April 29, 2016

Over the years there have been many fathers who preceded their sons in playing in the NBA.  Most of them have not only been successful but carried on their family legacy to reach new heights.

What triggered the idea for today’s Blog was when I read that Luke Walton might become the next coach of the hapless Los Angeles Lakers.  It’s difficult for me to use the appellation “hapless”, because I remember when I was there, (1971-1972), as an Executive working for the then owner Jack Kent Cooke, the Lakers. The Lakers were invincible! At one point, they won 33 straight games.

It wasn’t until this past season that any team came even close to surpassing that record.  The Golden State Warriors headed by Steve Kerr, came the closest than any team has come to establishing a new record.

Last year, Steve, as a rookie coach, led the Warriors to the NBA Championship. Ironically, Steve was bothered by Back problems resulting from Back Surgery and missed the first 24 games.

Only in his second year as an NBA assistant coach, Luke was at the helm did the impossible. Never before had a team won 24 consecutive games without a loss to start the season.

When Steve Kerr returned,  the Warriors went on to break the Chicago Bulls 20 -year old record of most games won in a season.  The 1996 Bulls won 72 games and the 2016 Warriors won 73. Steve Kerr was named coach off the year and he deserved it.  Yet, Luke’s record is listed as 0-0-for the season.

Nevertheless, what is happening for Luke is what has gave me the idea for this Blog.  Mainly, it’s the fact that other teams in the league have noticed the job Luke did and have started to court him to possibly coach their team.

Among those teams asking permission to talk to Luke about available opportunities are his old team the Lakers. He played 10 seasons in the NBA and was on two Laker championship teams.

So it got me thinking about the genealogy of many who have been part of and still are a part of the NBA legacy. Luke’s dad, Bill who is my friend, is in both the Collegiate Basketball and the International Basketball Halls of Fame.

Luke, not only inherited his love for Basketball and much of his dad’s knowledge and philosophy of life, he also inherited Bill’s desire to overcome any adversity. Bill, who is considered one of the greats, had a career  plagued by injuries. Still. he shone!

Luke bears the name of his father’s close friend and teammate on the NBA Champion Portland Trailblazers, Maurice Lucas.

When I first met Bill he was hampered by constant stuttering. To his credit, today he is in great demand on the lecture circuit and as a Television Commentator.

As a result, I started thinking… there are probably quite a few second generation, even third generation siblings making their mark in the NBA… Here, for your edification, are just a few.

Two of the most prolific father-son teams that immediately come to mind are those of Kobe Bryan and Stephen Curry.

Kobe Bryant’s pedigree comes directly from his dad,  Joe ”Jelly bean” Bryant.  “Bean” as he was called started his career with his hometown Philadelphia 76ers. He played well into his 50’s in a career that started in 1975 and ended in 1992.

He eventually played and coached all over the world. Among his stops were Japan, France, Italy and Thailand.  Along the way, he did manage to establish some impressive statistics.  For example, he put up nearly 13,000 points in his 17 years of playing in the NBA and Serie A teams.

His son Kobe was born while Joe was playing for his hometown 76ers. Kobe grew up all over the world, but it was at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania where he was recognized as the top high school basketball player in the country.  He signed with the Pros right out of High School.

Although originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, he was traded to the Lakers which BECAME the only team he played for in his entire 20 year career. Along the way, he far surpassed anything his father did. He was twice MVP of the finals.  Five times, his team won the NBA Championship. One season, he was the league MVP.

He made the All-Star Team eighteen times and in four of those games, he was MVP. Still there was more but my Blog is too short to mention everything.  However, I shall sum up his story by saying his 33,643 total points making him the 3rd most prolific scorer in league history speaks volumes… and how about his last game? In a pure Hollywood ending, he scored 60 points.

How about today’s reigning MVP, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and his dad Dell? In his 16 year NBA career, Dell  scored 12,670 points.  In 1994, he won the sixth man award while playing for the Charlotte Hornets and to this day, remains the Charlotte Hornets all-time leading scorer.

