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Bar-Stool Brawl Walk into any sports bar in America, and you'll find your typical, everyday sports fans ready to argue about the most overrated--and underrated--people, places and things in sports. These will get you going




It's fun to hear the Lakers' coach filibuster about how he fits
reading material for his players to their personalities, or to
read one of Jackson's books about Zen and the art of coaching.
Although Jackson gets slack from players that other coaches can
only dream of--even the most egomaniacal player has to respect the
man's 10 championship rings, nine as a coach and one as a New
York Knicks forward--his charges take his airy pronouncements on
Shaq's shakras with a grain of salt and tuck the books he gives
them, unread, deep into their duffels.

X's and O's

A good coach switches matchups and draws up impromptu plays on
the fly. Jackson has always surrounded himself with great
assistants but he makes all of the decisions on the bench. His
guys play hard for him not because he has plugged into their
auras but because they know he knows the game. --Jack McCallum


"40" time

Millions have been made and lost on the 40-yard dash, football's
marquee test of speed. That's asinine. If sprinter's speed was
all football required, Johnny (Lam) Jones and Renaldo Nehemiah
would have bronze busts in Canton. Instead, they were just busts.
"There's 40 speed, and there's game speed," says Tim Brown, the
Oakland Raiders' receiver who is on a straight path to the Pro
Football Hall of Fame.

Grizzled Cowboys scout Walt Yowarsky used to say, "If you like a
guy, make him run faster." Cheat with the thumb on your
stopwatch, in other words, or write in a fictitious time. Better
yet, junk the 40.

Catch-Up Speed

"Defensive backs are going to get beat at times," says Larry
Lacewell, the Cowboys' director of scouting. "The question is,
Can they catch up?" To help determine that, the Cowboys measure
"catch-up speed" by timing how long it takes a player to run
each 10-yard segment of the 40. "Some guys are slowing down" by
the last 10 yards, says Lacewell. "You don't want that." What
you want is the burst of Roy Williams, the concussive strong
safety out of Oklahoma whom Dallas selected in the first round
of last spring's draft. In his predraft workout, Williams ran a
4.53-second 40. Looking beneath the surface of that
good-but-not-great time, the Cowboys found reason for
excitement. Williams ran his first 10 yards in 1.62 seconds, the
second 10 in 1.02. "That's just outstanding," says Lacewell.
"That's as fast as [Miami corner Phillip] Buchanon ran his
second 10." (Buchanon ran a blazing 4.34 40 for the Cowboys. He
was plucked by the Raiders with the 17th pick.) "What that tells
you," says Lacewell, "is that when Roy gets it into second gear,
he's going as fast as a 189-pound corner who runs a 4.34. He's
got an amazing burst." All those ballcarriers who were blown up
by Williams in his Sooners career don't need a stopwatch to tell
you that. --Austin Murphy


Richard Petty

Richard Petty's good looks, aw-shucks manner and an unprecedented
200 wins got him coronated, but under the King's down-home facade
was a tireless promoter. He spent hours signing autographs,
slowly building a fan base for the sport--and for himself. He was
so popular that a 1992 autograph session drew 65,000 people.
Surely they were waiting to see the best driver ever, right?
Sorry. No one has approached Petty's mark of 200 wins, but most
of those came in what was clearly the best car in the field. And
the King would drive anywhere, anytime, which allowed him to rack
up plenty of ho-hum wins. (Anybody remember his victory on Aug.
8, 1962--a Wednesday--over 15 cars at the quarter-mile track in
Huntsville, Ala.?) No one has done more for the sport than Petty,
but when it comes to sheer driving ability, the King does not

David Pearson

David Pearson was so smooth, so relaxed in traffic that his car
had a cigarette lighter so he could spark up a mid-race butt. But
Pearson spent his entire career in Petty's shadow, Joe Frazier to
the King's Ali. "Richard was always good with the media," Pearson
said. "I'd hide from them. I wasn't real educated, and I was
afraid I'd say the wrong thing." His reticence might have hurt
his image, but Pearson's fellow drivers had nothing but respect
for him. It's mind-boggling to think what Pearson might have done
in better cars. As it is, he won 105 races in 574 starts (a
winning percentage of 18.3); Petty won his 200 in 1,177 starts
(17.0%). Petty and Pearson finished one-two 63 times--the Fox beat
the King in 33 of those races. Said Petty, "It never hurt as bad
to lose to somebody you knew was better." --Mark Bechtel



Over the 1988-89 and '89-90 seasons, the great Mario Lemieux
averaged a whopping 96 assists for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
During that same stretch his not-so-great teammate, defenseman
Rob Brown, averaged 56.5 assists, despite never tallying more
than 25 in any other season of his 13-year NHL career. Brown was
a poster boy for the NHL's officially sanctioned coattail riding,
otherwise known as the assist. Forget airborne octopi and two
halftimes: Hockey's most perplexing tradition is the seemingly
random awarding of assists. In a sport in which scoring often
occurs by accident, it's bad enough that the precursors to such
accidents are treated no differently than the finest pass of
Wayne Gretzky's career. Even harder to stomach is that hockey
allows two assists on a goal, regardless of situation or intent.
Worse still, there is no official delineation--in a league that
separates losses and overtime losses--between a first (read,
intentional) and second (read, puck-dumping) assist. Such
generosity cheapens a statistic that, in a low-scoring sport,
should be far more significant. The goalie under duress who
randomly throws the puck forward, where a teammate corrals it and
dekes his way through the defense and sets up another teammate
for a score? Why, give that masked man an assist!


How important is the assist in soccer? Upon learning that David
Beckham, one of the sport's greatest passers, had broken his left
foot, British prime minister Tony Blair interrupted a cabinet
meeting to console a grieving nation whose World Cup prospects
seemed to have suddenly gone the way of the dodo. In no other
sport is scoring more dependent upon the transfer of the ball
from one teammate to another. Whether it's the well-timed corner
kick or downfield touch to an onrushing forward, the perfect pass
is the prettiest play in the Beautiful Game. Such exchanges are
also absolutely necessary--without them, scoring would not, could
not, occur. The breakaway? Unless you're Pele or Maradona, forget
about it. Other than the occasional penalty kick or rebound, the
vast majority of soccer goals would make Mom proud, engineered by
players who understand that it's better to give than to receive.
--Josh Elliott


March Madness

The rite of spring known as March Madness occasions as much
teeth-gnashing as did Stravinsky's--and for what? Outside of
Vegas, where March Madness is, true to its name, a
take-leave-of-your-senses betting bacchanal, all that you, Joe
College Hoops Fan, can do is kiss 10 or 20 bucks goodbye on
Thursday morning. Fifteen minutes before the day's first tip-off,
you will meet the absurdity of this exercise head-on while
deciding whether the winner of the winners of the
Georgetown-Kentucky and Missouri-USC games can knock off
14th-seeded Utah State, the surefire Cinderella you'd never heard
of on Monday. When it's all over, of course, the chump who picked
the four No. 1 seeds will chalk his way to the $200, while you'll
lament to your pals that if Alcorn State had made the Sweet 16,
you'd have climbed up to next-to-last in the pool.

Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is the perfect sports wager; in essence, it's
the gambler's final exam. As many as 20 3-year-olds go postward,
ensuring a wide-open race, while the event itself is short, with
a finite number of variables. For once, the playing field for
railbirds is level: Everybody from the wise guys to the weekend
bettors has access to the same comprehensive data, and media
scrutiny blows away all the smoke. If you've followed the
3-year-olds from Florida and California, you'll have some visual
reference points, but a Derby's-eve cram session with The Daily
Racing Form will suffice. (Don't you wish college had been this
simple?) Given the same information as every other wannabe in
your local betting parlor, how will you come up with a profitable
wager? (One tip: Don't follow the sheep to the slaughter: In the
last 23 Derbys, favorites have gotten home first only twice.) Get
it right, and you could pull four, five figures. Get it wrong,
and you can shred your tickets, cuss once and try again in 20
minutes. --Daniel G. Habib



Men's exercise. Men's Journal. Men's Health. Men's Fitness. Men's
Health and Fitness. Men's Health, Fitness & Exercise. On the
newsstand, rippling naked abs are exclaimed everywhere. Obliques,
erectors, intercostals! Shred 'em, sculpt 'em, rip 'em! In only
eight hours a day for the next five years you, too, can look like
a hairless, surgically altered underwear model! Just six-pack
that washboard with crunches, reverse crunches and bodyball
cross-crunches! Marvel at the soft-core porn of the kneeling,
twisting cable crunch! Weep at the human drama of the bent-legged
hanging leg raise! Next month on the cover of National
Review--William F. Buckley's ab-blasting neo-con supersets! More
sit-ups! You must do more sit-ups! Why? So you'll be strong
enough to do more sit-ups? Remember: Babe Ruth couldn't have done
a sit-up if Miller Huggins had clamped a 770-amp truck battery to
his genitals.


Squatter. Runner. Lifter. Seat of power, vital lever!
Wallet-hauling ham and hunker! Center of gravity! Samba engine!
Unsung hero! The humble ass is where the real grunt work gets
done. A doughty Sancho Panza to the brain's Don Quixote! Whether
our life's long work is bucking bales or breaking for second or
playing Chopin, we all need the maximum gluteus tailored to the
task. Ask Johnny Bench or Gordie Howe who carried him all those
years. Yo-Yo Ma or CooCoo Marlin. Vijay Singh or V.S. Naipaul. As
important to substance and spirit as the mighty heart itself, any
injury done to the ass is commonly and correctly understood to be
life-threatening. The abdomen can say nothing of the kind. What
streetwise thug would ever bother to bust a cap in your abs? What
prom-night father, his precious daughter staggering home at 4
a.m., ever offered her date a good, swift kick in the abs? Look
at your life and give the ass its due. Who among us, about to
shuck the mortal coil, in those final moments of bittersweet
regret, would kiss their abs goodbye? --Jeff MacGregor



The virtues of an immobile head may still be touted by diamond
cutters and mohels, but nowadays you don't find many headlocked
golf professionals. David Duval's noggin turns freely when he
swings. Annika Sorenstam's eyes move well down the target line
before her clubhead meets the ball. Nevertheless, you still see
the well-meaning dad at the driving range holding on to his
10-year-old daughter's head while she flails. Never mind that it
puts terrific strain on the spine and robs high handicappers of
the ability to shift their weight and generate power. The best
golf teachers now encourage their students, even beginners, to
swing into a taller, straighter follow-through with their heads
... up!


Remember "Greg Norman's Secret"? It was a plastic wrist brace
that locked your right wrist at a "secret" angle, so you
wouldn't--couldn't--make the common mistake of flipping the
clubhead at the ball with your hands. Not that it was a tightly
held secret. Tiger Woods is the poster boy for wrist angle.
Stop-action photography shows that he turns into his
follow-through with the butt of the club pointing somewhere off
his left hip. The typical amateur has the butt of his club aimed
at his belly button. And that's before he even hits the ball.
Tiger's way is probably better. --John Garrity


Bill Mazeroski

The historic walk-off home run that gave his Pittsburgh Pirates
the 1960 World Series over the New York Yankees is not enough for
history to proclaim Bill Mazeroski, as it often does, baseball's
best alltime second baseman. Defensively, he had few peers,
particularly on the double-play pivot, and he deserved his eight
Gold Gloves. But with a lifetime batting average of only .260 and
just 138 home runs in 2,163 games, he was not a strong hitter.
Second basemen, like shortstops, aren't paid for their offense--or
weren't in those days, at least--but it is wrongheaded to rank Maz
so high when other second basemen who were almost as good in the
field were so much better at the plate, players like Joe Gordon,
Joe Morgan and the man below.

Bobby Grich

Large (6'2", 200 pounds) for his position, Bobby Grich, who
played 17 seasons from 1970 to '86 with the Baltimore Orioles and
the California Angels, was that rare middle infielder (this was
before the Nomar/Derek/A-Rod era) who combined power with
outstanding D. A lifetime .266 hitter, Grich slugged 224 homers,
including a 30-dinger season in 1979. That may not sound
impressive considering that Bret Boone, Rich Aurilia and Miguel
Tejada routinely bang 30 these days, but in Grich's era the home
run leader would often be in the low 30s. Grich was also
first-rate with the leather, earning four Gold Gloves in his
first four full seasons at second; he led AL second basemen in
putouts four times, assists and double plays three times and set
the major league record for fielding average at the position in
'85. Alas, the overlooked Grich never enjoyed a Homeric, Maz-like
moment. --Jack McCallum



Blame Olga Korbut. Point the finger at Nadia. Say it's all thanks
to you, Mary Lou. If it weren't for those pixies and the TV
producers who fell in love with them, Americans wouldn't be
subjected to numbing hours of little contortionists tumbling,
swinging from bars and prancing on beams like so many midget
circus performers. Most of the world sees cute, smiling Muppets
performing feats of balance, strength and flexibility. I see
underfed victims of child abuse who train so hard for so many
hours that their growth is stunted and their adolescent bodies
deformed. For every Olympic gymnastics champion, there are dozens
of Olga wannabes who end their careers with permanent back, neck
or shoulder injuries. And for what? Until someone thinks up some
new apparatuses, there are only so many things a human body can
do on a mat, on a beam, swinging from uneven parallel bars or
while vaulting off a horse. With minor variations, a flip is
still a flip, a cartwheel a cartwheel, so judging is every bit as
politicized and inscrutable as it is in figure skating. Whether a
competitor "sticks" her landing or not becomes the great drama of
each performance.

I've got an idea where to "stick it." On satellite channel 293.
At 3 a.m. Someplace where Mary Lou's smile, and the sun, never


Stop your sniggering--badminton is not the backyard, precocktail,
white-flanneled lawn game that provided diversion for British
aristocrats and family fun for postwar America. Olympic-level
badminton is a fast-paced, tactical, sweat-soaked contest that
beats the bejesus out of tennis when it comes to spectacular
rallies. The shuttlecock--gotta love that name--has the flight
patterns of a bumblebee, shooting ahead when whacked, suddenly
running out of steam, then diving earthward until it can be
returned with ferocity by some lightning-quick dervish in shorts.
The serves are lobbed or slammed in a mesmerizing array of arcs
and speeds, and the doubles game is so fast it looks like pinball
played with a net. It's inexpensive, easy to understand and can
be played indoors or out. So what's holding badminton back from
taking the nation by storm? Three little letters: NBC, whose
provincial Olympic coverage doesn't allow airtime for a sport
dominated by the Chinese and Koreans. It's time for the
shuttlecock to play a starring role on the peacock. --E.M. Swift



The ring announcer, all dolled up in his formal wear, introduces
a welcome dignity to the proceedings. Soon enough desperate men
will be blowing snot and blood across the ring, but for now,
there is the civilized presence of a gentleman, refined not just
in dress but also in speech. "Ladies and gentlemen," he intones,
likely in a musical baritone but possibly in a rumbling basso
profundo, "in this corner, wearing the blue trunks, from
Ti-a-juana...." He shoots his cuffs just so (the links sparkle
under the lights) and indicates the somewhat less-adorned
fighter. And he then pronounces the happy fighter's name as if
paid by the syllable. It is impossible, in that moment, not to
admire the diction, the calm, the shine of his shoes. What would
boxing be without the comparative humanity of the ring announcer?
It would be unrestrained barbarity, that's what! He bookends the
violence with his impassive calm, gentility to spare, as if to
reassure: Don't worry, this convulsion of brutishness
notwithstanding, a higher culture governs us all. Perhaps
someday, sufficiently evolved, we'll all wear tuxedos and speak
in perfect sentences.

