Whether you support coach Bob Knight or player Neil Reed in last
week's furor surrounding Knight's pressuring Reed to leave the
Indiana basketball team, one thing is clear: Knight's
rule-by-intimidation style is becoming increasingly deleterious
to the Hoosiers' program.
It is not uncommon for a coach to become disillusioned with a
player and suggest that he transfer. Arkansas coach Nolan
Richardson freely admits that players have transferred because
of his prodding. Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins, Wake Forest's
Davey Odom and Kentucky's Rick Pitino are known to have
encouraged players to leave too. But those coaches have not
allowed such internal matters to degenerate into public
spectacles. When Pitino showed Rodrick Rhodes the gate two years
ago, he did it adroitly, praising Rhodes while making it clear
that he did not fit into the Wildcats' plans. Rhodes transferred
and had a semiproductive senior year at Southern Cal.
Knight apparently did not expect any fireworks, either. He
summoned Reed, a starting guard for the Hoosiers in 26 games
last season, and three other juniors, Robbie Eggers, Richard
Mandeville and Andrae Patterson, to meetings after Indiana's
humiliating 80-62 loss to Colorado in the first round of the
NCAA tournament and, by his own account, offered them the option
of transferring or returning with the prospect of limited
playing time next season. But the situation blew up in a
familiar spot--Knight's face--after Knight told reporters four
days later that he had met with the players and that only Reed
had opted to leave.
Reed, who says that he was already at the end of his emotional
rope because of the tongue-lashings he had endured from Knight
for three seasons, felt that Knight's words painted him as a
quitter. So Reed went public, saying that he preferred to remain
at Indiana and had agreed to transfer only because Knight had
made it clear that he wanted him to leave. Reed says that Knight
once wrapped his hands around Reed's neck during an altercation
(Knight denies it, and the university says it will investigate
the allegation) and that Knight's verbal assaults undermined
Reed's abilities on the court.
Several teammates describe Reed as a selfish player who deserved
whatever criticism he received from Knight. But it's a fact that
Reed repeatedly drew especially vicious and obscenity-laced
vitriol from Knight during games, and, as Reed says, "It's hard
for a team to follow the person least respected and most
criticized by the coach." It's also a fact that Reed's style is
more gritty than pretty and that his tough, play-with-pain
attitude (two seasons ago he saw action in 30 games while
suffering from a separated shoulder) seemed to personify Hoosier
hoops. And it's a fact that Knight endlessly tinkered with
lineups and substitution patterns this season, producing a team
that not only had an identity crisis but also crashed and
burned, finishing with a 22-11 record after a 14-1 start.
Even if the play of Reed and the others had not been up to snuff
this past season, Indiana's third straight first-round exit from
the NCAAs suggests that Knight, whose teams have won three NCAA
titles during his 26 seasons with the Hoosiers, is no longer at
the top of the coaching game. The Reed episode won't cost
coaching's biggest bully his job, but it will give top recruits
around the country one more reason not to go to Indiana.
A WRITER REMEMBERED
Corky Meinecke, a sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press, died
last week at age 44 after a 16-month battle with cancer. He will
be remembered by his colleagues for his reporting skills, his
good nature and his courage. And he will remembered by the
Detroit Pistons, a team he covered for a decade, by the black
armbands they will wear for the remainder of the season. In an
era of antagonism between athletes and journalists, that says a
lot about the Pistons and a lot about Meinecke.
TWO TOO LATE
Last Friday night in Atlantic City, moments after being
disqualified for a flagrant foul in his bout with Montell
Griffin, Roy Jones--no longer undefeated and no longer the WBC
light heavyweight champion--stood in the center of a crowded
ring and shook his head. "A disqualification, I can live with
that," he said. "Hey, they can take my title. They took my gold
At the 1988 Olympics the judges indeed robbed Jones, in an act
of larceny so blatant that even though his South Korean opponent
was given the gold in the 156-pound class, Jones took home the
trophy for outstanding boxer of the Games. But last Friday in
the 2,400-seat ballroom of the Taj Mahal hotel, Jones robbed
himself. By throwing two ninth-round punches that struck Griffin
while he was on one knee, Jones relieved himself of his belt
and, to some degree, his reputation as one of boxing's classiest
Jones, 28, had come into the fight with a 34-0 record, including
29 knockouts, and the mantle of the world's best fighter, pound
for pound. But the 27-0 Griffin, though a 10-to-1 underdog, was
not intimidated. He frequently pinned Jones to the ropes and
raked him with hooks and body shots. The fight was even on the
judges' cards after six rounds, and for the first time in his
pro career, Jones appeared beatable.
In the ninth, though, Jones, who had a narrow lead, found a
brief opening that allowed him to rock Griffin with a right. He
landed seven more blows before Griffin, "dizzy," as he put it
later, dropped to one knee near the ropes in an effort to clear
his head. As referee Tony Perez, who watched from across the
ring during Jones's assault, moved to pick up the count, Jones
paused and then threw a pawing right and a crunching left hook,
both of which landed on the still-kneeling Griffin's head. With
a look of umbrage on his face, Griffin pitched forward to the
canvas, where Perez counted him out.
