Sweet and Lowdown
Truly a man of mystery, the Pacers' Ron Artest just might be the
nicest guy ever to lead the league in flagrant fouls
Inasmuch as the league's best players double as First Team
All--Good Guys, this is a golden age for the NBA. The biggest
stars in the pro basketball cosmos--Kobe, Shaq, Tim Duncan, Kevin
Garnett, Tracy McGrady--are also, as they say, mensches. But like
any drama, the soap-operatic NBA needs a few Laimbeeresque
antiheroes to accrue technical fouls and mortal enemies with
equal relish, and Ron Artest is the villain du jour. Last
Thursday the volatile Pacers swingman was suspended for his 10th
game this season after committing a league-high fifth flagrant
foul. Artest has now committed an assortment of crimes and
misdemeanors ranging from smashing the Mavericks' Raja Bell to
smashing a $100,000 television camera, which have added up to
$45,000 in NBA fines. At 23 and in his fourth season, he has been
depicted as the second coming of Dennis Rodman. Or as one
publication sensationalized, The Scariest Man in the NBA.
What makes Artest's casting peculiar is that his eruptions are
completely at odds with his offcourt persona. The Pacers'
community relations staff will tell you that when they need a
player to make an appearance, Artest's is the first number they
call. This is a millionaire athlete who's on a first-name basis
with every Conseco Fieldhouse security guard and signs autographs
until seconds before tipoff. Anyone who has spent time with
Artest unfailingly uses some variation of the words sweet,
eccentric and naive to describe him. Villainous? Malicious?
A personal Ar-testimonial: Earlier this season I interviewed him
for a story (SI, Dec. 16, 2002). Shortly into the conversation he
asked if I liked animals. "Sure," I stammered. "Why?" He had
designs of taking me to the zoo but wanted to make sure I'd feel
comfortable there. "He's nothing like what you think when you see
him explode on court," says Pacers center Brad Miller, Artest's
best friend on the team. "He just has a shorter fuse than some
March 24, 2003
Look beyond his violent outbursts, and you see signs that Artest
isn't exactly a societal menace. He doesn't harangue the
refs--"They always treat me with respect," Artest told The
Indianapolis Star last week. He doesn't fight. And excepting a
bizarre muscle-flexing encounter with Pat Riley in January, he's
not known for taunting. His eruptions, even the flagrant fouls,
are invariably exercises in self-flagellation, fits of pique when
he's disgusted with his own play. And after each one he has been
full of contrition. "This has all been embarrassing to me," he
said last week.
None of this excuses Artest. As superbly as he guards the
opposition, his conduct has been, simply, indefensible. Somewhat
short-tempered in two-plus seasons as a Bull (the Pacers acquired
him last year), Artest has buckled emotionally in the heat of
playing for a top team. His burgeoning Bad Boy repute almost
assuredly kept him from making the AllStar team; as one of the
league's best defenders, who is averaging 2.16 steals and 15.2
points per game, he seemed deserving. His combustibility also
looms large in the Pacers' current free fall. (At week's end
Indiana, 39--27 overall, had lost 12 of 14 games; the team is
4--7 this year in games Artest has missed.) Artest's teammates
have wearied of his antics. "We need you, man," forward Jermaine
O'Neal told Artest sternly over the weekend.
Fortunately for Artest, NBA reputations aren't scrawled in
indelible ink. The Nets' hyperaggressive forward, Kenyon Martin,
was Public Enemy No. 1 last season, collecting six flagrant foul
points that earned him seven games in suspensions and $347,057 in
fines. This year Martin has been a model of decorum (zero
flagrant fouls) and convalesced his image, all without
sacrificing any on-court intensity. Martin's advice for Artest?
"Finish the season the right way and don't get in any more
trouble. People can talk to you until you're blue in the face,
but if you don't do something about it, it's all on you at the
end of the day." There, Ron. Sermon's over. Now pass the hat. The
black one, that is. It doesn't become you. --L. Jon Wertheim
Counted out of the tennis elite, U.S. men are suddenly coming on
Tennis's Cassandras had ordered the pine box, and they were
poised to administer last rites. This, they predicted, would be
the year that U.S. men's tennis would, for all practical
purposes, die. After all, Andre Agassi, 32, and Pete Sampras, 31,
are well into their sunset years, no U.S. player under 30 has
made the finals of a Grand Slam in 2 1/2 years, and last month
the U.S. was bounced out of the Davis Cup by that formidable
tennis power ... Croatia.
