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Original Issue


High Stakes

Michael Jordan can afford it, so leave him alone. That's the reaction of many people to the latest gambling allegations involving the Chicago Bull star. So what if San Diego businessman Richard Esquinas says in his self-published book, Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction...My Cry For Help!, that Jordan lost huge amounts gambling on golf? Doesn't Jordan make huge amounts?

Yes, he does, but his gambling activities are troubling all the same. The sums Jordan is said to wager are not mere pocket change—not even to him, to judge by Esquinas's charges that Jordan welshed on paying up. Certainly the bets are big enough to attract the sort of heavy-duty gamblers who might try to use IOUs to gain inside information or an even more insidious edge in wagering on NBA games. What makes all this even more worrisome is Esquinas's suggestion that Jordan is a compulsive gambler. By definition, gambling addicts are out of control, and even extremely wealthy gamblers can self-destruct, a case in point being former Philadelphia Eagle owner Leonard Tose, who was ruined by casino-gambling losses totaling tens of millions of dollars.

In his book, which will be published this month, Esquinas writes that he and Jordan played some 100 rounds of golf for money over several months in 1991 and that at the end of one 10-day spree Jordan owed him $1.25 million. According to Esquinas, Jordan played the debt down to $902,000, and when Jordan was slow to pay, they agreed to settle for $300,000. Esquinas maintains that Jordan has paid him only $200,000 to date. Esquinas admits to being a compulsive gambler and writes of Jordan, "I wonder if he has much more of a problem with gambling than I do.... I assure you that his family, friends and advisers are aware of his problem."

Jordan issued a statement acknowledging that he has played golf and bet on matches with Esquinas. But he added, "Because I did not keep records, I cannot verify how much I won or lost. I can assure you that the level of our wagers was substantially less than the preposterous amounts that have been reported." Jordan also expressed regret that a supposed friend of his "would shamelessly exploit my name for selfish gain."

Indeed, in releasing advance copies of his book to the press at the height of the NBA playoffs—and no doubt mindful of the flap over Jordan's mid-playoff casino foray—Esquinas comes off as, at best, an opportunist. But then Jordan's judgment in picking his friends is part of the reason to be concerned about him. Those friends have also included Eddie Dow and James (Slim) Bouler. Dow, a bail bondsman, was shot to death in Gastonia, N.C., in February 1992. Authorities found photocopies of checks from Jordan for $108,000 in Dow's briefcase; Dow's brother and lawyer said the checks were written, at least in part, to cover gambling losses. Bouler, with whom Jordan frequently played golf, pleaded guilty in 1986 to selling and possessing cocaine and was convicted in 1989 of violating probation by possessing semiautomatic weapons. Bouler is serving a federal prison sentence for money laundering and gun violations after being convicted last October in a trial at which Jordan testified that a $57,000 check he wrote to Bouler was partly in payment for golf and poker debts.

Jordan's responses to these matters have damaged his credibility. Until his court appearance he had said that the check to Bouler was for a loan to build a driving range, not for gambling losses. And his assertion that there are no records of his payments to Esquinas may not be accurate: Esquinas says that some of the money he has received from Jordan came in cashier's checks sent by a law firm and that he has received other sums in checks written by Jordan's business representatives. Neither Jordan nor his agent, David Falk, would comment.

The NBA said it was investigating Esquinas's allegations, but as of Monday it had been otherwise silent on the subject. Like other pro leagues, the NBA makes a big show of combating the use of illicit drugs, one rationale being that players using such drugs risk coming into contact with gamblers. Yet its biggest star is already involved with gamblers. The NBA should say, in no uncertain terms, where it stands on gambling—Michael Jordan's in particular.

Big Cat

Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Mize died at age 80 last week in his birthplace of Demorest, Ga. Mize was not called the Big Cat because of his feline grace as a first baseman. He was given the nickname by New York Giant teammate Bill Rigney, who saw him sprawled in the sun one day at the Polo Grounds and said, "Look at him. He looks just like a big cat."

