NBA stars will now decide where you won't see their faces
One of the hottest souvenirs of the NBA All-Star weekend is a T-shirt bearing caricatures of the game's 10 starters. But when fans reach for that shirt this week in Orlando, they'll be getting less than they bargained for. True, the shirt will have 10 images on it, but only nine of them will be the starters' (the 10th is of Tim Hardaway, who was named to the team after Magic Johnson was voted on as a starter). So if there arc 10 faces on the shirt and six are from the Western Conference, that means only four are from the Eastern. Who's missing? Michael Jordan.
Because of Jordan's exclusive apparel contract with Nike, the NBA may no longer sell or distribute any clothes bearing an image of Jordan's face. Jordan's contract with Nike has been in place since his rookie season of 1984, but the company, along with Jordan's lawyer, David Falk, has only lately applied significant pressure on the league to stop selling clothes with Jordan's picture on them. Last week the NBA announced that it would comply.
This is only the beginning. Nike has already notified the NBA that 88 other players, including Charles Barkley and David Robinson, also hold exclusive apparel contracts with the company. And Falk has done likewise with another of his clients, Patrick Ewing, whose apparel contract is with his own company, Ewing Athletic.
In terms of lost revenue to the league, the issue is relatively minor. NBA Properties is a $1 billion-a-year business, and only a small portion of that comes from apparel bearing the likenesses of individual players. "Our primary properties business has always been team-logo items, videos, posters, trading cards and other novelties," says Gary Bettman, the NBA's senior vice-president and general counsel. "They are not under the province of individual contracts with individual companies." One NBA source projects the loss of apparel revenue "in the low seven figures at most," and in today's NBA that is small potatoes. But make no mistake about it—the pressure from Nike and Falk angered league officials. The NBA's position is that everyone has benefited from the way in which the league has marketed its players, and that whenever Jordan and other superstars separate themselves from the pack, it highlights the differences between the haves and the have-nots.
"This circumstance is much more disappointing in terms of hampering the image of the NBA and its players than it is in terms of dollars," says Russ Granik, the NBA's deputy commissioner. He has a point.
The issue for Jordan, however, is control. "We turn down millions of dollars in commercial opportunities in order to control Michael's name and image," says Falk. "You must make a superstar like Michael scarce enough to be interesting, yet available enough to be popular. It is a constant balancing act, and you must have control to do that." He has a point, too.
But the apparel controversy is not only about money, contracts and control; it's also about cooperation. Or it should be. Cooperation between the league and the players was the primary reason the NBA went from a state of near extinction to one of prosperity in less than a decade. Fans don't care about contracts and exclusivity and apparel rights, they just want to buy an All-Star T-shirt with every starter on it. When they can't, the NBA and its players—all of them—are a little poorer for it.
Don't Touch the Zebra
Now NHL players are even getting physical with the refs
The NHL has long taken a benevolent view of players pummeling other players. But lately players have seemed less inclined to restrict their acts of violence to one another. In one recent 10-day span three players were suspended for 10 days each for physically abusing officials.
Jan. 16. Desperate to get a piece of Toronto Maple Leaf Bob Halkidis, Chicago Blackhawk forward Stu Grimson shoves linesman Ray Scapinello.
Jan. 21. Frustrated over failing to score on two breakaways, Buffalo Sabre forward Alexander Mogilny takes after St. Louis Blues forward Rich Sutter. As linesman Dan Schachte gets between them, Mogilny slaps Schachte on the side of the head.
Jan. 26. Furious after a last-minute Washington Capital goal, Pittsburgh Penguin forward Jaromir Jagr knocks referee Ron Hoggarth to his knees.
NHL rule 67(a) prohibits the physical abuse of officials by players. That it has been violated so brazenly is a measure of the erosion of respect players have for officials. One referee, Andy van Hellemond, a 19-year NHL veteran, links the trend to a recent jump in player salaries. "Players will mention what a pittance we're paid and tell us that a pittance is all we're worth," says van Hellemond. "Of course, that's not how they say it."
Oddly, the fact that abusing refs is subject to punishment seems to have taken some players by surprise. After Jagr was banned, his teammate Mario Lemieux recalled that earlier this season Viacheslav Fetisov of the New Jersey Devils drew a five-game suspension for hitting Lemieux with his stick. Comparing the sentences, Lemieux said indignantly, "Our guy gets 10 games for bumping a referee?" To which van Hellemond replies, "That's not a judgment call—it's right there in black and white. If you're making $2 million a year, you should know the rule book." Rule 67(a) in particular.
