Greater Sans The Great One?


Can this be? Wayne Gretzky is out of the lineup, but the Rangers are better? Well, before we dispatch 99 at the trade deadline, it will be worth watching how the Blueshirts perform this week against rugged defense-first foes Dallas, Washington, and Boston, and then high-scoring Toronto. But this much is certain: the new, young Rangers played two exceptionally entertaining games in defeating Phoenix and Philly last week, bringing the moribund Garden to life with their hustle, their passing, their body checks, and yes, their youth.

With Manny Malhotra and Marc Savard on the ice at key moments, the return to health of Rumun Ndur, and the call-ups of Rich Brennan, Scott Fraser, and Christian Dube (each one a Neil Smith acquisition), the coltish Rangers skated with verve and nerve. The kids energized the vets too, none more so than Petr Nedved, who may finally be on his game after missing all of last season. In Gretzky’s absence, coach John Muckler gave the youngsters more ice time, and he says, “That excites [them]. Now there’s competition from within, and when you get that and the team’s playing as well as it is now, everybody stays positive, everybody gets psyched, everybody wants to do the job and do the right thing.”

Are they really faster without Gretzky, more dangerous on the rush, more willing to share the puck with others rather than looking for the master in all situations? Seemed so. Remember, it’s only two games. But perhaps two very significant games.

Sad Day For Sapphic Sports Fans

There’s something about Kim Perrot, point guard for the WNBA champion Houston Comets— maybe her full-court hustle, maybe her short, natural-dyed, metallic-blond hair— that made her a gal to want, and to want to be, among dyke followers of women’s ball. This was the case even in cities where her team brought decimation— even (especially?) in New York.

So when news broke last week that the firecracker 32-year-old had lung cancer that had metastasized to several points in her brain,
sapphic sports fans were particularly hard-hit. As hardcore WNBA follower Teresa Cooper of Manhattan put it, “I was devastated.”

The WNBA doesn’t exactly trumpet its many lesbian players’ orientation, but that hasn’t stopped dykes from seeing in the women’s pro game— in players like Perrot, whose butchness “reads” as lesbian— many of their aspirations realized. “They give me hope about what’s possible as a dyke and as a woman,” says Liberty season-ticket holder Cindy Greenberg of Brooklyn. “So on one level, [Perrot’s] almost a demigod. And on the other, she feels like one of ‘our’ girls, and that makes her especially precious.”

Perrot’s cancer, like that of dyke icon (and champion athlete) Babe Didrickson Zaharias before her, seems too reminiscent of the “lesbian” pulp novels of the ’50s and early ’60s, where sexual/gender difference is punished with a tragic end. But stay tuned: Perrot’s in a fighting mood. “I believe with all my heart and faith in God that I will overcome this,” she said at a press conference last week. (Indeed, Perrot walked out of a Houston hospital on Sunday after successful surgery on the largest of her brain tumors.) That’s made believers out of almost everyone. Says Cooper, “I don’t pray. But for Kim, I’ll make an exception.”

Elevating The Game

Two points to the NBA for holding a series of Black History Month forums at its Fifth Avenue store last month. Discussions featured former players— including New York favorites Willis Reed and Earl “the Pearl” Monroe— who laid the foundation for the league’s astronomical success.

In animated debates on the league’s peculiar racial imbalance— 80 percent of the players are African American while the vast majority of team owners, general managers, and even head coaches are white— some thorny questions pushed through the complacent patter. Former Knick and Net Buck Williams wasn’t trying to hear the optimistic outlook of NBA senior VP Steve Mills, one of the highest ranking minorities in professional sports, who said it was “inevitable” that “over time” more NBA teams will have black owners. “People have been saying ‘over time’ for a long time. And we’re still waiting for over time. We’ll be waiting for over time 20 years from now,” the three-time All-Star shot back with the kind of passion that his old teammates could use on the court right about now.

NBA champion-turned- GM-turned- color-commentator Isiah Thomas challenged the popular lament that it is shortsighted for young athletes to put higher education on the back burner in favor of the NBA. He argued that society seems more comfortable with the notion of Microsoft mogul Bill Gates being a college dropout than it is with African Americans who choose lucrative basketball careers over school. “Why is this such an issue . . . young African American men having an opportunity to make this type of money?”

The forums amount to a strong first quarter for the league in the civil rights game. Jockbeat hopes the NBA brass shows some depth and follows through on its shots in the end.

contributors: Stu Hackel, Liz Galst, Sarah Smith
sports editor: Miles D. Seligman