Dan Patrick was saying the other day that one reason he jumped at the chance to serve as host of ESPN's "SportsCentury" profiles of the 20th century's 50 greatest North American athletes was because they will be viewed for years to come.
Someday people will look back to see what athletes were like in our era, and when they see the profile on the NBA's all-time leading scorer, which will be shown tonight at 7:30, they'll be in for a jolt.
The show on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, athlete No. 26, is no puff piece. At the end, Patrick sums things up by saying Abdul-Jabbar will be remembered more for "his front-page tragedies, his broken relationships, his brushes with the law, his war with the press and his religious conversion" than what he accomplished on the basketball court.
It's a balanced show, with plenty of positives, but Abdul-Jabbar fans may see it slanted more toward the negative.
Abdul-Jabbar is hammered pretty hard by sportswriters who covered him. Former Times columnist Scott Ostler says he "was the most aloof and moody guy." The Times' Mike Downey says, "There was a condescension throughout his career--who are you to be asking me that?"
Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre, who as a columnist and sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal covered Abdul-Jabbar during his days with the Bucks, said: "He'd get on an airplane and put a big blanket over his head. Heaven forbid if you were seated next to him on the plane. He was like forbidden territory."
The New York Times' Robert Lipsyte, who met Abdul-Jabbar when he was Lew Alcindor at New York's Power Memorial Academy, says, "I remember Lew in high school as soft-spoken, thoughtful, accessible, a very intelligent, sweet kid who, God help him, was thinking about being a sportswriter. . . . I remember going into the locker room [at UCLA] and reintroducing myself and the sweetness was all gone."
ESPN could have also gotten some tough quotes from Rich Levin, baseball's director of public relations. As the Laker beat reporter for the Herald Examiner, Levin, also a former UCLA basketball player, once wrote a story that alleged Abdul-Jabbar sought a fee for a charity appearance, and the two never talked after that.
In the show, Abdul-Jabbar says reporters portrayed him as aloof and arrogant "because they were self-serving," adding, "It sold papers."
Former Sports Illustrated writer Ralph Wiley, defending Abdul-Jabbar, says, "He was a reflection of his time. How could he not be angry and resentful?"
Comedian Billy Crystal says, " 'Hey, how's the weather up there?' That shapes somebody. Because I know on the other end it's, 'How's the weather down there?' "
Abdul-Jabbar's accomplishments are played up, but so is his sucker-punching rookie Milwaukee Buck center Kent Benson, who was playing in his first game. The infraction drew a 20-game suspension.
To its credit, ESPN, in dealing with a difficult subject, certainly didn't pull any punches.
HORSE RACING VOID
Now that the thoroughbreds have gone south from Hollywood Park to Del Mar, one thing that is missing is a daily show similar to "Hollywood Park Today" on Fox Sports West 2. (A listing in Thursday's Times for "Del Mar Today" was incorrect.)
Hollywood Park produces "Hollywood Park Today" for a minimal cost, and, besides promoting horse racing, the show also gets good ratings. A recent Sunday show did even better than the Dodger telecast it followed. ESPN's Hank Goldberg, who has seen local racing shows across the country, calls co-hosts Mike Willman and Kurt Hoover the two best he has seen.
STILL IN THE NEWS
If television has its way, members of the U.S. women's soccer team won't be fading away any time soon. Craig Kilborn, after returning from a vacation week on Monday, devoted time to the team in his opening routine on his "Late, Late Show" on CBS, and the team was on David Letterman on Tuesday. "They're nice, they're smart, and they're hot," Letterman said.
Goalkeeper Briana Scurry was on Jay Leno late last week and in a brief interview before the taping she talked about her controversial save during the penalty kicks. Did she step too far forward? "It's up to the discretion of the referee," she said. "There was no warning, I was never told I was off my line. But I understand China's disappointment. They came within a hair of winning."
Want to watch something uplifting? A one-hour special on the recent Southern California Special Olympics at Long Beach State will be televised on Fox Sports West 2 Saturday at 4 p.m. The co-hosts are Bill Macdonald and former Miss America Leanza Cornett. . . . Fox Sports West offers something different Sunday at 4 p.m.--taped coverage of the Air New Zealand Difference Down Under Gridiron Classic. Former NFL players faced Australian and New Zealand rugby stars in a "modified" Australian Rules Football game in Sydney. Proceeds benefited the Starlight Children's Foundation. . . . FX begins a 21-week run of Toughman competition, featuring amateur boxers, tonight at 10 p.m. . . . Saturday is a good night for boxing, with Channel 9 offering one of its Forum- promoted Tropicana cards at 8 p.m., followed at 10 p.m. by a tape-delayed card on Showtime featuring welterweights James Page and Freddie Pendleton at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas.
Bud Greenspan and Ed Pressman have acquired the rights to make a Lance Armstrong film. It will be released after next year's Tour de France. . . . The Lakers are still the NBA's marquee team. They'll make 11 appearance on NBC next season, the maximum, and 15 appearances on Turner, also the maximum. . . . Age not a factor: The Lakers recently signed 80-something Chick Hearn to a two-year contract, and on Thursday ABC announced it has signed Jim McKay to a new multiyear deal. McKay will turn 78 in September.
ESPN is televising, on a same-day delay Monday at 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 4:30, a par-three shootout from a resort in Michigan featuring Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Phil Mickelson and Lee Janzen. A hole in one will be worth $1 million. It's a nice idea but not original. A similar tournament, which included LPGA stars Se Ri Pak and Annika Sorenstam, was played at Aviara Four Seasons in Carlsbad and shown on Fox last Thanksgiving. "If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then I guess I am flattered," said Michael Weisman, creator of the Carlsbad event.
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What Los Angeles Is Watching
A sampling of L.A. Nielsen ratings for July 17-18, including sports on cable networks:
Over-the-air Channel Rating Share Baseball: Dodgers at Angels 11 3.7 10
Cable Network Rating Share Golf: British Open ESPN 1.1 3 Tennis: Davis Cup, Australia-U.S. ESPN 0.9 2 Soccer: MLS All-Star game ESPN2 0.8 2 Golf: USGA Amateur Public Links ESPN 0.5 1 Horse racing: Hollywood Park Today FSW2 0.4 1 Bicycle racing: Tour de France ESPN2 0.3 1 Arena football: Milwaukee at Grand Rapids ESPN 0.1 0
Over-the-air Channel Rating Share Golf: British Open 7 5.3 17 Triathlon: Escape From Alcatraz (tape) 4 2.3 3 Auto racing: CART Molson Indy Toronto 7 2.0 5 Golf: Ameritech Senior Open 2 2.0 5 Golf: LPGA JAL Big Apple Classic 4 1.9 4 Pro basketball: WNBA, Houston at Sparks 9 0.9 2 Auto racing: NASCAR Craftsman Trucks 2 0.7 2
Cable Network Rating Share Tennis: Davis Cup, Australia-U.S. ESPN 1.1 3 Baseball: New York Mets at Baltimore ESPN 1.0 2 Drag racing: NHRA Mile-High Nationals ESPN 0.7 2 Baseball: Atlanta at Toronto TBS 0.5 1 Boxing: James Smith vs. Larry Holmes (tape) FSW 0.4 1 Horse racing: Swaps Stakes ESPN 0.4 1 Baseball: Kansas City at Chicago Cubs WGN 0.2 1
Note: Each rating point represents 51,350 L.A. households. Cable ratings reflect the entire market, even though cable is in only 63% of L.A. households.