Steph, although currently nursing a seriously sprained ankle that might see him out of the Playoffs completely, has cast a long shadow over the Warriors rise to prominence ever since he was drafted in 2009.  However, in a season that saw the Warriors establish many firsts. Steph was league MVP, and scoring champion.

He has been elected to the All-Star Team 3 times, has led the league in steals. In 2012-13, he set the NBA record for most 3-pointers in a season, making 272. He surpassed this record in the next two seasons sinking 286 and 402 respectively.

Steph has also won the Sportsmanship Award. Since 2011, another  NBA sibling, Clay Thompson became his running mate. During the 2013-14 season together they hit a combined 484 three pointers which stands as the current record. They share the unusual nickname of “The Splash Brothers”.

Clay who has been an All-Star selection twice currently is looked upon to shoulder the burden of  winning another Warrior championship in the absence of the injured Steph.

In 1978, the Portland Trailblazers made Clay’s dad, Mychal their number one pick out of the University of Minnesota.  He made the All-Rookie team and in 1981 averaged 20 points a game.

In 1986, the Trailblazers, where he had been a fixture for eight years, traded him to the Spurs. A year later, he joined the Lakers. This gave the Lakers a team that had four players who were overall the number one selection in their respective draft years.

The others were Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy. Of the four, Thompson is the only one not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. However, he was no slouch, playing an important role in helping the Showtime Lakers win titles in 1987 and 1988.  During his career, he scored almost 13,000 points.

Of course anything I might write about DNA IN THE NBA must include the Vandeweghes . Both of them bare the same name…“Ernest Maurice Vandeweghe”.  The only difference, my friend until the day he passed Dr. Ernie was Ernie Jr and Kiki is the IIIrd. Plus the lineage goes on.  Kiki’s son is the IVth.

Both brought an unusual intelligence to the game.  When my friend the Late Ernie Jr. came out of college, he was everyone’s unanimous choice.  However, in order for him to play for the Knicks, Ned Irish had to agree to special terms which will never again be seen.

Ernie the eldest negotiated Ernie IIs deal which saw the Knicks playing many games without him in the lineup. He was busy  going to Columbia Medical School and successfully getting his degree as a Pediatrician.

At the same time marrying the reigning Miss America, Coleen Faye Hutchins whose brother Mel was Ernie’s teammate. A generation later, both father and son had played for the Knicks.

Kiki’s Biography says that he was born in Germany. He never has been a foreign national. It’s simple! His dad was stationed there as a Medical Officer in the USAF.

Kiki spent 13 years in the NBA.  He scored almost 16,000 points and in one game against the Detroit Pistons, he scored 51 points.

But it’s his Basketball mind that has seen him rise from General Manager positions to become NBA Executive Vice President. His  analytical thought process has been held in high esteem by just about every professional.

There are  many other notable father-son teams.  Many whom I could just as easily talk about, but there is no space.

For example, Henry Bibby and his son Mike… Rick Barry and his sons Jon, Brent and Drew. Brent and Rick won NBA Championships. All three sons played for the Warriors at one time or another. Individually, each ended his career with the Rockets. There have actually been a three generation family.  Tick’s father-in-law and the boys’ grandfather was Coach Bruce hale.

John Stockton and his son David, the Dunleavys-Sr. and Jr., (Sr. coached against Jr.), Doc Rivers and Austin, ( Doc is currently coaching Austin on the Clippers, the great George Mikan and his son Larry, are all part of the generation continuance.

Yet, I have at least a 100 more combinations.  If I have not mentioned someone who interests you, I apologize!

I know they are out there.



April 22, 2016

The third Monday in April every year in New England is celebrated as Patriots Day. It is the day in 1775 that Paul Revere rode throughout the New England countryside to alert sleeping farmers that the vaunted British Army, the Red Coats, were coming to enforce Tax Laws on the Colonies that had been imposed by King George of England.
Earlier the populace had stood up to the Monarch by shouting “no taxation without representation” as they poured 1000’s of pounds of imported English Tea into Boston Harbor. This was to become known in American History as the Boston Tea Party.

