Red & Dotie Auerbach
“The Greatest” Ali
When the late Petey Greene gave me an opportunity to report sports on his talk show on WOL radio in Washington, DC in the late 60s, I had no clue where the road would take me. WOL Radio DJ Bobby Bennett also deserves an assist because I moved from five to ten minutes on Sunday evenings with Petey to one hour on Saturday at noon with Bobby. In 1971 I signed on with W-O-O-K radio and the rest is sports talk radio and community history. Inside Sports took the DVM by storm it was one of a kind.
Muhammad Ali and Red Auerbach gave Inside Sports instant credibility. Sonny Hill was then the color analyst for NBA/CBS television. He was the best to ever do it. He is a playground basketball legend and was a teacher of the game. He mentored me through my early years in radio.
My media association started with the NBA in 1971 with the Washington Wizards and the Washington Pro Football team. I have seen the Good, Bad and Ugly and sometimes they have been one of the same. My relationship with the NBA got off to a rocky start. In the late 70s Sonny Hill invited me to attend the NBA All-Star Game in Houston, Texas. He then explained to me the proper procedure for requesting press credentials. I called the league office and got the mailing address to request credentials and filed a request. When Sonny and I arrived in Houston we checked into our hotel room. Our next stop would be the press media room to pick-up our credentials. There we would find the man in charge of the credential process, Mr. Brian McIntyre.
He was sitting almost alone and there was no one waiting in line (compared to today’s media circus). Sonny introduced me and picked up his credentials. But Mr. McIntyre could not find my request and refused to issue me credentials. I pleaded with him for understanding; as why would I fly all the way to Houston from DC and make up a story about credentials? He would not budge.
I stood there for almost 30 minutes watching media types pick-up their credentials. It finally hit me I had an “Ace in the hole” NBA legend Red Auerbach. The next break at the press credential table I asked Mr. McIntyre if he knew Red Auerbach? His response, ‘Yes do you?’ I then asked for permission to use his phone, request granted. I remembered my last conversation with Red, he said he would not be coming out for the game. I knew Red and Dotie’s number by heart and I called their residence. The voice answering the phone would be Dotie. I asked for Red and she told me he was out at Woodmont Country club Playing cards.
I would guess she heard the urgency in my voice and asked me if everything was all right? I explained to her that I was in Houston for the NBA All-Star Game and I was having a problem getting press credentials. She asked to speak to Mr. McIntyre. The two spoke for a couple of minutes. He hung up the phone and said “No problem” and wrote me a credential for access.
The press credential problem continued in the Bullets/Wizards press rooms. It was there I would encounter “The Media Relations Directors from Hell!” There were no minorities in charge of media relations during that era.
I remember when me and Frank Pastor a white sports writer decided to integrate the Bullets press table in 1974. Frank and I were just returning back to our seats from a half-time break. We were waiting at the top of the arena for a break in the action. We looked down and notice that all the white media was seated on one side of half-court and all the blacks were seated on the other side of the half-court line. I mentioned my observation to Frank and without hesitation he said “I am going to sit in your seat and you sit in mine.” We quietly integrated the media press table without a police escort or an angry word, but everyone was not overjoyed about the new pecking order.
Mark Splaver was the man in charge of the Bullet press table and he was not a happy camper. The very next game I discovered how unhappy he was. I arrived at my seat a little late but I noticed that members of the media had been issued new media guides, but there was none at my seat. I found Mark to tell him about the oversight and he just looked at me and walked away without a word. I then returned to my seat. Jerry Sachs was the Bullet’s President and he was a class act. He would usually be seated at floor level near the press table. We often shook hands and exchanged words as I walked by. This time he asked me was everything all right? My response “I am fine Mr. Sachs.” In less than 10 minutes Mark came back to the press table and tossed the media guild on the table in front of me and walk away.
This was unacceptable and I got up to follow him and evidently Mr. Sachs had watched the whole episode unfold. He stepped in front of me and said “I got it.”
It would be the start of the 4th quarter that Mark returned to the press table and apologize for his unprofessional actions. I accepted his apology. In 1980 I was named “Washingtonian of the Year and Jerry was one of the first to mail me a personally hand written note congratulating me. My main man the one of a kind and Hymie called me and cussed me out and warned me not to get too big for my britches –the congratulations carried different messages but one of the same, respect.
