Quick Takes


    I just returned to Vegas after a week in New York. There’s no place like Manhattan………or its prices. It’s a status symbol to spend $12 for a hot dog. It’s a fact; I did it. One week in New York cost me $5,000, and that was just for tips.


    While in New York, it was great spending time with my lovely niece and her husband, Eileen and Jeffrey Warner. I wish I could see more of them, but logistics don’t permit it. And being a guest at the new offices of the Jackie Robinson Foundation was marvelous. Thanks to Allison Davis of the Foundation for being so gracious. And thanks to Rachel Robinson for her personalized gift to me of her biography on Jackie. “Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait” is the book’s title.


    Thanks to Cindy Joseph for the article, including a photo of the magnificent painting. Jerry Blank's "The Forerunner," a framed 24" x 36" oil painting commemorating Jackie Robinson's contribution to major league baseball and civil liberties in America, has been donated to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The painting was auctioned at a fund-raising event at the home of Hollywood producer Scott Oz in Sherman Oaks, California, on September 15th. All proceeds will go to higher education scholarships.


    Amazing! I was in New York a full week and didn’t make it to a baseball game. The Yankees were on the road most of my visit, or I’d have gone to the Bronx Zoo. I’d like to have seen a $200 million payroll that can’t win a World Series. However, it could happen this October…………but I’m not betting it.


    Not sports related, but I ate at B. B. King’s in Manhattan Sunday night, September 16. It is the birth date of the legendary entertainer; he is now 82. Unbelievable! Why? Not one single employee in the place, not one, knew it was his birthday. Guess who made sure they knew.


    Apparently O. J. Simpson is becoming a better citizen. This time he hit the slammer for just armed robbery instead of multiple murder. The “sob” (that’s not an acronym for “star of Buffalo”) will probably walk from this one, too. I hope I'm wrong, but the prosecution had best do a better job in Vegas than it did in Los Angeles.


Story of the Week


As written by Ray Ratto of CBS SportsLine.Com on July 20:

    Somewhere, Arnold Rothstein is slapping himself in the forehead and saying, "And I thought you had to buy the players."

    The New York Post report that the FBI is investigating an NBA referee for point-shaving through calls is an amazing development, one more knee in the nethers for a sport and for a subset of that sport that has already gotten plenty this year.

CBS SportsLine's Tony Mejia reports the alleged ref to be Tim Donaghy, according to league sources.

    The NBA is back on the defensive over what we had thought was an old story cured by people's better instincts -- the fact that it is viewed as a black sport, and that being a black sport is still a pejorative. It is a sport dominated by black men, yes. That this is still an issue in people's heads speaks to our shortcomings and the eagerness to make character judgments based on melanin content. I thought we went through that in the '70s, but apparently any drop in the ratings or misbehavior brings it back up altogether too quickly. It makes you want to go somewhere and bathe for about two hours.

    That games might have been influenced by an official makes it all the creepier because it speaks not to our character flaws, but to those of people within the game. It means we aren't seeing what we paid to see, that the outcome of the games we worship so is being altered. It is the one thing that can bring down something as powerful as the NBA.

    This had been a lousy year for the NBA official class before this, starting with the earlier study by two statistical experts who found in a study that black players are targeted for fouls at a higher rate than they should given the statistical variances of the game. It was a much-disputed finding, even though the methodology was found to be sound, and it raised the question that things other than the game were affecting the game.

    Then came the Joey Crawford-Tim Duncan thing, which ended badly for all involved, although Crawford's recent reinstatement is an acknowledgement by David Stern that the issue had run its course.

    And now, this. An official who not only bet on games but made calls that affected point spreads. Suddenly, it isn't just race, but the basic integrity of the game. If we didn't know better, we'd think that Stern would trade jobs with Gary Bettman right now.

    An arrest is believed to be imminent, perhaps as early as next week according to one law enforcement official who also said the official had been contacted by low-level organized crime members through an associate. That law enforcement official also said other arrests are being prepared as well, and if any of those are of other officials, Stern and Bettman may be having lunch very soon.

    This year has produced the greatest crises of Stern's tenure as commissioner, though they were largely not of his doing. How does he change the hearts and minds of people about his sport if he can't even offer them the integrity of the games? And what does he do about the re-ignition of the race issue years after we should have settled it in our heads? The Crawford-Duncan story was a sideshow, a lot to do about not a lot. The complaints that the champion Spurs aren't exciting enough were just blather and nonsense.

    But the rest of it strikes at the heart of who we are, and what we expect from our entertainment. It's an existential crisis that not even Stern, the most efficient and powerful of the commissioner set, has his hands around, and that would fully destroy Bettman, Bud Selig or even Roger Goodell. And there is a symmetry in that, because Stern came in at another crisis point in league history.

    The difference is, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson aren't here to save him and divert us. This is going to take a lot heavier lifting, by all of us, and one wonders if we are up to the job.


    Now my opinions on the subject. You’re terribly naïve if any of this shocks you. If you want to fix a game in any team sport, forget the players; just hit up the refs, umpires, etc. The players make too much money to get involved and jeopardize their financial golden eggs. It’s the guys with the flags and the whistles who don’t make millions and can, if they so desire, control the specific outcome of a game, any game in any team sport. Basketball, baseball, football, hockey; they’re all suspect. Note “team sports.” The one-on-one sport of boxing doesn’t fall into this category; in boxing, going to one of the two participants is the logical and equitable way.


    Basketball, football and hockey are obvious from the standpoint of fouls and penalties, and to which specific players. Unlike the others, baseball takes on a somewhat different perspective, namely the over-under betting line. The plate umpire can widen the strike zone on an “under” bet, or shrink it for an “over” bet. The ball-strike calls have a direct and major influence on the number of runs scored in a game.


    Then there’s horseracing. There are all kinds of ways of doing it from drugging the horses to bribing the jockeys. This whole thing can get a bit complicated, but I’d be shocked if it doesn’t happen. (Note: an authority on horseracing I ain’t!)


    The sports noted above are the majors here in the U.S. from a sports betting standpoint. I want to believe that we can believe in sports. I love sports. My life would have been and would be boring as hell without sports. But I wonder how much serious scrutiny all of our major sports would be able to endure along the lines of integrity as it relates to officials and players alike. Just remember what Gordon Gekko said in “Wall Street.”


Last Week’s Trivia


    Who is the only player to lead the NCAA, NBA and ABA in scoring for a season? Rick Barry. NCAA at Miami of Florida in 1965. NBA at San Francisco Warriors in 1967. ABA at Oakland Oaks in 1969.


Trivia Question of the Week


    Who was the first player to have a candy bar named after him? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.