The King was determined to put such insurrection down by force sending the Army to teach the colonists a lesson. “Paul Revere’s Ride” alerted the colonists and armed with shovels, axes, pitchforks and muskets they repelled the British. “The shot heard round the world” was fired in Lexington, Massachusetts signaling the start of the Revolutionary War… America’s fight for Freedom.

There are family picnics, political rallies, parades, lots of speeches, many sporting events, but just two that stand out. It is always the beginning of the baseball Season with the Red Sox Home Opener. Most importantly, it is the date of the Boston Marathon, the oldest continuous Marathon in the world.

This year, it celebrated its 120th birthday. It has been run continuously since 1897… never stopped by inclement weather. In fact, in 1903 (the year my dad was born) , Major league baseball created a tradition whereby either one of the Boston Teams in alternate years would open their home seasons. This continued until 1953 when the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee.

Since then, the Red Sox continued to open each season on Patriot’s Day. That brought about our own family tradition. From the time I was six, until I was 16, my dad would take my younger brother Bobby and myself first to watch the Marathon and then to see the Red Sox opener. What a thrill for a couple of kids!

The marathon starts at approximately 10 O’clock in the morning reaching the hills of Newton around 50 minutes later… ten minutes to eleven. The game with all its ceremonies always starts at 11:30 with the first pitch being thrown around noon.

My dad had a special parking spot. We planked ourselves down at the top of the Newton Hills (called Heartbreak Hill) and as soon as the first runners passed our position, we ran to dad’s car and he drove the 4 miles to Fenway Park. We never missed the first pitch.

In 1939, I was 8 years old when I saw a Narragansett Indian named Tarzan Brown establish the record, at that time, (2:28:51). In Narragansett speak, he was called Deerfoot.

Deerfoot was dirt poor. Living in a small shack on the Narragansett Indian Reservation, his diet consisted of Herbs and Vegetables which he plucked from the earth. As he passed us on Heartbreak Hill, our hearts and sympathy went out to him. We never dreamed this emaciated- looking man would even finish.

Sadly, in order to survive later in life even though he had been named to the Native American Hall of Fame, he either pawned, or sold all his trophies.

The Boston Marathon is a melting Pot for Foreign runners. I saw Korean Yon Bok Suh win the 1947 marathon in the world record time of 2:25:39. This victory was doubly meaningful since he was the first Korean to win an international sporting event following Korea’s independence from Japan’s colonialism.

Three years later in the 1950 race, Korean racers shocked the world by finishing 1,2,3. Their victories raised a hue and cry from both the American and Korean communities. Korea was at war and many Americans as well as young Korean men were being wounded and killed. The three runners were all soldiers from the ROK Army enjoying the United States and fighting alongside their countrymen.

Since then many foreign runners have been running away and garnering the wins. This year, for the first time, an Ethiopian won both the men’s and women’s raises. Over the years, the same country has won both the men’s and women’s division. For a long time, in modern marathon history, Kenyan runners had a lock on trophies.

Until 1963, all the winner would receive was an Olive Wreath for his head and his choice of either a Bowl of New England Clam Chowder or Beef Stew. They were amateurs.
The marathon developed its own heroes, There was Clarence DeMar. The Boston Press lovingly called him Clarence DeMarathon. He first ran the race in 1910. Later that year, doctor’s told him he should quit running because he had a Heart Murmur.

The next year, the starting line doctors were not going to let him race due to his heart condition. He did run and set a course record of 2:21:39. He took off from competition during World War I while in the army. He returned to serious competition in 1922 and would go on to win 4 more marathons.

He won the last at the age of 41 but raced until he was 69. The young boy with the 1910 Heart Murmur went on to race and win many road races for 55 more years.

In 1948, no commercial advertising was allowed anywhere on the race course. As I said, everything was pure amateurism. In 1948, my life-long pal Earle Wolfe, Joel Wolfson and myself crashed the Marathon riding in Joel’s 1938 Oldsmobile convertible.