The Good Bullet players Phil Chenier, Larry Wright, Carlos Terry, Greg Ballard, Coaches, KC Jones and Bernie Bickerstaff and front office types like GM Bob Ferry and Bob Zurflu all supported my community endeavors (Celebrity Tennis & Fashion Shows).
The Bad press relations with blacks in media continued at the Verizon Center. There were other mistakes like someone thought a black Judy Holland was VP material–far from it. Her most famous media relations project was how to get player Rick McHorn in her bed.
I spoke with Mr. McIntyre at the NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia over 2 decades ago about minority problems in gaining access to NBA press tables as it related to the Bullets/Wizards. He suggested we meet for lunch and discuss the matter. It took a minute but in the meantime, he was making an effort to bring about change in his own way. But according to veteran sports writer Bill Rhoden of the New York Times, progress in sports media press rooms around the country are on a slow boat to China. Rhoden’s recent appearance on the widely acclaimed television news show Meet the Press, he said, “the NBA, NFL and MLB are still dragging their feet. In my travels there are media press rooms I go in where I am still the only black face in 2014!”
That is a sad commentary, but it is what I suspected all along. Media press rooms at Deadline are still the Last Plantations. Pioneering broadcaster and former NBA CBS basketball analyst Sonny Hill and now a sports talk show host on WIP Radio in Philadelphia said, “I am not surprised by Rhoden’s statement, very little has changed in media press rooms. One of the problems there is no networking among blacks who have moved it up the ladder.” That is an understatement. Rhoden was a regular on The Inside Sports Media Roundtable long before he appeared on ESPN’s Sports Reporters and Meet the Press–but he is one of those who has forgotten.
In 1978 a writer in the Style section of the Washington Post conspired with several of his colleagues and owner Donald Graham and took my show title “Inside Sports” to New York City. In 1979 he found and published Inside Sports Magazine. He is now the VP of ESPN television, his name is John Walsh. The copy rights for Inside Sports is own by News Week Magazine and it is own by the Washington Post. The beat goes on!
I have been in the sports media for 45 years and I was still having problems gaining access, of all places at the Verizon Center. First, there was a problem with the PR Men from hell, Brian Sereno and Matt Williams. It was brought to my attention that Sereno was disrespecting the ladies of The Round Ball Report. He had called co-host Christy Winters-Scott a liar over something trivia. Andrew Dyer the Executive Producer of the show asked me if I would intervene and I did. He thought there was a double standard.
The Round Ball Report is aired on Prince Georges Cable 76 in Maryland (is strictly a basketball show). I e-mailed Sereno and asked for a meeting. The meeting was set before a Wizard’s game in the press lounge but Scott Hall was the lead man. Scott was a breath of fresh air. He listened and we disagreed on some points but when we walked away from the table we were on the same page. The next thing I knew Brian was gone and Matt Williams had replaced him. Williams had an ego that was as big as he was (400 lbs). He not only alienated members of the media but people in his own department. He was soon gone without a trace.
Christy Winters-Scott has since moved on and she is now a studio co-host for Comcast Sports another media plantation. It is very difficult to see and understand perceived slights (racism) if you have not walked in the other person’s shoes. Enter, Scott Hall Scott’s willingness to discuss what was thought to be a problem has since become a lesson of what can happen when folks can sit down and talk. I will bet his staff is one of the most diverse in the NBA (I could be wrong). The problem with racism people are scared and uncomfortable talking about it (including some blacks).
The Good, The Washington Bullets’ home was the Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland. Hymie Perlo was and still is irreplaceable. His presence is still missed today. His heart was as big as the arena that he worked in. He was the best PR man in the NBA bar none. The community and everyone in it was a friend, the old and the young, the black and the white and the healthy and the lame. Hymie was a jewel of a man.
I was honored to speak at his retirement held at the arena just before the Bullets moved to Washington and changed their name to the Wizards. Denny Gordon was in ticket sales and it seem like he knew everyone who brought a ticket. He loved his job and Bullet ticket holders loved him. I look around and the holdovers from Landover in 1978 are far, few and in between. There is Dolph, Arnie, and Paul still on staff. Phil Chenier is on the broadcast team and Kenny Burns is a Supervisor in security.