Card Girls

When did boxing become burlesque? The idea that two men suffering
toward extinction was not entertainment enough--when did that come
up? We need top-heavy girls tottering around on six-inch heels
(and carrying, only incidentally, a ring card), to make it a real
evening? To keep our attention during that critical one minute
between rounds? Because, what, we'd expire of boredom? Why
confuse the lust for blood sport with any other? Isn't it enough
that two men are going at it, life and death? Does a swimwear
parade really add to that? Or could we somehow use that minute
(just one minute, for God's sake!) between rounds to try and make
sense of what we've just seen? --Richard Hoffer


Dan Snyder

Sure, Washington Redskins imperious owner Dan Snyder can be a
pain in the butt, and yes, it was fun to watch his binge-spending
effort to buy a Super Bowl ring implode. But at least Snyder,
unlike many of his pantywaist peers, sincerely strives for the
big prize. Would you rather root for a team owned by the
Cardinals' Bill Bidwill? The Bengals' Mike Brown? Unlike those
Bumbling B's, Snyder has a vision that seems to extend beyond
raking in a steady stream of TV revenues. Snyder has infused both
his franchise and the NFL with fresh, aggressive marketing
strategies, and his fan-friendly improvements to FedExField have
included windscreens, escalators and parking upgrades. He might
not be the easiest guy to work for, but the employees he cares
about most--his players--are hardly complaining. After all, they
could be in Cincinnati.

Chris Cohan

When Chris Cohan sued his partners to gain sole ownership of the
Golden State Warriors eight years ago, it was a sign of things to
come. Not only did Cohan turn a popular, 50-win team into a
nationally ridiculed loser, but he also managed to add new
meaning to the term full-court press. The long list of parties
dragged into civil courtrooms by Cohan the Contrarian during his
reign of error includes his stockbroker, life insurance agent and
primary attorney. All were longtime friends; one was the best man
in Cohan's wedding, another a groomsman. Cohan's good at getting
sued, too, thanks to a penchant for failing to pay his bills.
When he's not stiffing his landlord, the Oakland-Alameda County
Coliseum Authority, this feckless recluse presides over a team of
stiffs; since Cohan took over in '94, the Warriors (tied with
Bulls for worst team in the NBA at 21-61 in 2001-02) have never
finished better than sixth in the seven-team Pacific Division.
The Warriors hired their eighth coach in Cohan's eight seasons in
July. Yo, Chris, here's a better idea: Fire yourself. Got a
problem with that? Sue me. --Michael Silver



No pseudosport has more zealous defenders. Parents talk about how
acrobatic their daughters must be to perform their back-tuck
basket tosses, how much strength is required to pull off a
pyramid and how fiercely committed cheerleaders are to their
teams. Cheerleaders could be smashing pole vault records behind
the bench for all I care--they would still be operating in the
shadow of an actual athletic contest. Consider, too, that as you
move up the cheerleading pyramid--from the college to the
professional ranks--all of those high-concept acrobatics are
tossed in favor of dance moves and naughty roller skate routines.
Cheerleaders may call themselves teams, but they are essentially
a sideshow and, in some cases, a peep show.

Synchronized Swimming

Synchronized swimming is an all-too-easy target. It's showy, with
Chucky-doll smiles and Crystal Barbie getups. But the physical
prowess required in this sport takes a distance runner's
endurance and a speed swimmer's strength. Throw in the control
needed to suspend breathing for up to a minute and synchro is one
of the toughest sports around. In order to perfect the lifts,
twists and twirls required in a five-minute routine, elite
athletes work together up to eight hours a day, six days a week.
Sure, some of synchro's superficial elements need to move beyond
the Million Dollar Mermaid era, but this is a sport with
substance--even grit--beneath the surface. --Kelley King


Being Underrated

Last spring, every media outlet in North America--from the
Hamilton Spectator to Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel--called
Carolina Hurricanes captain Ron Francis the most underrated
player in hockey. That is, every media outlet save ESPN, whose
Barry Melrose called Francis the most underrated player in hockey
history. Francis is one of countless athletes who have made
reputations, fortunes--entire careers--out of being underrated. In
the 1970s Oakland A's outfielder Joe Rudi became famous as the
Most Underrated Player in Baseball, a phrase that always appeared
next to his name, in the manner of "Panamanian strongman" (Manuel
Noriega) or "Somali warlord" (Hussein Mohammad Aidid). All of
which raises the question: When you're universally heralded for
being unheralded, renowned for being unknown, highly rated as
underrated ... are you?

Being Overrated

What, pray tell, is wrong with having others think better of you
than is merited? Isn't this one of humankind's more touching
traits--that even the world's most irredeemable jackass is
lavishly praised at his own funeral? (For what is a eulogy but
life's final, most fulsome overrating?) So what if Notre Dame and
the Dallas Cowboys and Anna Kournikova are seldom as good as
people think they are? None of us are. But we don't tell one
another that. In America you're innocent until proven guilty,
great until proven lousy. You get the benefit of the doubt. In
sports, as in life, tie goes to the runner. --Steve Rushin


Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi could beat you with the sweep, the bomb, the
epigram. Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing. His
record with the Green Bay Packers (and an orphan year with the
Washington Redskins) was 105-35-6. His teams won six division
titles, five NFL Championships and the first two Super Bowls.
Lombardi was the dominant coach of the dominant sport of his
generation, precisely the reason the breathless Y2K polls that
proclaimed him coach of the century got it wrong. Lombardi's
head-coaching career began in the 1950s and ended with his death
from cancer in 1970, but he was a man of the '60s--the era when
football became America's Game and Green Bay became America's
Town. It was also the last decade when coaching was relatively
simple. The confluence of events that would alter American
sports--the upheaval on college campuses, the emergence of the
black athlete, the transformation of athletes into
celebrities--did not strike the NFL like a gale-force wind until
after Lombardi's death. The Packers he led so skillfully were
temperamentally closer to the soon-to-be soldiers he coached at
Army in the '50s than the players current Packers coach Mike
Sherman handles. It seems doubtful that Lombardi would have been
malleable enough to confront the modern athlete, a challenge that
ultimately proved too daunting for a legendary contemporary, Tom

Scotty Bowman

If Lombardi spoke in slogans, Scotty Bowman speaks the way
William Faulkner wrote. There are dips and digressions and
tangents and tributaries to his gurgling stream of consciousness,
but beneath the tangle of words and infamous obsession with
schedules and flat-out head trips was the most adept coach ever
to run a professional team in North America. He won nine Stanley
Cups with three different franchises (Montreal, Pittsburgh,
Detroit) while using three different styles (balanced,
high-powered and a left-wing lock) in a career that spanned four
decades. He won with the Flying Frenchmen up front and the Big
Three on defense. He won with Europeans. He won in the Age of
Offense. He won in the Dead Puck Era. He won in a 16-team league
and a 26-team league. He won.

