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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO / RANDY HARVEY

World Cup Isn't Kid Stuff in Southern California

June 10, 1998|RANDY HARVEY

Speaking to about 50 fifth-grade boys Tuesday at the Hillel Hebrew Academy, I quickly realized most of them know much more about sports than I did when I was their age. Some, I'm pretty sure, know more about sports than I do now.

They were interested primarily in opinions--about whether the Utah Jazz can come back to beat the Chicago Bulls, whether Mark McGwire will break Roger Maris' home run record, whether Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones will be with the Lakers next season and whether Los Angeles will have an NFL team before they graduate from high school.

It wasn't until later, while driving to the office, that I realized they didn't ask one question about soccer's World Cup.

In case you haven't heard, the World Cup, which inarguably attracts a more rabid following worldwide than any other sporting event, begins today in France.

In virtually any other country, the questions on the minds of boys from 8 to 80 are all about soccer--whether Brazil can become the first South American team to win in Europe since 1958, whether England can survive without Paul Gascoigne, whether Bora Milutinovic can work miracles with Nigeria.

The only cup the fifth-graders at Hillel seemed to care about was Lord Stanley's.

That surprises me, because soccer is so much more visible on the American sports landscape than it was a decade ago. Every World Cup game will be televised in the United States, numerous newspapers have published special sections about the tournament, several members of the U.S. team even showed up one day on "Good Morning America." I assumed the media interest was driven by the youth market.

But perhaps the truth is the same as it was 30 years ago, when I first heard someone--probably an NASL owner who lost his last schilling on the league--say, "Soccer is the sport of the future and always will be."

There is mounting evidence, such as the success of MLS in some markets and the growth both in numbers and sophistication of U.S.-born players, that soccer has carved out a niche here. But even as someone who appreciates the sport, I can't argue it will ever do more than that.

If you would like to argue it, I'll take your call. But not today at 8 a.m. That's when Brazil and Scotland kick off.

*

Although the reviews made it seem as if "The Magic Hour" might disappear soon, I wouldn't bet against Magic Johnson yet. . . .

Many experts said he would never make it big in the NBA because he couldn't shoot. . . .

I would, however, recommend that Johnson's sidekick refrain from more jokes about sex in the NBA. . . .

Considering Johnson's illness, you know. . . .

Oscar De La Hoya has sold more than 50,000 tickets for his fight Saturday night in El Paso against Patrick Charpentier. . . .

Credit De La Hoya, because it's doubtful Charpentier has sold many. . . .

Asked about his compatriot last week, French Olympic boxer Josue Blocus said, "He can't fight at all." . . .

About 16,000 tickets were sold for a De La Hoya fight in Madison Square Garden, twice as many as were announced for the Evander Holyfield-Henry Akinwande heavyweight title bout that was canceled. . . .

In fact, no more than about 4,000 tickets were sold for that one. . . .

Even Akinwande's trainer, Emanuel Steward, said he wouldn't have bought a ticket if he'd needed one for admission. . . .

Al Davis claims the expansion fee for an NFL team in Cleveland should be $1 billion, while Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer has mentioned the figure $1.5 billion. . . .

Even sane reports say the number could be as high as $800 million. . . .

Don't look for anyone in Los Angeles, not even former Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz, to continue shopping if the price for an expansion team here is in that neighborhood. . . .

If the Texas Rangers' sale to Tom Hicks is finalized this week, it's expected one of their first moves will be to trade for Todd Zeile. . . .

The New York Mets are concerned that if they don't sign Mike Piazza soon, he will take his chances on free agency at the end of the season. . . .

They believe Jerry Colangelo is poised to meet Piazza's $100-million asking price in Arizona. . . .

They also mention the Angels as potential suitors. But we know better. . . .

Jerome Moiso, UCLA's 6-foot-10, long-armed basketball recruit from Guadeloupe, took his Scholastic Assessment Test last Saturday but hasn't yet learned his score. . . .

He has looked great while playing pickup games with NBA hopefuls such as Paul Pierce and Toby Bailey in the Bruins' Men's Gym. . . .

Maurice Greene predicts he will break Donovan Bailey's world 100-meter record next week at the U.S. track and field championships in New Orleans. . . .

The July 25 Grand Prix track meet moved out of Durham, N.C., might land in St. Louis and serve as a farewell to competition for local favorite Jackie Joyner-Kersee. . . .

Minutes after Bob Baffert's Real Quiet lost his shot at the Triple Crown in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, the trainer called Hollywood Park on his cellular phone and listened to the call of the Cinema Handicap. . . .

Commitisize, who, like Real Quiet, is trained by Baffert and owned by Mike Pegram, won the race. . . .

Earlier in the day, another of their horses, Censored, won the Melair Stakes at Hollywood Park. . . .

"I lost the $5-million bonus in the Belmont but won $100,000 at Hollywood Park," Baffert said. "Not a bad day." . . .

Easy come, easy go.

*

While wondering whatever happened to Toto Schillachi, I was thinking: I hope the U.S. players can at least refrain from breaking any chairs if they don't reach the second round, France has too many strikers, I'll take England, and the under in the over-under.

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