"Perverse" was Boris Becker's word for the inaugural Grand Slam Cup, which ended on Sunday in Munich with Pete Sampras earning $2 million for beating Brad Gilbert 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the final. To pocket that sum—twice as much as the winner of a tennis event had ever received—Sampras had to play just 12 sets. As runner-up, Gilbert won $1 million. Indeed, even the two alternates, Thierry Champion and Karel Novacek, got $50,000 apiece just for hanging around in case they were needed to fill in for an injured player.
"I never think about money during a match, but when I was serving for the match, I literally started shaking," said David Wheaton following his opening-round defeat of Yannick Noah. No wonder. The win guaranteed Wheaton $300,000. After he upset Ivan Lendl in the quarterfinals, Wheaton's winnings climbed to $450,000, only $31,712 less than he had made during his two years on the pro tour.
Not everyone found the Grand Slam Cup's money irresistible. Becker refused to play, as did Mats Wilander and John McEnroe. To their credit, they saw the $6 million purse for what it was: a bribe designed to entice the game's top male players to betray the tour, which the players assumed control of this year. Before that, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the organizer of the Cup, had been part of the governing body that ran the tour. Miffed that its jurisdiction had been reduced to the four Grand Slam tournaments and the Davis Cup, the ITF concocted an excessive version of what it has always claimed to loathe: a "special event" outside the framework of the tour. What's more, the Cup's timing (a month after the Association of Tennis Professionals' year-end finale in Frankfurt) and its location (Germany) make it obvious that the ITF was trying to upstage the ATP Championships.
Another Grand Slam Cup absentee was Andre Agassi, who got it right when he said during the ATP Championships, "[The ITF] is trying to deceive the world [into thinking that the Cup] is a really important tournament by offering so much money." Trouble is, Agassi's behavior in the weeks that followed undermined his stance. Shortly after his criticism of the Cup, he withdrew from it. That prompted the ITF to threaten him with both a fine and suspension from one or more Grand Slam tournaments next year. Agassi then asked to be allowed to reenter, only to change his mind again after suffering what his doctor, Richard Westbrook, continues to describe as a cartilage tear in his chest during a Davis Cup match against Australia in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Dec. 2. He sent the ITF a note from Westbrook and withdrew his request to reenter the Cup.
The whole matter might have ended right there had not Barry Lorge, sports editor of the San Diego Union, reported on Dec. 3 that he had overheard Agassi and his brother, Phil, discussing in a St. Petersburg, Fla., restaurant their need to find a doctor who would certify that Andre was too hurt to play in the Grand Slam Cup.
At week's end, the ITF had not decided what penalties, if any, it would impose on Agassi. While it ponders Agassi's fate, the ITF would do well to consider if it would not best serve tennis by disbanding its special event in favor of joining the ATP in sponsoring the real year-end tournament.
EAU DE BEAR
Lucky men in Chicago can now slap on a little Mike Ditka—the cologne, that is. The stuff, which has a light, spicy sandalwood scent, isn't cheap. It costs $24 for a four-ounce bottle, and for the moment is available only in the Chicago area. "You can be tough in the ways you have to be tough," says Ditka, who selected the scent from among five submitted to him by the manufacturer, "but not in the way you smell."
When Iago observed that reputation is "oft got without merit," he might well have been speaking of the bizarre case of Fordham linebacker Mark Blazejewski. After leading the Patriot League with 15.7 tackles per game as a sophomore in 1989, Blazejewski tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a pickup basketball game last January. Fordham's preseason publicity made it clear that he would miss the entire season, and he did. Yet last week, when the Division I-AA All-America team was announced, as chosen by the division's 91 sports information directors, there was Blazejewski on the second team. "It's real strange," said Blazejewski. "I didn't expect it."
Neither did Murray State publicist Craig Bohnert, who collects the ballots. "I guess they screwed up," said Bohnert.
EQUAL RIGHT TO DUNK
Historically speaking, women's professional basketball leagues have lasted about as long as overcoats in Madonna's videos. But if adaptation counts for anything, the Liberty Basketball Association, the formation of which was announced in New York on Monday, just might have a chance.
