JIMBO'S FAN CLUB
In this age of endless disputation and litigation in sports, something of the sort probably had to happen sooner or later. Yes, America, it has come to this: The Jimmy Connors Fan Club is suing Jimmy Connors.
Actually, the lawsuit was brought not by the club but by its president, 19-year-old Terri Flasch of Brooklyn Park, Minn., who founded it after developing "a terrific crush" on Connors when she was 13. Time was when the typical sports fan club consisted of three neighborhood kids and one shared scrapbook containing a bunch of newspaper stories about their idol and a cadged autograph or two. But Flasch turned out to be something of a marketing whiz. She began putting out a quarterly newsletter, Jimbo's Journal, scraped together a mailing list, talked tennis equipment manufacturers into donating their wares for use as contest prizes in exchange for free advertising, and persuaded Connors to write a column answering his fans' questions. Through word of mouth and mention in tennis publications, the club grew to 5,000 members in 24 countries. Although Flasch says that the $4 annual dues ($7 for foreign members) barely covered postage and the photographs and patches that each member received, her efforts didn't go entirely unrewarded. She received some free clothing and shoes from companies with which Connors was commercially involved, and for publicity purposes tournament directors occasionally flew her to cities where Connors was playing.
The impressive growth of Flasch's club didn't go unnoticed by John Connors, Jimmy's older brother and an employee of Jimbo's company, Tennis Management Inc., who decided he wanted to form a Jimmy Connors Fan Club. Flasch maintains she would have welcomed having her club co-exist with a new one—"Jimmy Connors is big enough to have more than one," she says—and would even have been willing to step aside if John Connors agreed to refund her club members' dues. However, Flasch says that before any of this could be worked out, she received a letter from John Connors' lawyer threatening to sue her unless she disbanded her club. When a tennis magazine reported that her club's existence was "hindering" the elder Connors in his efforts to start his own organization, Flasch decided she'd had enough and filed suit for defamation and breach of contract in Hennepin County (Minn.) District Court against the two Connors brothers, their mother, Gloria, and Tennis Management Inc. "Because they said I was hindering them, it implied that I'd done something wrong," says Flasch. "That damaged my reputation with my members."
Larry Brockman, the Belleville, Ill. lawyer who wrote the letter to Flasch on John Connors' behalf, says the latter sought to start a fan club because "he wanted to do things differently than she did. He thought he could do a professional job. He has some marketing ideas and promotional ideas where the fans can get a different side of Jimmy." Brockman calls Flasch's suit "silly." Ivan Blumberg, a lawyer at ProServ, the Washington, D.C.-based sports management firm that represents Jimmy Connors, says, "We're going to keep making an effort to resolve [the dispute with Flasch] before it gets blown out of proportion."
But enough of this bickering. We want to look at the big picture here, and the big picture is that when a fan club that exists for the sole purpose of doting on an athlete ends up suing him, you know things are wacky today. As for the merits of this particular squabble, it says here that fan clubs should be the province of fans, not brothers. Let John Connors go start the Jimmy Connors Sibling Club if he wants. And let Terri Flasch get back to work. She says that because of the aggravation all this has caused her, she's seven weeks late in getting out the next issue of her newsletter.
LEST THEY FORGET
Miami may have finished atop the college football polls, but bumper stickers have appeared in the Sunshine State cruelly reminding Hurricane fans that thanks to the result of a certain intrastate showdown back on Sept. 3, their team's record was 11-1, not 12-0. The bumper stickers read: FLORIDA 28, NATIONAL CHAMPIONS 3.
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A BALL?
During a trip to Hawaii this season, the Louisville basketball team scheduled a practice session in a community center on the island of Maui. When the Cardinals arrived, they discovered that, because of a mixup, there were no basketballs on hand. As the coaches and players debated what to do, a young man walked into the gym with an old, beat-up ball and began shooting hoops at the other end of the court. Members of the Louisville contingent explained their predicament to the fellow and asked if he would mind lending them his ball or at least sharing it. He said no and continued playing by himself. O.K., they asked, would he sell the ball? The bidding went from $15, to $20, to $30, and, finally, to $50, but still he refused to give it up.
Eventually the Cardinals arranged for basketballs to be brought to the gym. Later, as the young man prepared to leave, a member of the Louisville party couldn't resist telling him he'd been pretty dumb to turn down so much money. The fellow replied, "Yeah, but I'm smart enough to take a basketball along when I practice."
