By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Remember the "Seinfeld" episode when Elaine was debating whether a potential boyfriend was sponge-worthy? Well, I always wonder if certain sports topics are column-worthy. Some of them warrant columns, some of them warrant Mailbag or Ramblings mentions ... but what about the ones that fall through the cracks? Couldn't I create a gimmick to collect these topics into one column?

Introducing the Sports Guy Buffet ... a group of tasty appetizers that don't quite require their own entree:

Barry Bonds
Opinions about Barry Bonds are like ... a common description of Barry Bonds. Everybody's got one.

Item No. 1: Barry Bonds
I was rooting for the Giants to make the Series, for three reasons:

A) There isn't a better baseball park than Pac Bell, not just for attending games, but for watching them on television. It's a magical place. You just feel like something important should be happening there, much like Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. It always feels like a movie.

B) In my opinion, the Giants have the coolest baseball uniforms on the planet, simply because they haven't really tinkered with them. Players change, coaches changes, administrations change, ballparks change ... when you think about it, the only constants in sports are team names and uniforms, and now we're in an era where franchises change uniforms every few years for merchandising reasons (one of the truly despicable trends of the modern sports era). Maybe that's why I find myself rooting for the Giants this month. I like their threads.

C) Not only could you argue -- successfully -- that Bonds is the most compelling baseball player in the league, you could even argue that he's the most compelling athlete in sports. Who doesn't have an opinion about Barry Bonds? Who changes the channel when he's up? Who doesn't know just about everything about him? Has any player even remotely approached his production over the past two years, let alone the last 15?

Of course, something else makes him stand out: I'm not here to say whether he's on the juice or not, I'm just dubious that somebody could gain that much muscle that late in their career. It's too improbable. People fill out when they hit their early-30s, not at 38. It also hasn't helped that the shape of Bonds' face has changed; even my Aunt Jen's apple pies aren't that round. If you examine the old footage of him, his face was narrow, his body taut and wired ... I mean, he's a totally different guy now. Strangely, this makes him even more compelling. I haven't watched a Bonds at-bat in the last two years without thinking to myself, "Good God, look at the size of that noggin!" or "How can anyone bulk up that much without some help?" It's a fascinating experience.

What's the point? I like watching Barry Bonds. The overall package is compelling ... just like the Giants playing in the World Series, with their super-cool threads, in the best baseball park in America. I'm just plain giddy.

Gene Hackman
You'll have to keep waiting for the director's cut with the lost scenes of Gene Hackman as Norman Dale.

Item No. 2: 'Hoosiers' revisited
Speaking of giddy, in one of the highlights of my e-mail career, I exchanged a few e-mails with Angelo Pizzo, the guy who wrote and co-produced "Hoosiers" (as well as the football movie "Rudy"). Angelo settled some burning questions from my "Hoosiers Running Diary" once and for all:

  • They did film a scene in which Buddy apologized to Coach Dale and asked for forgiveness, paving the way for Buddy's return to the team ... but the scene was edited out of the final version. Apparently, it was filmed in a barn, with shadowy lighting, and test audiences were confused, because Buddy looked just enough like Jimmy Chitwood that some people thought Jimmy was coming back, not Buddy. Still, they were keeping the scene in the movie until ...

  • The final version of the film was two hours and 12 minutes, but Orion Pictures (since bankrupt) demanded that the movie run no longer than two hours. So not only was the Buddy Apology jettisoned, but Pizzo's favorite sequence -- "A traditional community harvest (similar to the barn raising scene in 'Witness'), showing what these people did when they weren't cheering in a gym" -- as well as a couple of scenes that addressed the building tension between Hackman and Barbara Hershey were also axed (the main reason why that Really Awkward and Uncomfortable Kiss came out of nowhere in the finished product). Even Pizzo admits, "I'm with you on the kiss, it gives me the creeps even today."

  • There was also a scene near the end, before the caravan heads toward Indianapolis, where Hackman and Hershey discuss their future and decide that they can't end up together. Apparently Hackman's reason was, "I don't know if a marriage can be built on hate sex, let's cut it off now." Okay, I made that last quote up.

  • One thing incenses Pizzo to no end: Anyone who charges that the ending was even remotely racist (one of Spike Lee's pet theories, which I mentioned in my "Hoosiers" diary). You know by now that "Hoosiers" was loosely based on the 1954 Milan team that won Indiana state title. Here's what Pizzo says:

    "We tried to accurately portray Milan's tournament reality. Before the team got to the state finals they had not competed against one black player. (An unfortunate legacy of the KKK influence in Indiana.) They played two games on Saturday, not the one game that we dramatized. The afternoon game was against an all-black team, Indianapolis' Crispus Attucks, starring a spectacular sophomore named Oscar Robertson. After vanquishing Attucks, a team that went on to win back-to-back state championships the following two years, Milan played South Bend Central in the evening final. Central was a team with about eight whites and four blacks. Because we were combining the two teams, we decided to make the fictional team more black than white. Additionally, we cast the coach of the '55-'56 Attucks team (Ray Crowe) as the team's coach and one of his players (Bailey Robertson, Oscar's brother) as an assistant. We felt it was an homage to that legendary team."

