Everything Is Not Jake
The real NBA referees, the league's nine-week lockout now over, were scheduled to return to work on Tuesday, but the realest ref wasn't to be among them. Jake O'Donnell, 58, called it quits last week after 28 years in the league, leaving the zebra fraternity, not to mention the NBA, much the poorer. In June, Jake's 15-year-old son, Jim, with whom he had spent very little time over the years, moved into Jake's house in Jupiter, Fla. Now, Jake says, "I want to try and make it up to him."
Still, it's hard not to link O'Donnell's abrupt retirement with one or more of the following: the recent contentiousness between the refs' union and the NBA; O'Donnell's being benched by the NBA for most of the 1995 playoffs; and his poor relationship with Darell Garretson, the league's chief of referees. And while sticking to his contention that the decision "was 99 percent personal," O'Donnell (right) acknowledges that whistle-blowing just isn't as much fun as it used to be.
In happier times O'Donnell—who two months ago privately told NBA commissioner David Stern that he would retire when the labor situation was resolved—would have almost certainly stayed around for at least one more year. He was deeply stung last season when the league didn't stand behind him after an incident involving Clyde Drexler of the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. O'Donnell called two quick technicals on Drexler, with whom he had an acrimonious history, and then tossed him from the game. Not only did Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice president of operations, fail to assign O'Donnell to further playoff games, but he also rescinded Drexler's automatic $1,000 fine. "To be treated like that after my years of service was tough, I can't deny that," says O'Donnell. Although O'Donnell undoubtedly rushed to judgment in the Drexler episode, most of the time he kept control with a chatty, warn-first-and-blow-whistle-later style favored by old-fashioned refs. That soured his relationship with the flinty autocrat Garretson, who discourages referees from having contact with players and coaches.
Stern has told O'Donnell he wants him to stay close to the game, perhaps by conducting clinics or reffing some overseas exhibition games. O'Donnell has asked the commish for only one thing—not to give another referee his number, 11. Considering the recent bitterness between the NBA and the zebras, Stern would do well to honor that request.
It's Gotta Be the...Fluid?
Sneaker companies search unceasingly for new technology to make their shoes safer and more comfortable (not to mention more expensive), but in at least one case the technology turned out to be dangerous. Converse last week cautioned consumers that fluid used for cushioning in the soles of two recently introduced basketball shoes—RAW Energy and RAW Power—may leak. "Although the fluid itself represents no health risk, the company has received reports of injuries by athletes who slipped on the fluid on indoor basketball courts," read a company press release. Converse is now offering replacement shoes.
Somewhere, we suspect, Chuck Taylor is having a quiet laugh.
Driving Mr. McNeeley
According to his column in the Dec. 6 Boston Herald, Joe Fitzgerald was driving on I-95 near Boston two nights before when he saw a car veering recklessly in and out of traffic. Fitzgerald flashed his high beams at the driver, who, after allegedly responding with a raised middle finger, forced Fitzgerald's car to stop along the side of the road. The man then approached Fitzgerald's car, and recognition dawned in Fitzgerald's eyes.