1999 november

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Letters of

Intent ~

Sports Spectrum

Re~ders

Respond

Gweat Atltletes of the NiDeties

Fanspeak

Inside Scoop

SS stories are •• • a testimony of what God can do in a person's life if he or she lets Him have control.

How do you pick your friends? Most of the time, friends develop not because they sought each other out but because they were thrust into a situation and discovered that their hearts were in tune. Sometimes it happens in a job situation- two people put together by their employer who become kindred spirits. That's how it happened in the NBA between a couple of guys with a lot of differences but some surprising things in common. About 9 years ago, these two men were chosen to play on the same basketball team in a Texas town that was mostly known for a partially destroyed building in the middle of town. The city was San Antonio, and the players' names were Avery and David. They seemed to become friends immediately. Avery, less than 6 feet tall with only a couple of college assist records to suggest that he was anything special as a basketball player. David, more than 7 feet tall and already a major star in the NBA. One already a journeyman point guard, the other a household name. Immediately, they became fast friends. Something connected them and kept them together despite the ugly fact that Avery was cut from the team the same day he participated in David's wedding. Yet their friendship persevered. Recently, I visited with David and Avery to see first hand their mutual admiration and to see how two friends get along, joke together, and care for each other. David and Avery were thrust together by the whims and wishes of basketball execs, but they have formed a dynamic duo that now shares an NBA championship. And something else-an unshakable faith in Jesus Christ and all that goes with it. That's the real issue in their friendship. Just as it is in all of life.

- MELVIN FRY Newfoundland, Canada Michelle the Mentor I can relate to Michelle Akers. Not all the girls on my U14, Division 2 soccer team are Christians. Being on a team where all the girls are at least one year older, it's hard for me to speak up. But when I do, I know I'm doing the right thing. Once, after practice, I was in the room of the coach's daughter, and I started talking about God and how life on this earth is temporary. They respected what I was saying, but had their own opinions. Then the coach's daughter said to me, "That took a lot of courage." I felt awesome! - MARY ELLEN Vienna, Virginia Thanks so much for sharing Michelle Akers' World Cup story. It is great to hear of how God is working through sports figures. I am a soccer dad and have two up-and-corning soccer players, 10 and 13 years of age. I would love to know if there are any other women or men on the US teams that love the Lord so that I can keep them in prayer and can point them out to my kids as role models. - MARK POLLARD E-mail

We continue to look for soccer players- both men and women- who are willing to speak about their faith in Jesus Christ. Garnett and College In your October issue, Dave Branon says that he feels sorry 2

SPO RTS SPECTR UM - NOV EM BER 19 9 9

Dave Branon managing editor for Kevin Garnett because he chose "the big bucks instead of the books." He is right to feel sorry for Kevin Garnett because he missed college life, but the reason Garnett went straight to the NBA was because he didn't get a college scholarship and his family only had enough money to send one child to college. By entering the draft, he let his sister go to college, and I think that was a very honorable decision. - RYAN PRINS Hawthorne, NJ

At the time of Garnett's graduation from high school, his ACT and SAT scores were not high enough for him to be eligible to play ball in college. He continued to study, and

he took the SAT. Meanwhile, he gave up his amateur eligibility and joined the NBA draft. The day of the draft, Garnett got a phone call telling him that he had passed the SAT with a score of 970. He could have fulfilled his dream of playing big-time college basketball. But now it was too late. Foruan Question Who has been your favorite Christian athlete of the 1990s? The first person that comes to mind when I think of Christian athletes of the 90's is Reggie White. He's one of the best ever at his position, and he spoke out on what the Bible says about controversial subjects. He didn't

let the loss of future earnings or man's opinion sway his belief in the truth. I admire his faith and loyalty to his convictions. I also admire former Yankee manager Clyde King. He lives in my town, and he's just one of us. Meet him at the local garage, and you would never guess he had the ear of one of the biggest owners in baseball. When he speaks at events, he always gives our Lord all the credit. - DALE HARRIS Goldsboro, NC I am thankful that there are people out there who are willing to speak for the truth. When Reggie White talked to the Wisconsin State Assembly, I'm sure he knew he'd get much criticism. In Matthew 10:22, Jesus says, "... men will hate you because of me." Thank you for putting people like Reggie White in your magazine. - NATHAN BRAMSEN Senegal, West Africa

New Fonun Question How have you used sports to influence others for good? E-mail: ssrnag@sport.org

New SS Site! Surf to www.sport.org on the Internet, and view our new Website on Crosswalk.com's Sports Channel. While there, give us your thoughts at "It's Your Shot," and then explore the new daily features! Bookmark both Sports Spectrum and the Sports Channel. You1l have all the sports news you1l ever need. Let Vs Have It! We want to get hit with your best comments and opinions! Send them to Letters of Intent, Sports Spectrum , Box 3566, Grand Rapids, MI 49501. E-mail: ssrnag@sport.org


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~ SS Internet site: http://www.sport.org/ Magazine subscription info Sf 5.97/ten issues; $20.97 outside USA Phone: 1-800-283-8333 Mail: PO Box 37120. Boone, lA 50037-0120 E-mail: magsub@sport.org

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Educating Randall The one thing Randall Cunningham loves to talk about is what he has learned about God over the past few years by Jeff Smith

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Volume 13, Number 10 November 1999 SPORTS SPECTRUM MAGAZINE A DISCOVERY HOUSE PUBLICATION AFFILIATED WITH ABC MINISTRIES MANAGING EDITOR Dave Branon RADIO AND MAGAZINE DIRECTOR Tom Felten ART DIRECTOR Steve Gier PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Rob Bentz MARKETING DIRECTOR Michael Wozniak GRAPHIC ARTIST Laurie Nelson ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Julie Richardson PHOTO ACQUISITION Lisa Wadin CLERICAL ASSISTANTS Debbie M1ller, Kari McCloud 1 ADVISORS Michelle Akers. US national soccer team; : Tim Cash. Unlimited Potential, Inc.; 1 1 Clark Kellogg, TV analyst. ESPN college basketball· Vince Nauss. executive director. Baseball Chapel: Kyle Rote Jr.. Athletic Resource Management: Alice Simpson, chaplain, Cleveland Rockers: Bruce Smith, Hockey Ministries International; Cris Stevens, LPGA Bible studies leader: Chuck Swirsky, play-by-play, Toronto Raptors; Claude Terry, director, Pro Basketball Fellowship COVER PHOTO: Scott Cunningham I NBA Photos SPORTS SPECTRUM is produced 10 limes ayear by Discovery House Publishers, Box 3566, Grand Rapids, Ml4950t -3566, which is affiliated with RBC Ministries. a nondenominational Christian organization whose purpose is to lead people of all nations to personal faith in Jesus Christ and to growth in His li.keness by teaching principles from the Bible. Printed in USA. Copyright ~ 1999 by Discovery House Publishers. Bible quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright ~ 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. SUBSCRIBER NOTICE: From time to time we allow companies to mail you information on quality resources. To decline these ma1lings, simply write or E-mail SS with this message: 'No offers.'

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Sports news potpourri by Victor Lee

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The Swirsk

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Sports Spectrum Radio station info Phone: 1-800-598-7221 Straight Traxtapes , Back Issues orders, Discount bulk Issues Phone: 1-800-653-8333

Permissions, Reprints Contact: Debbie Miller Fax : t-616-957-5741 E-mail: dmiller@rbc.org

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Lee'd Stories

by Chuck Swirsky

address, or ot11er corrections

General correspondence, leiter to the Editor, or Writer's Query (no unsolicited manuscripts, please) Mail: Managing Editor, PO Box 3566, Grand Rapids. Ml49501-3566 E-mail: ssmag@sport.org Fax : 1-616-957-5741

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Champions

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Only Game In Town A review of some of the results of the demise of the ABL and the continuing success of the WNBA by Dave Branon

Alison Nicholas Jeff Gorton Matt Farmer RhoniBarton

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The Big Picture Curtis Brown

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Straight Talk

Now or Never

David Robinson

As the Buffalo Sabres take another stab at the Stanley Cup before they lose the Dominator, one of their top players is Curtis Brown by Lois Thomson

Airing It Out

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Would you kiss a trophy?

by Tom Felten

22 Friends In Deed Whether playing a little 5 on 5 in the NBA or getting their families together for a cookout, David Robinson and Avery Johnson are friends by Dave Branon

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The Rap on Melvin Melvin Adams of the Harlem Globetrotters is as much at ease rappin' with young people as he is hoopin' with his teammates by Jason Chatraw

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DiS!OYeiY House Publisbers

SPORTS SPEC TRUM- NOVEMBER 1999

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Lee'd Stories

~ Bu

Victor Lee

Job Security • It's 1997 and the North Carolina State Wolfpack are 6-5, coming off consecutive 3-8 seasons. Head coach Mike O'Cain's job seems in jeopardy. At best, a 1- or 2-year contract extension might be called for. At worst, the program starts over with a new leader. Instead, athletic director Les Robinson shocks most fans by giving O'Cain a 4-year contract extension. Robinson's confidence is paying off. The Wolfpack upset Florida State in '98 and finished 7-5. The team got off to a 3-0 start this season, including a season-opening upset of Texas. "In '97, I knew if we didn't win six- and maybe if we did win si.x1 may not be able to continue here," O'Cain says. "I was able to get through that time because of my faith in Jesus Christ. I tried to put it into God's hands and to not worry about things I had no control over." O'Cain's faith paid off, and he believes the contract extension set the stage for solid recruiting classes that will leave the program with a good base. "A 1- or 2-year exte nsion wouldn't have been good from the stan dpoint of building a program," the coach says. "It's not what you need t o be able to entice recruits and give a young man security. When Les gave me 4- plus the 1 left on the contract, making it 5- then we could go in and show·a young man that our staff should be here the entire time he's playing. That makes a difference." The young men who play for O'Cain quickly come to learn that he is a man of faith. "I try to live a life that will be pleasing to God," he says. "I want to base everything on the Ten Commandments and on the principles Jesus lived by. I have a tremendous faith that no matter

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SPOR TS SPE CTR UM - NO VEMBER 1999

.&. Off the field. Mike O'Cain and Nancy, his wife of 17 years, have two daughters, Jenny and Lizzi. Besides following their sports endeavors (swimming, tennis, basketball), O'Cain has also taken time to teach Sunday school and speak at Fellowship of Christian Athlete camps.

what happens, the Lord is doing it God had planned for me. My faith for a purpose." has gained a stronger sense of needing to know what He wants for me instead of what I want. "No matter how much longer I • John Smoltz went from an pitch, I'm fine with it. If baseball overhand pitching motion to a was taken from me, I wouldn't be three-quarters motion early this bitter. I've been blessed. Baseball baseball season in order to protect has no longer been the focus of a tender elbow. In making the who I am and what I do. Living adjustments Smaltz, 32, faced more for Christ has been. I don't know strongly than ever the realization what t he future holds for me . that his pitching career may last That's what this year has taught "another 7 years, 5 months, or me- to take each day and live it another one day," he says. Such is to the fullest; I wasn't doing that. the condition of his elbow. But now I'm totally confident and His heart and mind are fine, at peace with what I'm doing." however. Regardless of his future in baseball, Smoltz is secure. That security was reaffirmed this season as he battled the elbow problems. • What better place to try to "There was a point where I was kick-start your career than at frustrated and wanted to know home? Todd Fuller has the priviwhat I could do to fix it," John lege of trying to fulfill his potensays. "And that was a little bit self- tial in a comfortable setting this ish of me to try and speed up what season. The former first-round

The Unknown

Home Again

pick of the Golden State Warriors, a center who played for Utah much of last season, is now at home in Charlotte and playing for the Hornets. Fuller played the final year of his high school basketball at Charlotte Christian High School for former NBA great and mentor Bobby Jones. Todd played collegiate ball just a few hours up the road at North "Carolina State. "I believe the Lord has me here for a reason, and it's good to be playing for my home town," Fuller says. "I have the comfo rt of friends and family when I'm away from basketball." And he has Jones, who always has a constructive word about Todd's game or life. "Bobby and his whole family are like family to me," Todd says. "Just having the opportunity to go over to their house and hang out or have a meal is refreshing." Fuller has yet to realize his potential in the pros, but he has grown spiritually through the trials. "Circumstances and trials have come for reasons, to teach me for the long run," he says. "It's been a steady overall growth for me. Now this is the next step in basketball, and I think it will be good for my spiritual life and my career. "

AC in LA • How refres hing to see A. C. Green become a Laker while Dennis Rodman was talking about returning to the team. Let's see, A. C. or Dennis. Hmm. Which would you rather have? Cross-dressing decadence, limitless selfishness, and unreliable attendance, or Christian conduct, selflessness, and a perfect attendance record for 12 years? Somebody with the Lakers is wising up. Green, who hasn't missed a game in 12 years and holds the NBA record for consecutive games (1.028 and running), brings great


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defense and rebounding to the Lakers. But the make-up of a championship team requires more than talent, and Green brings much more, as team vice president Jerry West says, "He also brings intangibles such as experience, character, professionalism, and veteran leadership that will help us both on and off the court."

