THE DNA OF THE NBA

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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.

GRANDEST MARATHON OF THEM ALL

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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”!

IMMIGRANT COMPLAINTS SHOULD NOT BE AMERICA’S PASTIME, IT SHOULD BE BASEBALL

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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.
IF ONLY IT WERE THAT EASY????

I AM A MANIC DEPRESSIVE

 

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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

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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!

FROM THE COURT TO THE RUNWAY

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March 24th, 2016

As a kid growing up in cold New England (Boston) during the Great Depression, I became a Basketball Junkie from the time I was 10 years old. It was not only my escape from reality; it provided a great deal of joy in the Depression era.

Most of the time, I was playing in my socks. I would slip and slide, as well as constantly falling.  I dreamed of having a pair of my own sneakers.

I held out little hope!  After all, in wet and snowy weather, I often walked to school in the snow with shoes that had holes in the soles. My mother many times would go the local laundry, get some cardboard sheets, which the laundry would use to stiffen shirts after they had been washed and ironed.

The cardboard served a purpose.  Mom would cut the cardboards in the shape of our shoes, place them inside our shoes and in such a way would help keep our feet dry.

Yet, one day when I was in the 5th grade at the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow School, my father surprised me, he brought me a pair of my own Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers.  Oh sure they were second-hand, but it made no difference.  I had my own sneakers.

I remember them well, they were canvas and they were black with high tops. I am sure my dad got them from the Salvation Army.  They were too big for my feet and I still slipped and slid. Wearing two pair of socks helped somewhat!  It made no difference to  me, after all I had my own sneakers.

When I told this story to my daughter Lisa and son-in-law Danny, they suggested I look into the rise of the sneaker culture.  It has grown from just Black High Tops mostly used only for Basketball and work, never to be considered a couture statement… to a fashionable accessory.

Leather shoes were the only accepted form of dress when going out for dinner, working in an office, or any social gathering. Women always wore shoes in the latest style of the day… to wear sneakers to any social function was Taboo…. How times have changed!

Sneakers have gone from the Basketball Courts to the Fashion Runways of the world. Join me for a little bit of history about Sneakers.

Let’s go back in history.

Sneakers are truly not a new phenomenon. In the late 18th Century people wore rubber soled shoes called “plimsoils”. The “plimsoils” were pretty crude – for instance, there was no right or left foot and they were flat with no support. The Sneaker, as we were to come to know it for years, was first manufactured in 1892.

The U.S. Rubber Company came up with more comfortable rubber sneakers with canvas tops.  They called them “Keds”. By World War I, they were being mass-produced. Because they were so quiet, they were given the nickname “sneakers” since a person could easily sneak up on someone.

Just like over the years Frigidaire had become synonymous with electric refrigerators, Kleenex became the catch phrase for soft paper tissues and Hershey’s, for the longest time, was the only name used when describing chocolate candy bars, Sneakers became the nomenclature for rubber soled shoes.

In 1917, Marquis Converse produced the first shoe made specifically for Basketball. It was called Converse All-Stars. Six years later, an Indiana hoops (that’s what the game of Basketball used to be called) star named Chuck Taylor endorsed the shoes and they became known as the Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

Those are the only shoes most of us knew and what we grew up using. To this day, they are still considered the best-selling Basketball shoe of all time.

In 1924, sneakers became International.  In that year, a German named Adi Dassler created a sneaker that he named after himself: Adidas. This brand became the most popular athletic shoe in the world.

American Olympian Track star Jessie Owens wore Adidas when he won four Gold Medals in the 1936 Olympics.

In 1977, while I was still President of FOX Sports, I was approached by Adi’s brother Rudi.  It seems Rudi and Adi were fighting and Rudi was going to leave Adidas to launch his own brand. So, Rudi and myself were joined by my boyhood friend Earle Wolfe who at the time was in the apparel business and the late Stan Greeson, then President of the Harlem Globetrotters, at my FOX office to meet with Rudi and discuss his United States plans for the new brand.