But wait. At last week's Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells,
Calif., one of the ATP's premier events, the American men served
notice (at 147 mph in Andy Roddick's case) that reports of their
demise are greatly exaggerated. Despite the truancy of both
Agassi and Sampras--the former beset by a bum shoulder, the
latter racked by indecision over whether to retire--five
Americans (Roddick, James Blake, Vince Spadea, Brian Vahaly and
Robby Ginepri) infiltrated the quarterfinals. "With Pete and
Andre and [Jim] Courier all coming up together, we may never see
another generation like that again," says Roddick. "But we think
we have a good thing going here ourselves."
They do. Scan the Top 50 in the ATP Champions Race and, excluding
the top-ranked Agassi, you'll find eight U.S. players. Their
average age? Twenty-three. And that tells only half the story. At
a time when many players venture to the net only to shake hands
after a match, most of the top young Americans have adaptable,
all-court games and the ability to serve and volley. They're also
exploding the myth that there's one best way to cultivate a
successful career. Armed with a pump-action serve and forehand,
Roddick went pro at 18 and now, at 20, is ensconced in the Top
10; Blake, 23, spent two years at Harvard before turning pro in
1999 and is on the cusp of the Top 10; Vahaly, 23, a former
academic All-America at Virginia, graduated with a degree in
finance and business management, then spent two years on the
minor league challenger circuit before turning pro in 2001. "I
just wasn't ready earlier," says Vahaly, who's ranked No. 27.
"I'm proud that I'm the only college graduate in the Top 100.
Besides, all my friends on Wall Street are getting fired right
For all the virtues of the Agassi-Sampras-Courier axis, it was
never marked by camaraderie. The current corps share scouting
tips, train together and chat via e-mail. "You get tired of
hearing 'Where's the next Pete and Andre?'" says Blake. "It's
really gratifying that we're all starting to make some noise."
And it sounds nothing like a death rattle. --L.J.W.
4 Straight seasons in which UCLA hoops coach Steve Lavin, who was
fired on Monday after a 10--19 season, has beaten the nation's
No. 1 team; the Bruins edged Arizona in the Pac-10 tournament.
.002 Margin, in seconds, by which Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch in
Sunday's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington, the smallest
recorded margin of victory in NASCAR history.
$68,571 Prize money earned by Norwegian firefighter Robert Sorlie
for winning the Iditarod; Sorlie, 45, is just the second
non-Alaskan winner in the race's 31-year history.
9 Rebounds by the Cavaliers' Ricky Davis against the Jazz on
Sunday; in an effort to get a triple double (he had 28 points and
12 assists), Davis intentionally missed a shot on his own basket
with six seconds left, but the game scorer did not credit him for
the rebound he grabbed on that play.
1,000 Games worked by NHL referee Paul Stewart, 47, the first
U.S.-born official to reach that milestone.
10,142 Career assists, and counting, for Jazz guard Mark Jackson,
37, eclipsing Magic Johnson for second place on the alltime list;
after passing Magic on Sunday, Jackson was replaced in the game
by alltime leader John Stockton (15,678).
FOR THE RECORD
HOSPITALIZED With what is suspected to be a brain tumor, plucky
exreliever Tug McGraw, who helped the Mets and the Phillies to
championships in his 19year career. The 58year-old lefty was in
Clearwater, Fla., working as a pitching instructor at
Philadelphia's spring training complex when, on March 12, he
suddenly became ill. McGraw was taken to a hospital, and surgery
was scheduled for early this week. As a key member of the 1973
Mets, McGraw coined the slogan Ya gotta believe! As a Phillie he
got the last out when the team won its only World Series, in
1980. McGraw retained his trademark exuberance as a coach. Three
weeks ago he was on a practice field trying to catch baseballs
dropped by team owner Bill Giles from a helicopter hovering about
75 feet above, a rehearsal for an Opening Day stunt. Last weekend
Phillies coach John Vukovich, who has survived a brain tumor,
visited McGraw in the hospital and told him, "I beat this. And
you can, too."