Champion Approach Ricky Rudd is giving up car ownership to join Robert Yates Racing next season, leaving his employees to find other work. That can be frightening to some, but veteran racing insider Cliff Champion -previously crew chief for Cale Yarbrough, Dale Jarrett, and Rudd before serving as Rudd's research and development director- has a godly perspective. "When I don't have a job, I look at it as a new opportunity," Cliff says. "I know that God has His hand in th e whole thing. He hasn't led me wrong yet."

Mills Report

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• In his first year of full-time evangelistic ministry since making a name for himself as a sharpshooting guard at the University of Kentucky, Cameron Mills spoke 300 days, often twice a day and five times on some days. On several occasions, hundreds of young people respol)ded to the invitation to receive Christ as Savior. Cameron-who also serves as the Wildcats' team chaplainhas a road pastor, Johnny Pittman, to help keep him accountable. For more information, call 615-771-2171.

Veteran sportswriter Victor Lee lives in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

r. - Comments? vlee@sport.org.

Our man on the scene in the NBA takes a look inside the best of the century Player of the Century: Babe Ruth. The Red Sox sold him to the Yankees in 1919 so their ownership could pour money into the the· atrical show NoiNo! Nanette. It's been "No, No, Red Sox" ever since. Ruth was a star pitcher (94 wins) who had great stats in World Series play for the Sox (3-0; 0.87 ERA). But he really put baseball on the map with his home run power, his swagger, and his personality. Kids loved Ruth and the feeling was CHUCK SWIRSKY mutual. When the Yankees came to is the play-by-play voice town, fans flocked to see Babe Ruth, of the Toronto Raptors. and they were disappointed when he On Saturdays at noon didn't hit a home run! The fact that Eastern time, he hosts Sports Spectrum radio. he was the foundation for the success of the sport brings me to no added another 10 to the list, Caii1-B00·598·7221 to including Ted Williams, Stan locate the ss station in other choice. Musial, Ty Cobb, and Ken Griffey your area. Swil'sh's Ali·Century NFL Team Jr. The kid is that good. OFFENSE Left-handedPitcher: Sandy Koufax Quarterback: Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana Right-handed Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Greg Running Back: Jim Brown Maddux Wide Receiver: Jerry Rice Manager: A combination of Earl Weaver, Billy Tight End: John Mackey, Mike Ditka Martin, and Casey Stengel. Offensive lineman: Jim Parker, John Hannah Gener almanagerjowner: Branch Rickey Center: Dwight Stephenson Baseball Announcer : Ernie Harwell DEFENSE Best World Series: 1975 Reds-Red Sox Safety: Ronnie Lott Record of the Century: Some say it was Joe Cornerback: Darrell Green DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. With the Defensive end: Reggie White exception of Pete Rose (44) and Paul Molitor Defensive tackle: Bob Lilly (39), no one has really come close to it. Linebacker: Dick Butkus, Lawrence Taylor, However, I am most amazed by Cy Young's Ray Nitschke 511 wins (he won 265 of those games before Head Coach: Vince Lombardi 1900). Think about it. A pitcher would have to Evaluator of talent: Bill Walsh win 20 games for 25 years to come close. SUper Bowl: Jets upset Colts in Super Bowl ill, Hank Aaron's career home run mark (755) 16-7. This game created tremendous interest in will fall. Aaron will probably be sitting in the pro football among people who had never paid stands when Ken Griffey Jr. breaks it one day. much attention before. Also, it put the AFL on But no one will win 511 again! Ever. the map as a respectable league. Greatest Single Play: The Giants' Bobby TV Announcers: Al Michaels, Dick Enberg, Pat Thomson's home run off Ralph Branca in the Summerall 1951 do-or-die playoff game against the Player of the Century: Dick Butkus. He changed Dodgers. Every time I see that grainy film I get the way defense is played today, and he capthe shivers, and I wasn't even born at the time! tured the imagination of NFL Films with the Fascinating sidelight: The radio call of the steam blowing off the top of his head. The eyes "home run heard 'round the world" was made that would see right through you. The intimida· by the legendary Ralph Hodges, but a young tion. The passion and guts. Ernie Harwell was doing the TV call of the Single Most lmpol'ta nt Event in Spol'ts game. This was before videotape, so Ernie's call Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier in of that historic blast was not preserved. Only ma,jor league baseball. the newsreel version survives, and it has been dubbed with Hodges' call. Next month: College football &: basketball; NBA Swil's~'s AII·Century Baseball Team First base: Lou Gehrig. Just look at the stats. Second base: Joe Morgan. Commanded and received respect. Should be a manager. Shortstop: Ernie Banks. Best player never to appear in a postseason game---in any sport. Third base: Okay, it's Mike Schmidt or George Brett, but I loved the way Brooks Robinson came through in the clutch and remains the best defensive third baseman ever. Outfield: Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron. I could have

Send questions to The Swirsk, Box 3566, Grand Rapids, Ml49501. Got an opposing view? E-mail us at ssmag@sport.org SPO RTS SPECTR UM - NOVEMBER 1999

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Champions~

Brit with Grit • Great Britain's Alison Nicholas knows all about facing challenges. After all, she plays golf for a living. Her efforts to achieve success as a professional have sent her crisscrossing the Atlantic Ocean to compete on both the LPGA and the European Tours. As if the game isn't difficult enough without the stress and strain of international travel-the loneliness, the jet lag, the cultural differences. Seven years after her debut on the LPGA Tour, Alison won her first major-the 1997

bq Ditchfield. Branon. Versaw. Stephe ns

money list-a far cry from her 18th-place finish in 1997. And her responsibilities in 1998 as vicechairman of the European Tour grew significantly when the chief executive left mid-year. An average player might have packed up and headed for the clubhouse, but not Alison. "I suppose I'm very determined," she says with a laugh. "I never give up!" Nicholas' determination and persistence paid off. In February she successfully overcarne wind and rain to end her 19-rnonth title drought with a win at the 1999 Hawaiian Ladies Open. "After last year, this is a great change," she told the press. 'Tm delighted to be back in the winner's circle." The same determination that propels her professional career also keeps her spiritual life on track. Since becoming a Christian at a Tour Bible study in 1989, Alison has been consist ently working on her walk with Christ. "My life has a different focus now. It's putting Christ first instead of myself," she says. "The Christian faith is a constant journey- a lifetime journey. You want to continue to press on until the end, until you see Him face to face!"

• Jeff Gorton. In 1998-99 Gorton became the first NCAA Division Ill diver to break the 600-point barrier for 11 dives from the 3-meter diving platform.

- CHRJSTIN DITCHF!ELD

• Alison Nicholas. While playing in about half of the 1999 LPGA events, Nicholas remained near the Top 50 in winnings.

US Open. With the trophy came the added pressure of the media spotlight and greater expectations for the future. But in 1998, Alison found herself in the "deep rough." Two bouts of pneumonia and a leg injury kept her from competing most of the year. On the US circuit, she finished 84th on the

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SPORTS SPECTRUM - NOVEMSER 1999

• Jeff Gorton. Yes, he's in his twenties. Yes, he's captured most of the titles he could possibly nab in his sport. And yes, he's a young man of faith. But no, we're not talking Jeff Gordon, NASCAR champion. This is about Jeff Gorton, diving champion. Alike as they seem to be, it's the differences between Jeff and Jeff Gorton that make the story. Gorton, a senior at Kalamazoo (MI) College, was a 1996 Michigan high school state champion and Diver of the Year. While diving for K-College, a Division III school in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, Gorton has broken all school and league records and has been a national diving champion three times-once in the 3rneter and twice in the 1-rneter. In 1998, Gorton was nominated as Michigan's best athlete but, as Jeff puts it,

"needless to say, Barry [Sanders] won it again." Hey, with No. 20 taking his leave of Michigan, maybe this is Gorton's year for that award. Perhaps winning a national title for a fourth straight year would help in that voting. Gorton became a Christian when he was very young, but he says his relationship with God continues to grow. Two people have been helpful in balancing his faith with his success. "My father always taught me to give God the glory for everything and the importance of staying humble," says the Plainwell, Michigan, native. "I have had a lifelong best friend, Tim Czuk, who got me into diving and has been like a brother to me. He taught me a very valuable lesson before a state meet in high schooL He reminded me that I had already won true victory in Christ. After that, nothing else matters but to give my best to Him and let the outcome of my competition be in His hands." "It's awesome how God is working in my life," Gorton says. Sounds a lot like the guy in the No. 24 car. - DAVE BRANON


lnimuuliniit • It's big news at the Air Force Academy when a wide receiver earns AU-Conference recognition. In Fisher DeBerry's run-oriented offense, receivers usually attract only token attention. Matt Farmer's 35 receptions for 650 yards in 1998 changed all that. His presence diverted defensive attention from Air Force's ground game and contributed heavily to the school's best offensive production in years. But even more impressive to Farmer than his personal exploits was the fact that Air Force won the WAC title game last December. "It was the first time I was part of a championship team," Farmer says. "We never won a state title in high school." Air Force went on-fueled by Farmer's game-clinching touchdown to defeat the Washington Huskies 45-25 in the Aloha Bowl. Although already a starter by his sopho-

more season, Farmer admits to "playing scared and worrying about making mistakes." A Fellowship of Christian Athletes retreat 2 months after the end of the season provided a spiritual turning point. Now Farmer describes himself as more relaxed and confident of being in God's will. ''I'm here for a reason. I wouldn't be playing football if that wasn't what He wanted me to do." Perhaps this realization is one of the reasons he's become one of the premier offensive threats in the new Mountain West Conference. Farmer's success on the gridiron affords him an opportunity for ministry with younger students. Whether speaking with young people after a game, coaching at a sports camp, or reading books to kids at a local elementary school. he enjoys the opportunities to influence others and tell them of his faith in Jesus Christ. - ALAN VER5AIV TOM KING

.6. Rhoni Barton. Barton is so passionate

about water skiing that when she isn't training or traveling for a tournament overseas, the Rollins College graduate (3.9 GPA) is writing for WaterSki magazine.