At the meeting, he showed us his marketing concept and invited us to join him. We discussed the possibilities after Rudi left.  Unanimously, we decided to pass on the proposed opportunity.  Rudi launched the brand with others and called  it “Puma”.

During the first half of the 20th Century, Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars were all we knew to wear to play Basketball.  Adidas, on the other hand, became synonymous with the sport of Soccer. Sneakers were used only for playing sports.

 

However, in the 1950’s, it all began to change.  Sneakers started to expand from the locker room and made inroads into the world of fashion. Actually, it was kids who started wearing them as fashion statements. The fad expanded as teenagers joined the parade after they had seen James Dean wearing Sneakers in the popular movie Rebel Without a Cause.

But it was in 1984 that Basketball made its first fashion statement.  That was the year that Michael Jordan of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls signed with Nike to wear and help design a shoe called Air Jordan.  Michael, the most exciting Basketball player of his era with a legion of followers was the perfect salesman.

Air Jordans became the first $100+ Sneaker.  Even after he retired, his shoes continued to be best sellers. Today, many more athletes like LeBron James and Steph Curry have their own shoe lines.

One thing the Sneaker companies have always done is capitalize on different ways to increase sales volumes. To me, as an ardent 5th Grader, I shall always remember Converse putting on a Hoops Clinic at my Grammar School.

Chuck Taylor for whom the All-Star shoe was named was there as MC.  However, the star of the shoe was a man named Bunny Levitt. Bunny had made 499 consecutive foul shots before he missed. He gave us a demonstration. WOW!

For an impressionable 10 year old who lived to play Basketball, this was a moment to never be forgotten.

Soon, based on the Air Jordan success, Adidas, Reebok, New Balance, Skechers and some of the great Fashion houses, (not famous for Sneakers, but other pieces of apparel) were following suit.

They changed the way Sneakers looked.  They added wild colors and in some cases did away with laces.  Many color coordinated their products with complete outfits.  Soon, they were not only made for every sport… skate boarding, walking and “cross training” among them, as well as for everyday wear.

In addition, new sneaker technologies were perfected to increase comfort and better performance. Where the “plimsoils” were flat and were not the most comfortable footwear, Nike’s Air Jordans used little pockets of gas to create better cushioning. Reebok introduced the Pump, ( air pumped into shoes to make them fit more snugly).

The beat goes on- – one company , for example, built a spring in the soles to reduce foot stress.  However, all these innovations come with a price, Today, sneakers, many times called athletic shoes often cost more than $100.

Today, many of my friends no longer wear what we call conventional shoes… they live in Sneakers which often times show up on Red Carpet events as part of a Tuxedo ensemble… still there continues to be dynamic changes.

The Future Hall-of-Famer from Japan

Ichiro-and-Shelly

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Some two-plus decades past, a charming young Japanese man walked into my office in Santa Monica, California.  You know how it is!  Sometimes you meet someone special and a bond is formed.

This was such an instance.  His name is Tsubohiko Kuboki.  Hard to pronounce for we Americans, so he is simply called. “Tee”.

It seems that Tee was interested in representing a product that the organization I was with had the worldwide rights to. You may remember it, it was called the Abflex.

In case you don’t remember it, or for that matter, never heard of it, let me describe what it was and what it did.

It was a device that looked like a miniature stealth bomber.  All one had to do was place the front part against one’s abdomen and utilizing a series of specially designed exercises which basically consisted of pushing the unit back and forth against one’s stomach muscles.  In such a way, the muscles would become taut and toned.

It not only worked, but when we brought it to Asia, it literally flew off the shelves.  Thousand of units were sold while Tee and I became fast friends.  Or, as he has often said when I introduce him to someone new, “Shelly is my brother by a different mother”.

