Coach's Corner

Mike Tyson's a punk who doesn't deserve the cover of Sports Illustrated; the Spurs and Mavs are pretenders who don't deserve better than they got; and baseball fans … well, they deserve a league that can deal with its labor problems

Sports Illustrated disgraces itself with a cover glorifying and promoting a homicidal psychopath. Both Texas entries into the NBA sweepstakes see their seasons come to abrupt terminations amid hysterical (and mostly mistaken) finger pointing. Fans are warned by all the appropriate parties, in uniforms and in suits, not to get overly worked up over a World Series or anything like that ... because there probably won't be one. I take it personally when hot sports stories break, and they always do, whenever I take a week off.

It's close to impossible for a magazine cover to fill me with the righteous indignation that seems to come so easily to letter-to-the-editor writers. Ms. Meredith Anderson in Des Moines is going to cancel her Newsweek subscription because she doesn't like movie stars on the cover. Seth Green's canceling his SI subscription, what with all the smutty porn on the cover to lure his son's thoughts away from hitting the cutoff man. I read these diatribes and wonder how so many people with such rigid views manage to function in a world where it's impossible to avoid being bombarded with graphically unpleasant images every hour.

I haven't joined the letter-writing cult yet, and I'm not going to cancel my SI subscription. Still I was horrified -- and I'm talking gut-level disgust, not writer hyperbole -- at the sight of the leering, gold-toothed mug of a sick and dangerous man, Mike Tyson, glowering from the cover of this proud magazine. Did somebody hijack all common sense and decency for the sake of a few extra grocery store sales? Indeed somebody did.

The cover blares, "Monster's Ball ..." SI's concession, I guess, that Mike has some ... ah ... previous issues. The interior story is reasonable and balanced -- if anything about Tyson can be called balanced, a fact that's beside the point. The story will certainly help sell $54.95 pay-per-view subscriptions, contributing to Tyson's $17.5 million (minimum!) for another chance at a title he in no way deserves. Tyson hasn't been a champion of anything in 12 years and has boxed like 10 rounds in the last decade. Not that he hasn't been a busy guy, what with various jail stints, daily threats of baby-eating and testicle-crushing, and public lamentations about how hard it is for a working guy to get a blow job these days.

Just last night I watched Ali, reminding me the heavyweight division once possessed some dignity. Even Mike's spiritual father figure, Sonny Liston, seemed to represent something larger: a malevolent but quasi-dignified, pent-up anger of the ghetto. But Tyson's been around so long his mug has all but obliterated any positive image of the sport. The sorry spectacle of Mike Tyson is all many young people know. Please don't contribute to this fiasco. Watching Mike, though fascinating I'll admit, is something akin to watching lions eat Christians. It's humanity at our worst. We can do better. Take the $54.95 and buy a good bottle of bourbon. It will go down better. It will last longer. Oh yeah ... fervently hope this maniac doesn't land a lucky punch and win.

Let us move on to a lighter matter: the simultaneous and surprisingly rapid destruction of our state's two NBA teams. Mark Rosner, The Statesman's Spurs beat reporter recapped it best: San Antonio is Tim Duncan and a bunch of role players, David Robinson definitely being a role player. If the clock could be turned back a decade on the Admiral, maybe the Spurs can beat the Lakers ... maybe. Criticisms about Duncan's mishaps handling the ball and Steve Smith's offensive non-contributions are wasted breath. If they play 10 playoff games -- in San Antonio -- L.A. wins eight. They're just too good.

The Mavericks' loss to Sacramento was more interesting because it turned not on raw skill but on matchups. Anguished cries from Bill Walton down to Car Phone Pete about Dallas not playing defense are like getting frustrated because your cat won't bark. Dallas doesn't play defense. They score. They run. They create chaos. But they don't play defense. They're physically unable to play effectively in the half court. This isn't a state secret. Sacramento (the Mavs' offensive prototype) had a plan B: Dallas plays Kingball better than the Kings, so they went to what Dallas couldn't match: A so-so power game involving a finesse center, Vlade Divac, and Chris Webber. Dallas had no Plan B. Why was Nelson so happy to sacrifice Juwan Howard, a legit and effective inside force, for the unneeded and unnecessary additional firepower of Van Exel and LaFrentz?

Sacramento's matchup advantage with Dallas will become an albatross against Shaq and the long, tall Lakers. Shaq seems to delight in tormenting the crafty Croat; Vlade is always reduced to a series of slapstick flops against El Grande Jefe. Ironically, the Mavs' team speed and quickness, with no pretense of an inside game, probably matches up better against L.A. than the Kings do. Not that, in the end, it would've mattered. Dallas is deeply committed to an up-and-down the court game. Fun to watch. Lots of regular-season wins. Has a team ever won a championship with this style? Not that I can find. San Antonio and Dallas are both nice basketball teams. Be happy. It could be much worse.

One good thing about the virtually unfixable labor problems hanging over major league baseball is this: they'll still be there next week.

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