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.