In our work together, he realized I was a baseball junkie.  Thus, whenever we could on my many visits to Japan, we would try to get to the Ball Park. Primarily, we would see the Yumiori Giants.  In the Central League of Japan, they are like our New York Yankees… perennial champions…. (note: I am a Red Sox fan)

Years earlier, while in the U.S. Military, during the time of the Korean War, as Sports Director of Armed Forces radio Far East, I was a frequent and familiar face at the Pacific League games.  Just as we have two leagues, American and National, Nippon Baseball, (Japan’s MLB), has the Pacific and Central.

It was fun!

The Tom Selleck movie, Mr. Baseball dramatically showed the Japanese passion for the game. It is Japan’s National Pastime and they have always allowed two American Baseball players on each team. Often times they were retired from MLB and were considered superior to the homegrown ball players.

Lefty O’Doul and fellow major leaguers including Babe Ruth did a series of exhibitions in Japan in the 1930’s and are considered responsible, to a great extent, for bringing about the great love for Baseball in Japan.

An interesting sidebar is that on one such tour, among the players was a journeyman catcher named “Mo Berg”.  Ironically, Mo Berg was an avid photographer and wherever the tour went, he took pictures of everything. It was at President Roosevelt’s request.

Mo Berg’s photos of both Nagasaki and Hiroshima were later to be used in 1944 by Air Force General Jimmy Doolittle when he dropped the Atomic Bombs that brought about the end of World War II. In essence, Mo was America’s first Atomic Spy.

Today, I know Lefty O’Doul would be so proud and happy to see all of the great Japanese Players in the Majors … and no one is greater than the player who has been represented by my little brother “Tee”.

He is a future Hall-of-Famer and he is known by the finest accolade, only one name. A few elite celebrities from all fields have earned and are tagged with such a sobriquet.  Names like: Pele, Ali, Kareem, Madonna, Cher and Lebron are such appellations.

He is simply called “Ichiro”. His real name is Ichiro Suzuki. Tee has represented him in many areas for quite some time and it is Tee that I owe a debt of gratitude for calling to my attention, his exploits.

At the age of seven, he joined his first Baseball team and asked his father to teach him to be a better ballplayer. The two of them had a daily routine that went on for years… It consisted of throwing 50 pitches, fielding 50 infield balls and 50 outfield balls, and hitting 500 pitches … 250 from a pitching machine and 250 from his father.

His first glove as a Little Leaguer had the word “Concentration” and from the time he was a Little Leaguer he was given the nickname “Baz” which in Japanese means fast.

When Ichiro joined his High School Baseball team, the coach had strict orders from his dad, “never to praise him no matter how good he might be. He has to become spiritually strong. He built strength and stamina by hurling car tires and hitting Wiffle balls.

In high school, his cumulative batting average for all four years was .505. In spite of this, due to his small unimposing frame, the Japanese professional leagues did not draft him until the final round in 1991. He weighs only 124 pounds and stands slightly less than 5’9”.

He is proud of what he has achieved and because of his slight frame, he hopes that kids look on him as a regular guy who with that kind of physique can still get into the record books. They look on him as proof that anyone can succeed with hard work and dedication .

Let’s look at his records!

He made his Pacific league debut in 1992 and until he joined the Major leagues in 2001.  He played for the Orix Blue Wave.

And boy, did he play…. He set a single season record with 210 hits in a 130 game season.  The first player in Japanese Baseball to top 200 hits , the record has since been broken twice, but only when the season was extended to 144 games.

In that same year, his .385 BA was a Pacific league record and it was to be the first of 7 consecutive Batting Titles. He also won 3 straight Pacific league MVP Awards.

In November 1998 while playing in a series of exhibition games against a visiting team of Major League All-Stars, he batted .380 and stole 7 bases. He was lavishly praised for his play.  Still his slight frame kept Major league teams from pursuing him.

However, that series kindled his desire to play in the United States. Always a go-getter, he chased what had become his dream. Finally, the Seattle Mariners stepped up to the plate and bid $13million to bid in an auction for the right to talk to him.

Winning the bid, they signed him to a 3 year, $14million contract in 2000. However, due to an agreement between Major league Baseball and the Pacific League, he could not play in the Majors until 2001.

In spite of all this, Seattle still felt he was too frail to succeed against Major League pitching and wouldn’t have staying power over the 162 game season. They thought they were taking a great risk in signing him.

Ichiro proved them wrong.

Japanese are noted for their manners and consideration.  Having no preference for a particular number, Seattle assigned him #51. This was the number worn for years by the former Seattle Ace Randy Johnson.  Ichiro was hesitant to take the number. He,  actually  sent Johnson a personal message promising not to  “bring shame” to the uniform.

His trepidation was unfounded, he had a remarkable 2001 season… a rookie-record 242 hits, the most by any Major league player since1930. With a .350 Batting average and 56 stolen bases, Ichiro was the first to lead his league in both categories since Jackie Robinson.

Today, he broke or holds many records.  Among them are: Most hits in a season, 262; most seasons and most consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits, 10; most career consecutive stolen bases without being caught, 45; most hits for two consecutive seasons, (tied with Ty Cobb).

While playing in Japan, he garnered 1278 hits. In the MLB so far he has 2935 hits… a total of 4236 hits. This combined amount is greater than Ty Cobb’s 4191 as well as Pete Rose’s 4256 and he is still playing. Nonetheless, MLB will not consider the combined total as a legitimate record.

I did not list his many Golden Gloves nor his overall fifteen year career BA of .314. To include every record I would be writing a small booklet

It’s amazing! This humble young man who very few gave a chance of surviving the grueling MLB schedule, will undoubtedly be the first citizen of Toyoyama, Japan to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Oh!  That’s outside of Nagoya!

My How Time Has Flown

 

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March 10, 2016

It seems like only yesterday but it was actually 45 years ago and I was involved.

Franklin Freed, a music promoter from Chicago while having lunch with his friend, Chicago Water Commissioner Eugene Dibble, he learned something that would bring about the Greatest Fight of the 20th Century. Dibble was a principal in Astro Investments, a Brokerage firm geared to helping  African/American Clients. One of his clients was Muhammad Ali.

Ali, who had been suspended for three years was just starting to Box again.  With the suspension lifted, Ali fought  two contenders who were ranked in the top ten, of the Heavyweight Division … Oscar Buenavena and Jerry Quarry. Slowed only slightly by a little Ring Rust, Ali beat both men handily.

As he was discussing his Portfolio and investments with Dibble, he confided that he wanted no more warmup fights, he was ready and wanted to fight Joe Frazier who had become the Champion in Ali’s absence. Yet he and Frazier had never fought each other. Ali wanted back the title which he considered his.

Thus, this was the conversation between these two Chicago friends. Frank, ever the promoter, asked Dibble how much money did he feel it would take to get the two men in the ring.

Given the figure, Frank  knew he did not have that kind of liquidity, but he immediately thought of Jerry Perenchio. Jerry, who later would go on to become one of America’s greatest Entrepreneurs, at the time was one of Hollywood’s top booking agents.

Among his client list was a galaxy of the era’s musical giants. In order to raise the necessary guarantee he solicited many of them to participate.

Henry Mancini, Sergio Mendes, Ed Ames, Bobby Gentry, and Andy Williams were among the clients that stepped up to the plate. They took a large position and Jerry filled out the commitment with others from the financial community.

Jerry divided the country into sections and sold this group their own parcel.

With the money guaranteed , ($5,000,000…large for that time, dwarfed by today’s standards), “The Fight” (that’s what it was labeled), was scheduled for Madison Square Garden… the date, March 8, 1971… exactly 45 years ago.

I often ask people that I meet about different outstanding events. The question, “Where were you?”  On March 8, 1971, I was at Madison Square Garden and it truly was a night to remember.

