Monday's press conference was another Electrafying turn by the
Well, that was fun. But how could it be otherwise--Dennis Rodman
on the loose, with rings in his nose and colorful upholstery on
his head, doing the kind of slow grind with the Los Angeles
Lakers that had decent folks averting their gazes and the rest
of us mesmerized by the wonderful obscenity of it. That's his
specialty. Still, who dreamed that Rodman's free agency could
offer so much entertainment value? Two weeks of it! Even in a
nondescript season like this one, a two-week contract
negotiation in which there was nothing to negotiate was a
stretch. The public's patience with tattooed cross-dressers who
don't currently lead the league in rebounding normally would
have long since expired. Rodman's genius, though, is his ability
to create and sustain commotion. Until he finally said he would
sign with the Lakers, there was nothing but commotion in Los
Angeles. Since "retiring" this year, dubiously marrying actress
Carmen Electra and then quickly unretiring, he hasn't spent more
than two straight days out of the news. Once he trained his
sights on this thoroughly unsuspecting franchise, it was
above-the-fold all the way.
Blame Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who thinks he knows something
about free spirits. Assuming Rodman actually signs, which he
hadn't as SI went to press, this semipreposterous bachelor is
about to discover what a Ward Cleaver he really is. It was Buss
who thought L.A. could use a power forward (it could) and
thought his staff might develop a tolerance for players who tie
their Windsor knots on feather boas (it won't). Rodman guessed
correctly that the fun thing about an offer from Buss would not
be in taking it up but in toying with it. The L.A. media all had
Rodman signed immediately--what else was he going to do, chores
for Carmen?--but for nearly two weeks he coyly dodged the actual
Finally, last Friday, Rodman appeared on ESPN to announce his
decision and, amid consideration of his sex life, announced a
Monday press conference instead--an event that would also
devolve into sex talk. Meanwhile, the Lakers lost patience.
Shaquille O'Neal, who had been for signing Rodman, was
shrugging. Coach Del Harris, who said he knew about eccentrics
because he once handled Cedric Ceballos, ordered his team
silent. Minority owner Magic Johnson said the whole thing was
"driving me crazy."
Get used to it. --Richard Hoffer
A Spellbinding Match
In a sport awash in attitudinal adolescents, Swiss tennis star
Patty Schnyder barely made a splash last year when she
unexpectedly won five tournaments, cracked the Top 10 and was
named the WTA Tour's most improved player. "Patty was always
down to earth," says Barbara Schett, Schnyder's doubles partner.
"Just a very normal girl." That makes a recent turn in
Schnyder's career perplexing.
In November the 20-year-old Schnyder met Rainer Harnecker, 42, a
German alternative medicine practitioner who calls himself a
"cell-reproducing scientist." Harnecker claims he can heal
cancer and AIDS patients through diet, acupuncture and herbal
remedies. Though largely unknown in tennis circles, he maintains
that his motivational and nutritional advice are in high demand
among tour players and that he turned down an offer to work with
Steffi Graf. ("I've never heard of this man," Graf says of
Harnecker.) According to the Swiss weekly Sonntagszeitung,
however, he's under investigation by police in the Bavarian town
of Rosenheim for alleged violations of Germany's alternative
medical practitioner law. Harnecker didn't return calls from SI
At last month's Australian Open, Schnyder and 21-year-old Sylvia
Plischke of Austria spent every off-court hour with Harnecker,
permitting him to stay in their hotel room, where he espoused
his theories late into the night. "He can motivate and inspire,"
says Plischke, who ended her relationship with Harnecker soon
after the Open, fearing that he was gaining too much influence
over her. "He does not force you to do anything, but he's good
Schnyder pledged loyalty to Harnecker after her second-round
Australian Open loss to Amelie Mauresmo. Upon returning to
Switzerland, where she had been living with her parents, she
fired her coach, Eric van Harpen. She later dumped her longtime
boyfriend, Peter Tschudin, and severed ties with her family.
