How to determine whether Michael Jordan is the NBA's MVP
Talk about Michael Jordan's being the NBA's Most Valuable Player
this season is already simmering on the back burner and may soon
be moving to the front. Even the real MVP to this point, the
Nets' Jason Kidd (page 58), has said Jordan should be considered
a contender, and I suppose that's right. Yet as glorious as
Comeback II has been at times, and as much a sentimental
favorite as he is, I don't see Jordan, to this point, as
One of the common ways to determine if a player is an MVP
candidate is to hypothesize about how execrable his team would
be were he not on it. Take Jordan off this year's Wizards, and
what you have is last year's Wizards, a team that won 19 games,
the same number Washington won in less than half of this season
with ol' Baldy in the lineup. For me, though, that isn't enough.
Remove scoring machine Nick Van Exel from the Nuggets (which
Denver, incidentally, might be looking to do), and they'd likely
be the worst team in the NBA. Take gunner Ron Mercer off the
Bulls, and they probably would have no more than two wins
instead of the eight they had through Sunday.
My key determinant is that an MVP candidate must lift his team
to the upper echelon of the league. That's what made Allen
Iverson, who dragged a band of underachieving Sixers into the
Finals last summer, so worthy. I loved Cubs second baseman Ernie
(Let's Play Two) Banks but consider his winning two MVP awards
questionable because the best Banks could do was take Chicago
into the middle of the pack. Jordan's lifting of the Wizards to
third place in the Atlantic Division is commendable, but they're
still only the 16th- or 17th-best team in the NBA.
To put my definition of an MVP another way: Game in and game
out, despite a target on his back, he performs at a consistent
level of excellence that leads to a consistent level of
excellence for his team. That's Kidd; that's center Tim Duncan
of the Spurs; that's forward Kevin Garnett of the Timberwolves;
that's center Shaquille O'Neal and shooting guard Kobe Bryant of
Jordan has had too many messy 7-for-21 and 13-for-30 nights to
qualify as MVP. He may have more pressure--and a brighter
spotlight--on him than any other player in basketball, and the
demands on his 38-year-old body are extraordinary. Yet similar
burdens weigh on all MVP candidates, and so far Jordan hasn't
borne them well enough to get my vote. --Jack McCallum
MVPs on Poor Teams
Bob Pettit, Hawks (1955-56) Led league in scoring (25.7 points
per game) and rebounds (16.2), but St. Louis's .458 winning
percentage is lowest ever for team with MVP.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lakers (1975-76) L.A., 40-42, is only team
with MVP to miss playoffs, but Abdul-Jabbar had league-best 16.9
rebounds and 4.12 blocks per game.
Moses Malone, Rockets (1981-82) Had career-best 31.1 scoring
average and led NBA in rebounds (14.7), but couldn't take 46-36
Houston past first round of the playoffs.
Moses Malone, Rockets (1978-79) League's leading rebounder
(17.6) on team that finished second in its division and lost in
opening round of postseason.
Bob McAdoo, Braves (1974-75) His NBA-best 34.5 points per game
helped Buffalo to 49 wins, still a franchise record (team is now
the Clippers), but team lost in conference semifinals.
Almost from the moment Lisa Bonder splashed onto the pro tennis
circuit in 1982 as a 16-year-old, she made headlines. In '83 she
beat Chris Evert Lloyd in the semis of a tournament in Tokyo,
leading Evert Lloyd to gush, "She's lethal from the baseline." A
year later Bonder finished No. 16 in the world (the highest
year-end ranking of her career), and she soon developed a cult
following in Japan, where she modeled clothes and drew adoring
fans. "She was very good at a young age," says Carling
Bassett-Seguso, another tennis starlet of that era. "She was
also a dominant personality who was always out for an angle."
That became clear after Bonder, 36, filed suit earlier this
month in L.A. Superior Court seeking $324,000 a month in child
support from her ex-husband, billionaire financier Kirk
Kerkorian. The $3.8-million-a-year request, a California record
for a child-support case, was made on behalf of the couple's
three-year-old daughter, Kira, and was backed up with a list of
monthly expenses that included $1,500 to care for indoor plants
and $14,000 for parties and play dates. Last Friday, Kerkorian,
84, whose net worth has been estimated at $6.4 billion, fired
back with a breach-of-contract suit, saying Bonder had breached
confidentiality papers that she'd signed at the time of their
The couple signed a lot of papers that year. Even by the
unromantic prenuptial standards of the rich and famous, theirs
was a dismal contract: They agreed beforehand to divorce after
one month. Bonder's court papers say they married to confer
"dignity and respect" on their relationship and on Kira, who was
five months old at the time. Bonder also agreed never to seek
spousal support. "The purpose of child support is not to pay for
the life of the mother," says Dan Jaffe, a divorce lawyer in
L.A. "There's no cap on child support in California, but I can't
see this going into the stratosphere suggested in Bonder's
demands. There's nothing in the law that says a child must live
on a 10-acre estate just because the father does."