It was an historic night.  Not only were there two undefeated World Champions who each claimed the right to the title , but it was the first massive Closed Circuit TV event.

Jerry put together what he considered the “A” team. Jerry’s late partner Freddie Dale, my very dear friend, a genius at booking arenas was slotted to seek the Closed Circuit Venues to showcase the fight. He almost singlehandedly sold rights to over 100 countries and set up enough locations which were to be filled by 1.5 million viewers.

Jerry brought in the Video Techniques team of Barry Burnstein and Hank Schwartz.  Two giants who respectively had no peers.  Barry would answer the calls of all the venue promoters and fill their equipment needs.

As for  Hank, a graduate of MIT, he was the man who made sure that all the equipment supplied was not only running right and the picture received was at its purest.  If the halls, the theaters, the bars, the private residences like the Playboy Mansion, or any venue that had purchased rights, had a problem, he was mister fix-it.

Hank, a brilliant Director figured camera angles and other never-before tried ideas to make the viewing most pleasurable.

For example, knowing that the TV camera lenses of the day would show the equivalent of Sun Bursts when shooting anything White such as the Ring Canvases, he came up with an answer.. His solution was simple… paint the Canvas Blue.

Budweiser jumped at the chance and we sold them the Ring Canvas for their logo.  This was the first time this form of advertising which was to become a staple, was ever used.

In every other fight thereafter the canvas was painted blue. Finally, when new equipment was developed, the problem canvases no longer had to be painted blue. That was only one of many contributions that were to bear his signature in years to come.

As for me, I was in every major city over a 45 day period.  My job was to aid the local promoters in setting up ways to organize and implement a campaign and market it.  I did not get home at all during that period. I resided for almost two months straight in a two-bedroom suite at New York’s St. Regis Hotel which I shared with Freddy Dale.

On more than one occasion, I witnessed men with briefcases filled with $100 dollar bills (century notes), sometimes holding as much as a million dollars, or more, each trying to outbid the other for the rights to a certain geographical area, state, or venue. Freddy, of necessity, turned down more than he accepted.

It was a roller coaster ride and it was to be the biggest money purse since 1927 when Dempsey fought Tunney. Dempsey/Tunney was the first million dollar fight.  It was pegged to be a $990,000 purse per fighter for Tunney’s rematch with Dempsey.

Supposedly, the story goes that Gene wanted it to be the recipient of the first $1million dollar purse in Boxing history, he sent Promoter Tex Rickard his personal check for $10,000 so that he could say he was paid a Million Dollars.

My challenge was to let everyone worldwide know the historic importance of March 8, 1971.  I used every promotional trick I had learned in my first forty years on this planet.

The promotion included actor Burt Lancaster. Burt, a former amateur Boxer. had been hired to be the color commentator alongside Boxing’s greatest voice Don Dunphy for the Closed Circuit TV of the fight.

Burt and I had a Lear Jet and in the space of two weeks went to 30 cities where at each airport we held a Press Conference… we never left the Airport.  It was a huge success… the idea of one of the world’s most renowned actors calling a fight was interesting and the draw.

As for Don Dunphy, he came out of retirement for this fight.  The last TV fight he had called was Marciano v. Louis and that was in 1951… 20 years earlier.

That night at Madison Garden was electric. Frank Sinatra had been assigned by Life Magazine as their Ringside photographer.  A young UCLA coed named Christie Brinkley was the fight’s official photographer.

It was a night of celebrity.  Anyone who was anybody was among the spectators. Madison Garden was completely sold out and tickets were at a premium.

As tired as I was, I sat at Ringside with the great Joe Louis and golfer Doug Sanders. The crowd was cacophonous … in all the future events I would do, I would never again experience such a raucous crowd and the goose pimples that permeated my body that night.

And it’s interesting, how perceptions can change. Before I met Ali, I was prepared to dislike him.  After all, I like so many other American Kids had gone in the military.

