Whistled for Violations
The NBA is loath to talk about it, but the league office is concerned about an Internal Revenue Service tax-fraud investigation believed to involve at least 35 current or former NBA referees. According to a report in The Oregonian on Feb. 12, the probe is focusing on whether refs paid taxes on any gains they may have realized by cashing in first-class airline tickets bought at the league's expense, and then traveling on a cheaper fare or a frequent-flier award. The investigation is in its early stages, and the IRS's vetting of expense records might result only in civil actions against the referees. But that still means more than two thirds of the NBA's 52-man officiating corps might have to pay overdue taxes, penalties, interest and legal fees, a daunting prospect for refs who earn as little as $68,000 a year.
Even a resolution that stopped short of criminal charges would be enough to give the NBA the heebee-jeebies. No sports league, pro or college, wants even the appearance that its game officials are under any kind of financial pressure. "The job of refereeing is tough enough without any of this," one league executive said last week. "We worry about the integrity of the game, and we worry about maintaining the appearance of integrity."
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show outdrew the ESPYs, the annual ESPN awards show, in the ratings last week. We're not sure what that means, except that next year ESPN might want to consider replacing jowly and cuddly host John Goodman with a Saint Bernard.
Two Clothes a Call
The usual protocol for players on NBA injured lists is simple: You show up in mufti for home games and sit on the bench. But what happens if two disabled players wear almost exactly the same thing—as Derrick Coleman and Sean Higgins did for the New Jersey Nets' game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Meadowlands Arena last week? Each came in black corduroy slacks and a $400 Coogi multicolored sweater that appeared to have been designed at a state fair spin-art booth. "They looked like twins," said New Jersey coach Butch Beard.
Did either say to the other, "Well, one of us is going to have to go home and change"? Uh, no. Coleman and Higgins holed up in the locker room and watched the game on TV—vanity particularly surprising from Coleman, who earlier this season offered Beard a blank check for the fines he would incur for his flouting of the Nets' dress code on road trips.
The latest regrettable college recruiting tale involves Chris Redman, the quarterback at Louisville's Male High who threw a national high school record 57 touchdown passes last season and was named Parade's Player of the Year. With his eye on a career in the NFL, Chris wanted to enroll at a college whose coach was familiar with the pro passing game. Thus his first choice was to stay home and play for Louisville and coach Howard Schnellenberger, who helped develop Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Browning Nagle and Jeff Brohm. But Schnellenberger bolted for Oklahoma on Dec. 16, and Chris said no thanks to new Cardinal coach Ron Cooper. Instead he signed with Illinois, mainly because he liked Greg Landry, the Illini offensive coordinator, who had played quarterback on three NFL teams.
But on Feb. 3, the day after signing Chris, Illini coach Lou Tepper fired Landry. Chris's father and high school coach, Bob, went to Champaign to accuse Illinois of dealing in bad faith and to ask for his son's release from his letter of intent. Tepper agreed. But even with a release the Collegiate Commissioners Association, which administers letters of intent, will require Chris to sit out next season at whatever school he chooses, thus leaving him with only three years of eligibility. That's because the CCA continues to quixotically believe that recruits choose a school for reasons other than who the coach is.
Tepper, trying to save face, called a Champaign radio talk show on Feb. 16 to say that he and the Redmans will appeal to the CCA for restoration of that lost year of eligibility. Out of fairness and in light of Illinois's apparent bad faith, the CCA should agree to allow Chris to reenter the recruiting process. (High school seniors have until April 1 to sign and be eligible next fall.) But Chris won't want to get his hopes up. The CCA turned down transfer appeals from Providence basketball players when Rick Pitino left for the New York Knicks, from Iowa basketball players when Lute Olson departed for Arizona and from Miami football players when Jimmy Johnson lit out for the Dallas Cowboys.
Perhaps it's time to consider the ultimate sanction: requiring that coaches who want out of a contract sit out a season, without pay, before they can wear a whistle or a headset for another school.
Life of Brian
Brian Shinier is the American bobsled driver who made ignominious Olympic history a year ago by becoming the first bobsledder to be disqualified from the Games because the runners on his sled were too hot. Last week, at the four-man world championships in Winterberg, Germany, Shimer's tribulations continued when he dropped a 675-pound bob on his right foot, broke a toe and had to withdraw from the season's biggest race.
Before going to Lillehammer with high hopes barely a year ago, Shimer was touting the top-secret technology of one of his sleds—designed by NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine—as if he were some cold war spook. To those who asked for details about the sled, Shimer smirked and said, "If I told you, I'd have to kill you." By last week, alas, James Bond had become Inspector Clouseau.
For the past month some motorists in the Tampa Bay area have been happy to be ticketed by the Florida Highway Patrol. As part of a deal with the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning, the patrol has distributed more than 300 ducats to Lightning games to drivers wearing seat belts when pulled over. And for those who aren't buckled up? They get tickets, too. Payable to the State of Florida.
An Ump on Deck
We've finally found somebody in baseball worth rooting for. Former American League umpire Steve Palermo is continuing his unlikely comeback from a bullet wound that nicked his spinal column and made it doubtful he would ever walk again (SI, July 6, 1992).
Palermo, 45, was shot in July 1991 while pursuing a mugger, and his recovery has been marked by gradual progress and steadfast determination. He now gets around with no more than a sporty cane and a small leg brace, and he plays golf three times a week, often without using a cart. He has even reached the point where he can joke about the jolts of pain that occasionally tear through his legs. "When they come, I look like Kramer on Seinfeld," he says.
