to the British embassy during
the America's Cup and threatened to attack if Iraq were bombed
during the event.
STADIUMS THROUGHOUT THE U.S. Sports events may become targets.
Says Michael Cherkasky, CEO of the international risk consulting
firm Kroll Inc., "Al-Qaeda has announced its intentions by
attacking symbols. Sports and America are intertwined, and
international terrorists understand that."
WIFE CARRYING CHAMPIONS
Who supports whom in this marriage Warren Straatmann of Owasso,
Okla., will haul his wife of seven years, Wendy, across a
253.5-meter course in Finland this July in the eighth annual Wife
Carrying World Championships. Warren weighs 172 pounds, Wendy
109, which is the weight of the beer that the couple received for
beating 15 other teams for the North American title in Maine last
October. The Straatmanns finished the 278-yard course--they had to
jump two hurdles and wade through a water pit--in a record one
minute, 15 seconds.
Their path to glory Warren, 36, a civil engineer, and Wendy, 33,
a geologist, are recreational runners and cyclists. When they saw
a story in a running magazine last July about wife carrying,
Warren told Wendy, "We'd be good at that." Soon after, they heard
on the radio that the Oklahoma championships would be held in
Tulsa. "It was destiny," Wendy says.
And you thought your parents were weird The Straatmanns hone
their technique on the track at a nearby high school in deference
to Kate, 6, and Grant, 2. "The kids don't want us doing it out in
the yard," Wendy says.
Wendy's bottom-line view She spends the race in what
wife-carriers call the Estonian position--in layman's terms, that
means her nose is in his butt. "Good thing he's my husband
because I wouldn't be doing this for anyone else," she says.
"Well, maybe Lance Armstrong." --Melissa Segura
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
SATURDAY 3/15 > ESPN2 4 PM > Florida Derby
California colt Empire Maker, a son of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner
Unbridled and the prerace favorite, takes on Fountain of Youth
winner Trust N Luck in this $1 million Kentucky Derby prep.
SUNDAY 3/16 > FOX 12:30 PM > Carolina Dodge Dealers 400
Whether you call it Too Tough to Tame or the Lady in Black, the
1.366-mile, tire-chewing Darlington Raceway is NASCAR's oldest
superspeedway and one of the most challenging to negotiate.
SUNDAY 3/16 > ESPN 1 PM > Tournament Finals: ACC and Big 12 (3
To the amazement of many, Wake Forest had the ACC's top
regular-season record at 13-3, but Duke hasn't lost a game in
this tournament since 1998; the Big 12 features three Top 10
teams in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
SUNDAY 3/16 > CBS 6 PM > NCAA Basketball Selection Show
The only show where you'll hear the word bracketologist more than
THURSDAY 3/20 > TNT 10 PM > Lakers at Kings
Shaq calls them "the Queens," and Lakers coach Phil Jackson has
dissed Sacramento as a "cow town." Tell us how you really feel,
fellas. It's Round 3 of the NBA's best rivalry, with the
regular-season series tied 1-1.
>> don't miss
THURSDAY 3/20 > CBS noon
NCAA Tournament Round 1
If war begins during the tournament, CBS may shift its coverage
to its affiliated cable outlets, including MTV, Nickelodeon, TNN
and VH-1. Wherever the games are aired, watch for surprising
squeakers like Arizona's win over UC Santa Barbara last year
--Inside North Korea
--Jack Hits the Road
It became known over the years as the Miracle on Grass. On July
19, 1966, in arguably the greatest upset in World Cup history,
North Korea beat Italy 1-0 in Middlesbrough, England, to become
the first Asian team to advance to the quarterfinals of the
tournament. The plucky squad--whose players stood 5'5" on
average--lost to Portugal in the next round and returned home to a
hero's welcome. But as North Korea continued to isolate itself,
the memory of the individual players began to fade. It is now
being restored. In the fall of 2001, after nearly four years of
negotiating with the Pyongyang government, British filmmakers Dan
Gordon and Nicholas Bonner were allowed inside North Korea to
talk with the seven surviving members of the '66 team. The result
is a mesmerizing 80-minute documentary, The Game of Their Lives,
which includes World Cup footage and scenes of the team's
practices at which the locals got to know the players and began
rooting for them. The film also shines a rare light into today's
North Korea, showing the bustle of subways and the intensity of
soccer in city parks; a border guard says, "When I play football,
I am the goalkeeper...like the army guards the security of the
country." Hailed by London's Sunday Times as "a gem," the film
(which has been aired several times to great response in both
North and South Korea) is being shopped by Gordon and Bonner for
a broadcast or theatrical outlet in the U.S.
--Jack Edwards, heavily criticized for his jingoistic calls
after the U.S.'s World Cup wins over Portugal ("Mine eyes have
seen the glory!") and Mexico ("The land of the free, the home of
the brave is into the round of eight!"), has been replaced as
ESPN and ABC's top soccer announcer. Rob Stone and JP
Dellacamera take over. --Richard Deitsch
--Capital Losses, page 20