Soda Jerks

The hardest hit during Super Bowl week did not occur in the Georgia Dome nor on the icy roads that terrified locals and annoyed visitors, but rather in Coca-Cola’s corporate headquarters, where CEO-in-waiting Doug Daft announced the layoff of over 20 percent of the company’s worldwide work force. In a direct repudiation of propaganda from Atlanta’s tourism board and the NFL that the big game would have a $250 million economic impact on the local economy, Atlanta lost 2500 jobs at its top employer during the biggest week of corporate partying that the city has ever seen.

You want economic impact? Coke, Atlanta’s largest corporate citizen, ate $1.6 billion in charges, including hundreds of millions in severance, and lost $25 billion in net worth on the New York Stock Exchange during Super Bowl Week. Nevertheless, Coke maintained an overwhelming presence at all the festivities, occupying most of a first-class hotel in Buckhead while sponsoring the “NFL Experience,” a theme park that attracted hundreds of thousands of attendees, and “Taste of the NFL,” a $300-a-plate charity dinner. Daft, who’d been the de facto top dog for less than two months before authorizing the cuts, claimed the decision gave him “sleepless nights,” but perhaps it was the buffet at “Taste,” which featured buffalo brisket, habanero bread pudding, and white chocolate/macadamia nut mousse, that kept him up late.

He must have slept somewhat easy in the knowledge that ESPN announcers could not stop hyping Super Bowl sponsors, Coke getting the most mentions. (In an ironic twist, this went on as ESPN’s fictional Disney teammate Sports Night allowed itself to be self-righteous about not allowing Michael Jordan to hock cologne over its airwaves.) While Dan Patrick hardly ever let a segment pass without uttering the beverage maker’s name and Chris Berman droned on endlessly about the meaning of Kurt Warner’s underdog tale, the real American story was behind the scenes. News of Coke’s layoffs somehow escaped the bloodhounds at ESPN during their blow-out-the-budget Super Bowl coverage. That sin of omission could not possibly have been caused by a desire to keep its partner happy during dozens of hours of broadcast from “Coca-Cola Super Bowl City,” could it?

Heavy Duty

Last week’s “Heavyweight Explosion”—the first edition of promoter Cedric Kushner’s return of regular boxing cards to New York’s long-neglected fight scene—tried so very hard, in a disjointed, ’90s midtowny kind of way. Free cigars and stroke mags, B-list ringside celebs (Rick Mahorn, Gerry Cooney, LeRoy Neiman), the steady drone of techno music, a sexy emcee with a suggestive voice exhorting everyone to “sit back, relax, and have fun,” strip dancers, break-dancers, bikinied card girls, moody club lighting—the hip-hop happenin’ at the Hammerstein Ballroom added up to a concept call of what somebody obviously thinks fight fans thirst for, besides beer. Any surprise that the sweet science was in short supply?

Promoters love the heavies—sure, they’re glam, but truth told, big people often deliver little else but early KOs or utter snore-bores. In this case, Kushner’s bouts further suffered from an 11th hour reshuffling of several opponents. “I was terribly disappointed,” said veteran matchmaker Ron Stevens of one-sided bouts resulting from his having to interchange fighters when a featured principal (Israel Cole) failed a medical. “It was a ripple effect—the teeth were pulled out in the prelims.” However mismatched the affected fights—Taurus Sykes, Damon Saulberry, and Kirk Johnson respectively won with 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-round TKOs—they were downright competitive compared to the evening’s lone ladies’ event, a 35-second wipeout of 216-lb. debutante Bridgett Robinson by 223-lb. Kisha Snow.

But why the perpetual fascination with heavies, fighters often so out-of-shape as to call up the old gym line about doing road work from the fridge to the toilet and back? “It’s the aura,” longtime local fight manager-agent Johnny Bos told Jockbeat. “People want to see the big guys. You wouldn’t want to watch a bunch of 5-4 guys play NBA basketball, would you?”

Hmmm. Would, if it meant Muggsy and Spud in lieu of, say, Gheorghe and Manute.


Wise Up!

What is it with New York Times columnist Mike Wise? The Dixiecrat of basketball writers penned another hand-wringer about style-versus-substance in the new NBA following this weekend’s Kings visit to MSG. The gist, as ever, was that Jason Williams and New Jack cohorts favor flash over quiet winning—White Chocolate is “desecrating the game,” though, shucks, he’s “awfully fun.” But isn’t this the winningest Sacramento team ever? Don’t they have a record as good as anyone in the Eastern Conference? Didn’t they stretch the reigning Western Conference champs all the way to OT in the decisive game of their epic playoff series last season (softening up the Jazz for a quick exit in the next round)? This is an excellent Kings team, and it’s because of Williams, not in spite of him.

In short, Wise’s basketball philistinism has progressed so far that it’s made him a lousy analyst. And every time he makes an ass of himself in this way it has something to do with the black aesthetic in the game—recall his “Spree-ality” feature last spring, in which a supposedly misbehavin’ Latrell Sprewell took “a good team and play[ed] a major role in turning it into a very bad one.” What next, Mike? Vince Carter’s acrobatic dunks too disruptive to the true flow of the game? Allen Iverson’s crossover not fair to defenders? Stephon Marbury’s tattoos too darn distracting?




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