On the sides of the car, we had a banner about Story Ville. Story Ville, at the time, was a Jazz Club in Boston owned by Joel’s cousin George Wien. As you know, George later went on to be recognized as America’s foremost Jazz Impresario.

We joined the race at the start in Hopkinton and for 16 miles, no one bothered us. However, just as we reached our home town of Newton, the police shoed us off the course with a deep scolding. In spite of this, most of our High School friends had seen our little escapade.

In 1963, the race was opened up to Pro racers and sponsors put up prize monies. From the amateur days of an Olive Wreath until today when the winners of both the Men’s and Women’s Divisions each receive $100,000 and a brand new automobile.

From as late as 1947, only 120 runners made up the competition until 1996 it reached epic proportions: 38,708 entrants set the world’s record crowd (36,748 starters and 35,868 finishers). Annually, 500,000 spectators watch the race live along the route.

In 1967, a 20 year old journalism student from Syracuse University named Kathleen Switzer was given a spot in the all men’s marathon when she filled out her entry form as K.V. Switzer. She became a pioneer when Jock Semple, the race manager for the Boston Athletic Club ran on the course in an attempt to throw her out.
Semple was knocked off stride by Switzer’s fiancée a Syracuse All-American football player who was running alongside her. She subsequently parlayed this into a fulltime career fighting for women’s rights and adopted the sobriquet, “Marathon Woman”.

However, a year earlier, the real “Marathon Woman” was Roberta “Bobbi” Gibbs . Bobbi grew up in the Boston Suburbs and graduated from Wellesley College. She moved to San Diego where she married and trained two years, running nearly every day for 700 days until she was ready.

She received a rejection letter because the race was for men only. This only fired her up. April of that year, she rode a Greyhound bus seat for four days and headed East 3000 miles.
That year, all 540 male entrants gathered behind a roped -off area guarded by police. Dropped off by her mother, wearing her brother’s Bermuda Shorts and a blue hooded seat shirt to cover her pony tail. Bobbi was afraid she might be arrested if she tried to crash the roped area.

Instead, she jogged for 2, or 3 miles around downtown, and hid in some bushes near the start line. At noon, the gun went off. Gibb let the fast runners go by and slipped into the middle of the pack.

It didn’t take long for the guys to notice. They loved the fact she was running and were protective and encouraging. She finished in a time of 3 hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds—more than 13 minutes ahead of what is to be the 2017 qualifying time for the 18 to 34 age group, and finished in the top third of the pack.
Then there was Rosie Ruiz! In 1980, Ruiz finished first among the women runners, only to be caught in a lie. She had finished in 2 hour and 30 minutes. The authorities were perplexed. When they gave her the trophy, she was not sweating, her makeup was unblemished and none of her hairdo was messed.

Officials discovered her duplicity when they learned that she had tried to do the same thing at the New York City Marathon. Which was to start the race legitimately… then when convenient jump off the course… jump on the subway … ride the train to the station that was nearest to the finish line and after an appropriate time, sneak back into the race and go on to win.

She faced criminal consequences. Later, it was learned she was an habitual felon with a long wrap sheet. She almost got away with it.
Kathrine Switzer went on to work long and hard for women’s rights in sports. However, among the things she claimed to achieve was to bring about the first Women’s Marathon in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She probably worked on it, but it was FOX Sports that proved women in 1980 could run a Marathon over the same route as the 1932 winner and in equal times.

Shepherded by Sid Silver, 50 elite women from all over the world were invited to compete and they proved in a TV documentation it could be done. This documentation when presented to the IOC in Switzerland was convincing.

The rest is history! In 1984, the Marathon replaced 5000 meters as the longest race women were allowed to run in the Olympics.

Over the years, there have been many tragedies and many victories. Too many to account for in this one Blog.
Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about the terrorist bombing at the Finish Line of the 2013 race. The devastation, the sorrow, the fear, the carnage and the havoc have all been documented.

This year, gave new meaning to the word “courage”.
Undaunted, many of those injured and maimed wearing prosthetic limbs participated in the race. As I finish today’s Blog, I am wearing my blue and gold “T” shirt that says BOSTON STRONG!
The Boston marathon still stands alone as the “GRANDEST OF THEM ALL”!