"A lot of players are worried that this is quite serious," says
Schett, who tried to talk to Schnyder about Harnecker but was
unsuccessful. One worried nonplayer is Hugo Stamm, a Swiss
expert on cults who is advising the Schnyder family. "This is
more than being in love," Stamm says. "Patty shows dependency
[on Harnecker]--she has broken with everything in her life."
At last week's WTA Tour event in Hannover, Germany, defending
champ Schnyder lost her first match in straight sets to
23rd-ranked Elena Likhovtseva and dropped from eighth to 12th in
the world rankings. Van Harpen said his former pupil looked
"absent" and wore an odd smile throughout the match, "like she
had just won Wimbledon." Says Plischke, "She was not the lively
Patty any longer."
WTA officials are concerned about Schnyder but say that for now
the affair is a private matter. "If it is discovered that there
is any behavior in violation of our Coaches Code of Ethics,
appropriate action will be taken," says WTA CEO Bart McGuire.
Schnyder vows to stand by Harnecker. "I definitely have a strong
will, but we understand each other so well," she says. "I'm
convinced that Rainer is the best thing for my tennis."
Atlanta's Next Ace
If the Braves are looking to build a bridge to the 21st century,
they're starting with the right guy. Atlanta's new fifth starter,
Bruce Chen, has pinpoint control and a wicked curve. He's also a
dean's list civil engineering major at Georgia Tech.
When the club signed Chen, a native of Panama, as a 16-year-old
free agent in 1993, his parents demanded that Atlanta let him
finish high school in the U.S. and pay his college tuition. So
in '94 he spent weekends and Wednesdays pitching for the Braves'
Celebration City, Fla., rookie league team and the other four
days going to high school in nearby Boca Raton. After spending
the '95 season playing advanced rookie league ball in Danville,
Va., he skipped the fall instructional league to take freshman
calculus and physics. Chen's GPA that year was 4.00. His ERA in
'96 for the Class A Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds was 2.27. While
making the dean's list in both of his quarters at Tech, he has
breezed through the Atlanta system, averaging 10.1 strikeouts
and just 2.7 walks per nine innings in his five minor league
seasons. His big league debut last September wasn't
impressive--four runs in three innings--but in his next three
starts he went 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA. The Braves are so confident
in his talent that they dealt two-time All-Star Denny Neagle to
the Reds for second baseman Brett Boone.
With Atlanta a virtual lock to be playing in mid-October, Chen
will find time for college scarcer than ever. He insists he'll
do all he can to earn his degree. "At the beginning it was my
parents who were big on it," Chen says. "After a quarter at
Tech, I realized I can do it." He might soon be saying the same
thing about making a run at rookie of the year.
Rescue at Sea
The Hero and The Heel
Followers of Around Alone, the round-the-world solo sailboat
race (SCORECARD, Dec. 28-Jan. 4), were still buzzing last
weekend about Giovanni Soldini's Feb. 16 rescue of one of his
rivals. Isabelle Autissier's 60-foot monohull, PRB, had capsized
in treacherous waters 1,900 miles west of Cape Horn. Soldini,
who was 196 miles northwest of Autissier when her boat flipped,
immediately veered off course. Fighting icy seas and stiff
breezes, he took Autissier--who was hunkered in a watertight
compartment in PRB's hull--aboard his boat, FILA, 24 hours after
The day after the rescue, Around Alone leader Marc Thiercelin of
France ripped Autissier from aboard his vessel, Somewhere. "I'm
very sorry for Isabelle that her boat capsized, but she screwed
up Giovanni's whole race," Thiercelin told a French newspaper by
satellite phone. He also said he was concerned that Autissier's
presence on FILA would be an advantage for Soldini in a solo
race, an allegation Autissier and Soldini deny. "Gio chooses his
tactics and goes where he wants to alone," the Frenchwoman
asserted last Thursday. Added Soldini, an Italian, "We aren't
double-handing, but it's true that you sleep better knowing that
someone else is there. You get less stressed; you have someone
to talk to."
Extra rest and human company seem to have paid off for Soldini,
who covered 396 miles last Saturday, knocking 87 miles off
Thiercelin's lead and securing his own hold on second place.
