- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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HE'S IN THE MONEY
By winning a coin toss for the first pick in the June 28 college draft, the Houston Rockets, who had the worst record this season in the NBA's Western Conference, last week beat out the Indiana Pacers, last in the Eastern Conference, for the right to lavish millions of dollars on Center Ralph Sampson from the University of Virginia. It's to be hoped that Sampson takes better care of whatever loot he gets from the Rockets than he did the $600 in cash that was stolen, along with a gym bag and a warmup suit, from his 1979 Chevrolet van in Charlottesville, Va. last Thanksgiving night. Two weeks ago Gary Lesich, 18, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor larceny charge arising from the break-in and was sentenced to six months in jail. The charge had been reduced from grand larceny, a felony, after Sampson failed to appear in court to testify.
There remained the question, though, of what a college fellow like Sampson was doing with $600 cash in his van. The police report didn't address that issue and it didn't come up in court, either. Last week a university source told SI that Sampson had been given the money—mostly in 50s and 20s—by his mother for the purpose of buying Christmas gifts during an approaching Cavalier trip to Hawaii and Japan. As for why he'd left the cash in the van, the assumption was that Sampson, who has an easygoing, what-me-worry nature, didn't get to the bank on time. Whatever the explanation, one needn't feel too bad for Sampson. As if all the money he stands to get from the Rockets weren't enough, Lesich was ordered to make restitution to him of the purloined $600.
A LEGACY OF INVENTIVENESS
Clair Bee, who died last week in Cleveland at the age of 87, was one of the most innovative basketball coaches of all time. The 1-3-1 zone was his brainchild, and he helped lay the groundwork for the three-second rule and the 24-second clock. By no coincidence, Bee was also one of the most successful of all coaches. He had a 410-86 record at Rider College in New Jersey (1929-31) and Long Island University (1932-43 and 1946-51), for a winning percentage of 82.7, tops among major college coaches. In addition, Bee churned out 21 instructional and other nonfiction sports books and, in his 23-volume Chip Hilton series, some of the best-written juvenile sports fiction. Bee and the fictional Hilton were the subjects of an SI story in Jan. 7, 1980, written by Jack McCallum, who recalls:
"Life can take a lot from a man before he's released, and that was the case with Bee. Much of his health and strength were gone in his later years and, finally, all of his eyesight, too. Before that, he'd lost a lot of pride and self-respect when eight of his LIU players were implicated during the dumping scandals of the early '50s. Though he wasn't personally involved, he never got over the pain.
"But life didn't get his mind. I can still see him sitting at his kitchen table when he was 83, huddled under a blanket, looking for all the world like someone in the throes of senility. But nothing was further from the truth. I remember him suddenly springing from his chair and sketching on a piece of paper a few perfect X's and O's, which I know he couldn't see. 'Look, the NBA just isn't using the three-point play the way it should be,' Bee said. 'There's no reason they couldn't set a few simple picks outside and make that a high-percentage shot instead of some desperation heave. See, like this.' Of course, he was correct.
"He left a deep mark even on those who weren't aware of his coaching achievements or his writing. A few months ago I was out in Bloomington, Ind. and asked Hoosier players Ted Kitchel and Randy Wittman if they'd ever heard of Clair Bee, who had been one of the strongest influences on their own coach, Bobby Knight. They got very animated and told me how impressed they'd been with his acuity when Bobby brought him out for a visit. Bee was a guru to Knight and a lot of other coaches. That's because there weren't many men with his grasp of the technical aspects of basketball. His prodigious output of top-quality juvenile fiction only made his legacy that much greater."
THE NIGHT THEY FOOLED WITH KING'S CROWN
Six days before last week's heavyweight championship doubleheader in Las Vegas (page 24), Boxing Promoter Don King appeared on NBC-TV's Saturday Night Live to be "interviewed" by the show's comic-sportscaster, Joe Piscopo. As King began to talk excitedly about his big upcoming promotion, Piscopo objected that nobody cared about the fights and said, "Don, the question on everyone's mind—why the hair?...You need a trim. You promote, I'll cut." Egged on by the audience, Piscopo then brought out a pair of oversized scissors and, so it seemed, furiously began cutting down King's famous head of gravity-defying hair.