KING FOR A YEAR
SI senior writer Jack McCallum reports on the end of Bill Russell's coaching days in Sacramento after only nine months on the job:
Last week the Kings finally acknowledged that Russell, though a legendary player, is no longer capable of being a successful NBA coach. Gregg Lukenbill, the Sacramento managing general partner, kicked Russell upstairs to the vaguely defined position of vice-president of basketball operations; he also demoted president and general manager Joe Axelson, the man responsible for bringing Russell to Sacramento, to the even more vaguely defined job of vice-president for business operations.
Russell had signed a seven-year contract with the Kings; he was to coach for an unspecified length of time—the minimum was thought to be two years—and then succeed Axelson as the head man in the front office. Why did this plan go awry so quickly? Some observers think that Russell who had been away from coaching since resigning from the Seattle Super-Sonics in 1977, simply doesn't possess the X's-and-O's acumen necessary to succeed in today's NBA. They say the Kings' 17-41 record on March 7, the day Lukenbill pulled the plug, reflected this. "I don't buy the theory that the game had passed Bill by," Axelson said last week. "I guess eventually what happened was that the players stopped listening to him."
And how about the theory that Russell didn't work hard enough? "Well I'd say the effort was adequate," said Axelson. "Bill delegated a lot of authority, but he was always there."
The fact remains: The Sacramento system, in which Russell acted as an "executive" head coach who gave many of the everyday coaching duties to assistants Willis Reed (who left to coach the Nets on Feb. 29) and Jerry Reynolds (who was named the Kings coach through the 1989-90 season) only left the players confused. "It was obvious that there was no direction on that team," said an assistant coach of a Western Conference team.
Ned Gillette, of Stowe, Vt. (SI, Dec. 15, 1986), has done it: He has fulfilled his dream of sailing and rowing his 28-foot aluminum boat, Sea Tomato, from South America to Antarctica. On March 6, Gillette and three crewmen arrived at a landfill near King George Island, completing their 720-mile voyage a week ahead of schedule.
Gillette was prepared to make the trip a year ago but was frustrated by a heavy ice pack along his proposed route. After a month of waiting in vain at Cape Brecknock, Chile, 60 miles northwest of Cape Horn, that attempt had to be scrubbed. But the 42-year-old Gillette, who has circled Mt. Everest on skis and has scaled Mt. McKinley in a single day, didn't give up. He continued his daily rowing workouts, assembled a new crew and returned to Brecknock last month.
"The Tomato is a far more functional craft this year," Gillette wrote a friend the night before the Feb. 22 launching. "I'm as content as I've ever been. Over four years of preparation, and the departure is hours away. We're at a solid peak of readiness. I have no dread of the days ahead, though I know it will be a hard trial."
The next morning the improved Tomato, with a new satellite-navigation system aboard, headed into the treacherous currents and high seas of Drake Passage. On the first day, Tomato's small sail caught a ferocious northwesterly wind. "Gusts were up to 50 knots," said Gillette. "We capsized three different times, and one of us went overboard each time."
At least the savage winds blew Tomato in the right direction. She covered 90 nautical miles the first two days, and Gillette's crew didn't use their oars until the third day out. The going continued to be rough as heavy squalls tossed the 1,500-pound boat like...well, a tomato. To fuel their furious rowing, Gillette and his mates each consumed 6,000 calories a day—most of it in the form of high-nutrient energy bars and shakes. They had expected to be at sea for 20 days but averaged two knots to complete the voyage in a breathless 13 days.
EARNING HIS WINGS
Since last month, when he was named to head a committee that will review U.S. Olympic Committee operations, George Steinbrenner has embarked on a gift-giving spree worthy of Santa Claus. When speed skater Eric Flaim's two coaches didn't have the wherewithal to attend the world championships on March 5-6 in Alma-Ata, U.S.S.R., Steinbrenner wrote a check for $6,000 to cover their plane fare. Flaim, the Olympic silver medalist at 1,500 meters, won the meet, thus becoming the first U.S. speed skating all-around world champion since Eric Heiden.
