The NBA would have been delighted to announce at its All-Star Game in Phoenix last week (page 48) that the league had reached a new collective bargaining agreement with its players. Instead, while one league official expressed hopes of completing negotiations "by the end of the season," the best that commissioner David Stern could do was assert, much as he did last fall, that his sport's historical labor peace—which distinguishes it from baseball, football and hockey—augurs well for a strike-free contract settlement. "When the owners tell the players, 'You're entitled to more than half the revenues,' and the players tell the owners, 'You're entitled to a return on your investment,' you've got the parameters of a deal," says Stern.
It's becoming ever clearer that within those parameters, there's likely to be some sort of rookie salary cap. Among veterans, sentiment for a two-tiered wage system is strong. Some of that feeling stems from an I've-got-mine self-interest. But there is also a growing awareness among players, ranging from stars such as Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz to such lesser lights as the Chicago Bulls' Steve Kerr, that there's a finite pie, and deals like rookie Glenn Robinson's 10-year, $68 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks may leave veterans with mere crumbs for years to come. "Something's got to go to the established player," says Kerr.
A cap might limit the value of a rookie's contract for his first two or three years, with the payoff coming thereafter, when he would be granted unrestricted free agency. "That would be a great thing, free agency after three years," says Boston Celtic rookie Eric Montross. "You could market yourself to anybody you want to. Now you have to go through two steps before you can do that."
Another salutary by-product of a rookie cap might be the bringing to heel of the league's whining young players (SI, Jan. 30), whose misbehavior is a problem Stern acknowledged last week and vowed that the NBA would address. "If a young player blows off practice, he knows the worst that can happen is that the club will fine him," says former Phoenix Sun coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. "But what if he makes so much, he doesn't care? We need to make young players feel an obligation to the game, to pay some dues."
A rookie cap may be just the device with which to do that.
Goodbye to the Bull
When Holy Bull suffered a career-ending leg injury during last Saturday's $300,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, thoroughbred racing lost more than just another good horse. With the sport battling for survival among the growing sprawl of casinos, lotteries and other forms of legalized gambling, Holy Bull, one of those rare horses who, like Secretariat, stir the public's imagination, was the hero that racing needed.
Why was there such acclaim and affection for a horse who finished 12th in last year's Kentucky Derby and didn't even compete in the other two Triple Crown races or the Breeders' Cup? To begin with, the Bull was good. Last year, as a 3-year-old, he won eight of his 10 starts, twice beating the country's best older horses, which was enough to earn him Horse of the Year honors. Beyond that, fans loved his catchy name, his gray color and his front-running style. Whenever the Bull was running, everyone knew the script: Catch him if you can.
Something bad caught Holy Bull in the Donn. Dueling with eventual winner Cigar for the lead at the⅝ pole, Holy Bull seemed to be running easily. But at that point a tendon in his left foreleg gave way. Said Jerry Bailey, who was riding Cigar a length ahead, "I heard a pop, and then I heard [the Bull's jockey] Mike Smith yell, 'Oh, no.' Then I lost him as he pulled up his horse." Holy Bull came to a halt near the half-mile pole, where Smith dismounted and soothed him until the equine ambulance arrived.
For the racing world, sadness over the injury was tempered by the knowledge that Holy Bull is expected to recover enough to stand stud at Jonabell Farm in Lexington. Despite the Bull's lackluster pedigree, Jim Bell of Jonabell reports that there has already been keen interest in him as a stallion. Still, whatever his success at stud, the Bull is unlikely to sire a horse with his panache.