April 15, 2016

I have never written a political column, or Blog. Today is no different. However, our athletic teams, individual sports, and various achievements are loaded with the accomplishment of those who came to this country, or their progeny.
I, myself, am a first generation American who has benefitted by working in the Sports World for most of my life. All sports have benefitted from immigrants.
America has been built by immigrants. The quote from an Emma Lazurus Sonnet tells the complete story about America and Immigration. It is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty which stands as a beacon of light in New York Harbor. It is often the first sight that a new immigrant sees upon arriving in America.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free”.
The Saturday Evening Post, one of the outstanding magazines which was started 300 years ago by Benjamin Franklin was responsible for introducing America to many great authors for the first time…among them, Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jacques Kirouac .
At the height of its popularity in the ‘40’s and the 50’s, it lived up to the reason it was founded… to write about the morals, the integrity and the social values of a nation. During World War II, its covers were graced by the paintings of Norman Rockwell.
Rockwell in one series, “The Four Freedoms” reminded us what America was all about. The four separate covers artistically captured “Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear”.
The Post in its way chronicled American History in the making- reflecting the distinctive characteristics and values that define the American way. So now, with Baseball Season underway, I am reminded of the many conversations that both Norman and myself as fellow natives of Massachusetts felt that nothing told the story of America better than Baseball… in our case, the Red Sox.
Even today. This maxim remains true. Twenty-eight percent of Major League Baseball Players on the 25 –man opening day rosters were born outside of the United States according to the commissioner’s office. Only three seasons; last year , plus the years 2002 and 2005 had more foreign born players.
Years ago, I spent time with Tommy LaSorda, the Dodger’s Hall of Fame Manager in the Dominican Republic. At the time, he was running Baseball Academies, Training Camps and schools. While all the time he was looking for potential Baseball players to bring to the United States. Wherever he went, the newspapers covered his every move and legions of youngsters followed “El Tomas”.
He believed fervently that the Dominican held the key to success for many established teams. At the time, he was alone. Today, it’s a different story. The Dominican Republic numbers 89 players among the 750 on Major League rosters, or 12% of all players.
In the general economy, the number of jobs where U.S. Citizens might be replaced by immigrants becomes a hue and a condemning cry by politicians everywhere. Still it is worthy to note one never hears complaints about “immigrants” taking jobs away from Americans in the major leagues. Baseball men consider the competition for roster spots to be fair and based only on merit.
I believe it was Tom Hanks in the movie. “A League of Their Own” who said, “There is no crying in Baseball”.
We should never lose sight of the fact that America is a Melting Pot. Our ancestors came from all over the world and all were seeking the Four Freedoms that Norman Rockwell so adroitly painted.
Increased competition from foreign-born players has not resulted in lower salaries for native ballplayers. As a matter of fact, salaries have quadrupled from those of 1990 according to an analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy.
A sustained or increased quality of play to which foreign-born players have contributed has helped Major League attendance rise from 55 million in 1990 to over 75 million today.
That’s all well and good, but foreign players, or players of foreign heritage from all over the world have contributed to the growth and enjoyment of the game for many years.
Where would the game be without the Italian contingent which included the DiMaggio brothers (Vince, Joe and Dom), Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, Billy Martin and even Roy Campanella (whose father was Italian)… or those whose families came from Eastern Europe like Hank Greenberg , Sandy Koufax and Mo Berg, (who also was our first Atomic spy)? Today, there is also a great influx of Asian players… for example, Ichiro Suzuki whom I wrote about in a previous Blog is among them.
No baseball column about Baseball immigrants would be complete without mentioning the great Ted Williams whose genetic makeup was Hispanic (Basque), Russian and American Indian. Not only was he a great ballplayer, but he lost 4 of most of his productive years as a Marine Pilot heroically fighting for the United States.
Please do not look on this Blog as frivolous. I fully understand no one can equivocate being a ballplayer with being an unskilled native- born laborer who stands to lose his, or her job to an alien who will accept lower wages and work longer hours.
The point of this column that I am trying to make, I hope, is to go back to the principle that in America if one wishes to work, one can and possibly still succeed by working hard. I also realize that immigration today presents numerous problems such as Security that we never had to face before.
However, the next time someone complains about immigrants “taking jobs” from Americans, tell them to try playing Major League Baseball. Here, unlike the rest of the economy, the number of jobs are fixed and limited, yet no one complains about immigrants.