• Rhoni Barton was the most dominant collegiate athlete her sport has ever seen. At 23, she's already won more national titles and major tournament championships than her memory can hold. She carries a No. 1 world ranking, but Rhoni Barton is only slightly more known in the sports world than a world-class hula hoopist. "Most people don't know all that goes into being a professional water skier." says Barton. "When they see us compete for the first time, they're shocked." Upon being introduced to some unenlightened athletes at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Barton was asked what kind of costumes and make-up the water skiers would wear during competition. The mental images of dimples and frill were dashed when Barton bore down on a jump ramp at 65 mph and let pop a 150-foot jump. "All of a sudden, the other athletes thought we were coot" says Barton, who won Pan Am golds in jumps and tricks.

The Canyon Lake, California, native might have never made it to the top of the water skiing heap if it hadn't been for the crossroad she faced following the death of her father, Bob Barton, who died of a heart aneurysm in 1991. "I was only 15 and couldn't understand why God would take away my dad. For 2 years I blamed Him. But before I left for college I sat on the dock and realized this was going to be a long career, away from my mom and home, and without my dad. I needed Jesus, and I had to ask Him into my heart as an adult. Eventually I understood He has a plan for me. Through everything good and bad, He has a plan." - ROBERT STEPHENS

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Ifyou know of a Champion, tell us about it. E-mail ssmag@sport.org or Fax 1-616957-5741.

~ Matt Farmer. One reason Air Force was a Top 25 team early in the 1999 season was the receiving and punt/kick returning of Farmer. C

DAVE BLACK

SPORTS SP EC TRUM- NOVEMBER 1999

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RANDALL

Nearly 10 years ago, Randall Cunningham was considered by many to be the best

CUNNINGHAM'S player in the National Football League. As quarterback of the Philadelphia

Eagles, he won the Bert Bell Award as the Maxwell Club 's Player of the Year FAVORITE

Award twice, in 1988 and 1990. But by the mid-90s, Cunningham was forced into

SUB.JECT IS

a backup role with the Eagles. Then he retired from football altogether; spending the 1996 season working in a marble business in Nevada.

FAITH, AND HE'S GUITE

But in 1997 Cunningham was back, this time as a reserve for the Minnesota Vikings. Surprisingly, the 1998 season found him on top again, winning the Maxwell Player of the Year for the third time (only Cunningham and Johnny

A STUDENT

Unitas have won it three times) and coming within inches of a berth in the Super Bowl. A change of scenery and Randy Moss can do wonders for a careet: But maybe it was something else. Jeff Smith talked with the Vikings ' quarterback about what that something else might be-and about what Randall has been

W IT H JEFF SM ITH

learning both on and off the field. Sports Spectrum : What has God been teach-

ing you recently? Randa ll Cunningham: God has been teaching me perseverance. He's been teaching me how much I have to trust in Him. I'm developing a whole added reverence for Him, a whole added respect, plus deeper levels of faith and trust in Him. SS : It seems as though you've had a breakthrough

in your Christian life in the last couple of years. Can you talk about that?

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SPORTS SPECTRUM • NOVEMBER 1999

RC: I th in k it began in I994 with Kotite [Eagle Head Coach Ri ch] and the team there [i n Philadelphia]. I had to beat different obstacles at first. Then in 1995 I had to go through some obstacles and persevere through trials. In 1996 I had to go through humility. In 1997 I learned to be a humble man. Then in ' 98 came the lifting up- being under the hand of God and knowing that He was doing the lifting, and I wasn't lifting myself. As I look through this whole process, whether it's off the field or on the field, it's so much that I've learned. God is so faith ful that when you endure through things, there's a blessing

PHOTO: JOE R0081NS

C> 1999



EDUCATING RANDALL

attack you whether you' re with God or without God. But God says He would never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). So, when I'm being attacked and I know I'm with God and God is with me, I know that He's handli ng the SS: You mentioned some rough times in Phi ladelphia. situation for me. He's given me His Spirit of truth that Then you retired, but went from being out of the game to reminds me of all of His laws. I can sit back and know being at the top of the league. What have you been learning that He is in control. I don't have a lot of time to even ยง recently about competition in the NFL, plus about wi nning consider turning my back on God. i and losing? Look at Jesus. He was in very nature God but "did not consider equali ty wi th God something to be grasped" ~ RC: I' ve learned you can be as competitive as anyone in (Philippians 2:6). That's how I feel as a human being. God is my friend. He is my Father. But in no way can I ever ~ the league without having a lot of anger. Man' s anger does not bring about the righteousness God requires. But in think more highly of myself than I ought to, because I must i what I'm doing, I'm able to do it in a patient way. I found be a humble man. A GOOD out that patience has its own virtue in SS: Your fami ly has been growing in CAUSE itself. When you can do things with recent years. [Randal l and his wife As quarterback of the patience and your coaching staff allows FOOl"PRINTS Felicity have two chi ldren, Randall and Minnesota Vikings, you to do it with patience, yo u can IN THE SAND Vandi.) What have you learned about Randall Cunningham has accomplish a lot. The Lord doesn't want family life? become the conductor of us to be anxious about things. He says to Randall Cunningham's an explosive offensive "cast all your anxiety on Him because Favorite RC: I' ve rea ll y been learni ng about scoring machine. Off the He cares for you" ( I Peter 5:7). That's fathering. It's a beautiful experience to field, Cunningham is the One night a man had a dream. when He was talking about God opposhave children. The main thing about it is producer of an album that He dreamed that he was walking ing the proud but giving grace to the along the beach with the Lord. you have to put them fi rst. When you put he hopes is scoring big with people who need humble. Right after that, Scripture says Across the sky flashed scenes them first, there's a lot of needs that are hope in their lives. to "humble yourselves, therefore, under from his life. For each scene, he there. You really have to deny your own CAUSE (Christian God's mighty hand, that He may lift you noticed two sets of footprints in needs and meet the needs of the children. Athletes United for up in due time" (v.6). Then it says "cast the sand; one belonged to him, Spiritual Empowerment), al l yo ur anxiety on Him because He the other to the Lord. SS: Are you and your wife on the same of which Cunningham is cares for you." When the last scene of his life level as best friends? a part, has produced a flashed before him, he loo ked If I go into a game very anxious, I leave CD that is touching many it in the locker room or in the shower back at the footprints in the RC: Yes indeed, because we both keep people's lives. room, where I go and pray. As I pray, I'm sand. He noticed that many God first. "Keith Johnson [Vikings chaplain] sent saying, "Lord, I'm casting all my cares on times along the path of his life mt! out to produce a CO," SS: How many more years do you think You. I' m leaning on You. I'm submitting there was only one set of footsays Cunningham. "It you have left in the league, and once to You. Send me Your Spirit to lead me in prints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and was on my heart, I had a the right way. Help me to be the best that I football is through do you feel God leadsaddest times in his life. vision of it, and He sent ing you any certain way? can be for You and for this team." This really bothered him, and me out to produce it." Through that patience and through casting Randall writes and prohe questioned the Lord about it. my anxiety on Him, I' ve learned that you "Lord, You said that once I RC: I could never answer that question. duces for CAUSE and the I might say I'd like to play a couple of can accomplish so much more. ministry's band, Remnant. decided to follow You, You'd years or I'd like to play 5 years. But I'm Gospel singer J. Teddy walk with me all the way. But I Johnson, who has an SS: That sounds like great advice for not going to put limits on God. God may have noticed that during the album titled The Answer anyone no matter what job they're in. have me play for another 5 years or I0 most troublesome times in my featuring the Camden Were there times you doubted God? If life, there is only one set of years and have me be the oldest guy in Community Singers, perthere were, how did He bring you out of footprints. I don't understand the history of the league. But I can ' t formed on the album. why when I needed You most that time of doubt? know that right now. The thing I know "God drew Teddy and You would leave me." that I can do is stay in perfect harmony me together to do thilt The Lord replied, "My preRC: I think there were times when I with God and make sure that when I do function, and it was cious, precious child, I love you was in control. Boy, oh boy, fall down I know He's got His hand there thought I through God's grace that did He show up. God let me know that and I would never leave you. to pick me up. So I don' t want to put limPhil Hurtt [Johnson's During your times of trial and manager of the PH Hit it's really not me who's doing this-that its on how long I'll play. suffering, when you see only one Factory] allowed Teddy it's "He in me" who does it. Whether it's set of footprints, it was then to be on our CO," says SS: It sounds like you've been keeping the success or whether it's the times that I carried you." Cunningham. "The CD has when I'm learning and gathering inforyourself in the Bible. How important is gone out and blessed - AU THOR UNKN OWN mation and storing it up, He's still leadthat to yo u and how do you go about many people." ing me. doing that? While Randall is tossMy favorite story is "Footprints." ing scoring bombs on the When we're wrong and th ings are goi ng bad and we think RC: The beautiful thing is that our chaplain wi th the field, he hopes CAUSE is that we're by ourselves, He is the One who's carrying us. Vikings, Keith Johnson, is a very powerful and strong man scoring big for a good in my life, as is John Michaels, my pastor in Las Vegas. cause off the field. That' s one thing I' ve had to learn. I can't turn my back on -J EFF SMITH God. I don't have time to, because the enemy is going to Keith told me when he went and blessed our house in Las that comes. But the enemy is still going to attacKyou. And as he attacks, you just have to understand that you're going through a trial and you have to persevere.


..,.. Highwater marks. Randall Cunningham has had some great days as a QB. For instance, on October 2,1989, Randall Cunningham attempted 62 passes in one game against Chicago (the record is 70; Drew Bledsoe). Earlier that season, on September 17, Cunningham completed 34 passes for 447 yards and 5 touchdowns against Washington.

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Vegas that it would be a house of entertaining. "You' ll be entertaining people here," he said. And I've never been an entertaining type of guy in my home. Whenever I've gone out, I've gone out and done what I had to do in the public, but when I go home-that's my home. We had nine Bible studies at my house with 30-50 people. At the last Bible study we had, God challenged me to have people be baptized. There were 2 or 3 people who said they were going to get baptized. I went upstairs and I prayed. I said, "Lord, when it comes time for people to raise their hand and say that they want to get baptized, will You make it easy for them?" He gave me the words that I would share, and I shared them. The amazing thing is, because I was in the Word and I was路 studying m1d seekin g Hi s Scripture He gave me the perfect verses. Sixteen out of 50 people got baptized. As far as my study, Keith Johnson has challenged us in our team Bible study to read the Book of Proverbs. In my own study I am typing all the words of Jesus and studying them because in John 14: 15 He says, "If you love Me, you will obey what I command." Of course, He also said that the first commandment is to love Him "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). That is the command. That 's what we're supposed to do-love. He said, "If you love Me, you will obey what I command." The only way that I can obey Jesus' commands is to study them. I started in the book of Matthew, and His fi rst words in Matthew were basicall y that He needed to get baptized. So He told John that needed to be done, so do it. That was

the main point. I was like "Wow, I would not have known His first words until I read that." It's a beautiful study, and I challenge everyone to do it. Jeff Smith lives in Camden, New Jersey, and attended church with Randall Cunn ingham wh en he played for Philadelphia.