Even if he doesn't catch Thiercelin before the race's next
scheduled stop, in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Soldini needs to
keep up his pace. As of Monday he and Autissier were trying to
outrun a vicious storm chasing them from the west--one that was
battering the trailing members of the nine-boat fleet with snow,
ice, 60-knot winds and 30-foot swells. "It's so unfriendly
here," wrote Mike Garside, the British skipper of Magellan
Alpha, from the center of the storm, "even the ever-present
albatrosses have finally buggered off."
Hall of Fame
Cooperstown's Overdue Bill
Bob Moyer was a 23-year-old college student in the summer of
1939 when he drove 26 miles from his home in Fort Plain, N.Y.,
to Cooperstown for the first induction ceremony at the Baseball
Hall of Fame. Moyer wants to return to Cooperstown 60 summers
later to witness the induction of local hero Bill Dahlen, a
turn-of-the-century shortstop from Nelliston, just across the
Mohawk River from Fort Plain. Moyer, now 82, and his buddy Bob
Diefendorf, 78, are leading a grassroots mailing campaign on
Dahlen's behalf directed at the 14 members of the Hall's
Moyer says he was inspired by the lobbying effort of fans 50
miles down the road in Cohoes, N.Y., for native son George
Davis, another shortstop whose stats are similar to Dahlen's.
Davis made it into the Hall last year.
"We aren't running a popularity contest," says Joe Brown,
chairman of the Veterans Committee, "but baseball is America's
game, and any fan should be able to call the committee's
attention to something we didn't know about a player."
By at least one measure Dahlen is the most deserving eligible
player who isn't already in the Hall. The fifth edition of Total
Baseball ranks him as the game's 29th-best player, ahead of
Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio and Carl Yastrzemski. Playing for
four teams from 1891 to 1911 in the heart of the Dead Ball era,
Dahlen had 2,457 hits, 547 steals and a .272 batting average. In
1894 he hit safely in 42 straight games, a record at the time
and still the fourth-longest streak in history. Dahlen ranks
among the top 10 in nine of 11 fielding categories in Total
Baseball; by comparison, Ozzie Smith is in the top 10 in seven.
Dahlen played on four pennant winners, including the 1905 World
Series champion Giants.
The Veterans Committee's March 2 vote in Tampa could be Dahlen's
last chance at induction, since that balloting will end a
special five-year period in which the committee will have
selected a 19th-century player each year. If Dahlen gets in,
it'll be cause for extra celebration in upstate New York.
"Busloads of folks from this area will descend on Cooperstown if
he makes it," says Moyer. "And wherever he is, Bill Dahlen will
probably say, 'For god's sake, it's about time.'"
Basketball and a Baby
Hokie Happy Ending
Virginia Tech forward Michelle Hollister had great expectations
for the 1996-97 season, but she never expected to be expecting.
In October '96, just after the Hokies finished preseason
workouts, Hollister learned that she was pregnant. She left the
team and withdrew from school. The next summer Hollister married
former Virginia Tech football player Billy Houseright and gave
birth to their daughter, Jordan (named after you know who).
Without their top scorer and rebounder from 1995-96, Virginia
Tech went 10-21.
Inspired by Sheryl Swoopes, who starred for the WNBA's Houston
Comets in 1997 after delivering a son named Jordan, the
postpartum Houseright lost 50 pounds and returned to the court
just six months after her daughter's birth. As a junior last
season she helped lead Virginia Tech to its first Atlantic 10
tournament title. This year, with Houseright juggling
motherhood, schoolwork and her role as the Hokies' third-leading
scorer and rebounder (8.9 points, 4.0 rebounds per game),
Virginia Tech finished the regular season 25-1 and ranked a
best-ever ninth in the nation.
A program that averaged just 764 fans a game two seasons ago
drew 8,079 to Sunday's season-ending 66-64 win over George
Washington. Houseright had seven points, four rebounds and four
steals in her last home performance, and little Jordan was on
hand to see it.
"When I left school to have a baby, I felt terrible abandoning
my team," Houseright says. "I owed it to them to come back. It's
been a strange journey, but how many kids can say they saw their
mom play college basketball? This is one helluva way for a
mother to go out."