Last week Steinbrenner's largess benefited track and field. According to Tracy Sundlun, president of New York City's Metropolitan Athletics Congress and meet director of the fifth annual National Scholastic Indoor Track and Field Championships, which were held over the weekend at Yale, Steinbrenner's munificence was magnificent. "Not long ago it looked as if we'd lose $72,000," says Sundlun. "A week ago it still looked as if we'd come up $53,000 short. It's a big meet, with kids from every state but Alaska and Hawaii. Twelve hundred kids compete and 350 colleges are represented—millions of dollars in scholarships are locked up at this meet.
"We were in trouble. We approached a lot of people, and I can tell you there's a list of people who turned us down. I saw George on TV talking about that Olympic committee. I wrote him a letter. He called me from his car phone. He said he'd help."
Steinbrenner contacted four fellow businessmen, and each of the five kicked in several thousand dollars to underwrite the meet. "George was the stud," says Sundlun. "He's the one who did it. The man is a god."
He's at least a financial angel.
BO THE BOBBER?
Bo Jackson, the Kansas City Royals outfielder who already counts pro football among his hobbies, recently placed third in a celebrity slam-dunk contest. His friend Jim Rice asked him if basketball was yet another hobby. Jackson demurred. "I can dunk," he said, "but I can't dribble a lick. I don't even like basketball. But that bobsled team kind of interests me."
HE GOT THE MESSAGE
Clint Hurdle saw the handwriting on the wall. In an off-season homer-hitting contest. Hurdle, the phenom of 1978 who last year was a pinch hitter for the Mets, lost to pitcher Dwight Gooden 5-0. He decided to call it a career and is now managing in the Mets minor league system.
A POINT GUARD WITHOUT A COUNTRY
Maria Rivera, star point guard for the University of Miami, is trapped in a zone press. She wants very much to play for the U.S. Olympic team, and Kay Yow, the coach of that team, would love to have her try out. But Rivera was born in Puerto Rico, and FIBA, the international basketball federation, considers Puerto Rico a nation unto itself in sports. Consequently, FIBA says she can't play for the U.S. even though Puerto Rico 1) is a U.S. commonwealth and 2) does not currently have a women's Olympic basketball team.
Last year Rivera made the U.S. Pan Am squad but was dropped when FIBA threatened to disqualify the whole team if she played. At first Rivera was told she would have to apply for U.S. citizenship, an absurdity since she, like any Puerto Rican, is already a U.S. citizen. Her case was recently appealed before the FIBA eligibility committee, which voted 7-1 against her, the sole vote in her favor being cast by Bill Wall, executive director of the Amateur Basketball Association-USA.
A group in Miami, Gentlemen of Sports, has sent a petition with 112,000 signatures on behalf of Rivera to FIBA headquarters in Munich, West Germany, and Rivera still has one more appeal coming, to the FIBA executive committee. But the Olympic tryouts are in April, and the committee won't meet until May. "I feel for her," said Wall. "She's caught in a terrible bind, and I don't think she has much of a chance."
Rivera hasn't let her problem affect her play. Three weeks ago she got her 2,299th point to break Rick Barry's alltime scoring record at Miami, and last week she concluded the regular season with 628 points, a 23.1 point-per-game average. UM has retired her jersey.
"In a certain way, I do feel as if I am a woman without a country," says Rivera. "What am I supposed to do? I don't have time to sit and wait."
Rivera confronts an Olympian dilemma.
THEY SAID IT
•Roger Maltbie, PGA golfer, when asked what he had to shoot to win the Andy Williams Open: "The rest of the field."
•Mark Williams, pro bowler, explaining why he travels the PBA tour in a van: "I'd sure like to fly, but did you ever try to check 20 bowling balls?"