In the ensuing confusion it was unclear whether the fight had
been declared a knockout for Jones. Then Perez rightly ruled the
final combination a major foul, and when Griffin showed no signs
of being able to continue, the referee disqualified Jones, a
decision with which even Jones would soon concur. "After looking
at the tape," he said at the postfight press conference, "I
would have disqualified myself." Still, he offered no reason for
his inexcusable assault beyond a cavalier insistence that he had
simply continued throwing punches until stopped by the referee,
an explanation undercut by his next comment: "When I threw the
sucker punch, I should have been hitting the referee."
This being boxing, Jones's nonloss loss and Griffin's nonwin win
should only serve to make both fighters richer. Jones made $3
million on Friday, Griffin $385,000; at the postfight party
there was already talk of $3 million apiece for a pay-per-view
rematch. Jones will likely go into that fight a favorite, but
his record--and reputation--will never again be unblemished.
THE NFL'S NUMBERS PROBLEM
The NFL had 11 head coaching openings during and after the 1996
season, and all 11 jobs were filled with whites. But here's a
far more damning statistic: Of the 24 men who were interviewed
for those jobs, only one--Philadelphia Eagles defensive
coordinator Emmitt Thomas, who was interviewed by the New York
Giants and St. Louis Rams--was an African-American.
Though 68% of NFL players are black, NFL owners, an all-white
club, have given short shrift to such well-qualified candidates
as Thomas, Green Bay offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis and
Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham. This was the focus of a
meeting on Monday between commissioner Paul Tagliabue and nine
NFL black assistant coaches who feel slighted by the selection
One reason white coaches are hired reflexively is the
abbreviated time period available to fill vacancies. If a coach
is fired at the end of a season, around Dec. 20, the team wants
to have a new man in place by February, when the college
scouting combine is held and free agents become available. Thus,
candidates interviewed are usually ones the owner and/or general
manager knows, and they are almost always white. Black coaches
rarely get the opportunity to state their case.
Tagliabue has proposed moving back the combine and the start of
free agency to give owners more time to interview coaches. That
would be a good first step. Another sensible change would be to
drop the rule that prevents assistants on the Super Bowl teams
from interviewing with other clubs until after the big game.
Give Super Bowl assistants, who are frequently among the hottest
head coaching prospects regardless of race, a 48-hour window
after the conference championship games to talk with other
teams. But what really has to change is the close-mindedness of
owners and general managers, who have long been practicing a
pernicious form of racism.
MOE BETTER BLUES
Tiger Woods has complained about fans and photographers making
excessive noise while he's playing, but he should feel lucky
that, so far at least, none of his opponents are using the Three
Stooges Talking Golf Club Covers being sold by the Johnson Smith
Co. of Bradenton, Fla. Dealing with exclamations of "You da
man!" coming from the gallery in the middle of one's backswing
is tough enough; handling a barrage of nyuk-nyuk-nyuks or
woob-woob-woob-woobs might be impossible.
For those of you who consider Hulk Hogan ramming Lex Luger's
head into a turnbuckle the highest form of sport, we warn you to
read no further.
Pro wrestling is fake.
This momentous news was trumpeted last week in New Jersey, a
state that's clamoring for a piece of the millions of dollars
generated by pro wrestling events. The eye-gouge-and-body-slam
crowd had been holding its matches elsewhere because of a
$100,000 tax that is applied to all televised sporting events
regulated by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board. To escape
regulation and the tax, pro wrestling organizers had to concede
that what they present is not sport but entertainment. (That
point is debatable, of course, but there's no accounting for
"We never try to insult anyone's intelligence," said Jay
Andronaco, a spokesman for the World Wrestling Federation, at a
press conference at Continental Airlines Arena. "Do these guys
get hit and take a punch? Yes. But is some of it choreographed?
Actually, pro wrestling had long tried to insult everyone's
intelligence by claiming that matches were genuine contests and
that practitioners were true athletes. But in recent years
several states have declared it entertainment, not sport, and in
Jersey the pooh-bahs were required to officially fess up.
Pro wrestling did get some good p.r. out of all this. In a photo
shoot that was bizarre even by the standards of politics, New
Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, a conservative
Republican, posed with the Undertaker, whose 6'10", 325-pound
body, flowing auburn hair, densely muscled and tattooed arms and
sleeveless leather tunic made him more sinister-looking than any
tax-and-spend Democrat. But the pro wrestling people will never
again be able to claim that what they do is sport and not
entertainment. Bill A-2213, which was adopted last week by the
New Jersey General Assembly, spells out--albeit in
politicospeak--the differences between pro wrestling and true
wrestling (page 32):
"'Wrestling' means a bona fide athletic contest in which
participants struggle hand-in-hand with the object of winning by
throwing an opponent or scoring points and in which any purpose
of providing entertainment is secondary.
