Backtracked From comments he made during the Rockets-Mavericks playoff series that referees had been told to watch one of his players more closely, Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy. After Game 4, Van Gundy told three reporters that "an official in the NBA who's not in the playoffs" tipped him off that the league had instructed refs to keep an eye on Rockets center Yao Ming (above). That drew Van Gundy a record $100,000 fine and the considerable ire of NBA commissioner David Stern. ¬†Accusations of biased officiating have long been a Stern pet peeve; at least twice in recent years the Commish warned NBA coaches that he is sick and tired of hearing charges that certain teams and players are given preferential treatment by the referees. "You coaches do more to keep those conspiracy theories alive than anybody," Stern told them. Further, Stern is fanatical about keeping referee biz private--until the last couple of years refs dared not even talk on the record to reporters about the weather--and he undoubtedly turned crimson when he heard that one of his own may have dished to a coach. He was further infuriated that Van Gundy (below) would not give up his Deep Throat. ¬†On Monday afternoon the league issued a statement in which deputy commissioner Russ Granik said the coach confirmed to an NBA representative that he "did not have any communication with a referee (working or nonworking) other than, of course, during an ongoing game." The statement also said the league "now consider[s] the matter to be closed." Later that day Van Gundy issued his own statement, acknowledging that he hadn't spoken with a referee. "People inferred that I was talking about a working NBA referee instead of an official with the league," Van Gundy said. "I was purposely vague because I had given my word that I would keep his name out of it."
Released By the U.S. Army, a report detailing a cover-up of the events that led to the death of former Arizona Cardinals safety and Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in April 2004. According to the nearly 2,000-page document, military officials knew within days of Tillman's death that he had been killed by friendly fire. But the Army initially told Tillman's family (including his brother Kevin, a fellow Ranger who flew back to the U.S. with Tillman's body) and the public that he was killed in an enemy attack. Officers also destroyed evidence at the scene, burning Tillman's uniform and body armor because, they said at the time, it was a "biohazard." Tillman's family wasn't told about his actual cause of death until last May, weeks after a nationally televised memorial service was held in his honor.
Announced That he will miss the 2005 season due to a recurrence of Hodgkin's disease, Panthers linebacker Mark Fields. In 2003, just two weeks before Carolina linebackers coach Sam Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, Fields learned he had lymphoma. (Mills, who continued coaching, died last month at age 45.) Fields, 32, sat out the 2003 season while receiving treatment, but he was never far from his teammates' thoughts. They wore T-shirts under their jerseys with his number, and they used Fields and Mills for motivation during their run to the Super Bowl. Fields (above) returned last year and had 60 tackles and four sacks, earning his second trip to the Pro Bowl. "Mark is obviously disappointed that he will be unable to play next year," his agent, Jim Steiner, said. "But he has every confidence that this course of chemotherapy will be successful. He considers this blip in his recovery a minor setback."
Signed With the San Diego Surf Dawgs of the independent Golden Baseball League, 46-year-old Rickey Henderson. The majors' alltime leader in stolen bases and runs reported to the Dawgs' spring training camp on Monday; he'll play for the league maximum of $3,000 a month, plus a cut of the team's revenue from marketing campaigns built around him. The first: Rickey Henderson Bobblehead Night at Tony Gwynn Stadium in San Diego.
Reversed By Benton Harbor, Mich., superintendent Paula Dawning, her decree that the McCord Middle School marching band not be permitted to play the song Louie, Louie. Dawning had said the lyrics--written in 1956 by Richard Berry--were raunchy. (In the early 1960s, after the Kingsmen had a Top Ten hit with the tune, the FBI spent two years investigating the lyrics before finding them "unintelligible at any speed.") When parents and band members complained (one student musician said, "It's very stressful for us to try to come up with new songs"), Dawning relented and let them continue playing the three-chord classic.
Passed By the Texas House of Representatives, a bill that bans high school cheerleaders from performing "sexually suggestive" routines--effectively taking the "hip" out of the ol' "hip-hip-hooray." Bill author Al Edwards, a Democrat from Houston, said that "we see that as a result [of lewd routines] more of our young girls being pregnant in middle and high schools, dropping out of school, having babies and contracting AIDS and herpes." The bill, which doesn't define what constitutes sexually suggestive behavior, was mocked by several legislators. One said it was "stupid" and "insulting" that the issue was even being discussed, and others brought pom-poms to the vote. But it passed by a 65--56 margin. If the measure passes the senate, Gov. Rick Perry is expected to sign it into law.
For Sale A trading card featuring Pope John Paul II that is believed to be one of the most valuable on the collectibles market. Earlier this year Topps created a one-of-a-kind trading card (left) featuring the pontiff's bio and etched autograph for its 2005 World Treasures collection. It was slipped inside a pack of ordinary baseball cards and found by a collector in Stockton, Calif., last month. He sold it for an undisclosed sum to Jeff Hoekstra, a memorabilia store owner from Modesto, on the eve of John Paul's funeral last month. Hoekstra posted the card on eBay; his first auction closed at $8,100. (By comparison, the most valuable Barry Bonds card on the market is worth a mere $1,200.) That sale fell through, however, and on Sunday the card went on the block again.
Died At age 88, Hall of Fame jockey Ted Atkinson. A native of Toronto, Atkinson didn't begin racing until the ripe old age--for a jockey--of 21. He became known for his skill with the whip (his nickname was the Slasher), and in 1946 he was the first rider to earn $1 million in purse winnings in one year. In 1953 he rode Horse of the Year Tom Fool to 21 wins in 30 starts, and by the time he retired in 1959, after 21 years in the saddle, he had won 3,795 races and purses of more than $17 million.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (YAO)
DARREN CARROLL (VAN GUNDY)
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/GETTY IMAGES (FIELDS)
AL GOLUB/AP (TRADING CARD)
MARK KAUFFMAN (ATKINSON)