The Sports pages

The NBA’s Infatuation With High-School Juniors

The San Jose Mercury News’ Skip Bayless says Jeff Kent is more like Barry Bonds—whose selfishness Kent has bemoaned—than he wants to admit. On March 1, the San Francisco Giants second baseman showed up at spring training with a severely injured wrist. He claimed the injury occurred when he fell off his truck while washing it. But on the same day, witnesses saw a man who looked like Jeff Kent perform high-speed wheelies on a motorcycle and then wipe out. After the crash, several unidentified men stuffed the wrecked bike and rider into the back of a van and sped off. Kent has a clause in his $6 million-per-year contract that prohibits him from riding motorcycles. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Scott Ostler deadpans, “I understand that Evel Knievel had a clause in his contract forbidding him from playing baseball.”

In other baseball news, Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Derek Bell learned that his coaches weren’t conceding him the starting job. His response: “If it ain’t settled with me out there, then they can trade me. I ain’t going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is [a competition], then I’m going into ‘Operation Shutdown.’ ” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik writes, “Were it coming from a Pentagon spokesman, the phrase ‘Operation Shutdown’ might well apply to a military action in Afghanistan. But when it comes from eccentric and grossly disappointing outfielder Derek Bell, it has the ring of a veiled threat.”

Junior league: What if NBA teams could draft any amateur player they wanted this year: collegian, foreign star, high-school senior, or even high-school junior? With the help of four general managers, the Los Angeles Times’ Mark Heisler has assembled a draft board that includes all of the above. The first pick would probably be high-school junior LeBron James, who has already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. Qyntel Woods, who logged two years at mighty Northeast Mississippi Community College, places fifth. A second high-school junior places 12th.

Is Scottie Pippen a Hall of Famer? The Chicago Tribune’s Sam Smith says he is. “Pippen recently moved up the NBA’s all-time scoring list to No. 47 ahead of Hall of Famers Calvin Murphy and Lenny Wilkens. … Pippen was voted to the all-defensive team 10 straight seasons, tying him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most. … Pippen also was on two Olympic gold-medal basketball teams and was voted all-NBA seven times.” Yeah, yeah, but what about that playoff game in 1994 when Pippen benched himself in the closing seconds when his coach wouldn’t let him take the final shot? “Pippen ranks 11th all time in playoff scoring. … See, he should have gotten that shot in 1994.”

We don’t want the Colts! NFL owners bad-mouthed Los Angeles last week, claiming the city really didn’t care about having a pro football team. The Los Angeles Times’ J.A. Adande replies, “It’s not apathy, it’s independence. We’re one of the few major cities that hasn’t been suckered by the cult of the NFL. And if the only option is to take another city’s reject, then we face the prospect of getting stuck with the likes of the Spanos family (San Diego Chargers) or the Irsay family (Indianapolis Colts). Not exactly inspirational thoughts.”

The (new) Oriole Way: Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos has long argued that placing a major-league franchise in Washington, D.C., would harm his team. Now, the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell says Angelos is conspiring to keep a club out of D.C. by sandbagging his own. This year, “[T]he Orioles apparently will put the most fan-repellent team possible on the field in Camden Yards so attendance will be as low as possible. Finally, after a lousy season, they’ll poor-mouth: Please, don’t put a team in D.C. You’ll kill us.”

Pat down: Finally, the Miami Heat overcame a miserable start to crawl back into the playoff hunt. But the Miami Herald’s Dan Le Batard isn’t impressed. “We didn’t quit! Is that the slogan that replaces Pat Riley’s envisioned championship parade down Biscayne Blvd. now? Is that why this city has built this franchise not one but two new stadiums a few blocks from each other? So they would do us the courtesy of not quitting? Riley and all these guaranteed $86 million contracts weren’t brought here to be 30-35.”

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