The Athletes' New Best Friend
The race for the NBA's MVP award may be one of the hottest in history (page 70), but the winner of the NBA's MVA—Most Valuable Accountant—is no contest. Charles Bennett of Albuquerque, a former FBI agent and now a number cruncher with a nose for financial fraud, should get a thank-you card from all NBA players for the work he did in earning them more than $100 million in a little noted but bitter struggle between the union and the league. And NFL players owe him a note of gratitude too.
Three years ago Bennett, at the behest of the NBA Players Association, spent five days poring over trial records in a U.S. courthouse in Chicago and discovered that most owners had at one time or another flagrantly underreported their teams' incomes. Because the players are entitled to 53% of the gross revenues of the league's 27 teams—the very heart of the celebrated salary cap—the more money that goes unreported by owners, the more money that is lost by the players. In a brief filed by the players' association on Dec. 19, 1991, the union contended that, for example, the Detroit Pistons received about $11.3 million each year in luxury-suite rental, none of which was reported to the players' union, and the Boston Celtics took in $2.2 million in playoff ticket sales in '89 and '90 but reported only $1.6 million. Even those horrible rotating signs that face the TV cameras in most arenas were a source of duplicity, the union alleged. In the '89-90 season, the Portland Trail Blazers took in $892,610 for their signs, the Celtics $886,595 and the Cleveland Cavaliers $730,797, none of which was reported, according to the union.
The NBA took the position that much of the unreported income was not supposed to be figured in salary-cap calculations, and Russ Granik, the NBA's deputy commissioner, says that the $100 million figure is "vastly inflated." But the fact remains that Bennett's work helped force the NBA into a settlement in February 1992.
It seemed like a minor story at the time, largely because the NBA was closemouthed about the settlement and the union didn't trumpet it, but $100 million is hardly a minor windfall for the players and hardly a minor dive into the checkbook for the owners. Most of the money, $92.7 million, went to increases in and exceptions to the salary cap for last season and this one, while the rest went to the union and the players' pension fund.
Ironically, it was the action of an owner, the Chicago Bulls' Jerry Reinsdorf, that put the papers revealing the owners' finagling into the public domain. When Reinsdorf filed an antitrust suit in 1990 challenging the league's local television rules, NBA owners were forced to lay out their financial records in court, and union chief Charles Grantham thought he saw discrepancies between the amount of money the teams were taking in and the amount they were reporting to the union. He contacted Bennett, a forensic accountant, who discovered, as he told SI last week, "a gold mine."
Though there was a settlement, it's difficult to believe that the owners' chicanery will not affect the negotiations that have already begun for a new basic bargaining agreement. (The current one expires after this season.) Grantham allows that the experience has "somewhat chilled" the relationship between the league and its players and that the $100 million figure is correct. His no-more-salary-cap vow sounds stronger than ever.
Bennett, now also the official watchdog for the NFL Players Association—"We saw what he did for the basketball players and hired him immediately," says football-union official Doug Allen—has already helped cause the NFL to push its salary cap from $33.8 million per team to $34.6 million through his monitoring of financial records. With labor issues dominating pro sports, we have likely not heard the last from the former fed with the magic calculator.
The 119 fans arrested on various charges stemming from overzealous postgame celebrations in Fayetteville following Arkansas's victory over Duke in the NCAA title game on April 4 would, if convicted, normally pay a fine of about $100 each. But municipal court judge Rudy Moore Jr. has decided on a different figure—$76.72. As any true Hog knows, 76-72 was the Razorbacks' margin of victory.
Enshrining a Father
In his POINT AFTER column three weeks ago (SI, April 4), SI's Steve Wulf told the tale of a snapshot found by chance during renovation at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The photo, discovered under a display case, showed, wrote Wulf, "a man in a Sinclair Oil baseball uniform, a burly, seemingly friendly fellow who looks as if he might have batted cleanup." On the back was written, in loopy script, a simple message of love and gratitude. "You were a Hall of Fame Dad," it read in part. It was signed (or so it seemed), "Your Son Pete."
Thanks to the Wellsville (N.Y.) Daily Reporter, we now know who the burly player was and that his son's name is Pat, not Pete. Reporter writer Neal Simon saw the SI piece and thought that the background in the photo resembled Wellsville. He called 79-year-old Walter Shine, a fixture on the local sports scene, and asked him if he recognized the player in the picture. "That's Joe O'Donnell," said Shine.
The elder O'Donnell, who died in 1966, worked for 18 years at the Sinclair refinery in Wellsville, played catcher for many years on the company team and, indeed, often batted cleanup. He also played a lot of ball with his son, Pat, now 46 and the owner of the Blarney Stone tavern in Andover, N.Y., not far from Wellsville. Five years ago Pat took a trip to Cooperstown. He took along the photo, a 1941 shot from his mother's scrapbook, and when no one was looking, wedged it under the case.
"My dad loved baseball," says Pat, who has heard from several of his father's former teammates since the story broke. "I just wanted to do something to show how much he meant to me. I never thought they'd find it."
