THE WORLD IS IN TEARS

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June 6, 2016

I heard the news that Muhammad Ali had finally succumbed to the ravages brought on by years of fighting Parkinson’s. He had devloped a respiratory illness. Finally, he could breathe no longer.

As I listened to the news, many fond memories and images came flowing back. I had the pleasure of working with and knowing Ali over a long period of time. For the most part, it was the Halcyon days.

All of us who were part of the inner circle basked in his reflected glory. Of that group there are only two of us left… Dr. Ferdie Pacheco and myself. Ferdie is the last of the men who made up Ali’s corner.

Ferdie who ran two clinics in the heart of Miami’s ghetto was a perfect fit for Ali. Ali, a gentle giant of a man, learned early what it was to give back to a community. He saw Ferdie treat indigent patients who could not afford his services, for nothing. Ali, a happy spirit, learned early the reward of caring for others.

Ali lived by the biblical principle that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”. Wherever we were, be it Tokyo, Manila, New York, Kinshasha, Vancouver, London, the Bahamas, or Seoul, Ali always had time for people.

He understood the mantel of humanity that he was wearing and the responsibility that had been placed on his shoulders. He was loved and adored, both up close and from afar.

Over the years, my life has been filled with big personages. However, no one for me has ever approached the majesty, as a person, that Ali possessed.

The world was shocked when in 1967, he refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army. He pleaded that it was against his religion. Many of us labeled him a “draft dodger. He was vilified, even burned in effigy. However, he stood tall! He never deviated from his belief that the war was wrong.

Many of the days great Black Leaders begged him not to do this. In fact, at one point a meeting was held in Cleveland. At that meeting, many sports giants asked him to reconsider… go into the service and do exhibitions. Among those at the meeting were Lew Alcindor, who would later become Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns, (considered the NFL’s greatest running back). They feared a backlash against the Black Community. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.

I was among those who were unhappy with him. After all, I and most of my friends had served in the Military. However, as I got to know him and realize that he was so genuine in his belief, I could do nothing but respect him and envy him in his courage.

Behind the scenes Ali was a gentle caring man. I can never forget sitting in his room at Houston’s Astroworld watching Jerry Quarry fight Jack O’Halloran from the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva. It was a bloody and savage battle.

He turned to my late wife Mollie and said profoundly, “What a terrible way to make a living. My son will carry a briefcase”. Two days later, Ali fought Buster Mathis at the Astrodome across the street and won a unanimous decision as he pounded Buster without mercy.

Speaking of the Astrodome, in 1972 I flew from L.A. with Wilt Chamberlain and his lawyer Seymour Goldberg to meet with Ali and Bob Arum. The idea was that Ali would fight the 7’2” Wilt.

We posed for pictures in Judge Hofheinz’ office when Wilt received a call from Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Lakers. The press was assembled upstairs and waiting for the announcement about Ali’s next fight. They had no idea whom it might be.

Wilt had to take the call, but we could not hold up the press conference. So Angelo Dundee, Ali and myself went up to meet the press. For a half hour, Wilt did not appear. During all that time, Ali entertained the assemblage with the doggerel, (the poems), that became his trademark before each fight. It was that poetry which got him the award of a literary seat at prestigious Oxford University.

Wilt did not show up. He had taken a plane back to Los Angeles. We learned, he had been in a contract dispute with the Lakers and used the fight ploy to achieve his goal which was settled when Jack Kent Cooke called. Hastily, Jimmy Ellis, a former Ali sparring partner and boyhood friend who had briefly been champion during Ali’s suspension, took the fight.

A picture of Ali posing with Wilt was published in the Guiness Book of Records.

During Ali’s 1976 down period, he agreed to fight Antonio Inouki. Inouki was a Japanese wrestling champion, as well as a holder of a 10th degree Karate Black Belt. When Angelo saw Inouki train he was afraid for the injury that Ali might incur.

Angelo wanted out! But the promoters, (Yakuza) would have no part of it, so they made special rules.