In fact, Mize was not much of a fielder. When Ralph Houk, who played with Mize on the New York Yankees in the early 1950s and who later became a manager, was asked recently to name the ideal designated hitter, he replied without hesitation, "Johnny Mize." Mize could sure hit. He is the only player to have hit 50 or more homers and to have struck out 50 or fewer times in the same season—1947, when he had 51 homers and only 42 whiffs. Over his 15-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants and the Yankees, he had a slugging percentage of .562, the eighth highest of all time. He led the National League in batting once, home runs four times and RBIs three times. Late in his career his hitting inspired these famous lines from sportswriter Dan Parker:

Your arm is gone, your legs likewise,
But not your eyes, Mize, not your eyes.

Mize was a gentle giant with a Georgia drawl. After his overdue election to the Hall of Fame in 1981, he and his wife, Marjorie, were frequent, delightful guests in Cooperstown. During one induction weekend, David Eisenhower, the grandson of one president and the son-in-law of another, was introduced to Mize. It was all the star-struck Eisenhower could do to mutter, "Not your eyes, Mize, not your eyes."

Tough Draw

How hard is it to make it to college basketball's Final Four? In theory, every school in the NCAA tournament field of 64 is a 16-to-1 shot. By contrast, a fan hoping to catch next April's Final Four in Charlotte, N.C., faces odds of 23 to 1. The Associated Press reported last week that the NCAA has received a record 267,498 applications for tickets in the 23,698-seat Charlotte Coliseum, more than twice the number submitted for the '93 event in the 64,151-seat Louisiana Superdome. Assuming that almost all of the applications were for the maximum two tickets (and forgetting about those industrious souls who may have sent in multiple requests), 511,298 would-be attendees will have no choice but to watch the action on TV.

When it's easier to play in an event than watch it, we'd call that a hot ticket.

Thriller with Bonilla

After novelist Scott Turow threw out the first ball before a New York Met-Chicago Cub game at Wrigley Field last week, Met rightfielder Bobby Bonilla approached Turow on the field and asked him to wait a minute. Bonilla went into the dugout and returned a moment later with a copy of Turow's latest page-turner, Pleading Guilty. Bonilla asked Turow to autograph the book, which, as it happened, Bonilla had purchased that morning. "Tell me I won't be able to put it down, just like your other two," Bonilla said.

Turow has hit a home run with his book—this week it shoots to No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller list. After getting the author's autograph, Bonilla swatted a homer too, a two-run blast that helped power the Mets to an 11-3 win over the Cubs.



Esquinas (inset) saved this scorecard of a round with Jordan and others.



[See caption above.]





The pro football and college basketball seasons are long over, but Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope's ears are still ringing. The other day he was moved to reflect that "a great TV moment would be John Madden and Dick Vitale whispering to each other." Dream on, Edwin. We've put the two guys together at right (as if anybody didn't know, Madden is the pointer, Vitale the pointee), but we can't guarantee the decibel level.

Jog Hogs
Kansas was ousted from the College World Series in a 6-1 loss to Long Beach State on Sunday, but the Jayhawks could take solace in this distinction: Their school is the first to win a bowl game (23-20 over Brigham Young in the Aloha Bowl), reach the Final Four in basketball (losing 78-68 to North Carolina in the semifinals) and advance to the College World Series in the same academic year.

They Wrote It

•Scott Ostler in the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting that the fly ball that bounced off Texas Ranger rightfielder Jose Canseco's head and over the fence for a home run on May 26 had a beneficial side effect: "He suddenly remembered he's married to Marlena in Days of Our Lives."

•Steven Rosenbloom in the Chicago Sun-Times, noting that baseball has reduced the length of games this season by an average of five minutes: "It's like cutting two pages from War and Peace."

They Said It

•Don Nelson, Golden State Warrior general manager and coach, on Shawn Bradley, the 7'6" former BYU center who is certain to be an early pick in the NBA draft on June 30: "When he sits down, his ears pop."

•Holli Hyche, Indiana State sprinter, after winning the women's 100 and 200 last week at the NCAA championships in borrowed shoes: "Once I start to run, I forget what I have on my feet, anyway. Whoops, there goes the endorsement."