!=> The Cunningham Zone RANDALL CUNNINGHAM ~ 6-4 ~ 215 ~ DOB: 3-27-63 Go, Bro: Randall's brother, Sam Cunni ngham, was a running back in the NFL for th e New England Patriots (1973-79, 1983). Two other brothers played college football. Tri-sport: At Santa Barbara (CA) High School, Randall ran track, played basketball, and was an All-American in football Home team: Wife, Felicity; Son, Randall II; Daughter, Vandi Year off: During th e year he took off from foo tball (1996), Ran dall had widely divergent jobs: one as a TV analyst for TNT football telecasts and anoth er in a business that makes marble monuments. REWIND~ Began his NFL career in 1985; started three games his first season with the Eagles ~On November 16, he had the first 100-yard rushing game by an NFL quarterback in 10 years ~ During his t hird yea r, threw 118 passes without an i nte rception~ In 1988, racked up 3,808 yards in th e air; in 1998, he totaled 3, 704. His two best seasons in that category were 10 years apart THE GOOD STUFF~ 1988 NFL Player of the Year~ 1989 Started in t he Pro Bowl ~ 1990 NFL Player of the Year ~ 1992 Comeback Player of the Year~ 1994 Tied Eagles record with 10 straight completio ns ~ 1998 Selected to the Pro Bowl

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Third season, same result: Houston wins! Other things did change, though, in the league that stands alone in women's pro hoops BY DAVE BRANON

THE LONG GOODBYE Ever have your heart taken out and stomped on? That 's what it feels like to be cut fmm a sports team. It 's not just the rejection, which is embarrassing and painful enough. What 's worse is th e knowledge that you won't be participating in a sport you love and for which you've sacrific ed hundreds and sometimes thousands 1 2

SPORT S SPECTRUM - NO VE MB ER 1999

of hours of sweat equity. Before the 1999 WNBA season began, Rhonda Blades and Christy Smith, two women who had spent the 1998 season proudly wearing WNBA colors, were released. What effect did this have on them, and how did they cope with the disappointment ? They seemed to have handled it quite well. But then, they have an extra resource fo r handling the long goodbye they had to say to the WNBA.


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A Not enough. Apparently Christy Smith's 1998 rookie performance: 18 starts; led the team in 3-point and free-throw percentage, did not convince the Sting to hang on to her through her surgery.

Cut.com CHRISTY SMITH

( 1998, Charlotte Sting) hurts plenty, even in the best of situations. Learning about it by readi ng the news on the Internet must be li ke a stab in the back. When Christy Smith was let go last June by the Charl otte Sting, that's how she found out about it. It hardl y seems possible that Smith, who during the 1998 season played in 24 games as a rookie for the Sting and clearly appeared to be a guard of the future at the Hi ve, wou ld find herself wit hout a WNBA job as the 1999 season got under way. The Arkansas All American had the enthusiasm, the dri ve, the skill s, and the heart it takes to play pro basketball. So what led th e Sting to put Christy's name on the waiver wire? GETIING CUT FROM ANY TEAM

And how did it affect the Indiana native? "I had hurt my ankle three times in a month," she says, speaking of a chronic injury that came up as she was preparing for the season. "I was trying to rehab it, but I realized I couldn't function at the level I needed to. I decided it would be best to have surgery. I told the Sting, and they sa id that wou ld be fin e." Chri sty thou ght that meant she could have the surgery, rehab, and get back into the Charlotte lineup. The next day, though, a friend told Chri sty to look at WNBA. com. When she did, she saw to her surprise that she had been waived by Charlotte. "They never called," Smith says. An intense competitor with a reputati on for hard work and hardnosed play, she handled the seeming slight with class. In an age when pro athletes are known to express insult over receiving $3 million-ayear contract offers, Smith's reac-

tion to being cut is refreshing. "I wouldn't say I'm disappointed. I think I'm just trying to look at it like this: If the Lord's shutting the door and leading me to go somewhere else-be it in ministry, sports ministry or as a missionary-whatever He wants me to do, if He doesn't want me playing basketball, I'm probably not going to succeed at it anyway." A month after being dismissed from the team, Smith underwent double surgery. Doctors repaired her ankle ligaments, and they put a screw in her wrist. She had broken her wrist during the '98 season but wasn't aware of the break until later. With basketball out of the picture, temporaril y at least, Smith trave led bac k to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she picked up her graduate school degree program in biomechanics- a degre e that could lead to a totally different career in sports. ''I' d really like to be a strength coach," she says. There she will have the support of some good friends-friends who even traveled to Charlotte to support her after the Sting dropped her. Is Smith's pro basketball career over before it could ever take off? She's not sure. " It all depends on whether the Lord wants me playing aga in ," she says. " I' m go ing to rehab and get over these injuries. Then we' ll see what happens." With the WNBA expanding into Indiana in 2000, perhaps Christy will ha ve a chance to go home again . Her dad, Dan, who says, "I can't see someone with her drive and determination not giving it a try," thinks she'll take a good long look at the possibility of playing for the new team. But th en, maybe she won ' t. Either way, it seems, she's got the attitude that will make her successful no matter what she does. "If the Lord wants me playing, He' ll provide that for me. If not, I'm ready to start something new."

..._ Third time, no charm. After spending a year with the NY liberty and one with the Detroit Shock, Rhonda Blades didn't make it past the preseason with the Mystics in 1999.

Lots of Options RHONDA BLADES

( 1997, New York Liberty; 1998, Detroit Shock) Two WNBA SEASONS AGO, it seemed like such a good idea. Nancy Leiberman-Ciine was the new head coach of the expansion Detroit Shock. Rhonda Blades was a talented point guard for the New York Liberty. Rhonda and Nancy were both Christi ans and had developed a friendship of shared faith. So, when Nancy was stocking the Shock with players from other teams in the WNBA expansion draft , she picked Rhonda as her first selection. Blades, who lives in Tennessee with her husband Parke Brown , was exc ited to be playing for Leiberman-Ciine, one of women's basketball's icons. Unfortunately, what looked like such a great idea didn't develop into a good situation. After one year with the Shock, Blades asked to be released. At the beginning of the 1999 season, then, she found herself looking for a new logo to sport. "I was disappointed things didn't turn out as hoped for, " say s Rhonda, "both playing and personally. I think we were both naive and saw only good coming from the situati on. It was di ffi cuIt, but my NOREN TROTMAN / NBA PHOTOS


friendship with Nancy is more important than winning or losing games, so I decided to leave the team. l don' t recommend friends going into business together." During the WNBA training camp before the 1999 season, Blades left Detroit and took her game to Washington, hoping to earn a spot with the Mystics. "Washington was great ," Rhonda says. "I had a super training camp and felt that I had earned one of the two point-guard positions available. But I was released the day before opening day. It was pretty much a shock to me-but welcome to pro sports. Pro sports is more than the best player always getting the job. l must not have been what [head coach] Nancy Darsch was looking for. I don' t have bitterness toward Washington. l know I could have helped them, but it wasn' t meant to be." Beyond the politics of player selection, Blades also knows there's something else behind the decision. "Obviously, it wasn' t God's plan for me to be in DC last summer." For the woman who scored the first three-pointer in WNBA history while playing with the Liberty in 1997, not making the team has been disappointing but not devastating. "! love basketball, but it is only a part of me, not totally who I am." Fami ly considerations also helped ease the pain . " I have a wonderful husband and enjoyed getting to see him all summer. We' ve onl y been married 3 112 years. I had one summer tilled with grad school and two in the WNBA. I can't complain about getting to spend time with Parke. For the fi rst time, we got to attend Wednesday ni ght Bibl e stud y at our church together. And I spent many hours helping him with his business." Many options still sit on the horizon for Rhonda. She continues to train with hopes of playing international basketball as a lead-in to another shot at the expanded WNBA next season. Or she may pursue coaching. She has already become an experienced radio personality as one of the voices of Vanderbilt women's basketball. And she has a master's degree in nursing.

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SPO RT S SPEC TRU M - NO VEMBE R 1999

<Ill Flying high. Kedra HollandCorn started all 32 games for the Monarchs in 1999 and helped the team to its first postseason appearance by averaging nearly 12 points a game.

For now, she depends on her faith as her gui de. "One of the greatest things my faith has taught me is to rely on God in the good and bad seasons of life. l-Ie has been so faithful to me. This is a minor setbac k. Rejection is relative. If something consumes you, then you will be devastated when things don't turn out as you planned. We have to desire God' s plan for our li ves. We must change our plans to tit where He wants us to go. "My ultimate purpose is to be a light for Chri st, and I definitely don't have to be in the WNBA to do that."

ON THE COURT What did the 1999 season look like from those on the inside lookin g out ? Kedra Holland-Com had seen the

league ftvm the perspective of the ABL, but this yea r she became a key player for the Sacramento Monarchs.

First Impressions KEDRA HOLLAND-CORN

( 1998, San Jose Lasers; 1999, Sacramento Monarchs) NOTE TO ALL TNOS拢 PRO SPORTS alh/eJes who Jhink more 111011ey means more happiness: Talk to Ked ra

Holland-Corn. Kedr a, a gua rd for the Sacramento Monarchs, made less money in 1999 in th e WNBA than she did in 1998 play ing for th e San Jose Lasers of the American Basketball League, and she enjoyed it more. There' s not a trace of bitterness in her voice as she says, "We made a lot more last year in the ABL." There are some good reasons for

this. One may be the fact that as one of the players who made a successful transition from the defunct ABL to the WNBA, she's enjoying the diffe rence. " Las t yea r we sta yed at the Ho liday Inn. Thi s year, it was the Hyatt-Regency." In other words, there's a whole new atmosphere for Holland-Corn and the others who came over. "We've got all of the best players in America play ing together now." She's been especially impressed with teamm ate Yolanda Griffith. "I knew she was good, but when you play with someone every day, you appreciate her more." And playing in the WNBA gave her son1e up-close exposure to Comet stars Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoo pes, both of whom have impressed Holland-Corn greatly. Putting all the best wom en toge ther also meant added TV ex posure fo r the players, added respect from sportswriters and fans, and may be even the chance for product endorsements that could supplement that reduction in salary. "When we were in the ABL, people looked at us li ke we were the CBA," she says, referring to the men's minor-league Continental Basketball Association. Another reason for Holl andCorn 's contentment might stem from something that has little to do wit h what league she pl ays in . Kedra uses the pressures of pro basketball ("there's a lot of pressure on us to perform," she says) to push herself to new heights spirituall y. "My faith grows stronger during the season," she says. "I know I need to stay in the Word and in prayer. Otherwise, I wouldn' t be able to stand the pressure." So, she consciously strives to keep herself in a close relationship with Jesus路 Christ. One of the main ways she docs thi s is th ro ugh reading Christian books during the season. Holland-Corn, who grew up in a Chri stian home, rededicated her


ONLY GA ME IN TOWN

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life to Jesus Christ the day before she left her hometown of Houston to attend the Universi ty of Georgia. That decision has guided her ever since. "I wouldn' t be in the sit uat ion I'm in today if I hadn ' t done that. God helped me make it through college." There's one more reason Kedra was satisfied with her situation, des pite a smaller paycheck. Her husband Jessie left his job before the season began to accompany her to Sacramento. " It was great to have Jessie with me during the season," she says. In the offseason, he would be striving to gain a second college degree that would emphasize international business. For the summer of I999, though, he put his career goals on hold to support Kedra. Holland-Corn's success with the Monarchs during the 1999 seasonshe was the team's third-leading scorer and started every game for Sacramento- may lead to an increase in her next contract. But nothing could give her more happiness than knowing she's playing with the best and doing her best for God- with her husband at her side.

BEYOND THE GAME ALICE SIMPSON

(1999, Chaplain, Cleveland Rockers)

Ameri ca n girls now have new role models, and some courageous men and women are helping those role models be the right kind of people. BY ALICE SIMPSON THE 1999 WNBA SEASON made history for the game of women's basketball. Inclusion of the former ABL (American Basketbali League) players into the WNBA meant the league could showcase the best professional female basketba ii ever. Fans saw greater depth of rosters and more highprofil e, weli -k nown players.