According to Inouki, Ali believed he had signed on for it to be an exhibition of Wrestler versus Boxer. When Angelo saw Inouki training with a series of brutal drop-kicks and violent grapples on sparring partners, Angelo realized he was training for a real fight.

Ali’s management renegotiated the rules. A list of restrictions was imposed on Inouki. The fight went off and to the TV audience it seemed boring. However, in Tokyo’s Budokan, Japan’s Madison Square Garden, the atmosphere was tense. It was ruled a 15 round Draw.

After the fight, I sat in Ali’s hotel room with Dr. Ferdie as I helped him apply Ice Pack after Ice Pack on Ali’s swollen legs which were a mass of Black and Blue. He had Hematomas from ankle to thigh as a result of Inoki’s kicking.

Ferdie wanted Ali to stay in the hotel room and rest for a few days before traveling anywhere. Ali would have none of it. Despite Ferdie’s warnings, Ali flew to Korea to honor his commitment to U.S. Troops stationed there. He fought exhibitions in seven different camps.

He then flew home to Los Angeles. His leg conditioned had worsened. Upon arriving, we were met with an ambulance. Ali was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. There he hovered between life and death for almost two weeks. A fact that most of the public did not know until this day.

I was also there for his last fight against Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas. Ali, as they say, had nothing left in his tank. Berbick who under normal conditions would never deserve to be in the ring with Ali, hurt him badly. Along with my associates, Bob Block, Phil Gillen, Burt Sugar and Clair Higgins, I cried.

Ali passed the other day. I had not seen him in over 20 years. He was a kind, gentle man. He loved people, especially children.

There will be many eulogies attesting to his greatness and everyone of them will be true. He touched all of our lives… even those who never met him.

He was a man of great courage, honesty and humility. His overt braggadocio was only for the purpose of building interest in his fights. He always had a sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step until he was felled by Parkinson’s.

Ali’s inspirational legacy will live on for generations to come.I shall never forget him!

Grantland Rice, the great sportswriter, once wrote; “It’s not who wins, or loses, but how you play the game that counts!”

In the ring, Ali mostly won, but on rare occasion also lost. He always played at his best. The real winner is us, mankind. We are better off for his having been part of our lives.

R.I.P.

THE YOUNG AT HEART AND SPORTS

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May 31, 2016

You remember me, I’m sure! Today, I am an Octogenarian. That means I am in my 80’s!

How can that be?

Yet, it was only yesterday that I threw that winning pass for the New York Giants in the NFL Championship…(note: this was before the Super Bowl). While last month, I sunk that overtime goal that guaranteed the Bruins victory against the Montreal Canadians to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe, you remember when under great pressure, I forced Willis Reed to foul me so that my Celtics would move on to the final playoff round for the BBAA, (Today, the NBA), championship.

Of course, all of the foregoing was not real. I was 20, 25, 30 or, at the most, 35. I had no continuing aches and pains. I had never heard of arthritis. My heart was strong and I didn’t suffer from Asthma. Constant leg cramps, which would wake me up many a nights from a sound sleep, just didn’t exist.

Today, those maladies are commonplace among a great deal of my brethren, but no one should despair, we older folks have a lot of fight left in us.

We could sit around, moping and contemplating about how many Sunsets we have left. Or like most of us, we refuse to leave Planet Earth sitting on our duffs and as I said looking at each Sunset. Instead, we realize that life has taught us how to live.

So what if Mother Nature, in the course of normal aging, has taken the zip of our fastball. She no longer will let us lead a fast break, jump as high as we used to, throw a punch with the same speed and alacrity, or play in March Madness.

What she has done, is to allow us to compensate by substituting new sports, exercises and physical challenges geared to helping us lead as healthy and normal a life as we can. All this is done without taxing our bodies too much. She has taught us to use the tools we have been left with.

In essence, by seeking new physical endeavors, we become the teenagers of the future.

