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Wednesday, February 5, 2003
Updated: February 7, 2:06 PM ET
Top 10 suspensions of all-time

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 columnist

LeBron James got a couple of free shirts and won't play any more high school games. Big deal? The kid misses a few high school games and heads right to the NBA, as planned. It's a blip, a speed bump, a minor incident compared to the biggest sports bans and suspensions ever.

Muhammad Ali
The Greatest was just getting started when he has his license revoked.
1. Muhammad Ali
Ali refused to go into the Army in 1967, famously declaring he had no quarrel with the Viet Cong. The New York State Athletic Commission declared it had a quarrel with Ali, and took away his license. Ali, convicted of draft evasion, was stripped of his heavyweight title. His draft evasion case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and on June 28, 1971, Ali was cleared, with the Supreme Court ruling he was improperly drafted and that Ali was indeed sincere in his religious beliefs.

So began the first of The Greatest's many comebacks, with Ali eventually regaining his title on October 30, 1974, more than seven years after he'd had it taken away.

2. Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte and the Black Sox
Of the eight Black Sox banned for life by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, Jackson's, for fixing the 1919 World Series, was the most noteworthy. Jackson had both the most impressive past and the brightest future. He was only 31 years old, and had a .356 lifetime batting average, to this day the third highest in history. Cicotte, though 35 in 1919, was the best AL pitcher that season, going 29-7 with 30 complete games.

The players weren't banned until just before the 1921 season. Jackson's 1920 season: .382 batting average, 12 homers, 121 RBI. Cicotte's 1920 stats: 21 wins, 10 losses, 3.26 ERA.

Jackson testified before the Cook County grand jury in Sept. 1920, and the Chicago Herald and Examiner reported the following: "As Jackson departed from the Grand Jury room, a small boy clutched at his sleeve and tagged along after him. 'Say it ain't so, Joe,' he pleaded, 'Say it ain't so.' 'Yes, kid, I'm afraid it is,' Jackson replied. 'Well, I never would've thought it,' the boy said."

AMERICAN OLYMPIANS
GET THE HOOK
American Olympians have spent a fair share of time in the hot seat and Page 2's Jeff Merron has all the dirty details.
3. Pete Rose
He bet on baseball. He bet on Reds games. He put his autograph on a document that declared him permanently ineligible for baseball. Rose had been the Reds skipper from 1984 until he was banned, at the age of 48, in 1989. The ban cost him dearly -- besides being denied a sure place in the Hall of Fame, he also forfeited would likely have been a long managing career.

"The matter of Mr. Rose is now closed," said Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti after the ban was made public on Aug. 24. "Let no one think it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the great glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game."

4. Paul Hornung and Alex Karras
Hornung, the Packers "Golden Boy" running back and 1961 MVP, and Karras, an All-Pro defensive tackle for the Lions, were forced to sit out the 1963 season, suspended by NFL commish Pete Rozelle for betting on NFL games and associating with gamblers. Hornung had bet up to $500 on games, said Rozelle, and Karras had placed at least a half dozen $50-$100 bets.

Hornung apologized. "I made a terrible mistake," he said. "I am truly sorry." Karras also said he was sorry, in his own way. Upon returning to action in 1964, he refused when an official asked him to call the pregame coin toss: "I'm sorry, sir," he said. "I'm not permitted to gamble."

Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson barely even had his 15 minutes.
5. Ben Johnson
By the time the Seoul Olympics rolled around in 1988, Johnson had clearly earned the title of the World's Fastest Man. He defeated rival and 1984 100-meter gold medalist Carl Lewis time after time and blasted through the old 100 meter world record by a full tenth of a second, running a 9.83 at the 1987 world championships in Rome.

In 1988, Johnson fought off injury after injury and was soundly beaten by Lewis in their only meeting before the Olympics. In Seoul, though, the Canadian sprinter broke his own world record, running 9.79 and beating Lewis by an astounding .13 seconds. But Johnson tested positive for steroids, his world record was wiped from the books, he was stripped of his gold medal, and banned from competition for two years in the prime of his career. A few months later, the IAAF declared his 1987 world record invalid, too.