Rigging the Sails
America's Cup boats are off and racing near San Diego
While you've been watching the Super Bowl and gearing up for the Winter Olympics, the race for the America's Cup—the oldest trophy in sports—quietly started on the waters off San Diego. For the next three months two American syndicates will vie for the right to defend the cup won by Stars & Stripes in 1987, while eight foreign entries will compete to determine a challenger for the best-of-seven finale starting May 9.
Here's some of what you've missed so far.
Whichever American syndicate does make it to the finals could be in deep trouble. Spirit of Australia skipper Peter Gilmour says, "The challengers in this modern America's Cup era have a great advantage." Why? The challengers have four times as many teams as the defenders (eight to two) and five times as many boats (20 to four). So far the challengers that have made the most of that advantage are France's Ville de Paris, Italy's Il Moro di Venezia and New Zealand's entry, New Zealand.
This is not to rule out the possibility of a successful American defense. Defiant, a boat from the America syndicate, was 6-0 overall and 3-0 against Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes in Round 1 of the defender trials. And while Conner, the three-time America's Cup winner, has been bellyaching about his yacht's slow sails, it is possible that he's sandbagging.
There's no place for such skulduggery in the America's Cup. Just ask the members of the crew of New Zealand. They were preparing to launch their yacht on Thursday morning when two Kiwi divers discovered a suspicious frogman with a camera about 15 feet underwater near their dock. Ever protective of their boat's secret keel, the New Zealanders forced the shutterbug to surface by pulling off his face mask and yanking the regulator out of his mouth. They then offered the man a cup of tea while they telephoned police and confiscated the film from his camera. The police refused to arrest him for trespassing because the area was not posted.
The underwater intruder, it turned out, was Amir Pishdad, a U.S. Navy SEAL reservist. According to the Los Angeles Times, he was offered as much as $12,000 by an unnamed syndicate to take underwater photos of its competition. However, when confronted with the accusation that he was a Cup spy, Pishdad denied the charge and said that he was just looking for lobster.
Ambitions on Ice
Herb Brooks doesn't mind coaching in the minors
On Feb. 8, the day the puck is dropped in Mèribel, France, to begin the hockey competition in the Winter Olympics, Herb Brooks will sit down alone for lunch at one of his favorite Italian restaurants in the upstate New York town of Utica. After downing some pasta and coffee, he'll head over to Memorial Auditorium, where that night he'll coach his Utica Devils against the Capital District Islanders. Twelve years after orchestrating the Miracle on Ice at the Lake Placid Olympics, Brooks is mucking it up in the American Hockey League, coaching an inexperienced minor league team. "Opportunities are opportunities," he says. "I've never asked myself, What am I doing here in Utica?"
But what is Herb Brooks doing in Utica? Brooks did interview for the '92 Olympic team coaching job in 1990, but the selection committee decided instead to bring back 1988 coach Dave Peterson (SI, Jan. 27) to coach Team USA. Last summer, Brooks's longtime friend Lou Lamoriello, the general manager of the New Jersey Devils, asked him to coach in Utica, where he would develop players, many of them first-year pros, for the NHL.
Last week Bill Guerin, the Devils' first-round pick in 1989, joined the Utica squad. He had been one of the Olympic team's final three cuts. Brooks could relate. In 1960 he was the last man cut from the U.S. team that went on to win the gold medal in Squaw Valley. Brooks remembers the mixed feelings he had watching that 1960 squad win the gold. He also remembers his father telling him afterward, "Looks like they cut the right guy."
"He told me his story," says Guerin. "I started thinking about playing for Herb Brooks. There are a lot of kids like me who play hockey because of what he did with that team in '80. In a lot of ways, he is U.S. hockey."
The 1992 All-Star T-shirt includes Hardaway, in place of Jordan.
YACHT: DANIEL FORSTER
Defiant is undefeated in the first round of the Cup's defender trials.
BROOKS: JIM COMMENTUCCI
Brooks stands behind his players in Utica, just as he did in Lake Placid.
[Thumb Up]To Jeffrey Ryan, a marketing executive from Boston, for donating $780,000 to the imperiled soccer program at the University of Massachusetts, his alma mater.
[Thumb Up]To Louisiana Pacific, owners of the Portland Trail Blazers' jet, for making the plane available to transport the Oregon State basketball team to and from the funeral of Beaver sophomore guard Ernest Killum, who died on Jan. 20.
[Thumb Down]To Ben Rowe, a member of Florida's Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, who shot a black bear recently. Florida is currently debating whether to end a brief season during which the bears, a threatened species, can be hunted legally. Rowe said, "I wanted firsthand knowledge about an issue I must consider."