However, to know him, I came to realize that his belief in his religion was genuine and not just to avoid military service.  The more we worked together, I came to admire him as a man.  He was thoughtful, kind, considerate, and gentle while in the ring he was the exact opposite.

To be trite, the phrase “you should never judge a book by its cover” is an adage I live by.  After all, Ali once said, “I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be who I want”.

The 1936 Olympics and the movie “Race”

Jesse Owens

March 5, 2016

 

Earlier this week, Susan and I went to our local theater.  The movie we saw was entitled Race.  It was most enjoyable, but like all movies based on reality, the producers took a bit of poetic license.

I repeat, I enjoyed the movie.  However, based on personal interviews, I hope to bring an insight to a marvelous incurrence in sports, Jesse Owens 4 Gold Medals.  Over the years, future Olympians have individually won more medals… in the one-year they competed, Eric Haden won 5 in Speed Skating and Missy Franklin won 4 in swimming.

Matt Biondi won 8 over three Olympiads; Carl Lewis won 9 over 4.  However, the all-time winner is Michael Phelps, with 6 in one and 18 overall, Mark Spitz won the most in one Olympiad, 7 in 1972. This remains the most ever in a single Olympiad.

Mark, being Jewish was under guard and urged to pull out because at the Munich Olympics that year,  terrorists had invaded the Olympic Village and massacred 11 Israeli athletes.

Getting back to the movie “Race”, no one athlete had to overcome the overwhelming feeling of hate and bigotry that Jesse Owens, a Black American sprinter, faced in 1936…36 years earlier.

Adolph Hitler, the Chancellor of the Third Reich (Nazi Germany) staged the Berlin Olympics to showcase and prove to the world, the superiority of his pure –bred Aryan race… white supremacy. Jesse was to prove Hitler’s premise to be a fallacy.

The movie as far as it went, sugarcoated many of the main points.  Let me attempt to set the record straight.

In the late fifties, early sixties, I was working for WJWTV in Cleveland. Ohio. This brought me into close contact with Jesse who on occasion was not only a guest on our shows, sometimes anchored our sports desk.

Jesse came out of East Cleveland. His speed in high school, had coaches from all over the country looking to give him a scholarship. He was dirt poor and he saw college athletics, like so many youngsters today, as his way out to a better life.

His arrival on the Ohio State Campus was met with disdain and nothing but taunts. His was the victim of many vicious acts. Once when returning to his dorm room, his pillow was hung over the door jam with a hangman’s rope and scrawled on the wall was “Go Home Nigger”.

He wanted to quit many times, but his soon-to-be wife plus pressure from the NAACP convinced him to stay in school. Later, because of the rising prejudice and bigotry in NAZI Germany, the same NAACP tried to convince him he should not go to the Olympics.

However, his girl friend Ruth who would become his wife in 1935, prevailed upon him to go. Until the day he died 45 years later, she still remained his constant supporter and soul mate. On the team, there was one other Black athlete, Ralph Metcalfe and two outstanding sprinters who happened to be Jewish. They, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, with Frank Wycoff and Foy Draper were scheduled to be the 4 x 100 meter United States Relay team.

Fate, however, intervened. In the movie, it shows where Avery Brundage, the head of the Olympic Team at the time in compliance with the wishes of Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, determined that the Jewish runners, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman should not run.

Hitler, at the time, had started his purge of Jews throughout Germany sending many as slaves to concentration camps and others to their deaths in the gas chambers.  The picture portrays Brundage as a man who reluctantly replaced Stoller and Glickman on the relay team with Metcalfe and Owens.

In my conversations with Glickman and Owens, nothing could be further from the truth. Brundage, in fact who himself had been a great amateur athlete, (in 1912, he competed on the same team as Jim Thorpe, always finishing second), was appalled that on his team there were Jews and Blacks, both of whom he considered inferior.