PURCHASED For $92 million, the bankrupt Buffalo Sabres by former
New York gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano. The Rochester
billionaire, who drew 14% of the vote as an independent last
November, pledged not to relocate the team. "People should stop
worrying about the Sabres in Buffalo," said NHL commissioner Gary
Bettman. "Our knight on a white horse came riding in."
ENDED The feud between Alex Popov, 38, who caught and briefly
held Barry Bonds's 73rd home run ball on Oct. 7, 2001, at San
Francisco's Pac Bell Park, and Patrick Hayashi, 37, who wound up
with the ball after a brief melee. After 17 months of legal
wrangling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy
ruled that the two must sell the ball and split the proceeds. The
two chose Barnes Sports Group of St. Louis, the agency that sold
Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball for $3 million in 1999, to sell
their ball, which is expected to bring about $1 million. Hayashi
says the settlement was reached when he and Popov abandoned legal
counsel and spoke directly. "Not agreeing would have damaged not
only our image but the image of baseball itself," Hayashi says.
DIED Of complications from kidney disease, Naftali Temu, 58, who
launched a Kenyan Olympic dynasty by winning the country's first
gold medal, in the 10,000 meters at the 1968 Games. Temu, who as
a child ran 12 miles back and forth to school each day, raced
barefoot until '62. Six years later--and properly shod--he outran
the favorite, Ethiopia's Mamo Wolde, in Mexico City. Since then,
Kenyan men have won 13 Olympic medals in middle-distance events.
Of head injuries sustained after falling off his bicycle during
last week's Paris-Nice race, Kazakh cyclist Andrei Kivilev, who
finished fourth in the 2001 Tour de France. Kivilev, 29, removed
his helmet to cool off, then crashed after brushing another bike.
He fractured his skull, immediately became comatose and died the
next day. The International Cycling Union will now reconsider a
proposal to make helmets mandatory for pro riders, who rejected a
similar proposal in 1991.
RANKED Atop the men's world sabre standings, Keeth Smart, the
first U.S. fencer to reach No. 1. Smart, 24, moved into the top
spot after finishing second at the Coupe Akropolis world cup in
Athens on March 8. He grew up in Brooklyn and in 1991 enrolled in
a program run by 1984 Olympic bronze medalist Peter Westbrook
that teaches fencing to inner-city kids. Smart was on the 2000
Olympic team and led St. John's to an NCAA title in 2001. "This
is truly surreal," he says of his ranking. "I never dreamed I
would accomplish something this monumental."
Captained IUPUI to its first-ever berth in the NCAA basketball
tournament, 27-year-old Navy veteran Matt Crenshaw. With one
second left in the Mid-Continent conference title game against
Valparaiso on March 11, Crenshaw, a junior point guard, hit a
12foot jumper to give the Jaguars a 66--64 upset win and a
first-round date with Kentucky on Friday.
Four years ago the Big Dance seemed an unlikely destination for
either the low-profile commuter school (a venture of Indiana
University and Purdue University in Indianapolis) or Crenshaw,
the oldest player on a Division I hoops team. IUPUI had gone
11--16 in its first Division I season, and Crenshaw was coming
off a six-year hitch in the Navy, where he rose to the rank of
boatswain's mate. His coaches on a Navy basketball team (he twice
made the All--Armed Forces' team) called several schools on his
behalf, and IUPUI was the first to offer a scholarship.
Crenshaw--who had joined the Navy directly out of Virginia's
Western Albemarle High after receiving scant attention from
college coaches--seized the opportunity. "IUPUI took a chance on
me when others weren't willing," says Crenshaw, who's on pace to
graduate with a degree in criminal justice.
The gamble on the old guy paid off. With a combination of hustle
and composure he attributes to his military training, Crenshaw
had a team-high 138 assists this year. He also gives teammates a
perspective on the situation in the Middle East. "Matt's our
Colin Powell," says junior guard Odell Bradley. "'This ain't no
Power Rangers,' he'll say. He lets us know how serious it all
The Jaguars, a 16th seed in the Midwest region, face a top seed
in the Wildcats, but Crenshaw has downplayed that daunting task.