April 6, 2016

I have been in sports and the sports/entertainment business for over 60 years. Those who are familiar with me, know that over the years, at different periods and sometimes at the same time, I have been a Sports Announcer of all sports, a college Basketball Coach and referee, a Pro team executive and from time-to-time, a team owner, President of a film studio’s Sports Division, a promoter of some exceptionally big world-class events, a personal manager and a TV advisor to a  major Sports union.

All that being said, in my pomposity, I decided like millions of other Americans, I would fill out my own March Madness bracket.  With all of the foregoing background, I considered myself an “Expert”. I should have remembered my late wife’s definition of an “Expert”.

Her definition of “Expert” is someone who is away from home.  So, I filled out my bracket only to find out I was not only away from home, I was completely out to sea. I didn’t miss just one, or two of the teams, but by the second round, I had named only two of the teams correctly and they were soon to be eliminated in the next round. I completely fulfilled my late wife’s definition.

However, all was not lost! Thanks to my utilization of the electronic media, I was able to watch every game. To me, it was most gratifying.

In all my years, I do not believe I enjoyed any event that ran for a fortnight as much. Plus, from the Final Four on, I was on the edge of my seat.

I have this dear friend, Jerry Berger. His oldest granddaughter is a senior at Villanova. So, vicariously, I had a rooting interest. Boy, was I rewarded!

First, there was the game against the vaunted Oklahoma powerhouse.  Without a doubt, up until that point Oklahoma had the one player who was head and shoulders above the rest as the possible MVP, (Most Valuable Player) in Buddy Hield. He appeared unstoppable.

He was hitting shots from all over the field and practically scoring from everywhere on the courts and almost at will. That is until Oklahoma bumped into Villanova. Buddy was held to just 9 points.

Villanova had not just one, or two players in double figures that night, but they had six players…a  true team effort. They passed the ball and scored with ease, (they shot 71% for the game) while holding Oklahoma to slightly more than 30%. At one point in the second half, V ran off 25 unanswered points. As a result, Villanova won by the most lopsided score in Final Four history… 44 points, (the final score was 95-51. North Carolina, a perennial powerhouse beat Syracuse by a wide margin in the other Final Four game.

The Championship game was set. In the final, NC with its Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Roy Williams, would be seeking its 6th NCAA Championship. Whereas, Villanova with its coach of 15 years, Jay Wright, had never reached the Finals.

Williams, up this point, had an over 80% win record with 14 consecutive NCAA appearances at both The University of Kansas and North Carolina. So far, he is the only coach in history to lead two different programs to the Final Four.

His coaching adversary was Jay Wright.  Wright enjoys a pretty good resume himself. In his 15 years at Villanova, he has taken the Wildcats to 12 consecutive NCAA Tournaments.  The last time Villanova won the tournament was 1985.  It was their only championship. If it was to be, 2016, was to be their second.

As the game unfolded, it lived up to all the pre-game hype and better. Let me try to explain it. The words to best describe the game… How about “awesome. overwhelming,  grand,  breathtaking, splendid, tremendous, remarkable, amazing, awe-inspiring,  or fearsome?  It was all of these!

There were nine lead changes. The coaches were at the top of their game. Villanova, although they trailed 39-34 at the half, led for most of the second half … at one point, by ten points. With a 1:10 left to play UNC had cut the lead to 70-69.

A three point shot by North Carolina’s Paige tied the score at 74 all with 4.7 seconds left to play. But as they say, “It is not over until the obese chanteuse warbles, (the fat lady sings), so with 4.7 seconds left , Chris Jenkins matched the UNC three and with 1 second left gave Villanova the victory.