A Seattle television station has unveiled an imaginative concept called Mariners Fast Forward—a telecast of a baseball game, including every pitch, edited to one hour. (In fact, if you subtract the commercial time, you get all the action in 44 minutes, 50 seconds.) On April 4, KSTW rebroadcast the Mariners' season opener from that afternoon, against the Cleveland Indians, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. The station planned to air another one-hour game this week, after which it would decide if it's an innovation worth continuing.
We think it is. Through the magic of editing, we were spared the dramatic spectacles of: hitters adjusting their batting glove after each pitch, pitchers constantly going to the rosin bag, runners walking half a mile as they dust themselves after sliding, managers lumbering out to the mound and bad color men pontificating on strategy.
Fast Forward is not perfect. The play-by-play can be choppy, there are few replays and no out-of-town scores, and baseball purists will miss the nuances found in a full-length game. Still, if you've got only an hour, watching Ken Griffey Jr. bat five times beats the heck out of back-to-back episodes of Three's Company.
Despite the breakup of the Soviet Union and the opening of the former Soviet republics to international scrutiny, the abuse of the environment that started under Communist rule continues. Consider the plight of the Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve in Tajikistan.
The 125,000-acre reserve near the Afghanistan border is home to two dozen rare species of plants and animals, including the endangered Bukharian deer (there are estimated to be only 200 left in the world) and the only known remaining population of the ancient Amu-Darya shovelnose sturgeon. According to reports gathered by Ecostan News, an English-language E-mail report monitoring Central Asia, Russian and Tajik troops, tanks, artillery and bombers recently performed maneuvers in the reserve, their shooting drills killing animals and their tanks destroying trees. Said Vladimir Slivyak, a member of the environmental group called Ecodefense!, of the disregard for environmental concerns, "The forests and animals will be completely destroyed."
Abuse abounds elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, particularly in Turkmenistan, which solicits nature-reserve hunts and has been dubbed by Ecostan "the class clown of Central Asia." The president of Turkmenistan is Saparmurat Niyazov, a former Communist leader whose reign is described by Ecostan as having "all the trappings of a Brezhnev personality cult administered with the poise of Don Knotts." Trophy hunting for rare and endangered species by Western Europeans, Canadians and Americans is becoming an accepted way of bringing hard currency into Turkmenistan and neighboring Uzbekistan. Moscow outfitters arrange the hunts, but business is so promising that a French firm has asked Uzbekistan to expand the hunting to include Tien Shan bears (an estimated 500 to 800 are left in the world), Karakul mountain sheep (200 to 300), Bukharian mountain sheep (30 to 35) and snow leopards (30 to 35).
What the outfitters will do when those supplies run out is a question the world does not want answered.
Sprinklers dot the 11th green. Bogey. The guy with the leaf blower is trailing you all the way up the 13th fairway. Double bogey. Thunder rumbles as you tee it up on 15. Triple bogey.
Do distractions on the links ruin your concentration—and scores? Ha! You should have tried playing a round in war-torn Britain in 1941. The following is the set of temporary rules passed that year by the Richmond Golf Club of London for its presumably stiff-upper-lipped membership. We are not making this up.
1. Players are asked to collect the bomb and shrapnel splinters to save these causing damage to the mowing machines.
2. In competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take shelter without penalty or ceasing play.
3. The positions of known delayed-action bombs are marked by red flags at a reasonable, but not guaranteed, safe distance therefrom.
4. Shrapnel and/or bomb splinters on the fairways, or in bunkers, within a club's length of a ball, may be moved without penalty, and no penalty shall be incurred if a ball is thereby caused to move accidentally.
5. A ball moved by enemy action may be replaced, or if lost or destroyed, a ball may be dropped not nearer the hole without penalty.
6. A ball lying in a crater may be lifted and dropped not nearer the hole, preserving the line to the hole, without penalty.
7. A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball. Penalty one stroke.
Can you imagine how long it would take the average PGA Tour player to line up a putt under those circumstances?
Figure of Grace
John Curry, the 1976 Olympic and world figure skating champion, died of an AIDS-related heart attack at his mother's house in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, last Friday, leaving the skating world saddened, if not shocked. Curry, 44, learned he was HIV-positive in 1987 and had talked openly about his illness and his homosexuality since '91. "My whole circle of friends died [of AIDS]," he told the London Daily Mail. "I don't mean just lovers, but I'm talking about pals and people you to the theater or to dinner with. I think the more open people are, the easier it gets for everybody else because it demystifies [AIDS).... I want people to understand the importance of safe sex. After all, no one is immune."
Curry, known as the Nureyev of figure skating, will be remembered for his seamless melding of artistry and athleticism. Two-time Olympic champion Dick Button called him "the finest and most intelligent all-around skater I've ever seen."
Elegant in his skating and courageous in the face of his deadly disease, Curry embodied the finest attributes of a sportsman. His impact on his sport will long outlive him.
Bennett has helped players wrest more than $100 million from the NBA and the NFL.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
I Can't Accept Not Trying, a 36-page volume described by publisher HarperSanFrancisco as "an inspirational and elegant book of wisdom" from Michael Jordan, can be yours for $12 ($16 in Canada).
They Said It
Cincinnati Red catcher, on being surprised that he had to dial a call while visiting a teammate in Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hospital: "I didn't think they still had rotator phones."