The Ugly In 1975 Bullets coach KC Jones was fired by owner Abe Polin after losing in the NBA finals to the Golden State Warriors in 4 straight games. He was made the scapegoat after being sold out by his assisstant coach Bernie Bickerstaff and others. Bickerstaff was rewarded when he landed a job with the new Bullet coach Dick Motta. KC was and is a class act. He is one of the nicest men in pro sports.
1977 I was a Nike rep when Nike NBA rep John Phillips invited me to meet him in the NBA Office in New York City. The meeting revolved around a charity all-star game scheduled for the Bahamas, the island home of NBA star Mycal Thompson. The game had been played the year before without incident or controversy. Magic Johnson was one of All-Stars participating. Representatives from the NBA included VP Ron Thorne, Legal Counsel Gary Bettman and head of security Horace Balmer.
John and I were in for a shocking revelation. Bettman claimed the game could not go on as planned because the NBA own the players. We could not believe our ears. My response was, “Are you saying this is a plantation?” The room went silent, Thorne called the meeting off and said he would call us later, but he never did. Magic disappeared and changed his telephone number. Gary Bettman is the Commissioner of the NHL, Thorne is somewhere lurking in the NBA, Balmer has since retired and Magic is a role model for Black America?
The short existence of basketball legend Michael Jordan as a Wizard’s player and Executive in the front office was unexpected when Abe Polin dismissed him. He was last seen heading south on 495 in his Mercedes convertible to North Carolina.
In December 2009 Gilbert Arenas brought a handgun into the Wizards locker room. After the story broke he and several teammates made light of it during introductions of a game. He was eventually suspended for most of the 2009–10 season. Gilbert has long vanished from the Wizard’s landscape.
The thing that I find disturbing about NBA owner Donald Sterling charade is that folks are acting like they were surprised by his rants against blacks. I bet you cannot guess who his running partner was during the fiasco–would you believe Magic Johnson?
I also notice the same “Old faces and voices” were called on to respond to the racist acts by men like Sterling—when they are a part of the problem . Faces and voices like Magic Johnson who suddenly run and hide behind there blackness. He and Sterling were good friends because “Birds of a feather flock together.”
I have never forgotten a meeting in the NBA League Office in 1978. Nike NBA rep John Phillips and I met with former NBA player and now an NBA VP, Rod Thorn. Joining him were League Counsel Gary Bettman and Head of League Security, Horace Balmer. The meeting centered around whether Magic Johnson, Mycal Thompson (the father of Warrior guard Seth Thompson) and a group of NBA All-Stars would be allowed to travel to the Bahamas for a charity basketball game without league approval.
The game had been played in the Bahamas the previous year without incident or controversy. It was obvious that there was a power-play being made by the league office to cancel the game. Thorn open the meeting by asking who was going to be responsible if one of the players was hurt during the game? John’s response, “Each player has his own insurance policy.” Bettman response, “You cannot assume that each player has insurance and you cannot go forward with this game without the league’s permission.” John and I had met with Magic and Mycal before the meeting and had given them a heads up. They both were still ready to participate. Magic suggested that the topic of conversation just might be centered around an injury to a player. He was right on point. To this day I think Magic had a previous discussion with the league office. I responded to Thorn’s concern because it was legit. I tried to explain that playing the game was no different then one of the players participating in a pick-up game on a New York City playground in the off-season. In fact they would be safer playing in the Bahamas among their peers. The risk of injury was minimum, before Thorn could respond to me Bettman blurted out “You cannot do that we own them.”
John looked at me as if to say ‘I cannot believe he just said that.’ My response to Bettman, “What do you mean you own them. What is this some kind of plantation?” The room went silent and Horace Balmer the only other black in the room just shook his head and seem to be lost for words. The meeting went downhill from there. Thorn called off the discussion and promised to get back to us but he never did.
In the meantime, Magic Johnson disappeared and changed his number. John Phillips met with Mycal Thompson and cancelled the game. Mycal was a class act but his hands were tied when Magic decided to do his Houdini act. Gary Bettman now runs the NHL, Ron Thorn is still in the NBA somewhere calling the shots. Horace Balmer has since retired and Magic is the black face in the middle of the Donald Sterling charade. The Race Card is front and center.
