AND JINGO WAS HIS NAME-O
That sound you just heard was Pierre, Baron de Coubertin doing a triple axel in his grave. The founder of the modern Olympics, you will recall, saw the Games as an opportunity to put nationalism aside, however briefly, in pursuit of the loftier goal of international cooperation.
It’s not hard to imagine what Gamesmaster P would have thought when the opening ceremonies started with a U.S. delegation bringing the remains of the World Trade Center flag, turning an international event into a national pity party that would make even Oprah blush. Good host that he is, George W. Bush continued the theme of the evening by spiting the Secret Service and doing his best Bruce Springsteen and diving into a crowd of athletes—U.S. athletes, of course. When figure skater Sasha Cohen asked POTUS if he was going to stay to watch her Hammill Camel, Dubya broke into his best John Wayne: “I’d like to, but I’ve got a war to win, little lady.” If the organizers didn’t replace Sting as the featured performer, it’s probably only because Lee Greenwood had a previous engagement at Dollywood. Amid this sea of stars and stripes, who better to light the Olympic torch than Cold War pawn Mike Eruzione, star of perhaps the most politicized Olympic moment since Hitler and Jesse Owens? As he did his victory lap, it became clear that one lesson of September 11 was at least temporarily forgotten: Winning a hockey game no longer qualifies as a miracle. Is it any coincidence that during the first news cycle after this not-so-subtle smackdown, Russian president Vladimir Putin came out and criticized Bush’s take-no-prisoners stance on Iraq? Then again, these games were tainted long before the torch relay even started. Let’s not forget about the more than $1 million worth of gifts lavished upon International Olympic Committee members in an effort to secure the Games. Or the $342 million in federal spending for things like temporary parking lots. Or the $1.1 billion in fast-tracked money for roads and transit. And last but not least, the non-cash considerations like the sweetheart land swap between the Parks Service and oil billionaire Earl Holding, owner of Snowbasin, the ski resort that’s hosting the downhill events. Even local landlords got into the act, evicting long-term tenants so they could fleece Olympic tourists.
Step back, and it makes Enron look like a PTA bake sale, causing even Senator John McCain to call it “really obscene.” Then again it only seems appropriate. Even George W. Bush knows that green is far more American than red, white, and blue.
Jayson Williams is back at the Continental Airlines Arena, and this time, he’s all business. But not basketball business. Williams is better known as the New Jersey Net forward whose playing career was cut short by a Stephon Marbury crash landing on his knee. Today the 33-year-old is trying to make a name off the court. He’s the sole owner of the New Jersey Storm, one of two new National Lacrosse League franchises added last year. African Americans generally aren’t followers of the game (though the football legend Jim Brown was also a lacrosse star at Syracuse), but the opportunity to make a profit piqued Williams’s interest after he saw his first game less than a year ago.
“I saw a bunch of guys playing hard just like I do,” says Williams. So he reached into his pocket for half a million dollars and bought an expansion franchise last May. The former St. John’s star’s investment also has social implications. When the Continental Basketball Association and the International Basketball League folded after last season, it also meant the loss of several African American owners of professional sports teams. Someday, Williams may be back in basketball—on the business end. “I think that’s important,” he says. “If I can own a team, then maybe other African Americans will think it’s possible for them.”
The NBA, though, “is looking for more than just people with a fat wallet,” says Michael Rowe, a part owner of the Nets who also runs a company that manages the Storm’s outside vendors. Rowe says the NBA tries to be careful about who it allows in the door. But Williams already has a relationship with the league as a former player and hopes the on-the-job training he gets as the Storm’s owner will give him the skills the NBA wants in a franchise owner.
A recent trend of popular former players getting small pieces of NBA teams doesn’t interest Williams, who says the Memphis Grizzlies were among teams that offered him a small piece. He sees those deals as mostly marketing gimmicks. “I didn’t want to come in and be a Michael Jordan,” says Williams, referring to Jordan’s minority piece of the Washington Wizards. “I didn’t go to school to be a figurehead. I wanted to put my college degree to work.”
So far, Williams’s investment in the Storm has doubled in value, league officials claim, and national beer, burger, and soda giants hang signs along the arena’s floorboards. Still, TV may make or break the league. Figures for the Storm’s agreement with Fox SportsNet New York aren’t available, but Storm officials claim that TV ratings have been as good as those for the recent National Hockey League champion New Jersey Devils.
CONTRIBUTORS: ALLEN ST. JOHN, KRAIG DEBRO SPORTS EDITOR: WARD HARKAVY