You won't believe this, but Bill Riordan, the preeminent sports hustler...front man?...can you live with entrepreneur, Bill?...is into skateboarding, with a bunch of angel-faced children. How can this be? "Anything that generates $300 million in annual sales can't be all bad," Riordan says.
Once Riordan was into Jimmy Connors. Now he is suing Connors, but that's another story. In the olden days, with Connors, Riordan lifted tennis out of the society pages and put it into the gossip columns. Bill Riordan also took a lot of long green out of Vegas, with something called the Heavyweight Championship of Tennis. The Vegas caper got its inspiration in 1974, when Connors came off the court after clobbering Ken Rosewall in the finals at Forest Hills. "What did Connors say to you?" the press asked Riordan breathlessly, and, very serious, even grim, Riordan replied, "You won't believe this, but Jimbo said, 'Get me Laver!' "
Well, believe it or not, they did believe him. Maybe what Connors really said was, "Get me a drink of water," or "Get me a towel." This is probably as close as he came to "Get me Laver," but everybody wrote it down. And now it has a shot at
Bartlett's. Riordan shakes his head and waxes nostalgic, which is another thing he does well. "With Jimmy, sometimes it was like leading a symphony," he says. "And I don't believe anybody in sports could have done it but Connors. He never deviated from the script I wrote him. Even today, at his press conferences, some of my best lines surface."
Riordan is reminiscing as he drives to the taping of his first skateboard TV show, which he is coproducing with Jack Dolph, who, in another incarnation, was commissioner of something quaint known as the American Basketball Association. Riordan enjoys working the TV side of the street. In TV, everybody calls him Billy. Also, in TV he is classified as "not a bad guy." In TV, there are only two types of people. One is a bad guy. The other is not a bad guy. TV people will say of someone, "He's a bad guy." "Yeah, a bad guy." Another name will come up—Riordan's, say. "Not a bad guy, Billy." "No, not a bad guy."
Riordan talked Dolph into the TV skateboarding venture the morning after the Calcutta at the Masters. It was over breakfast. They both remember this well, inasmuch as a guy they were with was putting vodka on his eggs. Dolph was not much interested until Riordan brought up the business about the $300 million. "You're not going to believe this, Jack," Riordan said, "but there is now $300 million in annual sales in skateboarding." The former commissioner of the American Basketball Association did believe this, which is why he is now, several months later, in some kind of turnstile jungle park in Tampa, shooting skateboard heroics for TV.
Skateboarding is taking off again—only this time it is not supposed to be just a fad, the way it was a decade or so ago. There are municipal skateboard parks being constructed. Skateboard championships. Skateboarder magazine, a bimonthly, sells 210,000 copies and has two million readers. Denis Shufeldt, known as Shu-Fly, who has been clocked at 58 mph on a skateboard and is, at 26, the grand old man of the sport, says, "It won't peak for another 10 years." Shu-Fly is the expert commentator for the Riordan-Dolph show, and he actually makes a good living out of being a skateboarding authority. Can you believe that?
Skateboarding, Riordan told Dolph at the Masters, was a natural for KidVid. What the Heavyweight Championship of Tennis was to Vegas, skateboarding could be to KidVid. If you don't know what KidVid is, it is what Variety calls children's television. Jerry Golod, the sachem of KidVid at CBS, bought the idea quick. Right away he could see the place for skateboarding on KidVid. While nobody gives a rat's nose about television for grown-ups, everybody monitors KidVid to make sure it is tasteful and socially redeeming. You can't get Pepsi-Cola as a KidVid sponsor, for example, because Pepsi-Cola contains caffeine. All sorts of mothers are against violence on children's television—thereby forcing the youngsters to stay up late into prime time to get their quota of ax murders—and now people are even complaining that there is too much sex on KidVid. With the possible exception of Phyllis George and Charlie's Angels, all the good-looking TV broads work KidVid. For example, have you seen Isis?
So the pressure is on Jerry Golod, who is not a bad guy. No, not a bad guy. KidVid can use children's sports for wholesome purposes. Golod fairly leaped on skateboarding. It is healthy, nonviolent and even nonsexy. Of course, to keep the do-gooders content, they will have to go heavy on the safety equipment.
And the kids are all sweetie pies. Riordan explains why this is so. "Times have changed," he says. "If I had Connors now, I couldn't sell him the way I did. This is the Goldwater era of teen-agers. We're selling the apple pie and motherhood look. I don't want the beach bums in the cut-off jeans." For KidVid, he put his applehood skateboarders into snappy samples from the Jimmy Connors-Robert Bruce sportswear line, one of the last contracts he signed with Connors before he started suing him instead.
Riordan arrives at the TV site in Tampa, where he becomes Billy again. It is Busch Gardens, where they made a good deal for the exposure. Former ABA Commissioner Dolph has brought in ex-NFL star Tom Brookshier to be the show's host. Brookshier is known as Brookie, and he also has on the Jimmy Connors-Robert Bruce duds. Not a bad guy. No, not a bad guy. Dolph has set up the slalom course over by Dwarf Village, and the kids are all there, just in from Southern California, the land of the endless asphalt, where skateboarding is biggest.