On the ship going over to Germany, they were made to feel inferior. So when it was suggested, the Jews should not run, he readily acquiesced.

However, according to Marty Glickman, he and Stoller always felt that Brundage himself might have suggested to the Fuhrer that the Jews should not run.

I met Marty when I was working for the Music Corporation of America and just as I had a few conversations with Jesse back in Cleveland, I spent a great deal of time with Marty in NYC.

Marty, was already a successful broadcaster. He had been the voice of the New York Knicks and was doing  sports on all three networks. We worked together in the early sixties.  At the time he was tutoring young announcers. In the early days of HBO, it was Marty who established the way their announcers would sound.

Both he and Jesse remained fast friends until Jesse’s passing.  Marty could not forget that when Avery Brundage told Jesse and Ralph that they would be running the 4 x 100, they refused.  They were not interested in politics, they were only interested in the fact their fellow athletes who had trained for years for this one opportunity were to be denied.

The movie touches on it slightly that both Ralph and Jesse would not run the “Race”, unless Marty and Sam gave them their blessing. What it doesn’t show is that even though he didn’t like Blacks, he threatened the two of them that if they didn’t race he would see to it that they were stripped of any medals they had won, or possibly might win.

Ralph and Jesse refused!… all the time knowing what the consequences might be.

Marty and Sam did not want their friends to suffer and pleaded with them to run.

As fate would have it, the 4x 100 was Jesse’s fourth Gold Medal. After the race was over, Hitler left the stadium before he would shake Jesse’s hand. Although he did shake after Jesse’s first victory.  The movie does not show this.

Ironically, years later I was to find out that Marty was my friend David Friedland’s cousin… and I shared with David, a 2013 HBO disc entitled “Glickman.” It wan HBO Special and I believe it can still be sen on Netflix.

Survivors of the Holocaust have a phrase “Never again”. Today, unfortunately, as the World War II generation leaves us, memories fade. The Horrors that were once so vivid, to many of today’s young adults and children is a myth.

We must never forget!

Basketball’s Tallest Man

EddieEinhorn

February 29, 2016

Over the years Basketball players have become physically bigger and taller in stature.

It has been almost three quarters of a century since Bob Kurland, the first 7footer and George Mikan who was 6’10” came along to usher in the era of the “Big Man” and forever change the game of Basketball.

In the early 1940’s, Kurland playing for Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) led the Aggies to two NCAA Championships while at the same time, George Mikan would lead his school, DePaul to NIT Championships.

At that time, the NIT (National Invitational Tournament) with the nation’s top 8 teams, played at Madison Square Garden in New York, was considered by many to be the real Collegiate Championship.

The NCAA though wasn’t very glamorous, lacked luster and although it was the officially sanctioned championship, the best  teams would play in the NIT.

Back in the 1960’s, Eddie Einhorn standing only 5’4”, when no one else saw any value in the Tall Man’s game of Baseketball, brought the NCAA games first to Radio and then TV.

This made him Collegiate Basketball’s all-time “Tallest Man”.

Eddie was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.  Without Eddie, his talent, and his business acumen, “March Madness”, soon to be upon us, would never have become one of the world’s most exciting annual sports events, and would probably never have existed.

Eddie, who was my friend, was 80 years old this week when he died from complications of a stroke. He was one of a kind and many of his trail-blazing sports projects are part of his legacy.

I worked alongside Eddie throughout part of the 60’s, the 70’s, and a bit of the 80’s. Under all kinds of pressure, you could always find Eddie, the coolest guy in the room armed with an infectious smile, a quick wit and a dervish-like mind that never stopped spouting ideas.

Eddie’s career in Broadcasting actually started when as a Law Student at Northwestern, working out of his dorm room, he put together a network from a handful of radio stations to broadcast the National Collegiate Basketball Tournament .  Eddie was both the producer and announcer.

It was the late 1950’s.  At the time, College Basketball only had a small regional following for local teams. Eddie was able to purchase the radio rights for a tiny fee.