Bowman, now 69, was a jumble of coaching contradictions, a
sometimes rude and stubborn man who was surprisingly flexible, an
old-school coach who managed to remain modern. Bowman saw the
game differently than any other coach, cobbling together a
five-man unit composed entirely of Russians at a time when many
European players' commitment to the rigor of the playoffs was
widely questioned and using a pair of puck-moving defensemen,
Nicklas Lidstrom and Larry Murphy, against Philadelphia's Legion
of Doom line in the 1997 final when every other coach had tried
to fight muscle with muscle. There simply has never been a better
bench coach.

Of course Bowman, in the Hockey Hall of Fame since 1991, made all
those Y2K lists too; he was the first hockey coach on the list
when he should have been the first coach, period. --Michael Farber



The saving grace of a losing NBA season is the promise of the
high draft pick to come. But when it comes to drafting future
stars, not even the smartest basketball people on the planet know
what they're doing. Here's how the 1997 draft lottery went:

1. Tim Duncan
2. Keith Van Horn
3. Chauncey Billups
4. Antonio Daniels
5. Tony Battie
6. Ron Mercer
7. Tim Thomas
8. Adonal Foyle
9. Tracy McGrady
10. Danny Fortson
11. Olivier Saint-Jean
12. Austin Croshere
13. Derek Anderson

Here's how it should have gone:
1. Duncan (1)
2. McGrady (9)
3. Billups (3)
4. Van Horn (2)
5. Thomas (7)
6. Bobby Jackson (23)
7. Derek Anderson (13)
8. Alvin Williams (48)
9. Fortson (10)
10. Mercer (6)
11. Croshere (12)
12. Maurice Taylor (14)
13. Kelvin Cato (15)

Seven teams passed on McGrady, who is one of the top five players
in the league. (The Celtics, with picks Nos. 3 and 6, whiffed on
him twice.) Every draft lottery has had at least one horrendous
mistake. Milwaukee was guilty of one of the worst moves ever in
1998 when it traded the rights to first-round picks Dirk Nowitzki
and Pat Garrity for the woeful Robert (Tractor) Traylor. If that
draft could be done over, the first two picks would be Nowitzki
and Paul Pierce, who went ninth and 10th, respectively. The draft
is dicier than ever, now that it has been flooded with college
underclassmen and players from high school, junior college and
foreign pro leagues. Will the No. 1 pick last year, Bulls center
Kwame Brown, ever become a better player than Spurs guard Tony
Parker, the last choice of the first round? It's no sure thing.

Mid-Level Players

Last summer the high-profile free agent was Chris Webber: Sign
him, the thinking went, and he'll win you a championship. Similar
hopes will be raised in 2003 when Tim Duncan will be available.
But if you want to turn around a losing franchise, you're better
off shopping for middle-class value. The ugly truth about
big-ticket free agents is that they usually aren't worth the
money. Shaquille O'Neal is the only unrestricted free agent to
lead his new team to a championship--and he didn't pay off until
his fourth year with the Lakers, after Kobe Bryant had been

A majority of a team's budget is spent on two or three stars, but
those players can't succeed by themselves. How did Detroit go
from 50 losses to 50 wins last season? When he failed to lure
Webber, Pistons G.M. Joe Dumars made do with trades for Clifford
Robinson ($7.7 million), Jon Barry ($3.2 million) and Zeljko
Rebraca ($3.5 million). Boston became a conference finalist
because it acquired a couple of role players in Rodney Rogers
($2.4 million) and Tony Delk ($2.5 million). The lesson? When it
comes to upgrading a team, the bargain bin is a more likely
source of success than the big-ticket luxury item. --Ian Thomsen


Miniature Golf

If golf is a good walk spoiled, then miniature golf is a short
walk wasted. The game is achingly unchallenging--even the most
unsteady of putters is unlikely to shoot anything more than a
stroke over par on every hole. Of course, if you enjoy watching
some eight-year-olds push a golf ball through a purple-colored
kangaroo house, then this is the perfect activity for you. Send
in the clowns? Don't bother, they're here.

Wiffle Ball

With its economy of equipment (one ball, one open space, one
skinny yellow bat) and Everyman, -woman, -boy and -girl appeal
(size and strength are neutralized in this sport, so no need for
steroids), Wiffle ball may be the most underappreciated game of
them all. You can play it in a backyard in Des Moines or on a
city street in D.C. You can play it whether you're five or 55.
Baserunning is nonexistent (thus eliminating a speed advantage),
and there is no great need for power. Dubbed Wiffle ball by its
inventor, David N. Mullany, because when you miss the ball, you
whiff, the sport's economics remind us of a simpler and gentler
age. Unlike miniature golf, whose greens fees continue to rise
faster than you can say Tiger Woods, the Wiffle ball sold for 49
cents in 1959, 75 cents in 1985 and now sells for about $1.25.
There is no better bargain in sports today. What bigger thrill
than throwing a curveball with more movement than one of Alvin
Ailey's dancers, or blasting a home run over the House That Your
Neighbor Built. --Richard Deitsch



Mount Everest is more crowded than the Long Island Expressway (a
record 54 people reached the peak in a single day last May),
more overexposed than Martha Stewart and only slightly more
strenuous than a trek up Lombard Street. Indeed, Everest is
doable by almost any hale soul with $50,000 to spare, because
you can now trek to the summit with little need for technical
climbing skills. The average steepness of Everest is a palatable
30 degrees, and there are fixed ropes to latch onto along much
of its most popular route, the South Col. As for the infamous
Khumbu Icefall, just bring some extra rupees to tip the Ice
Doctors, a group of sherpas who set up ladders and ropes in the
Icefall daily during the climbing season. Of course, Everest
does pose challenges. Pizza and beer deliveries to Base Camp
take a few hours because the trail down to Thangboche isn't
paved, and sending faxes and updating your website is
occasionally disrupted by scratchy satellite connections.


"K2 is the full-meal deal of climbing," says Ed Viesturs, one of
America's best mountaineers. "It's relentless, unpredictable and
unforgiving. It's just a whole other league from anything else on
Earth." Numbers tell why hard-core climbers have dubbed K2 the
savage peak. While more than 1,500 people have scaled Everest--the
most of any of the world's 14 8,000-meter peaks--just 196 have
reached K2's summit. K2's danger ratio, a statistic measuring the
number of people who reach the top versus those who've died
attempting to get there, is 4 to 1, while Everest's danger ratio
is a relatively benign 9 to 1. "There's no easy way up this
beast," says Viesturs. "Every route is supersteep and very
technical." As grueling as the trip up K2 is, the way down is
harder because climbers must tackle the same fearsome terrain
while numb and exhausted. That's why K2's deaths-on-descent rate
is twice as high as any other mountain's and four times that of
Everest's. "I've been to the summit of Everest five times, and I
enjoyed it each time," says Viesturs. "I made it up K2 once and
got down alive. That was enough."
--Rick Lipsey