Former Olympians, recent college stars, and international players of greatness made for exciting and talented basketball. As a high school girls' basketball coach in a WNBA town, I can tell you that my girls were excited to have their coach connected with a WNBA team. Thei r conversations were spiced with biographi cal information about their favorite players as well as league standings and player stats. Often they mentioned characteristics they admired, such as hustle, court savvy, teamwork, transition skills, and how friendly the players were in postgame autograph sessions. School-age girls now see the visibility of women in basketba ll and can envision the possibility of their sk ills taking them to a pro level. They see role models on the court and the fun-loving TV ads, and they tru ly identi fy wit h the heart of a female athlete. For too many years, these girls (me included) saw onl y male athletes making commercials and gatherin g gate recei pt s. The WNBA is a household word for many school-age girls. Finally! As a chaplai n for the Cleveland Rockers WNBA team, I have been impressed by the responsibility the players take in ro le- modelin g. They want girls to view fierce but healthy competition, feminine attributes of dress and character, and the style of a team that works toget her fo r a common goal. I have found the ladies who attend chapel to be fun- loving, capable of laughing wit h each oth er, and desiring to be humble servants of Christ on their team. Since most of them grew up in tow ns distant from their WNBA site, they often pray for and give credit to those people who influenced and nurtured their talents-and God is always on that list! It is an honor to serve as a chaplain and coordin ator of ali the WNBA chaplains. Women of fai th have spiritual needs that too easily can be usurped by demanding schedules, personal ex pectati ons, and numerous pu bl icity events where they give back to the WNBA fans. They need time

to fill up their own spirits and to worship our Holy God. Th at is the purpose of our pregame chapels and voluntary discipleship time offered by chaplains. We know that God has ere-

the women of the WNBA. I "count it all joy" to be assembled in a room with my home team and the opponents, seeking wisdom and giving honor to our God. The women are so eager to meet

PHOTOS COURTESY: AliCE SIMPSON

.A. Ask Alice. Working with others around the league, Alice Simpson, who has spent a lot of time coaching, has sparked an interest in the spiritual life of WNBA players. To contact her for more information about the program, e-mail Alice at alicejfrog@aol.com.

ated us each as precious indi viduals, so we offer Him the ex pressions of our devotion-our discipline to read and meditate and pray. When players live that out through the 4-month WNBA season, they do persona l devotions, pray wi th teammates, and try to attend church whenever possible. Several Christian WNBA coaches attempt the same and also attend pregame chapels at home and on the road. The chaplaincy program began in the league's inaugural year of 1997. Local sports mi nistries saw the immediate need to come alongside the NBA program and begin an outreach to find Chri stfoilow ers in the WNBA. Th at included a partnership among the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action, and the local church. For 2 years, most of the franchises had a chaplain, but there was no collaboration among chaplains. Duri ng the 1999 season, a missio n statement and j ob description were formulated. Soon I began phoning and visitin g ot her WNBA chaplains. Believe me- it has been a struggle to form unity in our group and see the purpose in co-ministering to all

fellow believers and to know that they don't stand alone in this league of 12 teams and 132 players. We pray for each other's needs and fellowship in unity despite our diversities. This honors God, who commanded us to go and make disciples of many nations. We who see this vision to allow players to grow spiritually as they compete in thei r careers continue to pray for two franchises who have been resistant to our ministry efforts. Adding four more WNBA teams next year will add to our challenge as we recruit four godly leaders to serve as chaplains. It is our goal, if God allows it, for all 16 teams to have chaplains in place. Then the women of the WNBA can have fellowship and an opportuni ty to wo rshi p their Creator in each league city. And that can do nothing but help us nurture even better role models for the you ng girls of North America. Alice Simpson is the former girls basketball coach at Cuyahoga Christian Academy in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where she teaches. In the swumer, she's volunteer director of chaplains to WNBA teams.

SPORTS SPEC TRUM • NOVE MB ER 1999

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CURTIS BROWN IS A KEY PLAYER AS THE SABRES TRY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP AND WIN THE CUP IN DOMINIK HASEK'S LAST YEAR BY LOIS THOMSON

E BUFFALO SABRES

Stanley Cup they can almost touch its famed metal. In 1998 the Sabres took the Washington Capitals to six games before losing in the conference fi nals. In 1999, Buffalo got even closer, battling th e Dall as Stars through six games in the Stanley Cup Finals. Perhaps the Sabres now know what they have to do to win the Cup. Maybe if they can raise their level of play one notch higher, they' II be skating around the ice with the Cup held high next June. If the career pattern of 23-year-old

center/left winger Curtis Brown is any indication of the team's direction, that just might happen. Curtis has been raising his level of play since joining the Sabres on a regular basis for the 1996-97 season, and the cal iber of his perform ance during the postseason games this past year helped to spark a team that was an underdog agai nst every opponent it faced. Buffalo opened its Stanley Cup run against Ottawa, which fi nished the season with 12 more points than the Sabres. Buffalo swept the Senators in four ga mes . Nex t, they faced the


BM..L WIPPERT /COURTESY BUfFAlO SABRES

Boston Bru ins and took路 that series four games to two. Toronto was the next opponent, and the. Sabres skated away from them in five conte~ ts. Brow n wasn' t surpri sed at th e team's success. " We were al ways the underdog," he says, " but we felt we had a good team. We had trust in each other. We knew in our hearts we had the right people; we just had to step up. We do have a yo ung team, but it all came together in the playoffs. "There were many pieces to the pu zz le. Every round had its bi g moments. In the first series against

Ottawa, we were severe underdogs. Everyone wrote us off, but we knew we had the guys who could get the j ob done. We beat the Senators in four straight, and that was the only sweep in the first round of the playoffs. " Next, we were the underdog again, but we beat Boston in six games. In the third round, we went up against Toronto. They 're just across the border from Buffalo, and there's such a rivalry. Their fans have such passion; it's li ke a religion to them. To play Toronto in th at type of atmosphere was so exciting." And then came the finals against

Dallas. That seri es was so close there were only a few minutes in which one team had more than a one-goal lead over the other. The winning tally, a controversial one, came in the third overtime period of Game 6 when Dallas right wi ng Brett Hull poked th e puck past Dominik Hasek. However, Hull's foot was clearly in the crease. That's a violation, but the goal was allowed to stand when the officials determined that Hull \vas in contro l of the puck while his foot was in the crease. That fact was lost on the Sabres, who were already in the locker room

A Point man. During the 1998-99 season, his fifth year in the NHL, Brown played in 78 games for the Sabres and finished fourth on the team in points with 47.

SPORTS SP ECT RUM - NOVEM BE R 1999

19


when they first learned about the controversy. "We already knew the importance of the next goal," Brown says, "so our first thought was, 'It's over.' We had already shaken hands and were in the locker room. When we looked at itsure enough, he was in the crease. It didn' t sit real well with the guys. It's tough to take, but there's nothing you can do about it. I'd rather worry about things I can change." The young center says he learned "tons of lessons" from the whole 11 1 CAN'T playoff experience, the most imporGUARANTEE tant being the need to remain focused. "It takes dedication and effort. You I'LL SCORE have to be smart. For example, the EVERY TIME power play and penalty-killing teams have to be more discip lined. You I STEP ON have to reali ze that every decision you make on the ice can affect your THE ICE, game one way or the other, and you BUT I CAN have to decide, 'Is this goi ng to help the team or hurt it.' On the ice it's GUARANTEE true, and in li fe it's true too." Curtis may have discovered those I'LL PUT lessons as they apply to hockey durMY HEART ing last year's playoffs, but he began to learn simi lar life lessons a few INTO IT. 11 years ago when he put his faith in Jesus Christ.

OR N IN UN ITY,

Saskatchewan , Brown grew up on a farm in nearby Senlac, which is abo ut 15 mi les from the border between Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

>-The Brown Zone CURTIS BROWN > 6-0 > 190 > DOB: 2-12-76

Small-town boy: Curtis grew up in Senlac, Saskatchewan, a farm community 路 Leaving home: As do many good hockey players in Canada, Curtis left home when he was 15 to play midget and junior hockey in Moose Jaw, about 250 miles away Single-minded: CB is not married REWIND > NHL debut: May 3, 1995. Scored a goal in that game >Racked up his first multi-goal game on October 28, 1997 >Scored first playoff points in 1998 against Philadelphia THE GOOD STUFF > 1995 Western Hockey League First-team All-Star> 1996 Represented Team Canada in World Junior Championship > 1997 Named American Hockey League player of the month for March 2 0

SPORTS SPECTRUM - NOVEMBER 1999

He said he knew a few things that were in the Bible, and he and his famil y, which includes youn ger sister Danae, went to church once in a whi le, but they reall y weren' t Christians. "I believed, but I didn't know enough about it. I didn't live it," he says. Then along came John Blue. Blue and Brown met in 1996 when both played for the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League. Blue was already a member of the team when Brown arrived from Buffalo. After his junior career ended, Brown played four ga mes for the Sabres before being sent to Rochester for additional seasoning. The Amerks were quite successful that season, winning the Calder Cup for the AHL champion shi p, but the Blue-B row n connection led to an even greater victory for Blue. "I had a lot of questions and I knew where he stood," says Brown of their time in Rochester. "After talking with him, I gave my life to the Lord for real. Before that, I believed, but I didn ' t know enough about it. God knew my heart, but until ! was actually committed about it, I never had to

... Tough in the clutch. Curtis Brown tied for the NHL lead in game-tying goals during the 1998-99 season with three. In addition, his plus-minus rating for the season was 23, third best on the Sabres.

make a decision. As the truth was revealed to me, I realized my life didn't add up. Jesus says, 'If you love me, you will obey Me' (John 14:1 5). The Bible says the devil believes in Jesus, but does he obey Him? No. The more I learned, the more I real ized how far I had to go." Today Blue, who retired from the NFL after the 1995-96 season, works as a chaplain to athletes, providing spiritual help for college and professional competitors. Blue remembers meeting Brown and the natural bond he fel t toward the young lefty from Canada. "Even back then there was something different about him . I believe that as we pray, God gives us somebody to minister to, and something drew me to him-his character and the way he worked. Now he's one of my best friends." To Brown, the work that Blue and


NOIV OR NE VER

other sports chaplai ns do is a vital part of his spiritual growth. "It gives the players an opportunity to get disciplined, to learn about the Bible. For example, for football players, Sunday is ga me day. A lot of hockey is played on Sunday, and players can't get to church. These people are there for you. "It's almost like the church comes to you. They do studies over the phone with you. You can ask questions. It's personal. It's all about discipleship. You' re not going to send your kids to school and have a fisherman teach the class. In the same way, you need a mentor in Christ. It's the best thing for my life."¡ For Brown, coming to faith in Christ has provided an anchor for his life. "It gives me security," he says. "The most important thing is your faith because no one can take it away from you. l used to depend on my career, but that can be taken away from you so quickly. It doesn't stand up through stress. My faith helps me focus on my career; I can step out with that conviction. I can' t guarantee I'll score every time I step on the ice, but I can guarantee I' ll put my heart into it."