Johnson's career was pretty much over. He competed in the 1992 Olympics but didn't make it past the 100 meter semifinals. In March 1993, Johnson was banned for life after failing another drug test.

6. Latrell Sprewell
Sprewell, then with the Golden State Warriors, attacked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, during a Dec. 1, 1997 practice, first choking him and then returning to punch him in the head. Two days later, NBA commissioner Daniel Stern suspended him for a year. Sprewell lost millions of dollars in salary. His suspension was reduced to 68 games and he started the 1998-99 season with the Knicks

7. Tommie Smith and John Carlos
Smith and Carlos raced to gold and bronze medals in 200 meters at the 1968 Mexico City Games, and used their victory stand platform to make a silent statement in support of black power -- they raised their black-gloved fists high while "The Star-Spangled Banner" played. Smith also wore a black scarf around his neck and they both wore long black socks and no shoes. Both stood with heads bowed and eyes closed, not saying a word.

The USOC suspended the sprinters and told them to leave the Olympic Village. But other athletes didn't shy away from their own protests and explicit support for the two sprinters. Ralph Boston, who finished third in the long jump, went barefoot during his medal ceremony and said, "They are going to have to send me home, too, because I protested on the victory stand." (They didn't.) Bob Beamon, the long-jump gold medalist who had smashed the world record, went to the victory platform with his sweatpants rolled up to display black socks.

Carlos and Smith faced tough times when they returned to the U.S. "Brent Musburger spoke for the Establishment when he called them 'black-skinned storm troopers,' " wrote Olympic historian David Wallechinsky. "The two Olympic medalists found it difficult to make a living."

8. Micheal Ray Richardson
Richardson was touted as the next Walt Frazier when he began his basketball career with the Knicks, but struggled with drug problems and multiple suspensions throughout his eight-year career. He bounced from New York to San Francisco and then, finally, to New Jersey. Richardson, a four-time All Star despite his cocaine habit, was the Nets leading scorer when, in 1988, he became the first NBA player to be banned for drug use.

Tonya Harding
Enjoy it while it lasts -- because it didn't.
9. Tonya Harding
Harding and her husband, Jeff Gillooly, paid a bunch of thugs $6,500 to whack rival skater Nancy Kerrigan in the knee two days before the 1994 U.S. Nationals. Harding won the Nationals and a spot on the Olympic team, and Kerrigan, unable to compete, was also named to the team. Harding, Gillooly, and Co. were so incompetent that it soon became clear that Harding and Gillooly had plotted. But the USOC, fearing a lawsuit, allowed Harding to compete in Lillehammer.

She bombed in a spectacular fashion, broken shoelace and tears and all. She returned home, pled guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution of a case, was stripped of her national title, and banned by the USGA for life. The rest is celebrity boxing history.

10. Connie Hawkins
Hawkins got the ultimate bum rap. The New York prep hoops superstar was booted from the University of Iowa after his freshman year after testifying in the 1961 point-shaving case involving Jack Molinas. Hawkins had not been charged with doing anything wrong except, perhaps, hanging out with some people he should have avoided. He hadn't played a single varsity game at Iowa.

Hawkins went pro in 1962 and was named the ABL's MVP. He then played for the Globetrotters from 1963-67 and in the ABA for two seasons, including one in which he was named MVP. Hawkins had been eligible for the 1964 NBA draft, but Commissioner Walter Kennedy made it clear he wasn't welcome in the league. He went undrafted in 1964, 1965 and 1966, and was finally officially banned after the 1966 draft. Hawkins filed a $6 million antitrust lawsuit against the NBA. In 1969, the suit was settled out of court, so to speak -- the NBA lifted the ban and gave Hawkins nearly a million dollars and a five-year, $410,000 contract with the Suns.