Bonder won't comment on the case, but whatever the outcome,
she's playing for far higher stakes in the courtroom than she
did on the courts. Though she made close to $500,000 before
retiring in 1989, that sum didn't fulfill her aspirations. "As
far as long-term goals," she told New Jersey's The Record in
'86, "I want to become financially secure so that when I leave
the sport I won't have to depend on anyone else."
Give It Away
On Jan. 11, at First Union Center, the 76ers gave away 5,000
Allen Iverson Celebriducks, rubber ducks made in the likeness of
the Sixers guard. The fowl facsimile is only the latest entry in
a bizarre array of promotional handouts.
GEE, THANKS A LOT Last year the Marlins gave out rolls of duct
tape. The Reds once handed out dish towels. Back in the '70s the
Sixers picked up pieces of a backboard that Darryl Dawkins had
destroyed with a dunk and later gave away the glass shards. But
for sheer cheapness, look to the Heat, which earlier this season
gave out a pretzel or a soda--but only to season-ticket holders.
PROJECTILE MARKETING Many giveaways have turned into cheap
missiles in the hands of unruly fans. Free flyswatters (the
Heat), trading cards (the Blackhawks), candy bars (the Yankees)
and hockey pucks (the Penguins) have all rained down on
athletes. No wonder teams no longer hold bat days.
BOBBLED BOBBLE-HEADS The loose-necked figurines are popular
giveaways. Some of the stranger dolls of the past year were of
Lamar Odom, which the Clippers gave out one night during his
eight-game suspension for a failed drug test; Eddie House, who's
started only three games for the Heat this season; Kwame Brown,
who's started only two games for the Wizards; and bearish Bills
great Fred Smerlas, whose doll was adorned with lifelike hair.
Q Why aren't there more left-handers in pro golf?
A Lefties abound in most sports, and some of the greatest
athletes (Babe Ruth, Bill Russell, Martina Navratilova, Steve
Young) were portsiders. Yet there's a distinct dextralism in
golf. The PGA Tour has only six lefties, the LPGA one. Bob
Charles, the 1963 British Open champion, is the only left-hander
to have won a major.
Blame a market bias for the lack of links lefties. Most sports
don't require specialized equipment for left-handers--a
basketball can be dribbled with either hand--but southpaw
golfers need left-handers' clubs, which until recently were hard
to find. "It was as if we were from a different planet," says
Kevin Compare, a left-handed instructor at the PGA Learning
Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "If someone had eight sets of
clubs in his shop, none were left-handed." That's why natural
lefties like Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Johnny Miller took up
the sport from the right side.
Lately, however, the emergence of southside swingers like Phil
Mickelson (above) and Mike Weir has led equipment makers to
increase production of left-handed gear. Also important is the
precedent set by these stars. As Greg Chalmers, a Tour pro who
plays lefty, says, "If I were a left-handed kid today and
someone suggested I switch to righty, I'd say, 'Hey, playing
lefty works for Phil Mickelson. It could work for me.'"
Who says agents don't have a soft side? Bring up the subject of
baseball in South Central Los Angeles, and Dennis Gilbert, the
slick former agent who set salary records for clients like Jose
Canseco, gets downright misty. "I grew up with guys like Bobby
Tolan, Reggie Smith and Bob Watson," says Gilbert, a South
Central native, "and we all played together on a dirt field with
a wooden backstop, no fences, and a water fountain in
rightfield. Baseball used to be vibrant in the area. There just
isn't anywhere decent to play."
There is now. On Sunday, Dennis Gilbert Field opened, less than
three miles from the sandlot where Gilbert, 54, played as a boy.
Funded by Gilbert and built upon what was a garbage-strewn lot,
the $1.5 million venue features pristine dugouts, bullpens,
batting cages and a press box. (Lights will be added soon.) John
Young, of Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in Inner
Cities (RBI) program, approached Gilbert about the project in
1997. The field will be used by RBI's area youths and serve as
the home field for Los Angeles Southwest College, which until
now has never had a baseball team. "Dennis has been so
persistent through all the bureaucracy," Young says. "Without
him, this doesn't happen."
Building the field was a labor of love for Gilbert, who works as
a special assistant and adviser to White Sox owner Jerry
Reinsdorf. "I've been very fortunate with my work," says
Gilbert. "This field is a way to give a little something back.
My hope is that we'll get baseball going again in the area."
By a University of Utah graduate student, a microscopic
facsimile of the Olympic rings out of live nerve cells. The
student made the rings to illustrate a cutting-edge
bioengineering process researchers hope may one day be used to
repair damaged spinal cords.