One person who will vouch for that guarantee is teammate Michael Peca. The Sabres' captain joined the team in 1995 and has had a chance to see Brown develop from the beginning. "I've known hi m ever since he came to the team," Peca says. " He has amazing maturity for someone who's onl y 23 . He's real heady , very dependable, very knowledgeable; and it shows in his life too." Peca says he's glad he doesn't have to play agai nst Brown. "He's so persistent- he never gives you any room. He played with our best offensive players [Miroslav Satan and Geoff Sanderson] this year to balance them [in a defensive manner]." But it's not just for his defense that Brown plays. Acco rdin g to Peca, Brown emerged as a valuable player in the playoffs. "In a lot of games, if we needed a big goal, he seemed to be there. He was always there at crunch time." Indeed, on a team notorious for its low scoring, Brown tied Stu Barnes and Di xon Ward for the lead with seven goals during the playoffs, and in the first game of the Finals against the Stars he assisted on the winning tally in overtime. Since his selection as Buffalo's No. 2 draft choice (43rd overall) in 1994 while playing with Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League, Brown has made steady improvement in the NHL. It hasn' t taken too long for Brown to establish himself as a rising young star in the league. He has improved in each of his three seasons, finishing with 16 goals and 31 assists last year. Blue is not surprised. "In the I0 years I played professional hockey, I've seen a lot of players who had a lot of talent but didn' t always use it. But not Curtis. He's committed to what he has been given to do his best." It' II take the Sabres' best to take the extra step toward the Cup in 2000. However, because of an announcement by one of his teammates during the summer, Brown will be facing addi tional pressure in the current season. Domi ni k Hasek, the Sabres' 34year-old goalkeeper, an nounced in July that this would be his final season in the NHL. He wants to return to the Czech Republ ic to raise his family. Brown reali zes that the Dominator's

departure is going to have an impact on the Sabres. "Any time you lose an MYP, arguably the best player in the world, it's going to affect you. You' ll always miss someone who's a gamebreaker. But everyone will just have to pull together to minimize the loss." Hasek's retirement, in addition to the fact that no one will be looking at the Sabres as underdogs this year, will add to the pressu re on the tea m. Brown doesn't see that as a problem. "We al ready felt pressure last year," he says. "There was an urgency [to win the Cup] this past year-Dom has already won the [gold medal at the] Olympics, a World Championshi p, the MYP, and the Vezina Trophy. He's such a good leader everyone wants to win the Cup for him. "I look at pressure as really good. You see what you achieved the year befo re, and it makes yo u more foc used as an individual and as a team. I thi nk the biggest thing [the previous year] was our inexperience. We're such a young team. You can 't tell someone or teach him something. You have to go through the battle, ex peri ence it hands-on. Against Washington in 1998, that was our downfall . The difference between winning and losing is so minute, and Washington had been there before and had the experience." Although last season's long playoff run made for a short summer for the NHL 's bes t teams, Curti s couldn't wait to get back on the ice. "Oh yeah, I was ready," he says. "You still have tha t taste in you r mouth. We want to get back to the same position we were in. To get that opportunity was incredible. There are guys older than I am who have never had the chance. You never know when you can get back." But he thinks they can do it. "We're a very close-knit bunch of guys," he said. "Everyone gets along with everybody. It's like a fami ly relationship-we accept each other. Everybody brings something to the table." Will that table hold a Stanley Cup ne xt seaso n? If Brown and his Sabres teammates raise their level of play one more level, it just might happen .

Lois Thomson is a free lance writer who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

i ~

i• ~ ~ g

STILL I!.CDKING UP like most Canadian youngsters, Curtis Brown grew up playing hockey, but making it to the NHL wasn't his initial dream. Instead, he approached the idea in stages. "When I was 5, I looked up to playing with the 7-year-olds," he recalls. "Then when I was 7, I thought about the 9-year-olds. Pretty soon I was thinki ng about junior hockey, then maybe getting drafted, then maybe making it to the NHL. I was always looking up, seeing a goal. I was goi ng out and playing hard, controlling what I could control. There were so many sacrifices, but it wasn't hard because I loved playing hockey so much." He played his junior hockey in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and his biggest thrill came when he was a member ofTeam Ca nada that won the World Junior Championship, defeating Sweden. Brown admits that when draft day came in 1994, all he could think about was how neat it would be to be drafted. His parents were with hi m on draft day. "Everyone was excited. But even after I was dra fted, I knew there was still a long road to go." -LOIS TH OMSO N

SP ORTS SPEC TRU M - NO VE MBER 199 9

21



Avery .Johnson and David Robinson shared a strong bond of friendship long before they earned the NBA t it le

IMAG INE HAVING

I

a nice leisurely breakfast at your local International House of Pancakes when the glass doors swing open and in walk two of the most famous basketball players in Texas. It happens once in a while in Stafford, Texas, outside of Houston, when the urge hits David Robinson and Avery Johnson to go out for real food among the real people. "That' s one of our favorite spots," says Robinson, who li ves outside of San Antonio. "When I go down to Houston to visit Avery, we go to IHOP and get breakfast. We go when Avery treats me." It sounds like just a couple of buddies out for some coffee and conversation. But a little thing called the NBA championship has made it a bit more special for the other patrons. "Not too many people bother us," says the big guy. Acco rd ing to the manager of the restaurant, it's not quite that calm. "The people go crazy," he says about the visits. "Everyone \vants autographs. They don't let them eat. But they are very nice people." The man is right about that. And now that Robinson, Johnson, and their San Antonio teammates have captured the NBA championship, the "very nice people" description no longer comes attached with the statement-either implied or stated- that this is the reason they can't win. If any more proof was needed that Leo Durocher's famous bromide "Nice guys fin ish last" is wrong, then the

P HOTO: FERNANDO t.4f Qf.IA

I

NBA PHOTOS

Spurs cham pi onship provided that proof. These nice guys stand atop the basketball world. Even the NBA thinks they are pretty special people. After the 1997-98 basketball season, Avery was named to the NBA All Interview first team, while David made the second team. That same year, AJ was given the NBA Sportsmanshi p Award. At the close of the 1999 season, Ro binson was named to the AllInterview first team. Finding somebody with anything nasty to say about these two is like finding a problem with Tim Duncan's game. So, yes, as the man from !HOP says, David and Avery are "very nice people" indeed. And very good friends. It's not especially easy to keep a good friendship going in the NBA. Once you establish a kinship with a teammate, for instance, a cold-hearted deal could come along and put thousands of miles between you and your new best friend. That happened to the fledgling Johnson-Robinson relationshi p in the early 90s. Avery joined the Spurs in January 199 1, which was the middle of

..,. The heart of Texas' title-winning team. Before the Spurs faced the New York Knic ks in the finals, Avery Johnson told reporters, " Like I always tell you, I would love to win a championship. That's what I am here fo r. But I want to see David win it more than myself."

BY DAVE BRANON

Robi nson's second season in San Antonio. At the time, both players were relatively new in their journeys of faith. Johnson had tmsted Jesus Christ as Savior on July 16, 1989 after hearing a sermon about Jesus' second coming. Robinson, on the other hand, was still ridi ng the fence about a total commi tment to Christ. It wouldn' t be until June of 1991 that David would accept the challenge given to hi m by Greg Ball of Champions for Christ to turn his life over completely to Jesus. "When I first got to the team," Avery recalls, "I had already been with Seattle


FRIENDS IN DEED

J

and Denver, and I had gotten cut on Christmas Eve [1990]. I joined the Spurs 2 weeks later. David didn't really know me, and I knew a little bit about him. I was just trying to find myself and get in with the organization. I really wasn't trying to develop any friendships." Yet they had developed enough of a friendship that in July David went to New Orleans to be on hand when Avery married Cassandra Merricks. The following winter, Avery returned the favor as David married Valerie Hoggatt in San Antonio. Amid all these major changes going on in their lives, there was still basketball. Robinson was establi shing himself as a dominant force in the NBA. During the 199 1-92 season, the Admiral played in his third straight All-Star Game, was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and won the NBA Blocked Shots Title. His new friend Avery, on the other hand, was still trying to convince people that he belonged in the Association. On December 17, 1991, he was waived by the Spurs. About a month later, he was picked up by Houston. The 1992-93 season saw Avery back with the Spurs, where-after a month in exile on the bench as Jerry Tarkanian coached the Spurs-he excelled under the leadership of the Shark's replacement, John Lucas. After the season, though, Avery took his show on the road again, signing with Golden State and heading off to the San Francisco Bay Area. In July 1994, Johnson rejoined San Antonio, and he's been sporting the Spurs' logo ever since. Robinson and Johnson, then, know what they're talking about when they explain how tough it can be to maintain a friendship in the sometimes unstable world of the NBA. "It's a great place to test your friendship," says Robinson. "If you're going to develop one, it's got to be a true one. One day you can be there, and the next day you may not be there. Your friendship has to stand the test of trials and the test of time." Johnson understands the tests. "We've had some turbulence- not in our friendship but in our professional careers-that have tested the bond we developed outside of basketball. I've traveled [from team to team] more than he has, but he's experienced a lot of turbulence in his stay here with the Spurs. Through it all, we've persevered, and our relationship has grown. David and I are friends for all the right reasons."

STEPPING OUT David Robinson, you just won the NBA title. Is it possible for you to go to Disney World? There are good things and bad things about being who we are. If my family goes to Disney World, somebody will escort us around. You don't get the same feel of the place. But you do get to avoid those lines, which is nice. I like people, but if I stop as we are walking, 50 people will gather around me for me to sign autographs. I have to tell them, ''I'm not the attraction here at Disney World. I'm just trying to take my kids through." Most of the time, people understand. Or I'll say, "This is my family day, and I'm not signing autographs. You can snap a quick photo, that's no problem." Years from now, I can't blame any of my fans if my kids aren't behavi ng because I spent too much ti me signing autographs. Most people understand that this is my quality time that I get to spend with my kids. What about you, Avery? The great thing for me, unlike David, is that I'm only 5-11. When I go places, sometimes I can get by. I can throw on a hat and some sunglasses, and I won't get noticed. I'm just a normal American guy with his family at Disney World. Of course, once someone recognizes me, and they stop me, then everybody else looks closer. Then you draw a little crowd.

Robinson explains. "Our faith is the foundation of our friendship. That's why our friendship has stood the test of time. Our goals are exactly the same. Our hearts are exactly the same. He knew the Lord before I did, but when I got saved, it was hook, line, and sinker. God pulled me in. There was no turning back. We had each other for the encouragement. We knew that fellowship was a critical part of our growth as Christians." Johnson's excursions to other teams in the NBA have given him insight into friendships and their fickle nature among pro athletes. That's why he can appreciate the bond he shares with Robinson. "I' ve been friends with guys around the league, but when they would leave the team, the friendshi p suffered. Our friendship is not based on this earth. Even when I was with Golden State, we still had a great relationship. We still talked. We still encouraged each other. Our relationship is not based on being teammates or the Spurs or money." At one time early in their time as friends, they would talk almost every night of the week. "There were times when I would call David 4 or 5 nights a week." So, what do a couple of wealthy basketball players talk about when they go to !HOP or when they are flying to the next road game or when they get on the phone? Generally, the conversations come down to one of three things: family, faith, or basketball. Because their children are approximately the same ages, much of the conversation revolves around being a parent. Avery and Cassandra' s daughter is Christianne, who at age 7 is about 5 weeks older than David and Valerie's firstborn, David Jr. Next, Corey Robinson is about 2 months older than Avery Johnson Jr. And then there's Justin Robinson, who is 3 years old and has no counterpart in the Johnson household. "We compare notes," says Avery. "We really li ke to talk about the differences in our kids. How three kids in David's case and two kids in my case can come from the same two people and be so different. We both read a book about how to raise your kids and discipline them, and it helped us tremendously. We compare notes about our kids. Besides the Lord, we find ourselves talking about our families, our lives, and our kids." Speaking of differences in children, one indication of that wi th the Robinson-Johnson kids is their taste in favorite basketball players.


