HOUSTON, WE’VE GOT A PROBLEM
It’s the Penn Plaza paradox. The $100.4 million that shooting guard Allan Houston will receive over the next six seasons is more than twice as much as it cost to build the current Madison Square Garden. And yet, when Houston finally retires, there’s a good chance that the highest-paid Knick in history won’t even be deemed worthy of having his number hoisted to the arena’s rafters.
Why were the Knicks so willing to overpay to re-sign the free agent Houston? Well, the overinflated contracts of Larry Johnson and Charlie Ward left little room under the salary cap to pursue a free-agent stud like Chris Webber, and no one except Latrell Sprewell has serious trade value, so Knicks GM Scott Layden found himself with about as much maneuverability as Luc Longley. Garden brass feared that Houston, the team’s top scorer, would bolt to the Detroit Pistons.
But do they need him? Houston’s exit would have enabled Sprewell to move to shooting guard and Glen Rice to play full-time at small forward, thus clearing the logjam that forced both to play out of position last season. And, let’s face it, Houston isn’t the same player who seemed on the verge of elite status with his brilliant run in the 1999 playoffs. In the past two years, he has stopped driving to the bucket, drawing fouls, and taking the big shot. And the schedule has worn him down. Last season, Houston averaged 20.3 points and shot 41.2 percent from the three-point arc before the All-Star break, but the numbers dipped to 16.4 and 32.2 percent after the break.
Houston’s problems aren’t all physical, either. Sprewell has dropped hints that his teammate isn’t a leader. Then there were Houston’s anti-Semitic quotes. One Knicks official describes Houston as “flaky,” citing an instance two seasons ago when the team broke from a time-out at a crucial point in the game. Houston walked out on the floor, turned to Johnson and said, “What play are we running again?”
Two decades of Title IX, almost as many years of women blasting volleys from the baseline, five years into the WNBA—you’d think that by now guys had gotten over their hysterical fear of female athletes. Poor fellows. Some still can’t get past the need to squelch the power that women display on the court. It’s the tired old trope: Turn ’em into bodies whose primary function is to please men. Playboy.com just announced the winner of its second annual “Sexiest Babes of the WNBA” poll. Even the winner, Lisa Harrison, attracted only about 18,000 votes, and the poll would be a pathetic little joke by now if Playboy didn’t pursue the project so disingenuously—and if some of the athletes didn’t feel they had to counteract all the dyke-baiting of women’s sports by going along with the annual exercise in degradation. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” commented Seattle Storm guard Michelle Marciniak after knocking in six in a recent 67-53 clobbering by the New York Liberty. Last year’s top choice, Marciniak refused the grand prize—posing nude for a centerfold—citing “personal preference and my own morals and values,” and wasn’t one of this year’s 10 nominees. (Harrison says she’s considering Playboy‘s offer.) The Liberty’s backup point guard Andrea Nagy finished second this year, but even before all the votes were in, she was hardly bragging. “I didn’t nominate myself or have a choice in the matter,” she shrugged. And no, she wouldn’t pose nude because the whole thing is demeaning—though on second thought, she did wonder whether reversing stereotypes of women athletes as “rugged” might be a positive step. By that logic, the Playboy ploy is merely an extension of the WNBA’s marketing scheme—promoting the femininity of the players above all. In any case, interjected the Liberty’s bruiser Tamika Whitmore, “Why should anybody pose nude? Nobody plays nude.” Don’t give them any more bad ideas, Meek.
THE OROSCO PHENOMENON
Joe McEwing was more than five years away from being born when Jerry Koosman made his big-league debut in 1967. But the former Mets pitcher and current Mets utility man have an odd link: Each of them was traded for Jesse Orosco. Koosman was sent to the Twins for Orosco in 1978, when the latter was a minor-league prospect, and just before the start of last season, the Cardinals dealt McEwing to the Mets for Orosco.
The circumstance of a player with over two decades of service (Orosco) being traded early in his career for a veteran (Koosman) and much later for a youngster (McEwing) creates a strange series of connections over an unusually extended time frame, sort of like the last living Confederate widow. It’s too soon to say just how extended it will turn out, but if McEwing plays through 2007, that would put Orosco at the nexus of a 40-year span of baseball history.
Leave it to the diehards over at the Society for American Baseball Research to find another example to add to our own discovery. As SABR member R. J. Lesch helpfully points out, Doyle Alexander was traded for Frank Robinson in 1971 and for John Smoltz in 1987. Since Robinson’s career began in 1956 and Smoltz is still playing, Alexander is at the fulcrum of a 45-year span, and counting.
Contributors: Jeff Ryan, Alisa Solomon, Paul Lukas
Sports Intern: Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz
Sports Editor: Ward Harkavy