Remember when a torn ACL ranked among the most dreaded diagnoses
for a pro athlete? The NFL is now filled with stars who have
thrived after blowing out their knees: Rod Woodson, Jerry Rice,
Tony Boselli, Priest Holmes. The NBA has has its share, too,
including Derek Anderson, Baron Davis, Danny Manning and Bonzi
Wells, as well as recent retiree Tim Hardaway. Hell, Detroit Red
Wings defenseman Chris Chelios was on the ice just 95 days after
reconstructive surgery. Today, the vast majority of patients who
stick to their rehab programs can expect to return to their prior
level of athleticism. In other words, don't fret when your
favorite player ruptures an ACL. It could've been something far


New York Rangers center Eric Lindros, with seven documented
concussions, is the latest athlete who can't get it into his head
that head trauma is one injury you don't want to mess with.
Wasn't the sight of former 49ers quarterback Steve Young,
crumpled and unconscious in his final game before concussions
forced him into retirement, sobering enough? Or the fate of
former Jets wide receiver Al Toon, whose postconcussion symptoms
grew so traumatic that mere daylight was unbearable? Guess not.
Though blurred vision, prolonged dizziness and even death can
result from too many concussions, many players will never admit
they've suffered one. They believe they've faced tougher
obstacles. They may not know, until much later in life, how wrong
they are. --Jeffri Chadiha


Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan's instruction book, Five Lessons: The Modern
Fundamentals of Golf, first published in 1957, was an instant
classic. Hogan, who died in 1977, is still widely regarded as the
greatest shotmaker golf has ever seen, better than Tiger Woods,
better even than Moe Norman. Nobody has ever written about golf
with the elegance of Hogan's coauthor, Herbert Warren Wind, and
its illustrator, Anthony Ravielli, was a master. When SI first
published the individual chapters that make up the book, the
magazine was besieged with requests for reprints. Larry Nelson
taught himself to play with Five Fundamentals and went on to win
a U.S. Open, two PGA Championships and 23 other events on the
regular and Senior tours. Others were less successful.

Five Fundamentals is the most overrated golf instruction book
because you and I cannot make the moves that Hogan made, unless
you happen to have world-class hand-eye coordination, a vise grip
and several hours a day to practice. Hogan wants you to work on
your grip--your grip--for half an hour a day. His imperious tone
is, as the kids say, so annoying. He begins one warning this way:
NOTE THIS WELL. (His caps.)

Supinate, pronate and rotate are the key words in Five
Fundamentals. There's only one problem. Most people DON'T KNOW
WHAT THOSE WORDS MEAN. For most golfers, the book is confusing,
frustrating and intimidating.

Percy Boomer

On Learning Golf, by Percy Boomer, was first published in 1946
and can still be found in some bookstores. It should be in many
more. I know of no golf instruction book that does more to teach
the feel of the correct golf swing using an instrument ill-suited
to the task: the written word. Boomer was a British teaching
professional who uses Shakespeare's language with a loveliness
and directness that lesser authors cannot manage. He writes: "
... the joy of golf is to feel the ball snugly gathered up and
thrown off the face of the club."

Boomer found one pupil to be "looking too intently at the ball."
He writes that he does not look for swing faults. He looks
instead for what is done correctly, and from that foundation he
builds. The point of the book may be found in a simple, crude
drawing on page 129. Using a series of dots, Boomer illustrates
what the path of the swing should feel like--that you hit the ball
from the inside and swing to the outside, as any power hitter in
baseball does. The path of the club starts well inside the line
of flight of the ball and finishes well outside. In execution,
this is nearly impossible to achieve. You are not intended to do
so. The caption reads: "Correct 'feel' or 'mind impression' of
the swing." On Learning Golf is an excellent book because it
wastes no words telling you how to swing. Instead, it tells you
what a good one feels like. The lessons stay with you, even when
you're on the golf course. A golf book that actually helps you
play better. What a concept, huh?
--Michael Bamberger


Mint Julep

There is an old saying about the Kentucky Derby's traditional
tipple, the Mint Julep: "The first one doesn't taste very good.
The second one's not much better. By the third, who cares?" This
may explain why vendors at Churchill Downs sold 80,000 of the
sticky sweet beverages during the two days of the Kentucky Oaks
and Kentucky Derby in May. Presumably there was a time when the
cocktails served there were worthy of their reputation. But the
drink hawked now, a concoction of bourbon, simple syrup and some
kind of mint extraction mixed in advance and sold for $7 a pop,
comes up lame. You do get to keep the souvenir glass, but before
you rush off to sell it on eBay as a collectible, take note:
About 750,000 of them are manufactured yearly.

French Wine

From a spectator's point of view, the Tour de France is even
briefer than the Derby, but the roadside picnics that precede
and/or follow the whoosh of the peloton typically pack much
better punch. Whether you toast the riders with a bubbly in
Epernay, a sip of Muscadet near Nantes, or a Bordeaux and a
baguette in Bazas, there are good, cheap local libations
available in every town along le Tour's course. And any watering
down is strictly your choice. --Kelli Anderson


Billy Johnson

In the spring of 1971 I was covering the IC4A Track
Championships, and I needed to file a story early because my wife
was pregnant and I'd promised to take her to dinner, her first
time out of the house in a month. As I entered the stadium,
sprinters were lining up for the 100. One guy caught my eye. He
was wearing purple shades and a gray fedora, with a yellow
bandanna around his neck. He was gabbing away to the guys in the
lanes next to him. I thought I saw my story. "Please, God," I
prayed, "make this guy fast."

Fast? He won by 10 yards. After the race I grabbed the kid, and
we sat under a tree and talked. I asked him his name and he said,
"Box Office Billy." He then filled my notebook with wild and
improbable flights of fancy. I had my story, and my wife and I
had a jolly dinner. Box Office Billy, the speedy freshman from
P.M.C. Colleges was my hero.

Billy Johnson

Billy went on to have a long, fruitful NFL career--he was named
the punt returner for the NFL's 75-year anniversary team. The
problem was that his great nickname had been lost along the way.
Box Office Billy was, of course, Billy (White Shoes) Johnson--a
real stiff of a nickname. (I mean, Joe Namath had worn white
shoes almost a decade before Billy did.) To me--and my wife--he was
always Box Office Billy. --Paul Zimmerman


Lenny Wilkens

As an NBA player, Lenny Wilkens never got his due--he was in
Cousy's class as a passer and averaged 16.5 points for his
career. As an NBA coach, however, he is a considerably lesser
light. Sure, he holds the record for coaching wins, 1,268 and
counting. But this is more a function of longevity than coaching
brilliance. Wield a clipboard for more than 2,300 games over 29
seasons and you're bound to get a few good bounces. Consider that
Wilkens is only 50 games shy of Bill Fitch's record of 1,106
career losses. In 1979, Wilkens guided the Sonics to the NBA
title. Since then he has been recycled three times. Why does he
survive? It's likely because he's a nice guy with a knack for
diffusing controversy. But this isn't '79. In today's NBA, a
coach needs to be as adept at lighting a fire as he is at
extinguishing one.

John Kundla

Structuring the offense around a leviathan center, presiding over
his minions with preternatural calm, he coached the Lakers to a
string of NBA titles. Sound familiar? But unlike Phil Jackson,
John Kundla did so at a time when his team traveled by Pullman to
play opposition like the Sheboygan Redskins, and Nike was only a
bit player in Greek mythology. As a result, even hard-core
hoopsheads respond to Kundla's name with a resounding "Who?"
After Kundla coached the Minneapolis Lakers to the NBL title in
1948, the team joined the NBA and picked up George Mikan in the
dispersal draft. Five titles in the next six seasons followed,
giving Kundla more rings than any NBA coach besides Red Auerbach
and Jackson (9). Kundla's greatest feat may have been getting
both Mikan and his talented backup, Vern Mikkelsen on the court.
He rejiggered the offense, creating a new position in the post.
Power forward, they call it today. --L. Jon Wertheim


Michigan Stadium

A: Cold and wet; buns mashed together.