FRIENDS IN DEED

Christianne likes Tim Duncan, as does Corey Robinson. Avery Jr. likes his dad's best frie nd, David. David Jr. likes Antonio Daniels. Then there's Justin, the youngest of the bunch. "He's a real basketball player," says his dad. "He's the only one who really understands the game." And his main man? "He says I'm his favorite player," says David, proudly. The two dads also spend a lot of their conversation time talking about basketbal l. "We're always trying to figu re out how to position ourselves for the next challenge," Robinson says. "We talk about our team, about how to set an example, how to encourage people, how to bond the team together." "We' re committed to being the type of players God wants us to be," Avery adds. "Everybody's watching us. We talk about basketball because playing basketball is what we are called to do." On the court, the two have roles that are as different as their greatly varying physical characteristics. The 5' II " Johnson is called on to run the team on the floor. He's the General while his 7' I" friend, the Admiral, patrols the paint with his sidekick Duncan. In those roles, sometimes the General has to get after the Admiral. Understandably, Avery isn't comfortable making a big deal about that role. "I don't want to talk too much about that," he says. But that doesn't mean he doesn' t take it seriously. "Everybody has a role," he says. "Just like on a football team, not everybody can be a quarterback or a wide receiver. I think Dave seems to think I' ve earned my way into this particular role. When I'm in that role, I can't really discriminate about who I need to pump up at a certain time. I expect a lot from Dave. We are in certain roles on this team, and we have to fulfill those roles." Robinson concurs and gives a biblical illustrat ion. "Jesus rebuked a lot of people, but He rebuked the people that were closest to Him probably the hardest. You can't do that unless you have the love foundation to do it. You can't get up in Peter's face and say, 'Get behind me, Satan,' if you don' t have a foundation. Because Avery and I have the same heart, because we have wanted the same things for so long, we understand one another." Friends like Avery and David don' t just work together at the Alamodome then run over to the !HOP for a meal. Sometimes they do other stuff together. Fun stuff.

.A. Spurs of the moment. Avery told cheering Spurs fans, " This is for the people who make $12,000 a year and have been Spurs fans forever." Of the title, David said, " If this was easy, it really wouldn't be worth the journey."

But not golf. "I quit golf," Avery says with authority. And David admits that his own golf time has been "severely limited lately." Their passions for off-the-court, away-from-the-family acti vities are not very similar. While Avery is a selfdescribed gym rat who can spend 5 hours a day working out and perfecting his shot, David prefers to be outdoors. "I like to go out and ride my bike," says No. 50. "I' m an outdoors kind of guy. I go hi king. I do a lot of things to stay in shape. I enjoy running up and clown the mountain. I do sprints on the mountain." Recognizing the difference, they've tried to compromise. "I try to split it up some," David says. "I try to work out with him a little bit, and I try to get him out in the environment to do some stuff." "Yes, I have a bike," Avery admits, although he likes to limit his bike riding to tooling around their neighborhood with Christianne and AJ, not climbing a mountain on it. When Robinso n was 14 years old, he was taking advanced college computer courses, so it's clear that a love for the co mputer is a natural with him. David 's point-guard friend didn' t share that interest until the big man came along to push Avery into the computer age. " He has reall y helped me with computers," Avery says. "I was never really interested in them. Well, we were working out in Houston last year, and we started talking about computers. I was like, 'Yeah, I've got a little computer at home in my office. ' " When Robinson, who is listening to his friend tell this story, is reminded of the incident, he breaks into laughter and interrupts Avery's monologue. " It was a dinosaur!" he says. "I said to him, 'When was the last time you turned this thing on?' I pushed the button, and it took about I0 minutes for it to come on. We went to the store immediately and made a substitution. I think he reali zed that computers can be useful. " This year, Cassandra pushed Avery even further into th e computer age. She bought Ave ry a laptop fo r Father's Day. Problem was, Avery didn' t know how to set the thing up. So he took it with him to New York when the Spurs were in the Big Apple to play the Knicks in the finals-figuring he'd find some free time to get the machine up and running. He picked the day of Game 6 of the finals to try to

SPORTS SPECTRU M - NOVEMBER 1999

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FRIENDS IN DEED

figure it out. "I called Dave and asked him if he would set up my computer," Avery says. "I went up to his room, and we began working on it. I was so nervous I couldn' t sit down." Apparently, two missions were accomplished that day. Oh, yes, the championshi p. It's another thing these two friends now share. Even in that, their bond showed through. Before the finals began, Avery, who has been fighting throughout his basketball career to prove himself, wanted the NBA title as much for David as he did for himself. "I wanted this championship to be really special for the Spurs and all of that, but really for him," Avery says. "He really doesn't like people to talk about him, but he really deserved that title. He's taken every kind of verbal and physical abuse from people, and I wanted to see him up there on that podium being No. I more than I wanted to see myself up there. "More than anybody in the NBA, he's gone through stuff physically and mentally with his body, his back, his knees, his hand, and all the things people have said about him. I just wanted him up there, standing on top of the mou ntain." David Robinson, in a sense, can fi nally relax. After 10 years of relentless pursuit of vindication, he now has the NBA tit le. That trophy alone could at last silence the howling of the wolves who were out to tear down this man of character. Yet as satisfied as Robinson is that no one can ever agai n question whether he can win the big one, he's not about to turn the tables and criticize his critics. He's content, instead to quietly analyze his victory in the light of his faith. "You hear people say a lot of stuff," he begins, "but those people don' t know me. They don' t know me at all. "God gave me a good example in Christ. When they led Hi m to the cross, He did not say a word to defend Himself. God said, ' I will defend You.' That's what the Lord spoke to me about. "I felt He was saying, ' Don't get up there and try to defend yourself. You sound stupid anyway try ing to brag about how many trophies you have on your shelf. Let Me defend you.' "It wasn't being vindictive or anything. It was about God deli vering as He said He would. That trophy is going to sit on a shelf and gather dust. But the important

GETI"lNG THE WQRDQUT Avery Johnson and David Robinson differ in how they carry out their responsibility to tell others about their faith. AVERY: I love to get a topic and talk about it. For instance, "God Gave Me a Mulligan." I can preach that for an hour. That's my strength. The Lord used me to talk to several different churches during the past summer. Also, I do a lot of stuff through basketball camps. I empower young people through these camps. I think that's one of my real gifts. DAVID: I feel that the Lord has put a teaching spirit in me. I love to teach. I could teach all nig ht long and not get tired. Everybody else would be falling asleep. I love to open people's eyes about the Lord. I love to see people love Him in a deep路 er way. Maybe my destiny is to be a teacher.

thing is that we learned to trust God day in and day out." The championsh ip was also the culm in at ion of Avery's long search for respect in the NBA. Undrafted in 1988 after breaking two NCAA assists reco rds, Johnson has had to scratch and claw first for the chance to stick in the league and then to get the respect he deserves. Someone even went so far as to say that no team with Avery at poi nt could win the NBA title. But they did, and Joh nson punctuated his arrival at the top of the NBA ladder by hitting the game-winning shot in the final game against New York. After climbing that ladder for so long and fi nally achieving what many said he couldn 't achieve, could the rest of his career be ant i-climactic? To think that is to underestimate this remarkable man. "I think when you serve Jesus," Johnson says, "There is no limit. Jesus is about everlasting life. He's about eternity. He's not about a year. In serving the Lord, you've got to keep serving. "You don't stop treating your wife right because you treated her right today. What about the next day and the next mo nth ? Maybe you pat you rself on th e head because you were a pretty good father today. But what about tomorrow? There's always more work to be done." For Johnson and Robinson, the work ahead isn' t particularly easy. They have an NBA championship to defend. They each have growing families to help rear. They each have a wife to cherish and partner with. They each have a foundation to run. They are each involved wi th outreach. And they each live under the continual spotlight of fame and the expectations of those who love and respect them as athletes. Despite all that, they both seem to be at ease with who they are. They joke with each other easily, as good fri ends do. They call each other often. Their fami lies get together for occasional cookouts at David' s house. Their wives are friends with each other. All of these factors make their friendshi p something that can help them endure lives that can easily get overloaded. "I thi nk we draw things out from each other," Robinson says. "That has been real positive. We've learned a lot from each other. We really stretch each other out. I think working together has been a real blessing." You don't have to eat breakfast with these guys at an IHOP restaurant to figure that out.


Str~ight T~lk

With . ..

----------------------------

David ftobi_D_aoa

Center, San Antonio Spurs 1990 NBA Roolde of the Year; 1994 NBA Scoring Leader; 1995 NBA Most Valuable Player; 1999 Member, NBA Champions hen I was in college I had an incredible experience. I started growing, and all of a sudden I became a well-known athlete. I discovered that attention and hype are deceiving. Everybody knows who you are-but it's not so incredible. It doesn't give you peace inside. That's the problem. The hype of college ball and the fame and money of pro ballthose things are so short-lived. They are not satisfying. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, "Who am I, where am I going, what am I doing?" A lot of times you don't have answers for those questions. I felt an emptiness. I said, "There's gotta be more to it than this." I figured maybe it's spiritual. My mother was a Christian, and I always figured I'm a Christian because she's a Christian-a family thing. I went about 路 telling myself, "Yeah, I'm a Christian." Later, someone said to me, "David, would you like to know about Jesus Christ?" I figured well, yeah, I really would. After he talked to me, he said, "Would you like to pray with me?" I said, "Sure." So we prayed, and I prayed to receive Jesus.

But I didn't understand what he was trying to tell me. So my life didn't change. I just figured, "Welt now I'm really a Christian." But I did nothing to grow in the Lord. That nagged me for the next 5 years. I always thought, "There's got to be more to it than this." I knew that what I had experienced wasn't real. On June 8, 1991, a man came over to my house. He asked, "Do you really love God?" And I thought to myself, "Wouldn't I be stupid to say I don't love Him?" I said, "Sure, I love Him." He said, "How much time do you spend reading your Bible and praying?" I told him I didn't do much of either. He said, "When you love someone, don't you want to spend time getting to know that person?" "Welt yeah, I suppose so," I said. He said, "In the Old Testament God said, iake one day a week and honor Me.' " He asked, "When was the last time you took

one day and honored God?" I said, "A whole day! I don't think I've ever spent a whole day praising God. I mean I've gone to church before- but never a whole day." That just broke my heart. 路 I realized that "Here's God, the most incredible Person in my life. He's the most wonderful Person. He's my Father in heaven. He's given me everything. And I've never once thanked Him, never honored Him." I felt like a spoiled brat. I got on my knees and cried. I said, "Lord, from this day forward I'm going to spend as much time as I can getting to know You, learning about You, and learning how to love You." He blessed my heart in an incredible way. From one day to the next, I was a different person. Everybody in my life could see the change when I began to understand what God did for us-that He gave His Son for us. When you realize that- when your heart really is broken and you realize that God deserves everything, you need to talk to Him with that broken heart and say, "Lord, I have sinned. Please forgive me for my sins and let me start all over. Give me new life through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. I recognize that You gave Your Son for me on the cross. You deserve everything I have. I want to honor You as my Father-as the giver of everything in my life. Every day of my life I'll try to honor You for the love You've shown me."

hee Booklet Before giving his life completely to Christ, David struggled with his feelings. If you feel the same way, perhaps the RBC Ministries booklet How Can I Feel

Good About Myself? would help. Write to Sports Spectrum Offer, Box 3566, Grand Rapids, MI 49501. Mention the title and this number: Q0503.



