NBC SPORTS executives spent last week fielding inquiries about the questionable taste of one of their broadcasters. But in this case they weren't kicking a controversial curmudgeon off their airwaves (as they did when they fired Don Imus from his MSNBC TV gig)—they were welcoming one. The network announced that CBC hockey analyst Don Cherry, who has been shocking northern audiences for 27 years, will appear on NBC during the Stanley Cup finals. In the wake of the Imus fiasco, Cherry did not seem to have mellowed. "A lot of people have written that what I say [in Canada], I would never get away with it down in the States," said Cherry, 73. "I'll just go on and do what I have to do."
Cherry has turned hockey commentary into performance art: He's known for garish suits; his ever-present English bull terrier; and outlandish, sometimes xenophobic, opinions. His defenders see him as charmingly old school, but his remarks can sting. The Ontario native has called Russian athletes "quitters," questioned the manhood of European players in general and referred to French Canadians as "whiners."
In 2004 the CBC put Cherry on a seven-second delay after he said European players who wear visors lack toughness. Still, a survey of CBC viewers that year named him the seventh-greatest Canadian ever. NBC hopes that popularity will carry over. "There hasn't been any hesitation [about working with him]," says Mike Baker, a producer at Versus, which may also feature Cherry during the playoffs. "I would never put a leash on him."
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Casey's generosity (he's heavily involved in charities such as the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and World Hunger Organization) and friendliness have earned him the nickname the Mayor from his fellow players. But the 10-year veteran believes that the quest for self-improvement never ends. In honor of the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut, Casey has started each day at the ballpark for the past two weeks by reading roughly a chapter of this 2005 book, which he keeps in his locker. He aspires to be like Robinson, "more as a person than a base stealer," says the lead-footed Casey (left), who has swiped 15 career bases—182 fewer than Robinson. "He was walking integrity and living proof that you can be a strong person, and you don't have to punch someone in the face. He changed America forever ... and it's bigger than baseball. It's about the man he was, how he carried himself, the things he stuck up for." Casey calls the book one of the best he's read (he also lauds No Greater Love by Mother Teresa) and has promised to pass his copy along to teammate Craig Monroe, one of the Tigers who asked to wear number 42 for Robinson on Sunday. Says Casey, "Every baseball player should read it, and everyone else should read it too."
IT'S EASY to forget during the regular season, but NBA players can play entire games with passion and a commitment to defense. Before the postseason begins this weekend, remind yourself how pros play when they care by watching YouTube's "NBA Playoff Memories 2006." Particularly entertaining are the clips from the early rounds. May Madness featured a blizzard of buzzer beaters—by, among others, LeBron James, Gilbert Arenas, Kobe Bryant (aobve) and the Cavs' Damon Jones, who clinched Cleveland's first-round win with a last-second jumper.