"'Professional wrestling' means an activity in which
participants struggle hand-in-hand primarily for the purpose of
providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a
bona fide athletic contest."
Before Dennis Rodman hooks up with Hulk Hogan again, somebody
better make sure he knows this.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER The burden of playing for the hypercritical Knight eventually became too great for Reed, once considered the ultimate Hoosier gym rat. [Neil Reed and Bobby Knight]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG [Two pairs of legs with knee brace]
COLOR PHOTO: WILL HART/HBO With Griffin clearly down, Jones should not have needed the ref to tell him to stop. [Montell Griffin and Roy Jones boxing]
FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: ROBERTO MARCHIORI HAND JIVE Soccer is a sport in which every part of the body except the hands comes into play--unless you're a goalie or Italian artist Mario Mariotti. Here, from Mariotti's book Hands Off!, are a few of his finger formations. [Hand resembling soccer player performing bicycle kick; hand resembling two soccer players in game; hand resembling goalie jumping after ball; fingers resembling faces in crowd]
B/W PHOTO: AP [Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano boxing]
COLOR PHOTO: MIKE DERER/AP Whitman (right) and the Undertaker buried New Jersey's tax on pro wrestling. [Professional wrestler the Undertaker, woman and Christine Todd Whitman]
Excising Baseball's Exemption
At a meeting next week in Washington, baseball's owners and
players will work together to write legislation that would
eliminate significant portions of the sport's oft-derided
antitrust exemption. If they can cobble together a bill--and
both owners' lobbyist Bill Cable and Gene Orza, deputy chief of
the players' union, said last week that they expect to--here's
what it will mean: Major leaguers will have the same antitrust
rights enjoyed by other pro athletes, rights that have allowed
NBA and NFL players to pursue free agency and other benefits
through triple-damage antitrust lawsuits against their leagues.
Lifting the antitrust exemption, a legal aberration that should
have been revoked decades ago to bring baseball in line with
other U.S. businesses, will give players more leverage to get
owners to negotiate in good faith and perhaps forestall a long
stalemate like the one that shut down the major leagues from
August 1994 to April '95. For example, if bargaining fails to
produce an agreement when the current deal expires in 2000 (or
2001, if the players pick up their one-year option), owners will
know that they could soon find themselves served with an
antitrust suit, a prospect that should act as a strong incentive
According to Cable and Orza, under the law they are drafting,
the antitrust exemption will remain in effect for team
relocations, broadcasting contracts and the protection of minor
league markets. Those are all things, by and large, that don't
disrupt the season.
If owners and players agree on a bill, it will be delivered to
Orrin Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, who has already introduced similar legislation
(called the Curt Flood Act of 1997). Unless Hatch has serious
reservations about the player-owner bill, he is expected to
substitute it for his own, and it should sail through Congress.
Is it possible? Owners and players, conservatives and liberals,
actually agreeing on something? That seems to be the case. It's
only a shame that Flood, whose battle to gain free agency
resulted in the last of three Supreme Court decisions upholding
the antitrust exemption, isn't around to hear the news.
This season's record for Harvard-Westlake, a Los Angeles private
school ranked No. 5 among scholastic boys' basketball teams in
National Merit Semifinalists from Harvard-Westlake, more than
from any other school in the state.
Square meters of dirt and grass laid down in downtown Turin,
Italy, to make the course for Sunday's world cross-country
championships seem more trail-like.
Years that Frank Evans, a butcher from Salford, England, was a
matador before being allowed to perform at Madrid's Las Vantas
Arena, the sport's Wimbledon.
Age of Etienne Bacrat of France, the "Mozart of Chess," who last
week became the youngest grandmaster ever.
Times more likely female high school basketball players are than
their male counterparts to require orthopedic surgery, according
to a study at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Two-time middleweight champ Tony Zale, who died last week at 83,
had 87 fights, but he'll be best remembered for his three
classics with Rocky Graziano. Here's a look at the series Red
Smith called "the most two-sided fights ever."
Sept. 27, 1946.
Zale drops Graziano in Round 1, goes down in the second,
staggers to the wrong corner in the fifth but produces a
stunning KO in the sixth.
July 16, 1947.
Graziano called it "a private war." Knocked down and cut, he
storms back to stop Zale (below, left) with a 36-punch barrage
in the sixth.
June 10, 1948.
Down in the first, Graziano rocks Zale in Round 2. Seesaw battle
ends in the third when Zale KO's the Rock.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Ring announcer Michael Buffer is suing Columbia and Sony because
the film Booty Call uses his trademark catchphrase, "Let's get
ready to rumble!"
THEY SAID IT
Kelly Buchberger Edmonton Oilers winger, after the Edmonton
Coliseum P.A. announcer informed fans during a game against the
Tampa Bay Lightning that Buchberger had just scored his 200th
career point: "It was nice he announced it, and it was even
nicer not to announce that it took me 11 years."