  • According to Pizzo, the producers would love to re-release a director's cut of "Hoosiers" on DVD -- with the deleted scenes thrown back in, as well as an accompanying documentary -- but Orion went out of business and MGM currently owns the rights to the footage. As amazing as this sounds, MGM won't spend money on a director's cut DVD, because their studio didn't produce the film. Way to know your audience, guys. Savvy.

    (Hopefully, you found that information as interesting as I did. Thanks to Angelo for letting me pass this stuff along to you guys.)

    Latrell Sprewell
    Hey, sailor! Latrell Sprewell hoists the mizzen mast on some poor landlubber.

    Item No. 3: Latrell Sprewell
    As you've probably heard by now, Sprewell was fined $250,000 by the Knicks for failing to report a broken hand two weeks before training camp. And as you can probably guess, the hideous NBA player's union challenged the fine, because players are apparently allowed to get away with anything in the NBA (even O.J. didn't get this much leeway). According to published reports, Sprewell fractured the hand after a female companion puked on his yacht, and Sprewell ended up throwing an errant punch at her boyfriend. Certainly seems reasonable. Nobody should puke on a yacht without serious repercussions.

    I guess I just have one question ... Latrell Sprewell has a yacht?

    Is anyone else brimming with questions about this? Does the yacht have a name? How big is it? Where does he dock it? Does he dress up like Judge Smails when he drives it around? Does he know how to drive it? Don't you picture this quiet dock in Long Island, with all these stuffy yacht owners sitting around drinking Chardonnay, and then suddenly here comes Latrell, exceeding the speed limit by 20 mph, his yacht shaking from the sounds of Ja Rule, wearing a Knicks jersey and a white captain's hat, and he slams his yacht Beeotch off about five different boats as he's trying to park it? Couldn't somebody videotape this? Please?

    Item No. 4: The sale of the Celtics
    (Note: Feel free to skip this section if you don't care about the Celtics or the NBA, in general. Anyway ...)

    Back in July, you might remember my less-than-enthusiastic column after the Vin Baker trade. Well, from the moment it happened, something bothered me about it ... and not just that they were tinkering with a team that won 49 games and came within two wins of the Finals. The math didn't add up. The Celtics were looking to avoid the luxury tax for the 2002-03 season, so they shaved one million off their payroll by dealing Kenny Anderson, Joe Forte and Vitaly Potapenko to Seattle for Vin Baker and Shammond Williams (squeezing them just under the tax line). Fine.

    Here's what didn't make sense: Baker makes $56.5 million over the next four seasons. If the Celtics didn't make the trade, then re-signed Rodney Rogers for three years, $9 million (what he eventually got from the Nets) and added Travis Best (for $1.4 million, what he eventually got from Miami), they would have paid a luxury tax of around $15-16 million (assuming the tax goes into effect next season). And the overall commitment for the next four years (Kenny, Vitaly, Rogers, Best and the tax) would have been around $52 million -- about $4 million less than Baker was getting by himself -- with cap flexibility starting next summer (when Kenny's enormous contract gets wiped off the books).

    Follow me? In other words ...

    A. The Baker trade helped them avoid the tax for this season, but ...

    B. Over four years, the Baker trade brought them a bigger financial commitment and destroyed their cap flexibility.

    Now throw in this: The team has three maximum contracts that increase by 12.5 percent after next season (Baker, Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce), so if getting under the tax was tough this season, it would be even more impossible next season. Why would Celtics owner Paul Gaston care about the tax this season and not next season? How does that make sense? Why was he willing to hinge the team's future -- both on the court and with the salary cap -- to a troubled big man who hadn't been an All-Star in four years? And why were they so desperate to make a trade when Seattle couldn't give Baker away if he were covered in $100 bills?

    That led me to believe that Gaston was planning to sell the team. I had no evidence other than my math skills and my intuition ... I just felt like he was selling. It was the only way this all added up. So on August 1, I sent out a newsletter to my old "Boston Sports Guy" readers predicting a sale, and I went on Sean McDonough's local radio show (www.1510thezone.com) and centered an entire drive-time show around my prediction. I felt really strongly about it. Nobody else in Boston was saying anything. Nobody had even an inkling.

    So what happened two months later? Gaston announced he was selling the team for $360 million. Everyone in Boston was stunned ... everyone but me (and my old readers). Instead of re-signing Rogers, signing Best, taking the cap hit and giving last year's promising team a chance to make the NBA Finals, Gaston made the Baker trade and apparently took the money and ran, just as I predicted.