Q: Describe the Michigan Stadium hot dogs--and their fans.

The charm of any stadium with the nickname of a prison escapes
me. The Big House seats 107,501 (the one is a seat for the former
coach Fritz Crisler), with parking available for all but 105,000.
Perhaps it's the lack of intimacy--narrow seats
notwithstanding--that bothers me. You put a good-sized American
town in one stadium without an upper deck, and you get a lot of
seats from which you can barely make out the players, or even the
numbers on their uniforms. Michigan fans are a grumpy, demanding
lot, which may be a reflection of the Wolverines' grumpy,
demanding coach, Lloyd Carr. It could also be the result of
ingesting popcorn that dates back to World War II. Whatever the
reason, the esprit at the Big Hole in the Ground is wanting.
Still, Wolverine fans have my admiration: Anyone who endures home
games at Michigan Stadium should be hailed as a victor valiant.

Autzen Stadium

For years, Oregon's Autzen Stadium has been known as a beautiful
place to spend a Saturday afternoon. With only 41,600 seats and
no track around the field, there was no such thing as a bad sight
line. If the action on the field proved uninteresting--and for
many years, it did--fans could always follow their noses to the
fragrant evergreens growing just outside the stadium.

As the Ducks climbed to the top of the Pacific-10 Conference over
the past decade, Autzen came to be known for its distinctive
aural as well as visual and olfactory characteristics. The
bowl-like configuration and the unsightly overhang over the south
stands trap noise and send it crashing down upon the visitors on
the south sideline.

A four-year, 23-game winning streak at Autzen finally ended last
fall, and during that stretch home attendance averaged 44,353, or
106% of capacity. With the occasional fog and the redolence of
the firs, spectators still understand that they're in the state
of Oregon. And as long as the Ducks keep their winning ways, the
fans seem to like the view just fine.
--Ivan Maisel


Grad Rates

Every spring, the NCAA publishes a long, long report on
graduation rates. When assessing a school's performance, the
number most often cited in the press is the freshman-cohort rate,
which gives the percentage of athletes who graduated from a
school within six years after they matriculated there as

That number, however, is extremely (and unfairly) misleading.
Read the fine print and you'll see that if a player transfers
from one school to another and graduates from that second school,
he still counts as a nongraduate at the institution he originally
went to. Also, students who transfer in from junior colleges are
counted separately, adding to the unfortunate stigma that is
often attached to jucos. Should a student-athlete leave school
early to turn pro, that player also counts against the school.
(Even though he might be pulling down a seven-figure salary at
his new job.)

It's not the percentage of graduating athletes that's important,
it's how that compares with the school's overall student body.
The NCAA does include those percentages in its report, but that
only adds to the confusing jumble of numbers. Given the amount of
time the NCAA has spent concocting ridiculous formulas like the
BCS and the RPI, it's high time it came up with a better way to
keep score in the category that matters most.

Prop 48

It was quite the dramatic moment: John Thompson, then the
basketball coach at Georgetown, tossing his trademark towel to an
assistant and walking off the floor before the tip-off of a game
on Jan. 14, 1989. Thompson was protesting the NCAA's passage of
an amendment to Proposition 48, which required high school
seniors to meet a set of academic standards in order to compete
as freshmen. Thompson and many of his peers complained that those
requirements would rob a generation of youngsters of their
God-given right to make money for schools like Georgetown. Yet 15
years after Prop 48 first hit the books, it has restored some
integrity to the increasingly professionalized world of college

From the outset, the argument against Prop 48 was flawed.
Students who don't meet the standards are not forbidden to attend
college; they're just not allowed to play as freshmen. Sure,
enforcement can be a bureaucratic mess, but the latest NCAA
statistics show that in 2000, students trying to become eligible
in Division I took more college prep courses, achieved a higher
GPA and scored better on their standardized tests than the
students who applied in 1994. There was also an upward trend in
the GPA of college freshmen competing in Division I. Best of all,
Prop 48 helped usher in an era in which students are taught from
an early age that if they don't hit the books, they won't play.
Thousands of teenagers who wouldn't have otherwise given a
thought to the SAT or ACT now spend weekends taking prep courses
to improve their verbal and math skills. Most states followed the
lead of the NCAA by requiring high school students to maintain a
C average to be eligible for athletics. Even the most blatant
basketball summer meat markets have adopted an academic

Says Bob Kanaby, the executive director of the National
Federation of State High School Associations, "It doesn't matter
what these kids are motivated by. If the outcome is greater
success in the classroom, then we're doing the right
things." --Seth Davis



Memo to you Cameron Crazies, you Dog Pounders, you Bleacher Bums:
They don't hear you. Players are unaffected by your booing,
jeering and stomping. Loud noise is nothing more than a backdrop
for them. A player who stands on the foul line shooting a key
free throw into a sea of shimmering, skinny balloons and waving
arms? He sees only the front of the rim. A quarterback who walks
to the line of scrimmage with the stadium rocking around him? He
changes plays with a series of laughably simple hand signals.
Every other year, before Tennessee goes to Gainesville to play
Florida in the Swamp, the Volunteers pipe piercing noise through
practice-field speakers. Players converse as if they're in the
library. Remember, most people under 30 (and many over 30, too)
drive around playing music loud enough to shatter windows. The
noise that's supposed to unhinge athletes? It's like Muzak in
your dentist's chair. They don't hear it.


Silence, on the other hand, cuts straight to an athlete's soul.
Or lower. On slow news days callers will ask sports talk radio
hosts, "Dude, why can't we yell at golfers and tennis players
while they're hitting?" The simple answer is tradition. The
underlying truth: It's harder that way. A golfer stands over a
short putt as a hush falls over the gallery. He can hear birds
and crickets and his own shortened breath, expelled from a
narrowed airway. That free throw shooter stands at the foul line,
only now he's at home, so there's not a sound in the arena, save
for the rhythmic bounce-bounce of his preparatory, steadying
dribbles and the faint hiss of the crowd's collective inhale as
he prepares to flick his shot skyward. Silence is anticipation,
the instant between act and resolution. It is fearsome clarity,
without some noisy stimulus for distraction. On the night that
Maurice Greene won the gold medal in the 100 meters at the 2000
Olympics in Sydney, he folded himself into a set of metal
starting blocks as a stadium packed with more than 110,000
spectators fell eerily still. A starter calmly intoned the word,
"Set," and Greene rose up with seven other sprinters. Please
shoot the gun, he thought to himself at that moment, or my heart
is going to explode from my chest. That is the power of quiet.
--Tim Layden


Dennis Rodman

Back in the late 1980s, long before Dennis Rodman became a
sideshow freak, a friend of mine ran into the then unheralded and
unpierced Pistons forward at a bar. Rodman invited him to pull up
a stool, and for the next couple of hours the two sat there,
watching a baseball game. At the end of the night, my friend was
left with the distinct impression that Dennis was just another
regular guy.