Also receiving votes:
Steve Howe
Howe, who pitched for the Dodgers , Twins, Rangers, Yankees between 1980 and 1996, was suspended seven times for substance abuse before Commissioner Fay Vincent finally banned him for life in 1992. The ban was lifted, and Howe finished his career in New York, having pitched just 606 innings in a career that spanned (but didn't include) 17 seasons.

Kermit Washington
In a December 1977 game, Washington, a Laker, decked the Houston Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich, sending him to the hospital with serious eye and face injuries. Tomjanovich missed the rest of the season. Washington was suspended for 60 days, missing 26 games.

Jack Molinas
The NBA banned Molinas for life in 1953, for betting on his own team, Columbia University, while a college player. Molinas averaged 12 points per game in his short career as a Fort Wayne Piston.

Dale Hunter
Hunter, playing for the Washington Capitals in the 1993 NHL playoffs, smashed star center Pierre Turgeon into the boards and glass as the Islanders celebrated Turgeon's goal, the fifth in a 5-3 Islander win that eliminated Washington. Turgeon separated his shoulder, and Commissioner Gary Bettman suspended Hunter for 21 games.

Marty McSorley
McSorley traded in his pads and stick for a shirt and tie.
Marty McSorley
Bruin Marty McSorley slashed Vancouver's Donald Brashear from behind, sending Brashear, skull down, crashing to the ice and knocking him unconscious. The NHL suspended McSorley for the last 23 games of the 1999-200 season, effectively ending his NHL career. McSorley stood trial in Canada and was found guilty of assault with a weapon, but didn't serve any time in prison.

Sherman White, Ralph Beard and Alex Groza
Groza and Beard, Kentucky All-Americans and first-round NBA draft picks, had already played two years for the NBA's Indianapolis Olympians (and were both first-team NBA all-stars) before it was found, in the huge point-shaving scandal that emerged in 1951, that they shaved points while at Kentucky in the late 1940s. They were immediately banned.

White, a 6-foot-8 LIU forward who was the Michael Jordan of his day, might have been an NBA superstar. He would have been drafted by the Knicks, but was barred from the NBA, and later served nine months in prison for fixing games.

Denny McLain
McLain, who won 31 games for the Tigers in 1968 while earning Cy Young and MVP honors, was suspended twice from baseball in 1970 by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The first suspension, for three months, stemmed from a 1967 bookmaking incident. The second, in September, was for carrying a gun. He wasn't banned from baseball, but at 25, he was washed up. McLain's career, and life, went downhill from there.

Leo Durocher
The Dodgers manager missed out on Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season, suspended from baseball six days before Opening Day in 1947 by Commissioner Happy Chandler, for associating with gamblers and therefore engaging in "conduct detrimental to baseball."

Hal Chase
"Prince Hal" was a great batter who, it was believed, threw games during his 15-year career. It was never proven, but after the 1919 season he was unofficially banned from the majors. Later, he was officially banned from the Pacific Coast League for, among other things, offering an umpire a bribe. His Giants teammate, 1912 triple crown winner Heinie Zimmerman, was also barred from baseball after the 1919 season for fixing games.

Merle Hapes and Frank Filchock
The Giants fullback and quarterback both admitted to being offered $2,500 bribes to lose by more than the 10-point spread before the 1946 NFL championship game against the Bears. Hapes admitted being offered the cash before the game, and Commissioner Bart Bell banned him from the championship game. Filchock didn't come clean until after the game, but probably wished he too had been banned, as he threw six interceptions in the Giants loss. Hapes never played again, and Filchock played in only one more game, four years later for the Baltimore Colts. Neither was accused of accepting the bribe and neither was officially banned.

Mike Tyson
After biting Evander Holyfield's ears in the third round of a June 1997 title bout, the Nevada State Athletic Commission revoked Iron Stomach Mike's license and fined him $3 million. That was just one chapter in a long saga that has sent Tyson, who clearly has an appetite for human flesh, around the country and overseas looking for places that will allow him to box.