SI Vault
Edited by Alexander Wolff and Richard O'Brien
February 20, 1995
On Track Betting
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February 20, 1995


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Dressing Down

At first glance Houston Rocket center Hakeem Olajuwon's signing of a new sneaker deal may not seem like big news. But in a significant break from the established practice of superstar athletes, Olajuwon's shoe contract isn't with Nike, Reebok or any of the other "top-end" manufacturers that produce the $100-and-up, bells-and-whistles models that young people hanker for. The NBA's reigning MVP has instead agreed to a deal with Spalding under which he will endorse a line of shoes retailing for no more than $60 a pair and available in discount stores like Wal-Mart, Pay-less and Target, where Americans buy close to half of the 400 million pairs of athletic shoes sold in the U.S. each year.

Olajuwon, who for the Rockets' seven games leading up to the All-Star break wore the prototype of a model scheduled to reach the stores in the fall, signed the contract in part because he's alarmed at the values he sometimes sees youngsters espouse. "A lot of kids just go with the name brand," he says. "They bother their parents for $150 shoes." A cheaper shoe needn't impair performance, he believes—and he demonstrated that in those seven games, shooting 56.8% while shod in his Spaldings, compared with his season average of 49.7%. Of course, Hakeem would still be the Dream even in Birkenstocks. It's nonetheless refreshing when a star athlete has the ability to see the big picture.

Points of Doubt

With 30 seconds remaining in last Saturday's ACC basketball game at Cole Field House in College Park, Md., Florida State coach Pat Kennedy, whose Seminoles trailed Maryland 76-65, ordered his players not to foul. Bless him, for entirely too much time is wasted with endless processions to the free throw line at the end of both college and pro games in which the outcome is no longer in doubt. But suddenly, Terrapin point guard Duane Simpkins split the defense and went in for a layup with five seconds left to make the score 78-65. Then, after a halfhearted Florida State inbounds pass, Maryland forward Keith Booth stole the ball from LaMarr Greer, dunked and signaled the scorer's table to make sure that the meaningless points were put on the board. They were, and Maryland won 80-65.

There is only one word to describe what Booth and Simpkins did—bush. Maryland coach Gary Williams was angry at them after the game, but the damage was done. It's a pity, too, because Booth and Simpkins are hardworking contributors to Maryland's basketball renaissance (page 20) on the court, and they are polite and well-spoken young men off it.

And if they needed another reason not to pull such stunts, they certainly had one last Saturday: The point spread for the game was 14½ in Maryland's favor, meaning that the final four points enabled the Terrapins to cover. No one is suggesting that Booth and Simpkins were even aware of the spread, let alone playing with it in mind, but their grandstanding raised the issue among a cynical American audience. Those last two baskets are just another indication that teaching sportsmanship to young athletes is every bit as important as teaching the drop step and the jump stop.

Signing Off?
Down South, when the February college football signing date rolls around, recruiting and rumors go together like grits and gravy. Recently word reached The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Chauncey McGee, a six-foot, 180-pound defensive back at Atlanta's Westlake High, had committed suicide. The paper quickly dispatched a correspondent to check out the report. "Chauncey didn't commit suicide," word came back. "Chauncey committed to Mississippi State."

Contact Sport

As a point guard for Duke and the Dallas Mavericks during the late 1970s and early '80s, Jim Spanarkel was known for his cunning and his superb court vision. And while more than a decade has passed since his last NBA game, understand that Spanarkel can still see the floor. During the second quarter of a New Jersey Net-Detroit Piston game on Feb. 6, Net point guard Sleepy Floyd was scouring the Meadowlands Arena floor for a lost contact lens when Spanarkel, who is now a SportsChannel color analyst and was seated more than 50 feet away, told viewers, "It's right behind Sleepy. It's right behind him. I can see it." Sure enough, Floyd turned around and retrieved the lens.

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