A couple of weeks ago, in honor of Muhammad Ali's 50th birthday, the World Boxing Council faxed out a letter that referred to Jack Dempsey as the "Manassa Assassin" (he was the Manassa Mauler), Rocky Marciano as the "Brockton Brawler" (he was the Brockton Blockbuster) and Ali's first opponent as "Sony" Liston.
The Mouth That Bored
In the ongoing case of Dick Vitale v. The American Sporting Public, the 52-year-old analyst/antagonist is winning big. He is on network TV. He is on cable TV. He is on home video. He is on radio. He is a frequent public speaker. He writes for newspapers. He writes for magazines. He even writes books.
In every instance, unfortunately, he talks in a language all his own.
Now in his 13th season on ESPN and sixth on ABC college basketball telecasts, Vitale is a one-man avalanche of viewer aggravation. College hoops remains the most overanalyzed game on television: There's so much that doesn't need to be said, and Vitale manages to say just about all of it. He is the sport's search-and-destroy commentator, a fast-break sideshow that often upstages the main event.
His is a high-pitched, piercing voice with no sense of dimension, an endless shrill of hype and hysteria. He's the car-alarm siren that can't be stopped. He's the Lhasa apso barking at your feet. He's the skip in the record that plays over and over. He doesn't observe a game, he obliterates it. He doesn't speak, he shouts. He doesn't soothe, he shatters.
Man, he's loud.
His voice could boil an egg.
Here now, for the first time in print, is an attempt to simulate the sound Vitale makes when all his comments run together toward the end of a game telecast:
Note: Within earshot of certain Vitale telecasts, many dogs start baying.
(Quick idea: As the signs in many arenas suggest, maybe Vitale ought to run for President. Heck, he has fewer problems than the Democratic front-runners, he can adapt some of his proposed NCAA reforms to the economy and—this is the most important part—he'll actually be on TV less than he is now.)
"Freeze it!" When Vitale attacks a replay these days, that's what he shrieks to the guys in the production truck so that the action can be stopped for us. "Freeze it!" The right message, the wrong target.
Many claim that Vitale is to college basketball what John Madden is to pro football. But whereas Madden entertains without intruding upon the game, Vitale intrudes without entertaining. Vitale is a huckster. We're trying to watch the game; he's trying to sell The Game. He's the leading contributor to the coaches' cult in college basketball, constantly touting them for job openings. He litters telecasts with superlative after superlative; if he had his own weekly top 20, there'd be 50 schools in it.
(I attempted to tape four of his games recently. When I went to play the tapes, my VCR rejected them and released this statement: "Bart Conner and Bob Trumpy and Fred Edelstein were one thing, but Dicky V's a whole other thing. NO MORE VITALE. Understood? Now, go rent a Hitchcock film, for crying out loud.")
To Vitale all games are created equal: Each is a two-hour sound bite. Even when there's a timeout, you can hear him over the commercials. It's a one-note act, played again and again.
Make no mistake—some people do cherish the act. He apparently is popular on college campuses, further proof of the startling nationwide decline in the quality of higher education. For instance, at Duke, which fancies itself the Oxford of the tobacco belt, Vitale is usually greeted on campus as Richard the Lionhearted might have been welcomed in Nottingham after the Crusades.
(Literary bonus—here is an excerpt from Vitale's 1988 book, terrifyingly titled Vitale: "I took a long soak in my exquisite Holiday Inn bathtub. I'm a tub man, if you haven't figured that out. Forget those quick showers, baby!" And here is an excerpt from his 1991 book, chillingly called Time Out, Baby!: "I have to be honest, I just can't believe this insanity going on with Saddam Hussein. Absolutely wacko. The all-time wacko.")
The worst may be yet to come. Vitale is learning new skills. In the waning minutes of Indiana's recent 106-65 victory over Purdue on ESPN, Vitale actually began to sing. He warbled, "I left my heart in San Francis...."
Freeze it! And hold it right there, for a good while.
THEY SAID IT
John Daly, the long-hitting but erratic PGA champion: "I still enjoy the ooh's and aah's when I hit my drives. But I'm getting pretty tired of the aw's and uh's when I miss the putts."
Joe Theismann, former Washington Redskins quarterback and now an announcer for ESPN: "The word genius isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."
Replay: 30 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
Sonny Liston appeared on our Feb. 12, 1962, cover, amid a controversy over whether, as an ex-convict, he should be permitted to fight heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. SI asked 11 notables their opinions, and most agreed with St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Bill White, who said, "Every man should have a chance." But the future National League president was wrong when he added, "I don't think he would beat Patterson." Liston KO'd Patterson seven months later.