As a former member of the “President’s Council of Physical Fitness” I was exposed to a great number of statistics that I hope you will find interesting. Tennis and Golf are some of the favorites among elderly men. My 70 year old friend Dan Millis, once a top tennis player, feels the comparatively new sport of Pickleball fills his needs.

Among the studies that I have always remembered was one from The Idraettens Institute of Denmark. Their statistical results paralleled those of most countries including the United States.

For example, I learned that women prefer recreational sport in groups. Among them are yoga, zumba, pilates, spinning, tap dance, and aerobics.  Many Parkinson’s sufferers use Boxing (sparring) to help control the ailment.

Men, on the other hand, to a larger extent want to be able to compete. They want to measure their performance against themselves or others. To this end as I may have mentioned earlier, golf, softball, cycling, jogging and tennis are some of the favorites.

In addition to friendly daily, or weekly games, organized age group competitions have developed. California Senator Alan Cranston competed as a Senior Sprinter in major track meets well into his eighties. He lived to be 86.

Dr Paul Dudley White, considered the founder of preventive Cardiology, advocated for Cycling for good cardio fitness. He is in the Cycling Hall of Fame. There are Cycling paths named for him throughout New England. Where for over 50 years, he would ride 30 miles daily from his home to his office. He was 87 when he passed.

For the most part, the elderly want to do sports, or exercise during the day and 63% exercise before noon. As a rule, 58% of the elderly prefer exercising in nature/ forests (27%)— hiking, walking; on roads and sidewalks (20%— cycling, jogging; fitness centers (11%).

Elderly people are the most satisfied age group when it comes to utilizing facilities and arenas for sport. Lest we forget, it is the elderly who point out that the facilities and arenas have the biggest influence of their sports participation.

If you have been active while growing up, it is necessary that you stay active in your senior years. Health is the biggest barrier among the 32% of the elderly who remain inactive. As a matter of fact, many inactive elderly think they have become to old to exercise.

To me, as an elderly man who finds the gym both a physical and social boon, this lazy kind of thinking is tantamount to shutting yourself out of the chance for a continuing healthy lifestyle.

Inactive women are hindered to a large extent by bad health and bad physical shape. While inactive men lack interest and spend the time wasting away each day. There has to be a way of using different techniques to stimulate inactive men to become physically active.

Activity has a great positive social affect when the elderly person becomes part of a group and joins others. Exercise is a positive which helps with continuing good health and maintaining physical skills.

Studies tell us that new generations of elderly bring new tendencies in sports participation. They learn that much of the skill set they once possessed has eroded. There is only one alternative… compromise; do the same things, but in moderation.

Still more elders want to do specific sports as well as trying to continue doing the type of sport they did previously. However, we must learn to do these sports in modification. Every activity needs to be tempered.

The competitive flames still burn, but for most, the body moves on. However, with exercise and moderate competition, enjoyment of a healthy being and lifestyle is possible.

Albert Einstein, the World-Renowned Physicist felt strongly that a healthy mind is a product of a physically fit body. He always felt that when it came to fitness and strength it was best to stick to the basics.

This scrawny academic had a set daily pattern of weights and cardio. He never deviated. From his laboratory on the Princeton Campus to his home, he never rode, or drove a car. A bicycle, or his feet were his chosen mode of transportation. He was 87 when he died.

Satchell Paige, the great African-American Pitcher spent most of his best years toiling in the Negro Leagues. Long after the color barrier had been broken by Jackie Robinson, Bill Veeck, brought him to pitch in the Major Leagues with the Cleveland Indians.

Many who faced him including the great Joe DiMaggio thought he was the best pitcher of all time. Yet, he did not throw a Major League pitch until he was almost 50 years old.

His age, until he died, remained a mystery. Often, when asked how old he was, his answer was; “ How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are”.

He would also answer that same question with two other significant quotes; “Don’t look back something might be gaining on you” and “ Work like you don’t need the money… dance like nobody’s watching”.

Satchell was always in shape. He pitched his last MLB game at age 59. However, until he died at age 76, he could be found on any sandlot in Kansas City pitching batting practice, giving advice to youngsters, or just socializing. He lived life to the fullest.

