Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Favorite sports story ever

Tonight ESPN played its third documentary in its ongoing 30 for 30 series. The network, which has a greater need to celebrate its own birthday than anyone outside of a 5-year-old child, brought in 30 filmmakers to make 30 films, all of which are based on events that happened during ESPN's history, which began in 1979.

The latest offering was Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? While the director, Mike Tollin, doesn't name anyone in the film's title, the 60-minute movie presents a clear answer to that question: Donald Trump.

A younger, just-as-cocky Trump owned the New Jersey Generals, who were led by maybe the best player in all of pro football at the time, Herschel Walker. Yes, it was a different time.

The future reality star led the league to change to a fall schedule instead of the spring and that was perhaps the key reason the USFL failed after just three seasons. The movie includes a brief but entertaining interview with Trump, who expresses his disagreement with Tollin's theory by storming off after a few sarcastic comments.

The movie brought to mind my favorite piece of sports journalism. When people talk about the most famous magazine stories, the same sports pieces are often mentioned time and again, and they are indeed classics. Gay Talese on Joe DiMaggio. Tom Wolfe on Junior Johnson. Frank Deford on Bob Sullivan, the "toughest coach there ever was." Gary Smith on...well, anything by Gary Smith, including his stories on the Crows' devotion to basketball, and an old Yankees prospect with a tragic past named John Malangone.

But as great as all of those stories are, they're not my favorite. That title goes to Jeff Macgregor's "Let Us Now Raze Famous Men," a 2006 Sports Illustrated story that focuses on the Friar's Club Roast of Don King. But it's the other Don - Trump. Although, he's not really a Don or Donnie, is he? - who's on the receiving end of many of Macgregor's brilliant jabs. Trump served as the roastmaster for the event.

The story's long. Very long. But if anyone can carve out some time to read it, they should. And for those who don't really like sports, don't worry, it's only broadly about sports.

Some of the better lines:

Don King's "been named in more lawsuits than you've had hot meals."

"He is the ruthless clown, the number-racket genius, the self-mocking jailhouse cribber of misremembered Shakespeare, the inexhaustible transcendentalist negotiator misquoting Thoreau in search of inner peace and another 7 percent of the gate. And brush up on your Bible, because even Satan uses Scripture when it suits him."

"Excepting certain tinhorn heads of state with large standing armies, Trump is the only person in the last quarter-century to publicly rival King's matchless ego or to equal his self-loving zeal."

"Trump scowls that well-known scowl, all gunfighter squint and powdered jowls, a dour look that must have bought him all kinds of street cred with the other kids at military school."

"Later, still working, always working, King will talk with Holyfield. And that too-old fighter and that ageless promoter, sitting bent in the lamplight, far from the others, will whisper, heads drawn close, about a deal you can only pray never gets made."

No comments: