Deion's Big Splash
Deion Sanders's troubling odyssey through the National League Championship Series continued last week. One minute Neon Deion—the nom de grande tête by which he modestly styles himself—was jumping on a charter jet, the next he was dumping on a TV announcer. First he sneaked off to Miami to play football for the Atlanta Falcons before Game 5; then he sneaked up on CBS sportscaster Tim McCarver to douse him with ice water moments after the Braves won the pennant in Game 7. When it comes time to play the big games, some players have ice water in their veins; Sanders has it in his hands.
For all the attention he attracted to himself—which seemed to be the point—Neon Deion had no impact on the playoffs. He had three strikeouts in five hitless at bats, and if it hadn't been for his three successful plate appearances against McCarver, which he occupied himself with while the rest of the Braves were celebrating their ninth-inning pennant clincher, Sanders would have gone 0 for his ego trip.
Sanders was upset with McCarver for having said on the air that it was "flat-out wrong" for Sanders to fly to Miami in the middle of the night to play a game with the Falcons the previous Sunday and then fly back to Pittsburgh, presumably dead tired, for a baseball game the same night. McCarver correctly pointed out that Sanders had given the Braves his assurance that he would be with them full-time during the playoffs.
Sanders had also targeted Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Terence Moore for a cold shower but never found him. Moore had criticized Sanders for saying that the Braves had a "plantation-type mentality," but when he saw the videotape of Sanders taking his revenge against McCarver, he was, like a lot of other people, initially amused. "Then I became a little disturbed by it," Moore says. "Here's the greatest sports moment in the history of Atlanta, and there's one guy who can't enjoy it because he's chasing reporters with buckets of water. I thought it was pretty sad."
Moore attributes Sanders's behavior to immaturity. "It's basically a huge ego out of control," he says. When Moore wrote in August that Sanders was embarrassing himself and that he should shut up, Sanders decided to stop talking to the media. "If I had known back then he was going to take my advice," says Moore, "I would have asked for a share of his Nike contract."
The big-footed imprint of Nike, the most successful of the athletic-shoe companies, has now left its treadmarks on the contract negotiations of the NBA's No. 2 draft pick, Alonzo Mourning. Nike has signed Mourning to a contract that will reportedly pay the former Georgetown center a guaranteed $16 million over the next five years. Mourning is now in a position to use that rich deal to try to pry even more money loose from the Charlotte Hornets.
Mourning can, in effect, tell the Hornets that if they don't pay him what he is asking—reportedly $2.3 million a season, escalating 30% a year—he will simply live on his shoe money for a year, then go back into the NBA draft next June. If he still doesn't get an offer he likes, he can wait another year and declare himself an unrestricted free agent. "Maybe they think they can dictate what they get," says Hornet coach Allan Bristow. "I don't know if that means we're just supposed to ante up."
Mourning's representative in all this is supposedly superagent David Falk, but even that is not precisely as it seems. Mourning brought in Falk to handle his basketball contract, but Nike retains final authority over Mourning's marketing management. If Nike is exercising total control, it isn't saying, but it is thanks to Nike that Falk now has what amounts to the ultimate negotiating leverage.