The morale of today’s column, if there is one, is simply that sports and exercise is a great outlet as a way to stay healthy. You do not have to be a sports star, or a celebrity. Participation and making yourself available is what will always bear fruit.

Once I could run and jump. I never enjoyed working out in a gym. Today, I am a devotee of Dr. Einstein.

Why can’t I do Physics???????

THE CODE OF SPORTS ETHICS

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May 22, 2016

For years, I have been bothered by the “win at all costs” philosophy that seems to be predominant among our national thought process. Somewhere, the values we are supposed to have learned while growing up and competing have gone awry.

Years ago, my late friend John Chaffetz, father of Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, along with Ernie Vandeweghe and myself used to meet for lunch on a frequent basis. Ernie and I decided to take John out for lunch to celebrate his six-month anniversary as Commissioner of the AYSO, (The American Youth Soccer Organization).

Instead of it being a happy occasion, we found John down in the dumps.  Upon investigation, we learned that he intended to resign. He turned to both Ernie and myself asking if we would like to take his place.

We were astonished! After all, this was a position he had sought and a most coveted one at that. The revelation he made to us was: he loved his job and had many ideas he wished to implement, but he just couldn’t take the parents.

Parents, with absolutely no knowledge, were trying to dictate to this Professional what he had to do, what he couldn’t do and what he shouldn’t do. Shortly, after that luncheon, John did resign. Overbearing parents had caused a wonderful organization to lose the talent of a brilliant and dedicated leader.

It was at that lunch I first heard the term, “Soccer Mom”. However, that personage was familiar to me from many of the other walks of life that I travelled… ergo, “stage mother, hockey dad” etc;

As many of my readers know, I was involved in the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics, as well as the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and still, although inactive, am a member of the USSA (United States Sports Academy) Advisory Board.

What triggered this column was the recent flare-up of tempers exhibited when the Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals engaged in the kind of brawl that besmirches the name of Baseball.

Moreover, I think of all the kids who saw this exhibition by some of the men they wish to emulate. One of the combatants was the Nationals’ Bryce Harper… without question among today’s Baseball luminaries.

Think of what the kids take away from that scene… “If Bryce acts that way, than it’s okay for me to do the same”.

This is wrong! 

Parents and celebrities should be held to a higher standard. As a result, I decided it’s time to review the creeds of various athletic organizations and to get a feel of what their Mission is.

The Olympic Creed: “ The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well”. Literally translated if you do your best, you have a chance of emerging victorious.

The Little League Mission Statement has the same principles but is stated differently. It says in part: “to promote, develop, supervise and voluntarily assist in all lawful ways, the interest of those who will participate in Little League Baseball and Softball”.

In such a way, the league through proper guidance and exemplary leadership assists children and attempts to develop the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being.

The Pop Warner Mission is to enable young people to benefit from participation in team sports and activities in a safe structured environment.

The above lofty statements and those of all other junior athletic organizations in no way accentuates a “win at any cost” attitude. Unfortunately many parents who must live vicariously through their children’s achievements, have hijacked and prostituted these goals.

These bastardizations lead to a complete moral decay and displays by adult athletes, a temperament that demoralizes us all. It is an indication of the feeling that it is alright to cheat as long as you win.

Let me cite a few extreme examples of what has happened.

At a Stockton youth football game, coach Cory Petero rammed a player in the back who had just blocked his son. Petero was charged with felony child abuse.

A T-ball coach from a Pittsburgh suburb offered one of his 8 year old players $25 to throw the ball at a teammate, a mildly autistic 9 year-old, during warm-ups.  His idea, the 9 year-old would be too sore to play in the playoffs. Then, he would not have to be used in the Playoff Game defying the rule that everyone on the team must get into the game.

His first pitch hit his teammate in the groin whereupon the coach ordered the 8 year to throw again, but harder at his head. The 8 year-old did as he was told and hit his teammate in his ear.