My Sister, My Agent
Brother, Can You Spare 4%?
Wide receiver David Boston, a potential top 15 NFL draft pick
from Ohio State, had no trouble finding his agent last weekend
in the crowded lobby of Indianapolis's Crown Plaza hotel. For
one thing, Boston's agent was the only woman in the pack of
players and agents in Indy for the NFL's scouting combine. For
another, she's his big sister. Alicia Boston, 27, is a
Dallas-based lawyer who now has one NFL client and no doubts
about how to handle him. "If David ever gets out of line," she
says, "I'll slap him up the backside of his head."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY FRED HARPER
COLOR PHOTO: MARY SCHILPP/CLP I WILL FOLLOW HIM Schnyder's ranking has dropped since she hooked up with a healer.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY MIKE LEE
B/W PHOTO: CULVER PICTURES Bill Dahlen
do it yourself
If butt-kicking has a first family, it's the Gracie clan.
Decades after Helio Gracie learned a fierce form of jujitsu in
Brazil, his son Rorion, 47, helped create the Ultimate Fighting
Championship (UFC) in 1993. Another son, Royce, 32, won three of
the first four UFC titles. For $30 a session you can learn their
secrets at Gracie academies in Torrance, Calif., and Thornwood,
N.Y. "Any technique Royce Gracie used in the UFC, you'll see in
the beginners' class," says instructor Stephen Kardian, 41. But
don't expect ultraviolence. The goal of Gracie-style grappling
isn't to thrash the other guy but to get him in a leg lock or
choke hold that forces him to submit. When Kardian (below) puts
that choker around your neck, you'll be the one saying,
Purists may soon be pining for the good old days of the X Games.
In July 2000, Lake Placid, N.Y., will host the inaugural Great
Outdoor Games, featuring events for men, women and dogs. In
September of that year--a week before the Sydney Olympics kick
off--the first Fringe Games will be held in Christchurch, New
Zealand. "There's a hunger for new and exciting events," says
Fringe founder Burton Silver, 53, a writer from Wellington, New
Zealand. Silver will satisfy novelty-starved fans, those hordes
bored by boardercross and street luge, with such events as
running in formation, slalom running, synchronized cycling, the
assisted high jump and mechanized running, in which wheels and
sails are banned but springs aren't. With a wink at the
Olympics, the Fringe Games bill mechanized running as a race
"between mechanically assisted athletes as opposed to chemically
assisted ones." The assisted high jump, promoters say, "will be
a big hit with prisoners." Let's hope Silver has enough silver
to sign the celeb mascot he needs: Wile E. Coyote.
--That David Wells pitches a perfect game against the Yankees
wearing an authentic Garth Iorg cap.
--That Andres Galarraga lands on his feet and hits 40 homers in
--That Lasse Kjus were as well known by U.S. sports fans as
Years in prison a Texas man received for trying to run down
former cycling world champ Lance Armstrong with a pickup truck
as Armstrong was on a training ride.
Hotel rooms available in a four-county area around Cooperstown,
N.Y., on the weekend of July 24, for this year's Baseball Hall
of Fame induction ceremony.
Combined two-game pinfall of pro bowler Tiffany Stanbrough and
her father, Roy, who bowled their first 300 games on Feb. 15.
Horses killed in a Feb. 16 steeplechase accident in County
Durham, England, in which several horses fell, lost their
jockeys, reversed course and collided with the oncoming pack.
Jupiter, Fla., policemen who are protecting Mark McGwire during
Price of O.J. Simpson memorabilia bought at auction by Denver
radio host Bob Enyart, who burned the items outside the Los
Angeles criminal courts building to protest Simpson's acquittal.
Baseball cards printed by Premier Concepts Inc. to celebrate
Sammy Sosa's 62nd homer but which depict 61.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Next week the Texas Audubon Society will sell the naming rights
to a newly discovered bird species.
They Said It
Nuggets coach, on Denver's dismal start: "We might not be big
enough, but it's the size of the dog in the fight, or the fight
of the size in the dog.... Whatever it is, we don't got it."