Clearly, by most standards, my friend could not have been more
wrong. Still, there was an underlying truth in his perception.
Sure, in what was an increasingly desperate grasp for attention,
Rodman spent the better part of a decade living a life that was
one-third Jackass and two-thirds Penthouse Forum fantasy. But it
all had a scripted feel to it. The dresses, the Brahman nose
hoops, the Crayola hair colors, the serial copulating, the
not-so-electrifying encounters with Carmen Electra--it all played
out like just another Vince McMahon potboiler. A p.r. genius?
Yes. A true character? Far from it.

Charles Oakley

In sports journalism, where everyone takes it one game at a time
and giving only 109% would be a serious shortfall, there are few
things more enjoyable than an audience with Wizards forward
Charles Oakley. While Rodman was purposefully weird, Oakley is
the opposite--a big jug of moonshine whiskey that doesn't always
go down smooth, but damn if it isn't pure. Oakley is gruff, he is
grouchy, he gets into scuffles with guys over gambling debts.

The team sucks? Oakley will say so. Somebody's soft? He'll tell
you who. What's more, he does so with a crazy mix of metaphors
and cockeyed aphorisms that can make him sound like a 6'9",
245-pound version of Dennis Miller on 'shrooms. Oak's take on the
post-Jordan Bulls? "They had a dynasty, now they have a coffee
shop." Playing on a losing team? "I'll just keep eating my bread,
sipping my soup and serving my time. But the chicken is going to
lay some more eggs some day." And of course, the classic, "We're
like Jekyll and Hyde, like Jack and Jill. You know, they all went
up the hill."

Of course they did, Oak, of course they did. --Chris Ballard


Spud Webb

Like Gary Coleman and Emmanuel Lewis, the 5'7" Spud Webb made
people laugh. Sadly, also like Coleman and Lewis, the Spudster
had little impact on his profession. Because of his shocking win
in the 1986 slam dunk contest, fans mistook Webb--who had a
42-inch vertical leap--for a legitimate NBA star. During a
four-team, 12-year NBA career, Webb averaged 9.9 points and 5.3
assists. Heck, even his crowning achievement comes up short.
Although Spud's performance in the dunk contest was a rallying
cry for little men worldwide, it was little more than a feel-good
moment manufactured by the NBA. In reality, two incomparable
twists, spins and windmills by Dominique Wilkins, Webb's Atlanta
Hawks teammate, blew the field away. The judges were the only
ones there who thought 'Nique had come up short.

Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues

His hands were too small to palm the ball. He was a 27.8%
three-point shooter. He never dunked. But besides going down as
the shortest player in NBA history, 5'3" Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues
has to be considered one of the better point guards of his time.
Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning got credit for Charlotte's rise
from expansion joke to Eastern Conference contender, but it was
Bogues and his frantic, Speed Buggy pace that boosted the Hornets
and sent fans into a frenzy. In his 14-year career Bogues twice
averaged more than 10 assists per game. Opposing guards would try
to post Bogues up, and he would anchor himself like a fire
hydrant. He even retired with 39 blocked shots. "People always
say we'll probably never see another Larry Bird," former
Charlotte coach Allan Bristow once said, "but we have a better
chance of seeing another Larry Bird than we do another Muggsy
Bogues." --Jeff Pearlman


Old Course at St. Andrews

When American golfer Scott Hoch said a few years back that the
Old Course at St. Andrews was "the worst piece of mess" he'd
ever seen, it nearly created an international incident. Hoch's
words were rude and insensitive, but was he wrong? Tiger Woods
exposed the revered Home of Golf as obsolete at the 2000 British
Open, when his long drives took fairway bunkers out of play, and
depending on the wind, there were up to four par-4 holes he
could reach with his driver. Woods shot 19 under, the lowest
score in major championship history, despite playing
conservatively through Sunday's final nine.

The Old Course is the world's most famous links and perhaps its
most fun layout, but it's nae much for the British Open. British
pro Lee Westwood once admitted the Old Course wasn't in "his top
200." "In the east of Scotland?" asked fellow English pro Mark
James, also no fan of the Old Course. "No," Westwood deadpanned,
"in Fife!" What they meant to say, we believe, is that the Old
Course is the worst piece of mess they'd ever seen.

Shinnecock Hills

Shinnecock Hills, a wind- swept track on the tip of Long Island,
is not only America's best links, but it's also America's best
course. It would be No. 1 in the rankings, too, if the New
York-based magazine editors who rule those lists weren't members
at Pine Valley and/or Winged Foot, sucking up to Augusta
National or looking to score some tee times at Pebble Beach.
Shinnecock is an absolute killer, which makes it the perfect
place to play the U.S. Open, golf's ultimate survival test. (The
Open returns there in 2004.) Shinnecock's opening hole is
relatively easy, assuming you find the fairway. After that, lad,
lash down your kilties, especially on a collection of par-3s
that rival Augusta National's in difficulty. The last guy who
won the Open there in 1995 hit a four-wood to the 18th green in
the final round. Now that's a manly par 4. That guy, Corey
Pavin, got his 4 ... and finished at even par for 72 holes.
Raymond Floyd was a meager one under par when he won the '86
Open at Shinnecock. Gusting winds raked the '95 Open's third
round so hard that second-round leader Greg Norman shot 74 and
remained in first place. He called that 74 the equivalent of a
62 in normal conditions. Asked about Tom Lehman's third-round
67, Norman replied, "He shot 59." Said Lehman, "You can't tame
this course. You can only survive it."

Or maybe not. At the '95 Open, a 145-pound amateur named Tiger
Woods completed only 23 holes. He injured his wrist slashing out
of Shinnecock's ferocious fescue on the 6th hole and quit rather
than take another rip from the rough. That's another reason
Shinnecock Hills is underrated: It's the only course in the world
to score a TKO against Woods. --Gary Van Sickle


Jack Dempsey

No athlete ever had so much going for him as Jack Dempsey did.
First of all, he was one tough cookie, and a fine fighter. He was
handsome and had a terrific nickname, the Manassa Mauler. He had
one savvy manager, Doc Kearns, and for a promoter, maybe the best
ever: Tex Rickard. Dempsey also came along at exactly the right
moment--the start of the Roaring '20s--so he was included on the
A-list of the era's golden gods: Ruth, Grange, Tilden, Jones and
Man O' War. But those gods all had far better records. After
Dempsey won the heavyweight title on July 4, 1919, he carefully
picked his opponents. For Tommy Gibbons, he had his own ref and
the whole purse. For Georges Carpentier, he had a 17-pound edge.
For Luis Firpo, he was saved by the ringside press, who helped
him back into the ring after Firpo batted him out. Then Dempsey
took off three years before losing decisively to Gene Tunney. All
the while, he avoided the true top contender, Harry Wills, the
Black Panther. Dempsey was a popular champ, but to rank him in
the company of Johnson, Louis, Marciano and Ali is nonsense.