TilE DRIVE IN MELVIN ADAMS to be the best basketball player from Texas was more than consistent with his home state. If everything is truly bigger in the Lone Star State, Adams' drive to play pro basketball could have been conside 路ed the supersized variety. As a kid, whenever he practiced, he would picture in his mind a rival high school player shooting free throws, practicing layups, dribbling behind his back, and getting better. The images haunted Ada ms and drove him to practice harder. During hi s sop homore season in hi g h school , Melvin reali zed that as short as he was (he's just 5' 9" today) he needed every advantage he could gain over the competition. So he began getting up at 4 a.m. to run and exercise . Ad ams co nvinc ed a friend to accompany hi m one morning. The next day when Adams' friend fai led to return to the track, Adams was upset. He called his friend on the phone. "Melvin," his friend responded,

"I don't want to play pro basketball. You do." Years later, Adams' dri ve to play pro basketball has reached its ful fi llment. As a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, Adams plays in all those NBA arenas he dreamed of playing in as a boy, just not with the same teams. While Adams' dream never changed, his passion did. "I loved basketball , and it was my life," says Adams. "I was dedicated, and I sacri ficed everything because I wanted to be the best basketball player. I was so foc used on basketball, though." Growing up in a poor section of Houston, Adams stayed out of trouble- his love for basketball saw to that. But Adams was never at rest. His drive to be 110t just the best but to be perfec t consumed him . It was a trait Adams learned from his mother. When Adams was little, he wou ld sleep with his basketball. However, on those rare occasions when it was dirty, Adams' mother would take the basketball from him and wash it before return ing it to the toy chest. "Melvin's desire to be a perfectionist came from me," says Adams' mother, Irene. "I was always telling him to do this and do that. My kids were always neat. They knew if they went outside and played, they had to take a bath as soon as they came back inside. They knew if PHOTOS COURTESY: HA RLEM GLOBETROTIEAS, INTEANATK)NAl

they pulled a toy out, they had better put it right back after they were done playing with it. But I've since learned that you can't be perfect or expect everyone around you to be perfect." It was long after Adams left for college that he discovered how futi le his efforts at self-perfection were. At Eisenhower High School in Houston, Adams averaged 28 points a game and led his team in assists. But when he went to junior college, Adams was red-shirted- a common practice in col legiate sports for players whose coaches think are going to be stars yet who need a little extra time. Adams wasn't flattered. " It was real humbli ng for me to go home," Adams says. "When they red-shirted me, I felt li ke I was letting the whole neighborhood down. What I loved so much got taken away from me, and that's when I started being drawn to God. I knew God consciously, but I had never known Him intimately." Then one summer, Adams went on a basket-

ball tour to Europe to play ex hibition games. "The last day I was there, I went to a church service and heard the gospel," Adams says. "I'd heard that message over and over, but for some reason that night it hit home. I realized that I had never really loved God- 1 had just liked Him. Now I wanted to know everything about Him." Adams' dri ve to be the best spilled over into his new life as a Christian. During his first year as a follower of Jesus Christ, Adams read through the Bible three times. "I felt li ke if I was going to follow Jesus, I wanted to know all about Him," Adams says. "I wanted to know why He did what He did for me. I wan ted to und erstand His love fo r me. Somehow I knew I was going to be out front talking about Jesus, and I figured I had better know as much as I could." After playing professionally overseas in a number of different countries from 1993 to 1996, the 29-year-old point guard is starting

his second season with the Globetrotters- a team that is drive n to beat the New York Nationals night in and night out. Adams was invited to tr y out for the Globetrotters after meeting Paul "Showtime" Gaffney, who introduced him to Globetrotters coach Tex Harri son. At trai ning ca mp in 1996, Adams got cut, but true to his personality, he didn' t quit. The nex t season Adams returned, and this time he made the team, ea rnin g a spot wit hin the elitist "Mag ic Circle" his rookie season- a rare feat for even the most ski lled rookie. Adams never wanted to come up on the short end, not in a basketball game and certainly never in life. But he has learned that no matter how high he reaches, he won't be able to reach the heights he's desti ned to reach without help. "Growi ng up, I was always trying to give the better gift, to outdo the next person," Adams says. "God wants us to be the best we can be, but what I've come to realize is that if I score 2 ..,. Crowd pleaser. Whether he's entertaining with the Globetrotters, rapping at a basketball clinic, or speaking for a high school assembly, the sparkplug of a man gets-and keeps - audience attention. SPORTS SPECTRU M 路 NOVE MBER 19 99

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THE RAP ON M ELVIN

points or 20 points, God still loves me. If I' m a stm1er or a guy on the bench, God still loves me. No matter how much you do, God isn't going to love you more. And no matter what you don't do, He's not going to stop loving you." It 's those words of wisdom- and many more like them- that roll off Adams' tongue when he's living out his new life's passion: sharing the gospel of Chri st on stage. During the offseason and in between Globetrotter games, Adams spends his time speaking to hundreds of elementary school children and teenage rs ac ross the countr y. However, Adams isn't there simply to put a few smiles on kids' faces and give out an encouraging word- he's there to give out his passion. An hour before he is sched uled to speak, Adams can be found playing touch football , leading a band of mighty midd le-schoolers agai nst a crew of senior high teens. It doesn't take long before Adams breaks a sweat-and the proverbial ice. In a matter of minutes, Adams' direct brand of humor has the kids' attention on the football field, and it carries over into his talk on stage later that evening. No matter what the audience, Adams makes an instant connection with his short stature. "What I li ke about being a basketball player and getting to speak at different places is my

II

COURTESY; HARLEM GL06ETAOTTERS IHTERNATIONAL

• The Adams family-circa 1999. Melvin made an Immediate Impact with his very popular basketball family, as they named him the Most Improved Player of the 1998 tour.

height," Adams says. "I think that most people in life believe they have more handicaps than abi lities. People think they're not good enough or too short. But hopefully, they will see what God can do when you give Him your heart. It's amazing to see what He will do with a yielded heart." Adams is walking proof. Since incorporating Hope Entertainment, the banner name under which Adams speaks, the opportun ities to share his story of faith and God's love have abounded. And the wake he leaves in the lives of the young people who hear him aren't mere ripples. "The kids just flock to him," says Bill Jackson, a crusade di rector for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "After watching Mel vi n • SUSAN RIVERS • The perks. Adams considers signing autographs to work, there's no question in my be one of the best things about being a Globetrotter. mind that he is ideal for any age group. Kids, adu lts, everybody just TAKING THE RAP instantly connects with hi m." In Melvin Adams' desi re to reach young people today, Adams is willing to use whatever he is willing to do whatever it takes, including rap. it takes to connect wi th kids and When Adams was in college, he formed a rap group adults ali ke long enough for him to called "Rappers for Christ" after writing a rap called, share the truths that he's learned. "Jesus Christ Is the King." Adams employs humor ("I feel like a "I used to write poetry, and I figured this was a way Snicker bar in a microwave," says a I could reach kids today," Adams says. "Ra p is just another form of poetry that deals with today's issues. sweating Adams), Globetrotter basWhe n I wrote my fi rst rap song, we started performing it ketball tricks, and rap (see sidebar). an d kids were getting saved t hrough hearing it. So I Fo ll owing a rece nt spe aki ng realized this was an effective way to reach the kids." engagement in the subu rbs of Adams' current group, called "Mighty Men of God" (or Atlanta, Adams doesn't just speak MMOG), which includes Adams and friend Lee Carlson, has and ride off into the sunset with an produced an album called "We're in a War." It's due out at honorarium. He talks about God's the end of the year. direction in life to a trio of gradual- J ASON CHATRAW

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SPORTS SPECT RUM - NOV EMBER 1999

ing seniors. He encourages a couple of freshmen to be strong in their fai th as they start high school. He gives out a few pointers to a middle school boy who shares Adams' love for basketball. He stays so long that he's the last one out the church doors. "I th ink the thing kids love about Melvi n is that they see a person who has achie ved a tremendous amount of success professionally, yet he has a heart for God and can speak their language," says Victo ria Gainey, Adams' manager. "He knows how to communicate God to these kids more than anybody I've ever seen." Adams' nickname on the Globetrotters is "MC," which stems from his ability to rap. But Adams has a better idea about what those letters represent. "My rookie season I remember looking up at the scoreboard when the lineups were being called out and I saw ' Melvin MC Adams,' " Adams recalls. "I know all my teamm ates thought the 'MC' was there because I could rap, but I just thought, 'They don' t know that MC really stands for Man of Christ.' "My goal, whether it be through basketball or speaking to kids, is to build into the lives of my teammates and encourage all those I come in co ntac t with thro ugh my smi le and my enthusiasm for life and the Lord. I want to hear them say, 'There's something different about that man. That man loves Jesus.' " Those who know Adams can't deny that his love for God is the only thing that's supersized in his life now.

Jason Chatrmv lives in Roswell, Georgia, and 1vorksjor ln Touch magazine.


Airing It

Out ~

Bij Tom Felten

s I was flipping through the paper the other day, a photo smacked me upside the 'ol kisser. The picture in question was on the cover of the sports page, of all things. Someone smooching someone. Upon closer inspection I realized that it was actually a golfer-who had just won a PGA event-kissing the trophy. However, as he meshed with the metal, his reflection caused an interesting effect. It looked like he was kissing his own image. Well, if that wasn't enough. I read in another article a short time later that a ~aseball player, who had just attained a monumental milestone for base hits, not only crossed horne plate after his big hit but also caressed horne plate with a little kiss. (Sadly, the umpire didn't see the intimate moment corning, and he failed to dust off the base with his handy whisk broom.) Who can forget Michael Jordan planting one on his first Wbea asked by a pbotogaoapbe.. to championship trophy-or Bill Cowher's surprise smooch on kiss the NBA cbaaaploasblp taoopby1 Kordell Stewart? What's with all this kissing? Is this some kind of giant David Roblasoa kladly decllaed. love fest? There was a notable exception to the lip-planting phenomenon earlier this year. David Robinson, when asked by a photographer to kiss the NBA championship trophy, kindly declined by stating that he doesn't kiss anything that doesn't kiss back! Let's stop there and contemplate the aforementioned golfer photo. The symbolism of this guy kissing his reflection is hard to miss. Now, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against him. He was probably goaded into the amorous action by a pack of ravenous photogs. However, what the photo looked like was a serious case of self-adoration. Kissing one's own image celebrates self .. . and emphasizes human achievement. To kiss a piece of molded metal is placing great significance on that inanimate object. That shiny brass hardware could appear to be an idol. Long before Naismith and peach baskets or Doubleday and doubleheaders, people struggled with worshipping idols. Read Hosea 13:2 in the Bible, and you'll find people sinning in God's sight because they were (is this weird, or what?) kissing calf-idols. So, what's the problem? Why would God object to this pracGRAPHC: STEVE G IER

tice? What could a cow-kiss hurt? For one thing, as Creator of aU things, God is the only entity worthy of worship and glory. When we embrace our own "greatness," it's like having the members of a winning team hoist a popcorn vendor on their shoulders after

the game and parade him around for aU to see. The game wasn't about him. He didn't deserve the attention. Neither do we. How come it's so hard to resist the "self-kiss?" To avoid seeking congratulations for our "good

works" or feeling miffed that people don't acknowledge our rather obvious accomplishments? One word. Pride. Ugly self-pride. Self-kiss= selfish. So, whether we're playing sports, getting that much-soughtafter promotion, making the big business deal, getting the 4.0 GPA, or winning the First International Cherry Pie Bake-Off blue ribbon, . where do we go with our success? Instead of lifting an object up, we should fall down-fall down before a Creator who has gifted us to have that success. When victory comes, we need to humble ourselves before His sovereign eyes. It's aU about Him. It is from Him that we received those gifts and talents. They're a part of His perfect plan ... not our pride. Ultimate joy can be found in God's Son, Jesus Christ. His selfless example of love- taking our sins on Himself while dying in excruciating pain on a cruel cross- is beyond words. That's where the glory needs to go. Lift Him high. Put Him in the rightful place of admiration and adoration. Make him the trophy of our affections. Then kiss your "self' good-bye.

SPORTS SPECTRUM- NOVEMBER 1999

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Nearly 6,500 Super Bowl outreach parties, attended by more than 400,000 people, were held last January-with nearly 10,000 decisions for Christ indicated! Host your own outreach party this January using the Sports Outreach America Super BowrM Party kit. This year's video features two Super Bowl champions from the Denver Broncos, MARK SCHLERETH and TONY JONES, along with inspiring messages from people associated with the Columbine High School tragedyall sharing the message of hope found in Christ.

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