Unlike the parent/coach who felt winning was so important, the judge didn’t see it that way and convicted the coach of corruption of minors and conspiracy to commit simple assault.  He was sent directly to prison for six months.

In Boston, a Hockey Father Thomas Junta was charged with manslaughter in the fatal beating of another father over rough play at a Youth Hockey game. He was sentenced to a 6 to 10 year prison sentence.

Then there is the case of Timothy Lee Forbes, his son’s team lost their sixth grade Catholic League basketball championship. So angry, he sucker punched the winning coach before biting off part of his ear. Forbes was sentenced to four years in prison.

The are many horror stories, but one of the worst is about that of a Dentist, Dr. Stephen Cito. Dr. Cito sharpened his son’s chin-strap in an effort to literally slash the competition.

After five kids left a single game due to lacerations, (one went to the hospital for more than a dozen stitches), officials stopped the action to investigate.

For failing to stop his crazy dad, young Cito was expelled from school and his father received a year’s probation plus 400 hours of community service. The irony is the father is back practicing as a children’s dentist. Would you go to him?

There are countless more tales of this nature.  Too many to list in this Blog. To me, it is a national crisis. I do not have any answers. I grew up in quieter times.

We didn’t have fancy civic parks to play in.  We played in sand lots and on the streets. We were our own officials.  We had our fights and our arguments, but without parents and coaches who want to prove they are winners.

You know what, the same kids came out to play the next day.  Oh, we remembered what went on the day before, but the only way to settle the dispute was to play harder and try to win cleanly.

Overzealous parents and coaches who place the emphasis on winning at all costs are a severe detriment to the good that the youth programs can achieve.  In recent years, unprecedented media attention has been focused on youth sports.

I have queried a few of my Psychologist and Psychiatrist friends why it appears the violence in youth sports has dramatically escalated over the past five years. A great deal of it has been because of parent and coaches engaging not only negatively, but often times in violent behavior.

Many times, my friends tell me, the reasons have more to do with personality traits, the rapid pace of modern society and underlying societal pressures rather than actual circumstances surrounding that particular game. Thus, attitude transcends sports and is evident even in today’s political scene whereby so many candidates who have media exposure express callous, thoughtless and unsubstantiated remarks… breeding disrespect

I certainly have no answers.  However, I do believe people smarter than me should, in a calm fashion, look to making positive changes.  This happens first in the home, then on the filed of play.

One thing that some leagues do, I do not believe in.  I believe Trophies, medals, or awards should only go to the victorious.  No child should be honored for just showing up. They have to work hard to achieve a goal.  Which achievement should not be trivialized.

Let me close today with a positive note.

It happened last week in Newton, Massachusetts. In the Newton Southeast Little League, 8 year-old Jordan Bornstein pitched a no-hitter, had three hits including a Home Run and his team won.

But, the nicest thing I learned was that afterwards both teams went out together for Pizza and Ice Cream which the winning team paid for.

That’s what youth sports should be!

WHAT IS A STUDENT ATHLETE

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May 16, 2016

The headline of today’s Blog is not by accident. Surprisingly, a great deal of thought went into composing the headline. My friend Don Esters called me last week and he was complaining about the plight of what appears to be a high incidence of illiteracy shown by many athletes, supposedly college graduates. To Don, this is most evident when they are called upon to answer interviewers’ questions.

For those who have followed my writings, first in my columns and now on my Blog, realize that I have felt for a long time that a schools’ desire for winning teams does not excuse its shirking its true responsibility of educating our youth.

A few years back, I talked to my cousin who had been a professor of linguistics at a couple of our most prestigious universities. My complaint was that I felt offended by the bastardization of the English Language exhibited by so many former athletes who have become on-air talent.

The utilization of their sports achievements and celebrity is wonderful for securing the job. Their notoriety helps garner viewers and builds ratings. I was taught Standard English both as a College English Major and as an embryo announcer.