Sadaharu Oh

The two peoples who have been most prejudiced against Sadaharu Oh
are the Japanese and the Americans. Although born in Japan, Oh
had a Chinese father and thus was never fully accepted in his
homeland, where racial purity is so highly prized. On his own
team, the Yomiuri Giants, a full-blooded Japanese teammate,
Shigeo Nagashima, was always more popular--while Oh hit 868 home
runs, won two Triple Crowns, was a lifetime .301 hitter and a
top-fielding first baseman. In chauvinistic America, of course,
his accomplishments were always written off as bush league. Yogi
Berra crudely summed up the consensus after Henry Aaron edged out
Oh 10-9 in a home run contest: "Aaron could be that Nip in the
dark at LaGuardia." However, now that Ichiro Suzuki has shown
that the best Japanese players can play with the best here, it is
impossible any longer to dismiss 868 home runs--roughly one for
every 11 at bats--as just a Ginza lounge act. Would Oh-san have
hit 868 in the U.S.? No. But 500? Almost certainly. Maybe a lot
more. --Frank Deford


West 4th Street

Want to see some spectacularly sloppy basketball? Travel to the
corner of West Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, site
of the famed asphalt outdoor court known as the Cage. Enclosed by
a 20-foot-high chain-link fence, the Cage has been a popular spot
for New York City pickup players--not to mention hordes of
camera-toting tourists--for the past three decades. Yet because
the Cage is only about half the size of a regulation court, the
city game as it is played there has precious little artistry.
Sure, you'll see a few breathtaking dunks during each game, but
you'll also see a turnover on every third possession, plenty of
one-on-four fast breaks and an NBA season's worth of bricks.
Every New York playground player worth his hightops knows that
reputations in the Big Apple are forged uptown--specifically, at
Harlem's Holcombe Rucker Park--not downtown at the Cage.


To get to the grandest hoops playground theater in America, you
must step onto Oceanfront Walk at Venice Beach in L.A. Stroll
past the chain-saw juggler, past the turbaned man on roller
skates playing electric guitar, until you arrive at the Venice
Beach basketball court.

Framed by splintered wooden bleachers on the east and the azure
Pacific on the west, this hoops paradise is as much a training
ground for pros as it is a proving ground for pickup players.
Members of the Lakers and the Clippers sometimes show up for a
run in the summer; top female players, such as UConn's Diana
Taurasi, also test their talents here. Even Michael Jordan took a
break from filming the 1996 movie, Space Jam, to make a few runs
at Venice.

Like the games at the Cage, those at Venice can take a
maddeningly long time to get organized. But once the games start,
the basketball is as pleasing to the eye as the sunbathers
basking on the beach nearby. --Lars Anderson


Joe Namath

Few athletes have gotten more mileage out of one game than Joe
Willie Namath. He earned a place in NFL history by backing up his
guarantee that the New York Jets would beat the heavily favored
Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, but in the nine seasons he
played after that, Namath never won another truly important game.
He was a dangerous quarterback--capable of the occasional
breathtaking bomb--but not a great one. He threw far more
interceptions (220) than touchdown passes (173), but after Super
Bowl III, no one seemed to notice his failings. Namath parlayed
one historic game into TV commercials, several forgettable
movies, a Monday Night Football gig, a spot in the Hall of Fame
and a starring role in a short-lived sitcom. Remember The Waverly
Wonders? Didn't think so. It was about as memorable as Namath's
post-Super Bowl football career.

Walt (Clyde) Frazier

In the late 1960s and early '70s, Knicks guard Walt (Clyde)
Frazier was as active on the Manhattan nightlife scene as
Broadway Joe, and with his wide-brimmed hats, muttonchop
sideburns and Rolls-Royce, he had a groovy stylishness that even
Namath couldn't match. Yet Frazier never got the endorsement and
show-biz opportunities that Namath did. That was partly because
the public wasn't ready to embrace a black playboy and partly
because, unlike Namath, Frazier's greatest game went almost
unnoticed. Everyone knows that in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals,
Knicks center Willis Reed limped onto the court and helped lift
the Knicks to victory. Few recall that it was Frazier who
dominated that game with 36 points and 19 assists, perhaps the
most underappreciated big-game performance in NBA history.
Frazier was a superb scorer, playmaker and defender--a rare New
York star whose greatness was underplayed. --Phil Taylor


Rotisserie League

Every sports fanatic is an armchair coach. That's why managing an
office fantasy league team can be so intoxicating. You review
rosters, negotiate trades, bench bums. Ah, there's nothing like
the rush you get when a cheap late-round draft pick goes on a
tear. But what are you in charge of, really? The truth: You've
morphed into a fantasy freak, obsessed with statistical minutiae.
Teamwork no longer inspires you. Hometown fealty? Who cares? Your
fantasy first baseman is leading the league in ribbies. You spend
hours plotting trades, an entire season coveting a coworker's
leadoff hitter. Real life becomes a nuisance. You keep your wife
on hold while you argue with your league commissioner about
rescheduling the draft. You pour over stat sheets instead of
analyzing spreadsheets. Pretty soon your numbers are down, your
wife refuses to hold you and your boss calls you into his office
to renegotiate your contract.


Run a squad of kids--of kids--now that's a noble challenge. Sure,
you'll have to deal with parents who pester you about playing
time and try to usurp your authority and degrade their
underperforming offspring at halftime. But one word from you and
they're banished. Kids need to be coached. If you inspire them,
they will listen. If you earn their respect, they'll play their
little hearts out. The biggest payoff is the vicarious thrill of
watching your least capable kid, the one whose confidence you've
been trying to boost all year, score his first goal ever and turn
to you in stunned euphoria. That's priceless.
--Luis Fernando Llosa


John Madden

Once upon a time, back when J.R. Ewing was a tough-talking Texan
and a thirsty populace found itself embroiled in Miller Lite's
Tastes great/Less filling debate, John Madden was the best sports
analyst of his day. He regaled us with--BOOM!--his sharp insights
about the great game of football. He passionately explained which
guys were--BOOM!--his type of players. He had his own quirky
football measurements (one knee equals two feet) and taught a
generation of American men how to carve a Thanksgiving turkey. He
was the happy-go-lucky sports version of The Paper Chase's
Professor Kingsfield, lecturing a spellbound nation on pigskin
every week. That was then. It's not that the old coach doesn't
remain capable--he had a terrific broadcast at this year's Super
Bowl--it's just that he is no longer distinguishable from any
other ex-football coach with a mike and an opinion. Madden came
along in the days before two-hour pregame shows and detailed
analyses from wonks such as Ron Jaworski, and analysis has grown
from Football 101 to Phil Simms' Ph.D.-level dissertations. Yes,
Madden is still good. He's just no longer the best in the

Don Cherry

Is he politically incorrect? Defiantly so. A blowhard? Most
definitely. Jingoistic? Jesse Helms can't hold a candle to him.
But watching Don Cherry huff and puff on all things hockey during
his Coaches Corner segment on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada
remains the most entertaining Canadian production since SCTV. He
rants. He raves. He dresses up with the flare of Carmen Miranda.
For Game 1 of the 1999 Stanley Cup broadcast, Cherry (famously
nicknamed Grapes) was resplendent in a lime-green suit, with
white boutonniere and a dark, puffy handkerchief. Cherry, now in
his 22nd year with Hockey Night in Canada, was Unplugged before
it became popular on MTV. During the Persian Gulf War he unfurled
a Canadian flag on the set and referred to the war's critics as
"wimps and creeps." He's anachronistically anti-European with
regard to the NHL. Though he has become nearly as big a pitchman
as Madden (Cherry hawks soups and weed whackers, and his hockey
videos are as ubiquitous in the Great White North as Girls Gone
Wild tapes are in the States), he remains strictly
antiestablishment in the age of image consultants, a purveyor of
old-school rhetoric for his beloved Canadian hockey. Love him or
hate him, Cherry is unabashedly who he is, and that's why there's
nothing better than watching Grapes's wrath.
--Richard Deitsch

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