Celluloid Hero

The Champ, Gentleman Jim, Body and Soul, Champion, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Fat City, Rocky, Raging Bull— the last is the only one close to a masterpiece but the list suggests that boxing is one of two sports (baseball being the other) that can claim even a respectable film genre, especially if you add in the sub-category of docs devoted to the most mediagenic pugilist of them all.

The three-weekend Muhammad Ali retro at the American Museum of the Moving Image includes William Greaves's Ali, the Fighter (the 1971 Ali­Joe Frazier match), the Oscar-winning When We Were Kings (the 1974 Ali­George Foreman bout), and The Greatest (in which, unlike Joe Louis in The Joe Louis Story, the champ plays himself).

But the real heavyweight is photographer William Klein's Muhammad Ali, the Greatest. Its own double bill, the movie first documents the media frenzy around then­Cassius Clay's victories over Sonny Liston. It's a film about the construction of an icon, and, jumping ahead a decade to the Rumble in the Jungle, the second half concerns the icon's greatest comeback. After Clay won the title, a reporter tells Klein that the new champ is an "independent hipster, the jazzman turned boxer." By the time Ali regained his title, only world-historical categories would suffice: the embodiment of Black Power, the vehicle for Third World aspiration, the Greatest American sports figure of the 20th century. . . .

Bush-League Deal for Major-League City

Baseball season is here, bringing with it what New Yorkers have long dreamed of: the promise of minor-league ball in the shadow of the Fresh Kills landfill. Thanks to years of politicking by interim mayor Rudy Giuliani, the Staten Island Yankees of the class-A New York­Penn League are scheduled to begin play in June, and the Coney Island Mets, league affiliation yet to be determined, are to follow in a year or two. And even before the first bleacher is installed, the two new teams will have cost city taxpayers a mound of money: $20 million apiece for two new 6500-seat stadiums, plus lease concessions that, as outlined in a letter of agreement with the city, will provide the Baby Mets and Yanks with all ticket and parking revenue, plus half the naming rights fees. The city, meanwhile, will be obligated to provide "interim facilities" until the new ballparks are ready (expected to be the year 2001), at unknown public cost. The teams can also skip town if they show losses three years running (something any baseball bookkeepers should easily manage) and are absolved of paying rent if they draw less than 125,000 fans per season. The New York­Penn League average last year: 91,385.


Rangers Block Party

Hockey does not easily lend itself to statistical analysis because so many important things a team or player does cannot be quantified. And the stats hockey does keep don't always reflect a team's success. But in the case of this year's Rangers, a few newly tracked stats reveal they are willing to make physical sacrifices, which is one reason why they more than survived Wayne Gretzky's 12-game absence. According to NHL figures, the Rangers lead the NHL in blocked shots with 1150 through last weekend, almost 250 more than second-place Los Angeles. Brian Leetch, the recently departed Ulf Samuelsson, and Peter Popovic rank 1-2-3 in the NHL. And until last week, the Rangers were the best bodychecking team in the NHL, averaging nearly 30 hits a game. Carolina slipped past them, primarily because of the nine Rangers who rank among the top 100 bodycheckers (more than any other team), three of them (Todd Harvey, Jeff Beukeboom, and Samuelsson) have been out with injuries, and now Ulfie's been traded away. But add to the big-hitters list rookie Manny Malhotra, who ranks among the NHL's top 100 bodycheckers at even strength, despite his limited playing time when Gretzky's healthy.


Jockclips

The sedate scene in the stands at the Cuba-Orioles game stood in stark contrast to that at the National Series, Cuba's baseball championship. There, fans played drums, players pushed umpires, and the crowd yelled at police to get off the field. Sunday's contest was more like a game in the U.S., minus the alcohol, adverts, and overweight bleacher creatures. Instead, there was Coke, signs emphasizing sport's connection to Cuban socialism, and overweight party officials. . . . Odd to see The New York Times's Bill Rhoden tiptoe around the subject of race in his Monday ode to Duke basketball. Sure, Duke teams of yesteryear were known for representing a certain "attitude" and a certain "class," as Rhoden put it. But with the pasty likes of Quinn Snyder, Danny Ferry, Bobby Hurley, and Christian Laettner, those Duke teams were also known for representing a certain race. Vintage Blue Devil teams were made up of, ahem, "smart" players, with a splash of wealthy color like Grant Hill thrown in to the mix. Indeed, the most jarring aspect of this year's Duke squad is its multicultural hue. Dominated by guys like Elton Brand, William Avery, and Chris Carrawell, the team is a noticeably darker shade of blue.

contributors: J. Hoberman, Neil Demause, Stu Hackel, Heather Bourbeau, Joanna Cagan

sports editor: Miles D. Seligman

 
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