Stern Watches in Silence
Since the NBA spends millions of marketing dollars and hundreds of public relations hours spit-shining its image, we're confident that two snippets from last week's games will not qualify for the league's year-end highlight package:
Last Thursday in New York there was Indiana Pacer coach Larry Brown, an edgy guy but no ref abuser, chasing two replacement officials all over the court, refusing to leave after he was ejected, and finally launching, in frustration, a hook shot from midcourt. "I would've made it," Brown said after his sense of humor had returned, "but the refs fouled me."
The next day in Indianapolis, with Brown serving a one-game suspension, there were the Pacers and the Sacramento Kings engaged in an ugly third-quarter brawl. From that emerged the ugliest image of all: A large hand belonging to Pacer forward Dale Davis was seen on TV snaking around the face of replacement ref Mike Lauerman and wrenching it backward. The NBA suspended Davis for two games and fined him a mere $20,000, the same penalty given Sacramento's Michael Smith, his foe in the bout that precipitated the melee. Seven other players from each team were suspended for a game, penalties that were staggered so the teams could dress the required eight players.
Attention, commissioner David Stern: Your game is going down the tubes. Stern is engaged in an absurd power struggle with the league's 54 referees, who were locked out on Oct. 1. According to the terms of the last contract proposal made by the referees, it would cost about $8 million—$2 million less than the per-year offer that Alonzo Mourning reportedly rejected from the Charlotte Hornets—for the NBA to pay its 54 locked-out refs for one season. But Stern won't budge. Instead he has replaced the refs with unqualified men who have become the scapegoats of pro sports, saps sent to the front line without a rifle. To blame the replacement refs for what is happening in the NBA right now is like blaming the congressional kitchen staff for the budget crisis. The blame begins and ends at the top.
Meanwhile Stern, silent and arrogant, digs deeper into his Manhattan bunker. One of the ways he has met the crisis is by refusing to allow NBA Photos, a money-making arm of the league, to release pictures that don't provide a positive spin on events. (Thus the grainy images, taken from ESPN video clips, that accompany this article; the NBA would not provide SI or any other media outlet with photos of the brawl.) What was once a savvy public relations machine now believes it can control image by controlling images.
It can't. There is no secret to what is going on. It's a crisis that needs Stern solutions, not pettiness and paranoia.
Who Needs Pamplona?
The annual, centuries-old tradition of Cambridge University freshmen trying to run the 375 yards around the school's Trinity College courtyard before the clock strikes 24 times at noon, an event delightfully immortalized in the 1981 Academy Award-winning film Chariots of Fire, is in jeopardy. Last month nine of the roughly 100 young men who attempted the run were injured. One, Tom Sebire, fell, severed an artery in his right hand and required five hours of surgery. "The college should take this very seriously," says Graham Chinner, head administrator at Trinity. "We plan to change the nature of the event."
The nature of the event, of course, is what provides its charm. While the clock resounds in two keys—or, as Wordsworth wrote, "with male and female voice"—the students, most dressed in street shoes and dinner jackets, and some carrying bottles or glasses of wine or beer, sprint around the cobblestone courtyard. In Chariots, Harold Abrahams, a member of the 1919 freshman class who went on to win the gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, becomes the first student ever to beat the clock. No one can prove Abrahams actually was the first to accomplish this feat, but his celluloid success gave the event a boost. It used to be that only a few athletic students competed; since the movie nearly all the "freshers" take part. "I suppose it isn't very sensible," says Sebire, "but it is one of those things you'll look back on and laugh about."