After all, most announcers take numerous diction classes and even study speech therapy. I did! As a young announcer, I was required to follow the NBC pronunciation guide, which at the time was the gold standard) and spend hours mastering various challenges that consisted of tongue-twister tests.

I called many of the former athletes ,“deez, dem and dozers”. My cousin pointed out that my attitude was wrong. They were only products of their environment; no different than when my forefathers came over from Europe. My ancestors had accents and they had difficulty mastering the English language.

My cousin, the linguist pointed out how wrong I was to make the assessment of ignorance. It is a mistake made by many of us who are unenlightened. She pointed out that languages are made up of many Dialects. In the case of a great many of these athletes, linguists describe their speech as a Black Urban Dialect. This Dialect is completely consistent within its environment… easily understood.

However, it is not what we consider Standard English. Thus, it is often stigmatize as having no social value. The fact is that many people associate the Dialect with ignorance. Such an association is wrong and without merit.

However, I do believe the NCAA colleges and Universities are doing many of these athletes a great disservice. Not only should communication skills be taught, but also all student athletes should be taught skills that will earn them a living once their playing days are done.

As I have written before, I am a firm believer that “one and done” employed by schools such as Kentucky in the handling of its Basketball program goes against everything an accredited institute of education should be standing for. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
The NCAA Basketball tournament known as “March Madness” dominates sports headlines for an entire month and bleeds over into the next month. The athletic prowess of these young athletes is a marvel to behold. However, what is less noticed is the alarming rate that Black Athletes are dropping out of colleges across the country.
On major college campuses across the country, Black males comprise less than 3% of undergraduate enrollments. However, when we study the numbers on the revenue-generating sports—Football and Men’s Basketball, they make up somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of those teams. It appears that they are only really there to be part of the revenue-generating working class and not necessarily there to be part of the educating class as most everyone else is.
The insidious part of this is that these athletes are supposedly promised one thing for all their blood and sweat. This one item can be a transformative tool in our society. A tool that might help them get a job and a comfortable place in life after athletics.
Unfortunately, all of the incentive is really on winning and not losing on the field, or on the court. Coaches, who themselves make substantial salaries, are not necessarily incentivized to graduate players. With a $10 Billion contract for NCAA Basketball Broadcasts and the knowledge that the five top coaches of the five power conferences make an average of $2.8 million a year, it is easy to understand why this is true.
Then, there is Jay Wright. Jay, whose real name is Jerold is the coach of Villanova, a small Catholic School located in Philadelphia. His school is not a member of one of the five power conferences. Yet, little Villanova is the reigning NCAA men’s Basketball Champion… beating all those vaunted powerhouse teams from the bigger conferences.
Here’s where Jay is different. He looks on getting a degree as the most important thing; an athlete should get out of his/her college experience. All coaches give their team a pep talk about their team and the need to win. Jay goes a step further.
This year, my friend Jerry Berger saw his oldest granddaughter graduate from Villanova… and he learned something that I think is a tribute to the school and to Coach Wright. He not only gives his team the obligatory pep talk, but each year he addresses the entire incoming class. His topic is not basically about sports, or Basketball, but more importantly, it is about studying hard and getting a degree.
In my eyes, Jay Wright is not just a coach, but also an educator. He understands what an academic institution is supposed to achieve and the benefits of a good education.

THE RUN FOR THE ROSES

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April 9, 2016

On the first Saturday every year for 142 years, the Kentucky Derby has been run at Iconic Churchill Downs in Lexington, Kentucky. This year the winner was the overwhelming favorite Nyquist. The odds on Nyquist were 2-1 to win. Nyquist’s record is now 8 for 8.

I have had the good fortune to attend two Kentucky Derbys while working for the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. In 1956, I saw Needles win the Derby. Two years later, I saw Tim Tam have the Horseshoe wreath of Roses put around his neck in the Winners’ Circle.

To my younger readers, I mention the Gillette cavalcade of Sports because prior to the explosion that was to come about for American Sports on Sports Media, Gillette owned the exclusive Broadcast rights to all the major events of the day. Basically, it was Radio.