Check Magic’s history out and you will discover the two have a lot in common. Magic’s claim to be a minority owner of the LA Dodgers is another sham (token black face). I know for a fact he was anything but a victim. Rev. James Brown (CBS Sports) another mis-guilded brother claiming to be a minority baseball owner and an expert on racism. He did finally admit on the late George Michael Show (Sports Machine) “I have no say in making baseball decisions as a minority owner.” His role as a minority owner is to be paraded out on Opening Day as the black face to read the starting line-ups. Come on man!
ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, was front and center as an expert on racism in America with ABC’s Diane Sawyer. This is the same Michael Wilbon that I had at least two recent conversations about the use of the N word as a term of endearment. I have to give him credit, he will at least talk to me face to face and not behind my back. I tried to explain that his rationale that his grandfather’s use the word as a term of endearment does not make it right today. I told him he should not go on national television saying it is okay to use the N word among friends and family.
It gives bigots like Donald Sterling the Green Light to do the same among his friends and family. Plus, Michael told me he was not going to appear on the ESPN Show Outside the Lines because the white host had no horse in the race! Two weeks later I turn on the television and there he is front and center. I wish that Magic, James, Michael and the rest of the media experts would defer to black men like Hank Aaron, Dr. Harry Edwards and even Jim Brown and Bill Russell. Brown and Russell sometimes talk out of both sides of their mouths. But they wear the battle scars and have been on the front lines of the civil rights movement in real life and in the sports arenas of America. In other words, they have been there and done that. I guess that is wishful thinking, especially when everyone wants to be an expert on television.
In the meantime, they don’t know their asses from a hole in the ground but the beat goes on and on. In 1964, Red was the first coach to play the first-ever black NBA starting five. They were Bill Russell, Willie Naulls, Satch Sanders, Sam Jones, and K. C. Jones. Auerbach would go a step further in the 1966-67 NBA season, when he stepped down after winning nine titles in 11 years, and made Bill Russell player-coach. Russell would eventually be the first black to win an NBA championship. He would later be named the NBA’s first black General Manager. It was Red Auerbach and Walter Brown who not only talked the talk but walked the walk. They led the way against all odds.
Fast-forward to April 2014, how was it that Donald Sterling’s racist actions against minorities went undetected under the NBA radar for decades?
First, Sterling belongs to the exclusive 1% club of billionaires in America. He does not need to wear the traditional KKK robe to be a member in good standing. There are far too many crying “Foul” and playing the victims in this charade, to include some NBA owners.
Let me start with my homeboy, the great Elgin Baylor who was the Clippers GM for over 2 decades. His teams were perennial losers on the court and in attendance, but he picked up his check every two weeks and kept his mouth shut. Elgin lived by the premise “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Elgin finally cried “Foul” when Sterling fired him. He carried his former boss to court in 2010. He filed a wrongful termination and sued Sterling for racism. In his deposition, Elgin spoke about what he called Sterling’s ‘plantation mentality,’ alleging the owner in the late 1990s rejected a coaching candidate, Jim Brewer, because of race. Baylor quoted Sterling as saying: ‘Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching my poor black players.’ He dropped the racism from the suit. The case was thrown out of court in 2011.
The other entity to cry foul and caught with their hands in “The cookie jar” was the local branch of the Los Angeles NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Talking about an organization needing a change of name and a face-lift–meet Leon Jenkins. Jenkins called a press conference trying to explain why the local branch was honoring Sterling during the 100th Anniversary of the organization next month. He explained the previous award had been approved by the man he replaced and he just went along to get along. But this time he was on the hot seat for approving the second award in May.
Jenkin’s excuse for not cutting ties with Sterling was lame at best. He said “We were reluctant to make decisions based on rumors!” We deal with the actual character of the person as we see it and as it is displayed.” This is another example of the blind leading the blind all that Jenkins could see was “Show me the money.” The taped revealed exactly how Sterling felt about black people, including his good friend Magic Johnson. He had his fingers in Magic’s eyes and his foot in his butt at the same time. Sterling won’t be the first to sleep black and think white when it comes to sex, politics and money. Slave owners lived by the credo and in modern-day history there was the late Senator Strom Thurmond. The plantation mentality is just a board meeting away.
When all is said and done, the real victim despite all of her baggage is the girlfriend (The Whistle Blower) V. Stiviano. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver during his announcement as it related to the punishment of Donald Sterling, he apologize to black NBA pioneers Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper and Magic Johnson. But forgot to thank V. Stiviano? I am betting Magic Johnson and his NBA counter-parts will throw her under the bus—-stay tune.