    To be fair, everyone in the Celtics organization swears that the trade was made for the right reasons, even though coach Jim O'Brien didn't want to lose Rogers or Anderson and said so, and even though GM Chris Wallace couldn't have possibly wanted to tie up his cap room for the next four years with three maximum contracts. If Gaston really didn't push for the Baker trade just because he was selling, then I guess I'm an idiot savant, because that's the only thing that could explain how I predicted the sale when nobody else in Boston saw it coming.

    And if Gaston did know he was selling, and the Baker trade was made for that reason ... well, that's just about the worst thing I can ever remember a Boston owner doing. That would mean that, after eight straight crappy seasons, Gaston waited until things finally turned around, then parlayed his family's $15 million investment (two decades ago) into $360 million (a ridiculous sum of money for a team that doesn't even own its own arena). That would mean that he could have taken $340 million, provided Celtics fans with the best team possible, and put the franchise in pristine cap shape over the next few years ... but he didn't.

    So either Gaston screwed Celtics fans for an extra $15-20 million, or I'm an idiot savant who stumbled across an out-of-nowhere Celtics sale, two months before it happened, out of blind luck. There's no middle ground.

    I'll let you guys decide what you want to think.

    Bow Wow
    Lil Bow Wow is Spud Webb crossed with Jimmy Chitwood.

    Item No. 5: 'Like Mike'
    On the plane home from Vegas, our in-flight movie was "Like Mike," a cinematic experience so overwhelming that I felt the need to discuss it in print. Rapper Lil Bow Wow (LBW from this point on) plays an orphan who finds a pair of MJ's old Air Jordan's, which somehow fit even though LBW is 12 years old and they didn't start making Air Jordans until MJ's rookie year in the NBA. Whatever. If you have a problem with that leap of faith, we haven't even gotten started yet.

    When the sneakers get struck by lightning (don't ask), LBW develops magical basketball powers -- he dunks from the foul line, makes 30-footers, that kind of stuff. He's like Spud Webb crossed with Jimmy Chitwood. Of course, this leads to him getting randomly selected to play a halftime game against LA Knights star Tracy Reynolds (like a Ray Allen type, played by Morris Chestnut) in which LBW puts on a show and gets an NBA contract for the rest of the season. As far as crazy sports movie premises, this probably surpasses "Little Big League" (with the 12-year-old Twins manager) and comes damn close to "Rookie of the Year" (the kid who breaks his arm and ends up throwing 120-mph fastballs for the Cubs).

    And it goes from there. Calvin (LBW's character) leads the Knights towards the playoffs. He ends up bonding with Tracy Reynolds, leading towards the inevitable "Will Tracy adopt him?" subplot. There are a number of wacky cameos from NBA players, including GP, Vince, JKidd, CWebb, TMac and Allen Iverson, who growls, "Who are you, the mascot?" (everyone in the plane braced for the inevitable F-bomb from AI -- didn't happen). We even have a couple of random casting choices -- That Guy from "Jackie Brown" (he plays the coach), Charles S. Dutton, Eugene Levy and Crispin Glover (as the evil orphanage owner -- he was available). I'm not sure how Rick Fox wasn't involved; he must have had a conflict. And where was the obligatory Jay Leno cameo? Isn't that a sports movie staple?

    But here's the thing: You need to see this movie. And I only need one word to explain why ...

    Lipnicki.

    That's right ... it's the triumphant comeback from Jonathan Lipnicki, the little kid from "Jerry Maguire"! I've said it before, I'll say it again: There's comedy, there's high comedy, and then there's Jonathan Lipnicki. He plays LBW's best friend in the orphanage, Murph. That killed me. Only in Hollywood could Jonathan Lipnicki play a character named Murph. He's absolutely absorbing and I couldn't get enough of him. During one scene, he has to ride a motorized scooter and ... I can't even talk about it. Just trust me. How this kid doesn't have his own hit sitcom is one of the mysteries of life.

    And you can't put a price on the chemistry between him and Lil Bow Wow, who plays a 12-year-old kid even though he looks and acts like he's about 30 (I kept waiting for a scene where he was carrying a gat). Couldn't they include that as an extra on the DVD, the moment when somebody on the set said, "Lil Bow Wow, I'd like you to meet Jonathan Lipnicki"? What did they talk about between takes? I couldn't stop thinking about it.

    There were some other classic moments in here. During one scene, LBW dunks over David Robinson, which might have been the only realistic moment in the movie. In another scene, Lipnicki fantasizes about stealing LBW's sneakers, and we're treated to a fantasy sequence in which Lipnicki soars through the air and dunks (you can't even imagine). And during the dramatic ending, it actually got a little dusty on the airplane. Just an enjoyable cinematic experience from beginning to end.

    Personally, I'm hoping for "Like Mike 2: Calvin Goes Through Puberty," where a hormonally crazed Lil Bow Wow tears through the NBA groupie scene like Larry Allen tearing through a Cowboys buffet table. In fact, I think I'll start writing the script right now.

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine.




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