The Observer Rings in a New Season

Jockbeat hears that Milton Glaser designed the uniforms—and that he’s got a hell of a throw from the hole in shortstop.

Why School Sucks

The gruesome leg injury suffered by Cincinnati star Kenyon Martin last week illustrates the often ignored flip side to the “stay-in-school” speech that’s become as much a part of big-time college basketball as Dick Vitale‘s bipolar disorder. Martin, who has been given as many props for his four-year college hitch as for his Malone-of-the-millennium game, almost paid big-time for his school spirit. Like $81 million—the going-rate for a top NBA contract these days. If he had ended his basketball career with a blown-out knee instead of “merely” breaking his leg, well, his Cincy sheepskin might have kept him off the streets, but it wouldn’t go very far at the Mercedes dealer, would it? And that’s assuming he graduates from the school—not many Bearcat basketball players do.

So let’s cut the hypocrisy. Despite the furrowed brows and concerned words when a player leaves school early for the NBA draft—or, shudder, passes on college altogether—what scolding coaches, administrators, and their media acolytes are really saying is, “How dare you examine our system of overhyped, quasi-professional, minor-league basketball and expose it for the sham it really is.”

And don’t think there isn’t a little subtle racism at work here, too. Can you imagine a responsible adult telling a budding Bill Gates to stay in school? More like “What’s the number for U-Haul?” As we fill out our fridge grids, let’s remember that going pro doesn’t mean that you can’t take classes—Jerry Stackhouse is just one NBA player who has quietly earned his degree during the off-season (he walked, clad in cap and gown, in December). And you don’t have to be Milton Friedman to know that you can buy a lot of dog-eared copies of Kant‘s Critique of Pure Reason with $81 million.

Rare Heirs

They may not keep such records, but the NCAA’s current NBA gene pool has to be at an all-time high. No fewer than nine sons of eight former pro hoop stars played Division 1 ball this past season: George Gervin Jr. and Cal Murphy Jr. at Houston, Bryan Brown (Downtown Freddie) and Marlon Shelton (Lonnie) at Washington, Moses Malone Jr. at Texas Tech, Mike Dunleavy Jr. at Duke, Damien Wilkins (Gerald) at North Carolina State, and Luke and Nate Walton (Bill) at Arizona and Princeton.

Acorns never fall far from the tree, and hands-on help hasn’t hurt this budding basketball brood. Gervin, whom coach Clyde Drexler calls a “sure first-round pick,” benefited from some 1200 shots a day with Poppa Iceman. And while a Cleveland rec center still buzzes from a calamitous, eighth-grade-son-over-pro-father slam, Damien Wilkins says, “Dad got me back plenty of times.” For Dunleavy Jr., practice as a preteen included tips from Magic and Worthy when Sr. was coaching the “Showtime” Lakers. Of his boys, Walton père—at the Garden Sunday to announce Knicks-Spurs—says that he helped them “more with homework than I ever did with basketball.”

So how do recruiting coaches pitch a father and former Celts/UCLA great? “I don’t get involved,” says Walton, noting that two sons actually turned down offers from his alma mater. “I tell the coaches, don’t sell me, sell them. Hey, I already went to UCLA; if it was my choice, I’d go back.”

Amid strong opinions on student-athletes looking for a “handout,” Bill mentions sending his sons off to school without “cars or cell phones,” and that college should be about “learning to live within your means.” About the only advice he’d give them, he says, is “When you look back, make sure you can tell yourself you did your best, and that there’s no way you could have had any more fun than you did.” At least he dispenses wisdom to his boys with the same condescension as he does to his audiences.

Contributors: Doug Simmons, Allen St. John, John Stravinsky

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman

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