Last year Palermo worked for Major League Baseball, studying ways to shorten games. He hopes next to examine the rise in on-held violence. As for the strike, his sympathies are only with the fans. "I know what it's like to have baseball taken away from you," he says.
It's not a feeling he's comfortable with. Palermo's ultimate goal is to return to the majors. But, he says, "I'll only go back if I can do justice to the game. If I can't trail a guy down to second on a double, forget about it." It may be years before Palermo can leg out a two-bagger, but the memories of his umpiring days continue to inspire him. "There's a thing called the jazz," he says. "At 7:35, when you hear the national anthem and you know you have 40,000 people coming to your office, it's just an incredible adrenaline rush. That's the jazz of it all."
When does he hope to be back? "Yesterday," he says.
Anchor A-Weighing In
Tom Brokaw usually defers to opinionated sidekicks like John Chancellor when commentary is called for on the NBC Nightly News. But last week, in announcing the Academy Award nominations, the anchor slipped off the ship of objectivity. After reporting that Hoop Dreams, the lavishly praised documentary about inner-city basketball, had been denied a Best Documentary nod, Brokaw said, "The film's only nomination was for Best Editing—a real surprise and, for many of us, a big disappointment."
"It was so outrageous," Brokaw said off the air last week, explaining his motive for editorializing. "When someone said Hoop Dreams hadn't been nominated, I thought, Yeah, for Best Picture. But when I found out that it hadn't even been nominated for Best Documentary, I thought, This cannot be true. The film works at every conceivable level."
Brokaw closed the broadcast by addressing the film's two subjects, Arthur Agee and William Gates: "Hang in there, Arthur and Bill, because when it comes to being snubbed by the Oscars, Hoop Dreams has some impressive company. Among those never nominated: Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Peter Lorre and Lauren Bacall. That's a Dream Team by any standard."
During an AAU game in Washington, D.C., last summer, 18-year-old Doug Dormu knocked down five straight three-pointers against a bunch of guys two years his senior. As Doug peeled back on defense following his fifth trey, he could hear the opposing coach melting down: That boy has one arm. What's wrong with you guys?
That was one of the few times in recent years that Doug, a senior guard at Washington's Theodore Roosevelt High, has been conscious of his handicap on the court. Born with nerve damage in his left shoulder that kept his left arm from fully developing, he still has little feeling in his left hand. So when as an eight-year-old he first taught himself to play basketball, he cradled the ball between his left elbow and right hand and shot from that position.
At the end of last week Doug was averaging 17 points in D.C.'s rarefied public league. Earlier this season he scored 40 points against Eastern High. Doug, who also played fullback on the Roosevelt football team this season, believes he can do anything any other guard can do—and some things others can't, like dunk. "When Doug first came here, of course, I had some reservations about what his limitations might be," says Roosevelt coach Maurice Butler. "But we have a lot of guys on this team that can't use their left hand. And they have two hands."
Though he'll likely enroll at a junior college next fall, Doug's dream is to play at a Division I school. "I like to surprise people," he says. "Most people know me now, but there was a time I'd warm up before a game and be messing around, dribbling the ball off my feet, throwing up bricks, and guys were dying to take me. Pretty soon the same guys were saying, 'Let's stay away from the guy with the arm. He's got game!' "
Tonya Harding would admire the cunning of Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow, the ice dancing pair who have admitted that they secretly—and successfully—interfered with efforts last winter to speed up the granting of U.S. citizenship to Gorsha Sur, the Soviet defector who is the duo's erstwhile friend and (with partner Renee Roca) rival. And Harding would likely appreciate the brass of Nicole Bobek, the freshly crowned women's national figure skating champion, whom suburban Detroit prosecutors charged with home invasion for allegedly walking out of another skater's house last November with money that did not belong to her. At the very least these two incidents make it clear that Harding is far from the only b‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√ë¢te noire in a sport that looks more and more like boxing with makeup and sequins.
Last Thursday a county circuit judge dismissed the charge against Bobek—she has denied any wrongdoing—but prosecutors say they'll appeal that ruling. Meanwhile Punsalan and Swallow freely admit their role in delaying Sur's bid to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. As the 1994 Olympics approached, the pair wrote numerous letters to congressmen, asking them not to grant Sur preferential treatment when reviewing his application. After receiving no such treatment, Sur, who when paired with Roca has never finished below Punsalan and Swallow in five head-to-head meetings, had to watch his rivals go on to represent the U.S. in Lillehammer. "[Expedited naturalization] hadn't been done for any athletes in the past, Ivan Lendl, anyone," Punsalan said on ABC's Wide World of Sports, which broke the story last Saturday. "We wanted to use our rights as citizens, and to use government, democracy or whatever to our advantage."
Yeah, sure. After Swallow and Punsalan finished second, behind Sur and Roca, at the nationals in Providence on Feb. 12, Swallow wished his rivals luck at next month's world championships, adding his hope that the four skaters "will be one big, happy family again."
Certainly the woman who once said, "I'll hug Nancy, if she'll let me," would smile at such shamelessness.
A withered arm hasn't grounded Doug's dreams.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
For calling fighter Chris Eubank "scum" two months ago, promoter Mickey Duff has been fined $8,000 by the British Boxing Board of Control, which ruled that Duff's remarks "brought boxing into disrepute."
They Said It
Tennessee basketball coach, on the depth of his team, which has been plagued by injuries: "Our bench is kind of like a video store late on Saturday night. There aren't a lot of choices."