Sam Bowie of the Lakers is one of the biggest fans of harness racing and, at 7 feet 1, perhaps the tallest. Owning a Hambletonian winner would probably give him a bigger thrill than dunking over Shaquille O'Neal.
Bowie studied a program from a clubhouse table during one of his frequent visits to Los Alamitos and said, "I bought my first three horses as yearlings in 1984, and one of them, Legacy Of Love, earned $220,000 and won a division of the Jugette with John Campbell. That thrill of standing in the winner's circle is at the top of my book."
Bowie grew up in the Amish horse-and-buggy country in Lebanon, Pa., but was not introduced to harness racing until he attended the University of Kentucky and visited the Lexington Red Mile in 1979.
He spends many mornings each summer at Lexington, cramming his towering frame into a sulky to jog horses.
"I love to jog them, but it's tough at 7-1," Bowie said. "But that's what I love about the harness game. You can jog them and get more personally involved."
Bowie, an 11-year NBA veteran, is in his second year with the Lakers after five with Portland and four with New Jersey.
"I try to get here when we're not playing or not out of town," he said of the track. "When I was with New Jersey, the Meadowlands was next door to our arena. But I couldn't find a harness track in Portland; it was kind of rough."
The injury-plagued veteran can relate to the call an owner dreads from a trainer.
"One week your horse is going good, and the next week you find out he's going a little bit lame," said Bowie, who is still awaiting another Legacy Of Love.
Bowie owns four broodmares in Kentucky, in partnership with Cane Run Farm owner David Caldwell, but currently has no standardbreds in training.
"No racing stock this year," he said. "Maybe I'll buy a high-class claimer this summer. The yearling market is tough."
Bowie, 33, knows he is in the twilight of his basketball career but has several reasons to look ahead. An eight-handicap, he plays golf every day during the summer.
"When people ask me what I'm going to do after basketball, I always give them the same answer," he said. "I'm going to play golf, fish, and race some horses."
Trainer Doug Ackerman will be honored by the track Saturday night for his induction into the Harness Living Hall of Fame.