Wow!  WOW!  WOW!

Villanova’s Senior Captain Ryan Acidiacono, a local boy, was named MVP of the Final Four. Taking nothing away from him, he deserved it.  However, as my friend Don Esters pointed out that all throughout the tournament, they won by a complete team effort.

I agree!

To the best of my knowledge, an entire team has never been awarded this accolade. However, my friend Don Esters said   “Why not?”  I ask the same question…”Why not?”.

One last thing before I sign off! Jerry Berger pointed out to me that coach Jay Wright annually addresses the entire incoming Freshman class, not just the players, as to the importance of  education and achieving good grades. To me and the results he has achieved, is a big plus for the student athlete… not the one and done employed by many of the so-called powerhouse Universities.

I applaud Coach Wright.

All-in-all, “March Madness” for four weeks made me a “Manic  Depressive”. Villanova helped restore my sanity.

Athlete Endorsements / Big Dollars


April 2, 2016

The Tennis World was shocked when Tennis’ reigning glamour queen and the highest paid female player, Maria Sharapova was suspended for taking Meldonium, a drug that has recently been banned by Tennis.

It is a drug that she took openly for ten years without repercussions. When confronted, without hesitation she admitted her guilt. The notification of the ban was sent in an e-mail at the start of 2016 to all Pro Tennis players. A hearing is set for later this year and she possibly will be missing Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the meantime.

Maria is the highest paid female athlete in the world and the commercial fallout was swift. Nike, one of her longtime sponsors announced in a statement that it was suspending its relationship with her “while the investigation continues”.  Her clothing line with Nike, with whom she signed an eight-year extension in 2010, is reported to be worth up to $70 million.

Ever since the days when I worked for the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, corporate monies spent on endorsements and sponsorships have always intrigued me. It was the 1950’s and Gillette was by far the dominant advertiser in sports.

Gillette had the radio rights (there was no TV), to all the major Boxing events and the fights were on the air every Friday night.

In addition, the company sponsored all the Football Bowl games.

In those days there were only four— The Rose, The Sugar, The Orange and the Cotton. In addition, they were the name sponsor for the Triple Crown of Racing— The Kentucky Derby, plus the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. They implemented this sponsorship with in store displays and massive promotions including giveaways tied into each event.

So, I decided it might be interesting and fun to look at sponsorships and endorsements over the years.

Rather than lucrative endorsement deals, the athletes in ancient times were rewarded with statues, songs, poems and drawings.

Theagnes of Thaos was a Greek Boxer won more than 1300 matches during his 22 year career. Leonidas of Rhodes who won wreaths in three categories at the Olympic games of 164, 160, 156 and 152 Olympic Games. He competed in sprints, as well as the hoplitodromos.

Of course, everyone knows that  “hoplito”  (whatever it was called), was a  race in which the contestants ran in a helmet, armor and carried a shield. Theagnes won 12 individual Gold Medals, the most ever by an Olympic athlete…one more than Michael Phelps.

When it came to monetary reward, Gaius Appuleius Diocles won and received 35,63,120 sesterces in prize earnings.

Today, that amounts to over 15 billion dollars. The figure was recorded on a statue in Rome by fellow race competitors and admirers in 146 A.D., which hails him as  “ CHAMPION OF ALL CHARIOTERS”. Today, some athletes are still honored with statues in front of the Arenas where they once competed.

The Sneaker Industry, to help sell their products,  utilized known athletes from all walks of sport to influence purchases of their products.  Converse Rubber first came out with the Chuck Taylor All-Stars in 1932. Today, over 90 years later, it sill remains the iconic Sneaker design.

So much so, it has been estimated that 60% of all Americans will own at least one pair in their lifetime. It continues to be reinvented by each generation.

Ironically, Michael Jordan was a self-styled Adidas fanatic since high school. He wanted to sign with Adidas, but was never offered an endorsement deal. So, after some real salesmanship by Nike CEO Phil Knight, he opted to sign with Nike instead.

