Do remarkable sports achievements exist in a vacuum?
Prepare for the opening ceremonies this Friday, with some fascinating facts about the Winter Olympics. Have an ice day.
• The 2014 games are officially known as the XXII Olympic Winter Games. It’s the 22nd edition. The first took place in Chamonix, France, in 1924, just 28 years after the first modern-day Summer Olympics took place in Athens in 1896.
After spending six hours on the pregame, the game, and the postgame, what’s the best way to unwind after a long day of watching TV? Watching more TV!
• In the early years of the Super Bowl, the game was played and broadcast earlier in the day, not in primetime. Nor was it the TV event or near-holiday it is today. Now the game coverage ends around 10:30 p.m. eastern time, and subsequently earlier in the western time zones. This gives the network airing it (it rotates among the Big 4 broadcast channels each year) an ample opportunity to present a new show or expose an existing show to a potentially huge audience. The concept began in earnest in 1984, when NBC used its post-Super Bowl advantage to help launch The A-Team.
More than 40 years after the first Super Bowl broadcast, the halftime show is no longer just something to fill TV airtime while the football players rest—it’s now a spectacle unto itself.
1970: The NFL experiments with big-name celebrity halftime entertainers. Their first big star: Carol Channing.
1972: “A Salute to Louis Armstrong,” with Ella Fitzgerald, Al Hirt, the U.S. Marine Corps Drill Team…and Carol Channing. Armstrong had died the previous summer. Songs included “High Society” and “Hello, Dolly.”
Admit it: You only watch the game for the ads. Here are some facts about Super Bowl commercials.
• Since 1989, USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter has tracked which of the game’s commercials most resonated with viewers. Once done with focus groups during the game, voting is now conducted online in real time. Some past winners include Diet Pepsi’s 1991 commercial with Ray Charles singing “You Got the Right One Baby,” and a 1992 Nike ad in which Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny play a basketball game on Mars against Marvin the Martian (which directly inspired the 1996 movie Space Jam). From 1999 to 2008, a commercial for Budweiser of Bud Light took the Ad meter honors.
The 2014 Winter Olympics are just around the corner. They’re sure to offer plenty of triumphs, but for every Brian Boitano, there’s a Tonya Harding. Here are some other spectacular Olympic duds.
Stuff you didn’t know about the world’s most famous basketball team.
• In late 1926, Abe Saperstein took over as coach of a touring African-American team in Chicago called the Savoy Big Five (they played their games at the Savoy Ballroom). Saperstein renamed them the Harlem Globetrotters because all the players were African-American (Harlem being a predominantly African-American neighborhood).
• The original lineup for the team’s first game in January 1927: “Toots” Wright, “Fat” Long, “Kid” Oliver, “Runt” Pullins, and Andy Washington.
• The team played hundreds of games a year and got so good that they played in a national championship in 1939 against another independent team, the New York Renaissance. The Globetrotters lost, but that same year they discovered that the crowd liked it when they did ball tricks and comic routines. Saperstein told them to do as much of that as possible…provided they’d already established a comfortable lead.
• Over the years, a few famous athletes have played for the Globetrotters. Wilt Chamberlain played for one year, between college and joining the NBA. Future Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson played in the 1950s, before his baseball career. And NBA great Magic Johnson played in a single game.
More sports statistical anomalies, this time for football.
Tallest: Being taller than 7’0” is routine in the NBA. In the NFL, there’s only been one man. Seven-foot-tall defensive tackle Richard Sligh was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1967. He wasn’t put to much use, playing in just eight games and sitting on the bench during Super Bowl II.
Shortest: In the early days of the NFL—when it was essentially a regional, semiprofessional league, a 5’0”-tall guy named Jack Shapiro played in just one game in 1929, as a back, for the now defunct Staten Island Stapletons.
The new NBA season has begun, so here’s a statistical survey of sports sizes.
Tallest: Romanian-born Gheorghe Muresan center, at 7’7”. He came to the NBA after playing professionally in France. Drafted by the Washington Bullets in 1993, he averaged a respectable 9.8 points over his seven-year NBA career, as well as 1.5 blocks. However, Muresan is probably best known for his of-court activities—he starred in the 1998 movie My Giant with Billy Crystal (Muresan played the giant).
Shortest: Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues played in the NBA from 1987 to 2001, despite being just 5’3” tall. Being small in the NBA means being fast, and Bogues was adept at assists and steals—he’s the Charlotte Hornets’ all-time leader in both categories.
Biggest: Featuring players who are routinely more than seven feet tall, the NBA is naturally going to have players who weigh a lot. However, only 12 players in league history have ever weighed more than 300 pounds. Among that group are Jerome “Big Snacks” James, Robert “Tractor” Traylor, and Charles Barkley. The heaviest player in NBA history: Oliver Miller, who played for five teams in the 1990s and weighed 375 pounds.
Sometimes creative accounting pays off. Here are a few examples of
weird sports contracts throughout history.
Unlike their counterparts in the big leagues, the average first-year minor league baseball players is paid about $1,100 a month. But not Michael Jordan. After retiring from a spectacular basketball career in 1993 to give pro baseball a try, Jordan signed with the farm system of the Chicago White Sox. At the time, the White Sox organization was owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owned Jordan’s old basketball team, the Chicago Bulls. Sensing that Jordan might come back to the NBA some day if baseball didn’t work out (it didn’t), Reinsdorf paid Jordan $4 million in 1994 and 1995 to play minor league baseball, the same he would’ve been paid had he stayed in the NBA.