THE LEADERSHIP FACTOR
There was big news in baseball last week: The Montreal Expos signed 42-year-old free-agent Pete Rose to a one-year contract, and the Chicago White Sox claimed 39-year-old Tom Seaver, whose name was put into the free-agent compensation pool by the New York Mets in what Mets general manager Frank Cashen later admitted was a monumental blunder. In going after Rose and Seaver, the Expos and White Sox were aware that both players are well past their prime; Rose isn't about to hit .320 again, nor is Seaver likely to have any more 20-win seasons. But the teams were hoping that the vaunted leadership abilities of the two future Hall of Famers would help them win the pennants that have so narrowly eluded them in recent seasons. That raises a question about the teams with which each player spent the greatest part of his career, the Reds, which didn't even bid for Rose, and the Mets. If strong outfits, like the Expos and White Sox could find room for Rose and Seaver, why weren't the Reds and Mets, last year's National League cellar dwellers, able to do the same?
In USA Today's Jan. 17 compilation of the nation's top 25 high school basketball teams, Dunbar of Baltimore (16-2), last season's No. 1 team, was ranked fourth, Dunbar of Washington, D.C. (10-0) was ranked seventh, and Dunbar of Fort Worth (23-0) was in the 17th spot. Those three basketball powerhouses are among many schools, most of them in inner-city neighborhoods, named after Paul Laurence Dunbar, a black poet who, as it happens, was not in the least athletic.
At the time James Naismith tossed up the first basketball in his Springfield, Mass. physical education class on a winter day in 1891, the 19-year-old Dunbar was working as an elevator operator in his hometown of Dayton to support his mother while writing poetry at night. He had graduated the year before from Dayton Central High, where he was the only black member of his class. He had been elected president of the school's literary society and was editor of its newspaper. Dunbar was frail and bookish as a child and sickly as an adult, and he died at the age of 33 of tuberculosis. He was bedridden the last two years of his life. Nevertheless, he left a sizable body of work that included four novels (one was titled The Sport of the Gods but had nothing to do with sports) in addition to five volumes of poetry. Despite Dunbar's nonathletic bent, even the most gifted of the basketball players at the schools that bear his name could draw inspiration from his poem The Path, which begins by cautioning that "There are no beaten paths to Glory's height" and ends with these lines:
For rugged is the roadway to renown,
Nor may he hope to gain the envied crown,
Till he hath thrust the looming rocks aside.
Despite a lot of worries expressed in Tampa in the days leading up to the Super Bowl about declining TV ratings and attendance, the NFL continues to prohibit its teams from staging promotional giveaways or offering ticket discounts for fear they could "cheapen the game," as league officials like to put it. It seems strange that a league in which women dressed like cocktail waitresses kick their legs skyward on the sidelines would worry about cheapening its game. And it's too bad that the highfalutin NFL would turn up its nose at the sort of harmless hoopla that the NBA's Washington Bullets arranged before last weekend's game against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bullets promised pompons, courtesy of a local jeweler, to the first 10,000 fans to show up, and billed the matchup of the Sixers' Moses Malone and the Bullets' Jeff Ruland, the league's top two re-bounders, as being for the "world rebounding championship." The Bullets even went so far as to run ads that included such tale-of-the-tape info on Malone and Ruland as their heights, weights and season stats.
A season-high crowd of 16,711 turned out on a frigid evening to watch the Bullets, led by Ruland's 37 points, snap a nine-game losing streak with a 94-90 win. But Malone defeated Ruland for the world rebounding championship, 15 to eight, on a grand evening that, in yet another promotional fillip, the Bullets had billed—take this, you NFLers—as Superball Saturday.
AND BABY MAKES (PAR?) THREE
The veterans in the family portrait above are Houston Astro first baseman Ray Knight and his wife, Nancy Lopez, the professional golfer. The rookie is their daughter, Ashley Marie, who was born on Nov. 7. Last season Knight batted .304, the sixth-highest average in the National League, and Lopez finished 15th on the LPGA money list, with $91,477 in earnings, despite having dropped off the tour in July because of her pregnancy. Lopez anticipates greater success in 1984. "I think the layoff helped me both mentally and physically," she says. "It's easy to get burned out on the tour, and now I feel relaxed. While I'm playing I'm concentrating on my golf, but in the background always are very happy thoughts."
THEY SAID IT
•Frank Layden, Utah Jazz coach, complaining about a former player of his: "I told him, 'Son, I can't understand it with you. Is it ignorance or apathy?' He said, 'Coach, I don't know and I don't care.' "
•Joe DiMaggio, comparing the pressures of his 56-game hitting streak in 1941 with those Wayne Gretzky has experienced during his scoring streak, which reached 49 games on Saturday: "He doesn't have to worry about a hockey game getting rained out in the middle of the second period."
•Marv Harshman, University of Washington basketball coach, explaining why he favors size over speed: "Quick guys get tired. Big guys don't shrink."
•Akeem Abdul Olajuwon, the University of Houston's 7-foot center, after a poor first half against unheralded St. Mary's of Texas: "All those little guys kept hitting my hands. And one guy kept running underneath me."