COLLINS AVENUE inMiami is the Boulevard of Broken Teams. It's the main drag into South Beach,where Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis was arrested over the holidays afterallegedly alighting from his Bentley at 4 a.m. to urinate alfresco. In thestreets that emanate from this one clogged artery, Eagles linebacker DhaniJones, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes,Steelers tackle Trai Essex, Pistons center Dale Davis and then--NBA teammatesAwvee Storey and Gilbert Arenas were all taken into custody in 2006, despiteArenas's reportedly protesting, "You can't arrest me. I'm a basketballplayer. I play for the Washington Wizards."
And that is justone quick snapshot of 12 months in a single Florida neighborhood, albeit onewhere Shaquille O'Neal is training to become a reserve police officer. Heshould certainly recognize everyone.
No state has sodominated every aspect of sports—on field and off, the great and theterrible—as Florida is doing now. It is a state of superlatives in countlesscategories, from decadence to prurience to excellence. The Florida Gators,college basketball's champions, play next week for the BCS title. The MiamiHeat are NBA champs, and the Marlins, Buccaneers and Lightning have won titlessince 2003. Miami hosts the Super Bowl next month, and whoever excels in thatgame will go straight to an Orlando theme park, as soon as he posts bond.
And so travelersat Southwest Florida International Airport last week were informed that thealarm level was at orange, a redundant announcement in a state whereeverything—its most famous football stadium, its ubiquitous construction cones,Darryl Strawberry's old prison jumpsuit—is thoroughly orange andcomprehensively alarming. What is more orange, or more alarming, than the MiamiHurricanes, whose mascot, Sebastian the Ibis, embodies the beauty and horrorthat is Florida? An exquisitely attractive bird, the ibis is also called aChokoloskee chicken by those Everglade epicures who enjoy eating it. Or so wetourists are told aboard our airboats, alarmed in our orange life vests.
January 8, 2007
Florida's pushand pull, its repulsion and attraction, is evident at the suburban Jacksonvilleestate of Jets receiver Laveranues Coles. It is so vast as to require its ownroad, a private Cole-de-sac that ends at 87 Coles Court, where the bachelor haserected an edifice equal parts Xanadu (he has wildlife) and Xanadon't (he has abowling alley).
The $8 millionColes Court kingdom is a modest investment compared with the $25 millionClearwater estate just unlisted by wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose five-bedroom,four-and-a-half-nelson neo-Normandy chateau didn't attract a buyer in its sixmonths on the market. That Taj Mahal is in turn dwarfed by the $38 million,four-house, two-dock compound on Jupiter Island owned by Tiger Woods, theworld's best golfer and an exile from California, which has been displaced byFlorida in our national fever dream. (The world's most infamous golfer, O.J.Simpson, is also a California exile in Florida.)
California has anOrange County; Florida has "county orange," the shade of prisonjumpsuit that was worn by Strawberry, Jose Canseco and Dwight Gooden and willbe worn by all the other retired athletes who get rung up down here withregularity. Florida is where many athletes retire. Indeed, the City of Legendsnear Orlando is a retirement community exclusively for professional athletes,most of whom live bereft of cares and state income tax.
Until Si Simmonsdied in October at age 111, he was believed to be the oldest livingprofessional baseball player and maybe the oldest living resident of St.Petersburg, a title vacated by Mary Parr, who died at 113 in 2002 in St. Pete,to which she had retired 37 years earlier.
In Florida,retirements last longer than many careers. My father, at 72, is a relativespring chicken among the snowbirds in Bonita Springs, where the day afterChristmas he pured a seven-iron on a par-3 for his first hole in one. It won'tbe his last. As a retiree in Florida, where the people outlive the tortoises,he may have another 40 years to hone his game.
Still, myfavorite resident of the Sunshine State is a Hollywood, Fla., inventor—anEdison of underwear—named Ronald Paramore. He once mailed to my wife, thenplaying in the WNBA, a prototype for something called the "femalejockstrap."
It remained indeep storage until last week, when my 34-year-old brother, John, at a familyholiday gathering, gingerly removed the female jockstrap from its Ziploc bag.Surveying the scant straps and scanter material of this spandex slingshot,barely big enough to propel a walnut, my brother announced, "I'm wearingthis thing to the pool." It conjured up an image that was quintessentiallyFlorida. Appalling, sure. But you couldn't possibly look away.
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No state has so dominated sports as Florida does now. It is a state ofsuperlatives in countless categories, from decadence to prurience toexcellence.