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Mike Downey

At Last, a League Where 99% of the People Can Fit In

July 22, 1987|Mike Downey

Whenever a person with a normal body comes along, I pull for him.

Or her. Women's bodies are getting pretty outrageous, too.

Every day I must deal with the fact that even the "weaker" sex can beat me up.

These people pump iron, pop steroids, take vitamins, eat wheat germ, gobble amino acids, go jogging, do sit-ups, ride bikes, jump ropes, watch Jane Fonda cassettes, enter triathlons, run in marathons and preen a lot.

They hang out at health clubs. I hang out at Haagen-Dazs shops.

I am sick and tired of looking at people who never look sick and tired. They are healthier than I am. Taller than I am. Slimmer than I am. More muscled than I am. Heck, Bob Newhart is more muscled than I am. I am depressed.

You go to a ballgame now and there are 7-foot 6-inch basketball players and 350-pound football players. Even the baseball players are tall drinks of water like Dave Winfield and Mike Witt, or biceps-flexers like Brian Downing and Lance Parrish.

Baseball players used to look like Babe Ruth, with two hot dogs in his hip pocket, or Albie Pearson and Freddie Patek, no bigger than rosin bags.

There's even a 6-foot 7-inch tennis player now, and someday a 7-footer will be standing at the net, smashing Pat Cash's lobs back down his throat. Same thing at the movies. Movie stars used to look like Humphrey Bogart, Walter Matthau, Sidney Poitier, Dustin Hoffman. Today's stars are Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren and RoboCop.

They used to say you were tough if you could rip a phone book in half. Stallone can probably rip a phone booth in half.

Anyway, that's why I was so excited recently when Tyrone Bogues was taken in the National Basketball Assn. draft. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, when a pipsqueak of 5-3 can get picked to play on the same team with someone 27 inches taller, hey, that's entertainment.

Now, for all you other Tyrones out there, I have news.

Led by Bob Cousy, the Muggsy Bogues of his time, a professional basketball league is being created for players 6 feet 4 inches and under. Twelve teams will be formed nationwide, and tryouts are about to get under way.

Cousy says: "Basketball is the No. 2 sport in the world in terms of participation, and 99% of the players are under 6-4. The time has come for this concept."

Now, a person 6-4 is no shrimp. But in this day and age, when guys like Magic Johnson are bringing the ball down the court, it can make somebody like Isiah Thomas look like a cuddly little Kewpie doll, when in fact he is 6-1 and towers over half the men you know.

Even Cousy, at 6-1, is taller than some people remember him being. The former Celtic hero, now 51, who has been everything from coach at Boston College to commissioner of the American Soccer League, believes that the beauty of basketball can be restored in the new International Basketball Assn., where, he says, the game will be dominated by creativity and speed, not height and power.

"There's a beauty to what the shorter guys do, and that beauty is often missing," he said. "Basketball is creativity, passing. The game is much prettier that way."

Yeah. Remember when hook shots went up before they came down? Remember when guys couldn't get from the free-throw line to the hoop with one step? Remember when 10 men on one court didn't look crowded? Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end.

In this new league, players are going to shoot groundhooks.

You've heard of arena football? NBA players are getting so big, somebody's going to have to invent stadium basketball. Play Laker home games at the Coliseum.

By the time David Robinson gets out of the Navy, he'll probably be a guard.

Not in the IBA, though. Big dudes need not apply. At present, franchises have been organized in Los Angeles, Orange County and Fresno, as well as Chicago, New York, New England, Washington and Winnipeg. Yes, Winnipeg. So, all you sawed-off Canadians, take off your skates, eh?

The four other franchises will come from applicants that include San Jose, Louisville, Dallas, Houston, Tampa, Vancouver and Ontario. League play will begin May 22.

So, get out your little shoes. There will be tryout camps this Saturday and Sunday at Morningside High School in Inglewood (for information, phone 714-454-4432) and at the Rosemont Horizon near Chicago (312-519-0700), plus another camp Aug. 1-2 at Toronto (416-480-1511). New York's auditions were held last weekend.

An all-star team will see the world in September, traveling to China, South Korea and the Philippines.

Only players whose high school class graduated at least four years ago may try out. Warning: For the Los Angeles camp, there is a $125 application fee. Fame does not come cheap.

It is nice to know that smaller basketball players have someplace to turn. I, myself, might very well try out for this league, since the only thing stopping me from an NBA career is still the disappointing fact that my parents and grandparents were all under 7 feet tall.

This league is a good idea. Short people do have a reason to live.

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