As the Olympic bribery scandal unfolds, one top sponsor—and only one—keeps questioning the IOC's commitment to reform. David D'Alessandro, president of John Hancock, has called for conflict-of-interest regulations, term limits and open elections of IOC members. Last week the mightiest of the Olympics' silent partners tried to silence him. During Olympic meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol told The New York Times, "I'm sick of watching this two-bit bully get on his soapbox. His actions demanded a response, and that response is, 'Shut up.'... His continual seeking of front-page publicity, for no other reason than to get his name in the paper, is a tragedy."
No, the murder of 11 Israelis at the Munich Olympics was a tragedy. This is an argument about money. D'Alessandro, whose company spent $40 million to become an Olympic sponsor, has every right to question whether the IOC is papering over its problems with halfhearted reforms. Ebersol, whose network signed a $3.5 billion deal for the U.S. television rights to the Olympics from 2000 through 2008, is entitled to defend his investment against criticism, too. But Ebersol went too far in Lausanne. Like former U.S. Olympic Committee deputy secretary general John Krimsky Jr., he suggested that D'Alessandro's activism is hurting efforts to raise money for U.S. athletes.
That was a cheap attempt to turn public opinion against D'Alessandro. No country is investing more money in the Olympics than the U.S., and no rival will overtake America anytime soon. (In '96 the U.S. won 101 medals; Germany was second with 65.) In any case, it is absurd to accuse D'Alessandro of trying to do financial harm to a cause he paid $40 million to support
The time for Ebersol to wax indignant was when IOC members were extorting cash, gifts and free vacations for themselves. Instead he directs his ire at D'Alessandro, whose calls for drastic measures make more sense than the IOC's claim that it can cure itself. (Its latest so-called reform, the IOC 2000 commission, was supposed to have 24 members, at least half of whom had no ties to the IOC. The commission now numbers 80, including 44 IOC members and 10 other Olympic insiders.)
What D'Alessandro wants is true reform, not promises from the same old IOC cronies. The worst thing he could do now would be to take Ebersol's advice and shut up.
Fratello Gets the Ax
He Took the Fall for Uglyball
For a month now NBA coaches in Denver, Los Angeles and New Jersey have endured a grueling vigil. Mike D'Antoni, Kurt Rambis and Don Casey can never be sure they'll still have jobs at the end of the day. It never occurred to Mike Fratello to have such concerns. Yet it was Fratello, the Cavaliers' coach of six years, who cleaned out his desk at Gund Arena on June 1 after Cleveland owner Gordon Gund fired him. Only once in Fratello's tenure did the Cavs have a losing record—a 22-28 mark in the truncated season just past—and when Gund summoned him for a meeting last week Fratello thought he and the boss would be discussing this year's NBA draft. "I never saw this coming," Fratello says.
Cavs attendance dropped 16.7% this year, and fans didn't thrill to the team's slowdown style. The coach says he'd planned to go up tempo with his young club in '99, but center Zydrunas Ilgauskas broke his left foot after five games, and guards Derek Anderson and Brevin Knight kept missing stretches of games with various ailments. "How can you run up and down the floor without quality players?" Fratello asks.
Some players griped that he was too controlling a coach. "He treated us like robots, not people," one Cav told SI. Those sentiments weren't unanimous—Ilgauskas, for one, was a Fratello fan—and Fratello says he has mellowed. "I think I've changed," he says. "I've backed off."
Fratello would be welcome in the broadcast booth, where he spent three years with NBC, but he wants another coaching job. He remains one of game's top tacticians, a man who turned the Cavs and, before them, the Hawks into consistent winners. Teams like the Nets and the Wizards could do worse than hire a guy who could help them win ugly. Still, team sources in New Jersey and Washington say that neither club will pursue him.