The LBA is the brainchild of Jim Drucker, who was commissioner of the Continental Basketball Association from 1978 to '86. Pondering why women's leagues have had such dismal runs, Drucker came to an obvious conclusion about women: They are smaller than men and consequently are at a disadvantage when playing a game whose most fundamental dimension—the 10 feet from floor to rim—was chosen with men in mind. Even at its best, women's basketball is played below the rim, and the dunk, the sport's exclamation point, is virtually nonexistent. "Our goal is to give our players an equal opportunity to excel by giving them equipment in proportion to their size," says Drucker.
Upon consulting Vital and Health Statistics, Drucker found that on average the American male is 5'9" tall, the American female is 5'3½". In other words, women are 92% of the height of men. Hence, Drucker decided, the LBA game would be, in its salient dimensions, roughly 92% the size of the NBA version. Its rim will stand 9'2" from the floor; its ball will be 25, rather than 30, inches in circumference, enabling LBA players to palm it; and, for swifter fast breaks, the LBA court will be 90 feet long, four fewer than the NBA floor.
The LBA will begin play next December, with franchises in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and a sixth city still to be named. In a nationally televised exhibition game in Detroit on Feb. 18, a team of players from the Detroit area will take on a team of recent college All-Americas. The half-time feature will be—what else?—a slam-dunk contest.
A VERY HIGH FORM OF ART
I'M ENRAGED WITH BASKETBALL," SAYS ARTIST DAVID HAMMONS. "I played it growing up—six, seven hours a day. It wasn't about height then. When it became all about being tall, it took me out of the game. This is my revenge."
The 47-year-old Hammons, who stands 5'8", is referring to the eight pieces with basketball motifs included in Rousing the Rubble, a retrospective of his work that opened on Sunday at P.S. 1—the Institute for Art and Urban Resources in New York City—and will travel to Philadelphia in March and to San Diego in August before returning to New York by way of an as-yet-undetermined city in the Midwest. Hammons has won some of the art world's top prizes—a Guggenheim and a Prix de Rome, among them—but his work is easily understood. Mostly he uses found objects, including inner tubes, scraps of wire and wood, coal, empty wine bottles, human hair and chicken bones. "I prefer to go with something that already has a spirit on it," Hammons has said.
Much of his work is confrontational. Last year, on a street in Washington, D.C., he erected a 14- by 16-foot enamel-on-tin portrait of a blond, blue-eyed Jesse Jackson. Its provocative title, How Ya Like Me Now?, was scrawled across the bottom. Workmen had barely finished putting the piece up when a group of black men, who apparently found the portrait insulting to Jackson, knocked it down with a sledgehammer. "They didn't smash it," says Hammons. "They anointed it."
Hammons grew up in Springfield, Ill., where, he says, he averaged 30 points a game as a junior high guard and made basketball rims out of just about anything he could get his hands on. The basketball pieces in Rousing the Rubble are all backboards and rims of some sort. They are partly celebrations of black improvisation and imagination.
One of them, however, is also a powerful reminder that advancement through pro sport holds promise for only a lucky few. In 1982, on a vacant, rubble-strewn lot in the heart of Harlem, he set three backboards 20 feet to 30 feet above the ground on telephone poles that he erected. Into both the backboards and the poles he had nailed thousands of bottle caps arranged in African and Muslim mosaics. He hung wires from one piece and wind chimes from another and called the piece Higher Goals. He later placed a variation on Higher Goals in a second Harlem lot and another in a Brooklyn plaza. One of the three original Harlem backboards is included in Rousing the Rubble.
"It's an antibasketball sculpture," Hammons has said of Higher Goals. "Basketball has become a problem in the black community because kids aren't getting an education. They're pawns in someone else's game. That's why it's called Higher Goals. It means you should have higher goals in life than basketball."
The backboards in Hammons's show send a lofty message to kids.
THEY SAID IT
•Phil Esposito, president of the NHL-expansion Tampa Bay Lightning, on how he persuaded Japanese investors to bankroll a hockey team in Tampa: "The more we drank, the more it made sense. Later, they were surprised to learn they had invested in hockey. They thought we said sake."