Speaking of a Marine buddy stationed in the Persian Gulf, he
says, "My friend in Kuwait, he's nervous. We're just playing
basketball." --Kelley King
For the first time since '78, no one phoned for baseball's
Mike Morgan has been bought, sold, optioned and traded more times
than a tanker of spot-market oil. For 24 years Morgan--who played
for 12 teams, a record in baseball and every other major
sport--has abided by a simple motto: Have arm, will travel. The
travels are ending. Since the Diamondbacks bought out his
contract in January, the 43year-old free agent has been home in
exurban Deer Valley, Utah, waiting for the phone to ring. And
waiting. And waiting. "Things got a little weird for me in
February," he says. "I asked my agent, 'Has Japan called? Has
Mexico called? I'll go anywhere.' I had to get a new motto: Have
bags, am packed."
Then again, his bags have been packed pretty much ever since A's
owner Charlie Finley drafted him out of Las Vegas's Valley High
in 1978. A week later the 18-year-old righthander with the
sinking fastball was Finley's latest novelty act, starting before
a packed house at the Oakland Coliseum. He pitched a complete
game, though the A's lost 3-0 to Baltimore. "I started at the
top of the ladder," says Morgan, "and spent the next 10 years
climbing down the rungs."
Morgan was 0--3 that first year, 2-10 the second, and he didn't
have a winning season until '91, when he went 14-10 with a 2.78
ERA for the Dodgers and made his only All-Star team. He knows his
lifetime record of 141-186 looks a little lopsided, yet there's
a tinge of bitterness in his voice when he recalls how the
D-backs asked him to go on the disabled list last June. "They
wanted to activate another pitcher [Todd Stottlemyre]," he says.
"I figured I'd be back on the mound again in a couple of weeks."
As it turned out, he made only one other appearance--a crowning
1 1/3 innings of one-run relief in a 19-1 loss on Sept. 2--and
was left off Arizona's postseason roster. "It hurt him a lot,"
says his wife of 22 years, Kassie. "But before long, the passion
Morgan, who was 1-1 with a 5.29 ERA in 34 innings last year,
clung to the hope of another go-round. He stayed in shape,
running, biking, working out, even throwing off an indoor mound.
But team number 13 never called. Last Thursday, Morgan phoned his
agent, Doug Baldwin. "It's over," he said.
"I realized it was just too late into camp," he says, ruefully.
"I still feel, deep down, that I can get guys out. But guess
what? Nobody wants me to. I thought I'd play forever, but you
don't even live forever."
Morgan, who earned $750,000 last year, well off the $3.1 million
he averaged per season as a Cub in the mid '90s, doubts he'll
watch games on TV. "I don't want my two little girls [Mattison,
7, and Mikhail, 6] saying, 'Daddy's looking at the screen with
tears in his eyes,'" he says. "I love baseball, maybe too much."
His glove is in an apple crate in a spare room now, alongside
other crates filled with all the big league uniforms he wore:
A's, Yankees, Blue Jays, Mariners, Orioles, Dodgers, Cubs,
Cardinals, Reds, Twins, Rangers, Diamondbacks. He'll spend much
of this spring in T-shirts, shining rims at car washes--he owns
three--and, to Kassie's delight, doing a little tile work around
the house. "I have a new motto," Morgan says with a thin smile.
"When in doubt, grout." --Franz Lidz
Brooks Kieschnick, 30, is trying to make the Brewers as an
outfielder and a pitcher. How's he doing? SI's Kieschometer tells
Sign him up! In a 12--8 extra-inning loss to Texas last Thursday,
he played three innings in left, seven at first, drew three walks
and hit a three-run homer. "It was good to get into the flow of
the game," he said. On Saturday against the Rangers, he entered
as a pinch hitter in the fifth and grounded out, pitched the
sixth (an unearned run), then drove in two runs with a single. He
got his first win (his ERA: 2.00) and is hitting .375.
Don't let his bashful smile fool you. Hunched over a chessboard,
15year-old Hikaru Nakamura is one of the most ruthless
competitors you'll ever see. "He goes right after the best guys
in the game," says the U.S. Chess Federation's Tom Brownscombe.
"In a world full of cautious chess players, Hikaru plays to win."
A tennis-playing Tennessee Titans fan from White Plains, N.Y.,
Hikaru became the youngest U.S. grandmaster by scoring 7 1/2
points in 11 games at the Bermuda International Chess Festival.