To play in the Olympics, Team Sweden and Canucks defenseman
Mattias Ohlund, whose status was uncertain after he failed an
International Ice Hockey Federation drug test last month. Ohlund
had taken the banned drug acetazolamide to heal his right eye
after surgery. After a hearing the IIHF deemed those
"exceptional circumstances" and issued Ohlund a warning.
From England's Essex County Football Association, veteran ref
Brian Savill, who'd been suspended for intentionally scoring a
goal for Wimpole 2000 in a 20-2 loss to Earls Colne Reserves.
With Wimpole trailing 18-0, Savill slammed a left-foot volley
into the Colne Reserves net, an act he said was "done in the
best of humor."
In a St. Louis County courtroom, to four months in jail and five
years' probation for several auto-related crimes including
persistent drunken driving, free-agent outfielder Bernard
Gilkey. Gilkey, who hit .274 for the Braves in 2001 and who has
been caught driving drunk at least four times, pleaded guilty to
the charges on Nov. 9.
As background music for a Cadillac ad that will debut during
next month's Super Bowl, Led Zeppelin's classic anthem Rock and
Roll. Using the 30-year-old song is proof, says Cadillac general
manager, Mark LaNeve, "that we're unafraid to lead in styling,
performance and functionality."
Who knew that Irish rockers U2 were such big football fans? Not
only will the band be featured in the Super Bowl halftime show,
but also the video for its single Stuck in a Moment You Can't
Get Out Of centers on the agony of a field goal kicker who
misses a chip shot that would have won a Super Bowl-esque title
game. The concept came from video director Joseph Kahn, who says
the rockers know nothing about football. "All they told me was,
'We want you to do something very American,'" says Kahn, adding
that he based the story in part on Bills kicker Scott Norwood
(right), who missed a field goal in the final seconds of Super
Bowl XXV. John Madden, who appears in the video, also gave some
input. "He was supposed to say, 'I can't believe he missed that
kick! It was an easy kick!'" says Kahn, 28. "But he goes, 'There
are no easy kicks, son,' and changed the line to 'It was a short
Speaking of Super Bowl performances, Fox has lined up an
eclectic array of stars to lend the event a patriotic aura.
Before the game Paul McCartney will sing Freedom, a charity
single he wrote after Sept. 11. He'll be followed by Latin pop
star Marc Anthony and hip-hopper Mary J. Blige, who'll do a duet
of America the Beautiful; then Mariah Carey will sing the
national anthem. Barenaked Ladies, No Doubt and Barry Manilow
will also perform....
If Andy Roddick can't make it in tennis, Hollywood awaits.
Roddick has his acting debut in May on the WB's Sabrina the
Teenage Witch. In the episode Sabrina conjures up Roddick, who
plays himself, because she needs tennis lessons. Roddick and
star Melissa Joan Hart spent nearly 15 hours at the Los Angeles
Tennis Club filming their scenes last month. So which is better:
Hart's tennis or Roddick's acting? "They're about the same,"
says Hart. "Equally awful." Maybe Hollywood's not such a good
fallback for Roddick after all.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO AIR BALL: Despite great pressure MJ has carried the Wizards. Is that enough?
B/W PHOTO: MIKAMI/AP As a player Bonder drew high praise from Evert Lloyd.
COLOR PHOTO: PORTER BINKS (DUCK)
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY (MICKELSON)
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER (GILBERT)
COLOR PHOTO: SHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS (GILKEY)
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER (NORWOOD)
COLOR PHOTO: CHARLES NESBITT/BIRMINGHAM NEWS/AP (PITINO)
Percentage of respondents in an online poll conducted by NBC's
Charlotte affiliate who, when asked, "What do you think of the
Hornets' possible move to New Orleans?" answered, "Let them go."
Amount Indiana University spent successfully defending itself
against two suits that claimed the school broke public-access
laws in the investigation that led to the firing of basketball
coach Bob Knight; the canning of Knight has cost Indiana more
than $650,000, including $340,000 to buy out the last two years
of the General's contract.
Amount a fishing fantasy-league contestant can win by selecting,
in order, the top six finishers in any of the seven events on
Wal-Mart's 2002 bass-fishing tour.
Teams in the St. Mary's Sunday Soccer League of England's Scilly
Isles, which a Guinness World Records spokesperson says makes
it the smallest league in the world.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
The Class A Daytona Cubs are giving lifetime passes to fans who
get tattoos of the team's logo.
"She was a dominant personality who was always out for an
angle." PAGE 24
They Said It
Louisville basketball coach, on forward Joseph N'Sima, who
through Sunday was 11 for 26 from the foul line this season:
"I'm a coach who's a big believer in execution. And when I watch
him shoot free throws, I want to execute him."