The Jordan 1sneaker was released in 1985.  It’s color scheme was Red and Black to match the colors of the Chicago Bulls uniform. Commissioner David Stern banned the usage of the shoes, because they didn’t have enough white.

Despite the ban, MJ continued to constantly wear the shoe and was fined each time.  Nike paid his fines. The Jordan 1 grossed $130 million that year and MJ was the most valuable player.

In  2012, the Jordan Brand controlled 58% of the basketball shoe market and is widely considered the elite brand for basketball footwear and apparel.

The Adidas Stan Smith is widely considered the most iconic tennis show ever. In the late 1960’s the Van Doren Rubber Company was founded in Anaheim, California. Skaters began skating in “Vans” shoes because the “non-slip” soles allowed for better board grip.

In 1975, skateboard legends Tony hawk and Stacy Peralta designed the “Vans ERA. Vans created the skateboard shoe. Based on their worldwide success, countless other brands were inspired to design skating shoes.

Many of the most popular brands in  footwear can attribute part of their success to the athletes who endorse their products.

Honus Wagner, one of the finest all around players in baseball history, sometimes considered the greatest shortstop in baseball history, was the first professional athlete to receive money for allowing the use of his name on a product.

While playing for the Louisville Colonels, he befriended Hillerich of Hillerich and Bradley who in 1894 had begun producing the Louisville Slugger bat.  For many ballplayers of the day, the company engraved players names on the bats,  so there wouldn’t be confusion in dugouts.

In 1905, Wagner signed a long term endorsement deal with H & B.  This deal allowed the company to sell their bats in retail stores. Wagner, is also notorious for his American Tobacco Issued baseball card. In 2007 a rare Wagner card sold at auction for $2.8 million, then  a record price.

The longest running endorsement deal was made in1922 by golfer Gene Sarazen when he became the first member of the Wilson Sporting Goods Advisory Staff.  He debuted his Sarazen Club at the 1932 British Open which he won. This marked the introduction of the Sand Wedge which he designed.

Sarazen’s long-term deal inspired other lengthy such deals as the one that Soccer great David Beckham signed with Adidas.

It may come as a surprise to today’s generation that the first million dollar endorsement deal went to professional Bowler Don Carter… not to a football, basketball, baseball, soccer, or hockey player.  Back in the 1950’s and ‘60s, Bowling was America’s hobby with millions of families enjoying the sport each week.

Carter was the “Bowler of the Year” six times.  In 1967, Bowling Ball manufacturer Ebonite capitalized on his popularity and launched the Don Carter Gyro-Balanced ball.

Athlete endorsement have proven to be most effective when the product is actually used by the athlete in his/her sport. Although, athletes have long endorsed other products.

Babe Didrickson, long considered America’s, greatest female athlete,(Olympic Gold Medalist, Professional Golfer, Softball and basketball standout) endorsed Dodge Cars and Wheaties Cereals in 1933.

Her endorsements paved the way for today’s female athletes like Danica Patrick (Auto Racing) and Serena Williams (Tennis) et al.

Soccer great Pele endorsed Louis Vuitton luxury bags.

Baseball’s Mickey Mantle hawked Timex Watches… Christy Mathewson sold John Hancock Insurance… Babe Ruth pitched Tobacco… the entire 1933 World Series Champion New York Giants team sold Camel Cigarettes… Yogi Berra spoke for Yoohoo Chocolate Drink … Joe DiMaggio, his teammate, pitched coffee maker “Mr. Coffee.”

Football’s Frank Gifford talked in behalf of Lucky Strike cigarettes while Washington Redskin’s great quarterback “Slinging” Sammy Baugh was featured in many Gillette Commercials.

Today, through the popularity of the electronic media, hundreds of products and commercials bear the stamp of well-known athletes.  Payton Manning, for example sells among other things, Buick Cars and Insurance.

This blog is not long enough to name all the active endorsements in today’s world. Believe me when I tell you it’s a lengthy list.

Hell, I bought my new Buick Encore, because I saw Payton Manning driving one and talking about its assets.

Ah, me!