Recently, the NCAA Tournament was sold for 14 seasons to TV for more than 11 billion dollars,

In the 1960’s, he put together his own Ad Hoc Syndicated  Network,  “TVS”, but the  NCAA product was met with little, or no interest. Eddie, however, did not stop , he saw what he believed what the future might bring.  Not even he, as he often told me, could imagine how big it would become.

The actual breakthrough came on Jan.20, 1968.

UCLA, with Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at center, took a 47-game winning streak into the Houston Astrodome to face the also undefeated University of Houston and its star center, Elvin Hayes. The Dome at the time was only three years old and considered the “8th Wonder of the World”.

More than 52,000 people attended… an extraordinary number for a basketball game, even today. Millions watched on Eddie’s TVS. Eddie through tireless effort had put together a syndicated network of 150 stations in 49 states.

Many of the stations were affiliated with the day’s only three networks – CBS, NBC, or ABC and angered the parent networks when they broadcast the game instead of carrying their network program… millions watched.

Eddie had proved that once shown the product the fans would flock to view it. He was right!

In 1971, along with Eddie, Howard Zuckerman and myself, we put on the first NBA/ABA All-Star game. The fledgling ABA was seeking to compete successfully against the established NBA. The game was Broadcast on TVS and over 37,000 people filled the same Astrodome.

Using the rules of each league for a half, many were different, it had most of the day’s great players. It featured the NBA’s best including Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Dave DeBussechere. The ABA’s best at the time were a bunch of no names like Charley Scott and Mel Daniels.

It was a tight game with the NBA winning by five points but the most valuable player was the ABA’s Rick Barry, who later after the merger of the leagues was to become an NBA All-Star.

For me, the highlight of the game and a part of Basketball lore was personal. It was the fact that our NBA center from the Milwaukee Bucks did not show up in Houston to play that day. Lew Alcindor was married in a Musiim ceremony in Washington, D.C. and forever changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

I took his unworn 7’2” sweat suit, with the name “Alcindor” on the back (the last official time it would ever be used) home to my 13 year-old son Steven.  Since Steven never grew into it, I donated the entire outfit to the Helms Sports Hall-of-Fame.

Eddie went on to become Executive Producer of CBS Sports.  Here he revitalized the lagging CBS Sports Spectacular, making it the most watched weekend Sports program with the exception of live major events.

When Eddie learned that I was a member of the General Assembly of International Sports Federations and I was going to the 1978 Annual Congress, he joined me. It was his first visit to any International Sports Meeting.

Here he discovered a Treasure Chest of Sports disciplines that had never been seen on TV. As a result, in his new capacity at CBS, he signed many to Network contracts and gave Sports Spectacular an exciting new look.

At the meeting there were representatives of the Olympic Sports as well as countless others from all over the world like Cycling, Yachting, and Softball that wished to be included in the Olympics. The 1984 L.A. Olympics was well represented by my pals Rene Henry, Mike O’Hara, and the late Hal Uplinger, also one of Peter Uberroth’s lieutenants, Dick Sargent.

Upcoming Olympic Venues including Nagano Japan, Athens, Sarajevo and Melbourne were there.  Also in attendance were others like Atlanta, Lake Placid, Sochi, Salt lake City, Barcelona and Beijing looking for support to become host cities.

Eddie moved with ease cementing new relationships and building his CBS base.

He gave so much more to the world of sport.  His last active position prior to falling ill was as part owner and President of the Chicago White Sox.  In this capacity, he negotiated not only the White Sox TV deals, but he was responsible for putting Major League Baseball on a solid footing with a multi-billion dollar Broadcast package.

Eddie, was one of a kind.  As I said, although diminutive in stature, when it came to sports he was always the “Tallest Man” in the room, especially in the world of Collegiate Basketball.

When you watch March Madness take a moment to remember the man who made it all happen.

R.I.P… Eddie Einhorn