Pedestrians are used to hearing the horns and dodging yellow taxis during weekdays in midtown Manhattan. But even they must admit that was one strange-looking yellow car pulling up outside the Fifth Avenue offices of the National Basketball Association.
Actually, the car was a replica Indy racing machine and even stranger was the guy crammed into its driver’s seat – none other than 6-foot-9 NBA legend Larry Bird, who had a smile from ear-to-ear. Bird, the former Boston Celtics player and Indiana Pacers coach, was delivering the Pacers’ bid to host the 2021 NBA All-Star Game at the team’s Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“A little rough ride,” Bird chirped. “No suspension or anything, but it was fun.”
Usually, Indy-car drivers max out around 6 feet. The tallest driver, by my recollection, was 6-foot-6 Chris Kneifel in the early 1980s.
There to greet Bird and the Pacers contingent was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who seems to be all in for basketball crazy Indiana getting its wish to add the All-Star Game to other basketball events scheduled for Indianapolis in 2021 – the annual boys and girls basketball tournaments, the Big Ten women’s tournament and the NCAA Final Four. The Pacers last hosted the event in 1985.
“I know you guys would be fantastic hosts,” Silver said.
HEY, DUDE, NOW THAT’S A REAL BUM-GARNER
By now you’ve heard that the San Francisco Giants will spend the next two months – and maybe more — without their left-handed pitching ace, Madison Bumgarner, after he suffered injuries to his ribs and to the AC joint in his throwing shoulder following a dirt bike accident on the team’s day off last Thursday in Denver.
You have to wonder, of course, why the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Bumgarner was out on a dirt bike in the Rocky Mountains during the season. Most baseball contracts prohibit players from doing things that might do them bodily harm. Contracts have been voided though the Giants likely won’t do that in the case of the 27-year-old Bumgarner, who has pitched on three World Series championship teams.
“It’s terrible. Obviously that was not my intentions when I set out to enjoy the off day,” Bumgarner said Monday. “I realize that’s definitely not the most responsible decision I’ve made. It sucks not being able to be out here with my guys and try to help us win some games. It’s just very unfortunate.
“Everybody’s been super supportive, too – the organization, the guys, everything,” Bumgarner added.
Bumgarner is lucky. The Atlanta Braves voided their one-year, $5.5 million contract with outfielder Ron Gant after he suffered compound fractures to his tibia and fibula following a dirt-bike accident in early 1994.
Aaron Boone, whose ninth-inning home run against the Boston Red Sox provided the New York Yankees their 2003 American League pennant, had his $5.75 contract voided by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner after suffering a severe knee injury while playing basketball in the off-season. Steinbrenner then secured the services of Alex Rodriguez to play third base for the team.
AMERICA’S TEAM? CHECK OUT MLB’S BEST-SELLING JERSEYS
Remember in the 1970s when Ted Turner bought a struggling UHF station in Atlanta and turned it into cable station TBS and then showed all the games of his Atlanta Braves? That’s how the Braves became “America’s Team.”
There have been many teams since who have work the moniker – the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and even pro football’s Dallas Cowboys.
There should be no doubt which team now is “America’s Team.” It’s the Chicago Cubs, who last year ended a 108-year drought by winning the 2016 World Series in seven games to the Cleveland Indians, who have now gone since 1948 without a title.
And if you have any doubts, check out the most popular baseball jerseys. Four of the five top-selling jerseys belong to Cubs players: Kris Bryant’s No. 17 is No. 1, No. 2 Anthony Rizzo’s No. 44 is No. 2, Javier Baez’s No. 9 is No. 4 and Kyle Schwarber’s No. 12 is No. 5. The No. 22 of Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is No. 3.
SPEAKING OF THE CUBS …
Just finished reading “The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building The Best Team in Baseball And Breaking The Curse” (Crown Archetype, $28) by Tom Verducci, the award-winning baseball writer for Sports Illustrated as well as the two-time Emmy Award-winning analyst for Fox Sports and MLB Network.
A splendid read especially when you consider that Verducci, who worked the World Series for Fox and MLB Network while also covering it for Sports Illustrated, wrote the book in a little more than two months following the Cubs’ victory in early November.
It covers the philosophy used by owner Tom Ricketts, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to build the team with right-character players, including a core four of Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber and Addison Russell, and how maverick manager Joe Maddon, who left Tampa Bay, pushed all the right buttons to finally deliver a World Series banner to Wrigley Field.
My favorite 10 words in the book begin the last sentence of Verducci’s ackowledgments to his parents, sibblings, wife and sons: “To be loved is the greatest gift man can know …”
Well said, Tom.