(Bobby Fischer was four months, four days older when he became a
grandmaster in 1958.) "This takes some pressure off," said
Hikaru, who is homeschooled by his mother, Carolyn Weeramantry,
and stepfather, Sunil Weeramantry, a renowned chess teacher. "I
felt like I had been so close for a while." Nakamura picked up
the game at age seven from his older brother, Asuka; by 10 he was
the youngest U.S. master ever. He's always been aggressive,
sacrificing pieces to earn technical advantage. "What amazes me
is his willingness to try new systems in the most crucial
situations," says Sunil, an international master. "Such
fearlessness, it can't be taught." --Kelley King
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
SUNDAY 3/23 > CBS NOON > NCAA Tournament, Second Round
The round concludes with a triple-header that could boast
enticing matchups such as top seed Kentucky versus Oregon and
defending champ Maryland versus Xavier.
WEDNESDAY 3/26 > ESPN 7 PM > McDonald's High School All-American
LeBron James leads the East squad, but don't overlook his
teammate Luol Deng, a 6'8" slick-passing forward out of New
Jersey's Blair Academy who'll play at Duke.
WEDNESDAY 3/26 > ESPN 9 PM > Lakers at Rockets
What Shaq factor? When the teams met in Houston in January, Shaq
had 31 points, 13 rebounds (to Yao's 10 and 10), but the Lakers
lost 108--104. In February, O'Neal missed the game in L.A.
(knee), and the Lakers won 106--99 despite Yao's 24 points.
WEDNESDAY 3/26 > HBO 10 PM > Legendary Nights: The Tale of
A look at the ferocious 1985 three-round battle between
middleweights Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. The show features
the unedited fight, which some call boxing's most brutal eight
minutes, as well as recent interviews with the participants.
THURSDAY 3/27 > ABC 9 PM > World Figure Skating Championships:
Men's Free Skate
Russia's Evgeni Plushenko, the 2001 world champ and Olympic
silver medalist, tries to fend off Salt Lake City bronze winner
Timothy Goebel and U.S. champ Michael Weiss--who's from Fairfax,
Va., and should get heavy support at the MCI Center.
>> DON'T MISS
SUNDAY 3/23 > NBC 2:30 PM
PGA Bay Hill Invitational, Final Round
Tiger Woods and Ernie Els compete against each other in a
stroke-play tournament for the first time this year. What do NBC
Sports executives dream about? Their headliners playing side by
side in the final round.
CBS Barters with ESPN
Two broadcasting rivals are doing some mutual back-scratching
during the NCAA tournament. ESPN is lending Jay Bilas and Len
Elmore to CBS, which has the tournament locked up until 2013; in
exchange for those analysts ESPN will get better positions at the
Louisiana Superdome, site of the Final Four. The SportsCenter set
will be just outside the Louisiana Superdome (last year it
broadcast from a mall near the site), and ESPN will operate
another show's set at courtside (an upgrade from the mezzanine).
CBS will also loosen its highlight restrictions for the
post-national-championship SportsCenter show on April 7 and will
up its promotion of the women's tournament, which ESPN is airing.
(ESPN will promote the men's tournament by citing specific
matchups and starting times, which it hasn't done in recent
years.) Says CBS Sports president Sean McManus, "We have an
11-year deal with the NCAA, so we're not viewing ESPN or ABC as
real competitors for the tournament. They can help us and we can
help them, so why be so proprietary?"
Wassup with the sports updates on CNN Headline News? An e-mail
leaked to the media in October revealed that a producer from the
network sent a slang dictionary to writers trying to get hip-hop
terms such as freak and fly into the on-screen graphics. Staffers
were told to "use this guide to help all you homeys and honeys
add a new flava to your tickers." More recently, the network has
begun blaring hip-hop tracks over its sports highlights. Last
Friday night, music by Eve and 50 Cent thumped and bumped so
intrusively, it nearly drowned out news of Steve Bechler's
autopsy. Here's a memo from us: Big ups and plenty of bling bling
to whoever ends this nonsense. --R.D
"Hunched over a chessboard, the 15-year-old is a ruthless
competitor."--CHILD'S PLAY, PAGE 34