A HIGH SCHOOL FIX?
The news out of Alabama last week was sensational—perhaps overly so. Rick Thompson, the police chief in Florence, told reporters that a two-year gambling investigation by local police and the FBI had turned up evidence that Florence-area high school coaches and officials had been "manipulating the outcome of high school sporting events to cover the point spread by oddsmakers." In other words, they had been fixing games.
Thompson made his charges at a press conference just two hours after authorities had raided homes in seven northwest Alabama cities, including Florence, and seized betting sheets and more than $100,000 in cash. Thompson said that the houses of two former Florence high school assistant football coaches, Ganum Smith and William Floyd (Brub) Hamilton, had been searched as part of the raid.
Reaction to the charges was tumultuous. Local high school fans debated whether certain officiating calls and coaching moves remembered from past games were proof of game-fixing. Area high school coaches complained that they all had been tarred by Thompson's indiscriminate brush. Smith and Hamilton denied involvement in game-fixing so vehemently that Thompson called another press conference to clarify that no evidence existed linking the two former coaches to fixing.
There was ample reason to be skeptical about Thompson's allegations. An unnamed investigator told the Florence Times Daily that the alleged fixes involved tampering with equipment, such as game clocks and yardage markers. But Thompson admitted that authorities had collected only "very general" evidence of game-fixing, except for a conversation between a coach and a bookmaker in which the two allegedly discussed how a high school game might be fixed. Thompson would not say whether this conversation had been recorded, overheard by a third party or described to police by a participant.
"When one of these local bookies puts a line up on a high school game, it's just a service to his customers." says one source familiar with the Alabama gambling scene. "He doesn't really want the action. He can't lay anything off out of town, so he limits the bets to 50 dollars or so, and if he gets a few hundred in action, that's a lot. There's not enough money in it to make it worth it to fix a game."
That bookies establish betting lines on high school games is distressing enough. The thought of high school game-fixing is appalling. To find out if the fix was on in Alabama, the FBI's racketeering analysis unit will study game films from Florence-area schools. The U.S. attorney in Birmingham will then decide whether to bring a case before a grand jury.
HOLY TACKINESS, BATMAN!
At Wimbledon two weeks ago, flacks for the movie Batman handed out promotional T-shirts to fans waiting at the gates. London tabloids quoted one unidentified tournament official as saying, when asked about the wearing of such blatantly commercial garb on the grounds of the All England Club, "Wholly unacceptable!"
THE BO SHOW
The ad wasn't scheduled to run until August, but on a hunch Nike decided to debut its 60-second Bo Jackson spot last week, during NBC's telecast of the All-Star Game from Anaheim Stadium. "We were confident that the All-Star Game would be the Bo Show," says Nike spokeswoman Liz Dolan. "We told him to hit a home run and steal a base and be named MVP."
Bo responded. In leading the American League to a 5-3 victory, he went 2 for 4, drove in two runs, stole a base, played a flawless left-field and was, indeed, Most Valuable Player. His 448-foot leadoff homer in the bottom of the first inning awed players from both leagues.
The commercial aired after the top of the fourth. Like Jackson's three Nike ads from last year, the new spot plays up the versatility of the man who does double duty as a Royals left-fielder and a Raider running back. Interspersed with clips of Jackson in action and rock 'n' roll great Bo Diddley jamming on an electric guitar are cameos from an assortment of sports figures. "Bo knows baseball," says Dodger outfielder Kirk Gibson. He's followed by Ram quarterback Jim Everett ("Bo knows football"), the Bulls' Michael Jordan ("Bo knows basketball, too"), John McEnroe ("Bo knows tennis?") and marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson ("Bo knows running"). After a clip of Jackson apparently skating up the ice in a Kings uniform, gracelessly knocking aside opposing players from a team identified as "K.C.," Wayne Gretzky looks into the camera, shakes his head and offers the definitive word on Bo the hockey goon: "No."
The ad goes on to say that Jackson knows cycling and weightlifting, but ends with his cacophonous, eardrum-shattering attempt to play an electric guitar for Diddley, who tells him, "Bo, you don't know diddley."
A half dozen Nike staffers thought up the commercial in February over a few beers, and the filming was done using athletes with Nike endorsement contracts (the only exception: four weightlifters the company found on Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, Calif.). For safety reasons the hockey segment was filmed on a basketball court with Bo and the other players wearing socks, not skates.
Both Jackson's homer and his ad made practically every TV news broadcast. Nike plans to take Jackson worldwide soon; in the European version of the "Bo knows" advertisement, he plays cricket and soccer. The company may do additional ads with different sports. One of Jackson's supposed favorites is archery, as in Bo and arrow.
With all the attention given to baseball bats in this week's issue (page 16), we wondered what sort of lumber San Francisco Giants leftfielder Kevin Mitchell, the major league leader through Sunday in home runs (32) and runs batted in (84), has been swinging. The answer: a 35-inch, 35-ounce Big Daddy model Louisville Slugger he picked up one day in batting practice. It belongs to teammate Rick (Big Daddy) Reuschel, a pitcher with four home runs and a .169 average in his 18-year career.
WELCOME TO THE OWNERS' CLUB
Bertram Lee and his wife, Laura, were riding in a New York City cab on July 10, leafing through a newspaper. Having misplaced his glasses, Lee asked his wife to read the paper's account of his acquisition of the NBA Denver Nuggets. The cabbie, who was listening in, kept glancing at Lee through the rear-view mirror. Finally, he turned and declared, "That's you!"
Lee was startled. He is not used to being recognized. "I'm not a public person," he says. "I really don't think I have much to say." But his actions have suddenly made him a center of attention. With his purchase of the Nuggets from Houston businessman Sidney Shlenkler for a reported $65 million, Lee has become the first black majority owner of a major league sports franchise.
Lee, 50, a financier and former president of the CBS-TV affiliate in Boston, heads a group of investors that includes Peter Bynoe, the executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. Bynoe, like most of the other investors, is black. Lee and some members of his group had been shopping for a team for a couple of years. They considered buying the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Orioles and came up short in a bid for the San Antonio Spurs. "We learned a lot in that process," says Lee. "You learn to come back from unsuccessful challenges. We just kept our eyes on the prize."
The group views the Nugget purchase strictly as a business venture—a colorblind one. Lee & Co. made that clear by hiring David Checketts as team president and retaining Pete Babcock as general manager. Both Checketts and Babcock are white. "We wanted to hire the best available men for those spots." says Lee. "We consulted with two or three Afro-Americans, but we feel we made the best choice."
The new owners recognize the social significance of their purchase. "As Afro-Americans, we're cognizant that we are participating in an event that is a milestone in sports history," says Lee. "If, along the way, we are viewed as role models or positive symbols, so much the better." Lee says he hopes that a year from now, "at least two more major sports franchises will be owned by Afro-Americans. That's one of the ways I'll measure my sense of success." The other? "A world championship."
Lee (left) and Bynoe see their pioneering purchase of the Nuggets as a sound investment.
THEY SAID IT
•Jim Dent, senior pro golfer known for his long but not always accurate drives: "I can airmail the ball, but sometimes I don't get the right address on it."