This included the Triple Crown of Racing which consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. All Championship Boxing Matches were broadcast weekly by the Cavalcade as well as all the Bowl Games

At the time, there were only four College Football Bowl Games… The Rose, the Sugar, the Orange and the Cotton Bowl.  Baseball’s World Series, and its All-Star Game rounded out the Gillette package. In that era Baseball was truly America’s National Pastime.

With the advent of Cable, TV and Over-the-Air Pay TV, Radio was no longer the all important medium delivering all news and sports. The new methods of transmission cried for product and thus more events were created… such as the Super Bowl and March Madness.

As my readers know, I have been involved in most sports, professional and amateur. However, Horse Racing is one that I am not well versed in.

In order to report properly, I have turned to my friend Jerry Berger,(the Budweiser guy), for insight, tutoring and knowledge. Over the years, Jerry has not only been a fan, but he has also been a Horse Owner and continues to be a student of racing, constantly studying and following the bloodlines.

In a previous Blog I reported on the “DNA in the NBA”. In Horse Racing, breeding is probably the most important aspect for creating Champions. It is a big business when a Derby champion is mated with a mare that has also been a winner in many stakes races.

For example, Tim Tam, the 1958 winner was sired by 1953 Triple handicap crown winner Tom Fool. Tom Fool’s dam was a champion as well. The $2,000,000 purse is dwarfed by the monies that a winner can return to its owner in retirement.

The mating of Thoroughbreds, is big business and the more races a Horse wins during his racing days, increases his value when he is retired to stud.

The Kentucky Derby has often been called the greatest two minutes in sports. However, those two minutes spawn a week of festivities unseen by any other sporting event anywhere in the world… including the Super Bowl, All-Star Games, or World Series.

There were over 150,000 visitors to the Derby. The results are not in, but in years past, the Kentucky Derby Festival has generated almost $130 million annually for the community and over $300,000 for area charities. To think the whole thing is done with just a professional staff of 23, However, there are over 4,000 volunteers.

Headdresses (Hats) are part of the great Tradition. It is often said that of British Royal Weddings, “Hats must be worn”. There it is a requirement for all female attendees. At the Derby, however, Hats are a cultural and traditional staple. Not only are they steeped in tradition, but when worn, they are also supposed to bring good luck.

Many women travel with more than one hat. So, she wouldn’t be improperly dressed. One lady I met from Oklahoma confided in me that she brought 15.

Women generally wear wide-brimmed Southern-Belle inspired Derby Hats that can be decorated with silk flowers, bows and ribbons among other things. Each day of the week represents 24 hours of partying.

Everywhere you go, the bands, the orchestras, the speakers blast the tune, “My Old Kentucky Home”. When played on Derby Day, it signals the start of the race.

The song is not only an integral part of every party and event. Equally as prevalent as Bourbon, (America’s own liquor) is the Mint Julep. The Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century.

Each year, almost 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the Kentucky Derby weekend. That amount of Beverage requires more than 10,000 bottles of Bourbon, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice.

When I realize the odds and the amount of money bet on this year’s winner, it seems to be Dwarfed when you see what happened this past month as Leicester City won the Premier League Soccer Championship in England. The odds against Leicester winning were 5000 to 1 against. The upset cost the bookies over $ 27,000,000. The largest payout in English sports history. The 1913 winner, Donerail a 91-1 long shot, to this day is the biggest upset winner in racing.

Although the Kentucky Derby Purse is only $2,000,000, the after-market for the winner, as a Stud, will pay out over the years, multiple times above the initial purse to its owner.

The Sire depending on its previous success while racing and while impregnating its mares, will get thousands of dollars for each coupling. If a foal is successfully delivered, more often than not, the owner of the Sire receives additional monies and continues to own a dramatic piece of the newborn.

As the progeny grows and competes, the owner of the Sire continues to share in the foal’s/horse’s future earnings. Unlike humans, when we are delivered a newborn, as it grows, we continue to pay forever… in a most pleasurable way.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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!