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The Inside Track | Mike Penner / SOUND AND VISION

A Problem With Trying to Be Ahead of the Game

August 23, 2003|Mike Penner

We want the future, and we want it now.

It's not enough to turn on the TV or quick-scan the pager to find out who won what an hour ago, five minutes ago, 10 seconds ago. We want to know who's going to win next week, next year, next decade.

We can't wait to anoint the New Michael Jordan, since the old one just re-re-retired, and the presumed Air Apparent has landed in Eagle, Colo., with some serious legal issues. So 18-year-old LeBron James becomes the latest Chosen One, showered with endorsement deals worth $100 million months before he is due to play his first regular-season NBA game.

James added Coca-Cola to his swelling portfolio this week, signing a six-year deal reportedly worth more than $12 million. He says he can't wait to get out there and start pitching Coca-Cola brand beverages, because, as he put it in a statement: "I've been drinking Sprite and Powerade for a long time. I have always admired the way Sprite and Powerade spoke to young people, and I can't wait to be a part of it."

What James, or whoever typed that statement, is saying is: I might be only an NBA neophyte, but I'm a veteran sweetened-beverage drinker. I know my stuff. So be like me, even though you've probably never seen me play, and won't for a couple more months. And while you're at it, buy my replica Cleveland Cavaliers' jersey too.

(Although, if you do, you'll be able to wear James' No. 23 jersey long before LeBron dons it in his first regular-season game for the Cavaliers. Which raises the question: Who, then, is actually wearing the replica?)

Corporate America is banking many more millions on our inability to wait, as evidenced by the young faces all over the television this weekend. Patience may be a virtue, but impatience has become a viable programming strategy.

Saturday at 11 a.m. on HBO, 13-year-old Michelle Wie, the Future of Women's Golf, can be seen chatting with Bryant Gumbel on a repeat airing of "Real Sports" and complaining about the biggest hassle she faces at this stage in her career: "I'm with my parents too much. I need a break."

Sunday at 10:55 a.m. on Galavision, 14-year-old Freddy Adu, the Future of American Soccer, can be seen trying to carry the United States past Brazil in the quarterfinals of the FIFA Under-17 World Championships. The youngest player in the tournament, Adu has looked anything but, scoring four goals in his first two games.

Can he really be only 14? Adu recently told SI.com, "I see myself in a World Cup final for the USA, playing against a top-notch team everybody picks to win. And we just come out and blast them. One day when I'm holding that trophy, someone's gonna take a picture. Oh, man, that's going to be huge."

Sounds just like a 14-year-old U.S. soccer player to me.

Saturday and Sunday on ABC, a bunch of 11- and 12-year-olds will be given big league treatment with live network coverage of the Little League World Series. As an added can't-wait-for-them-to-grow-up attraction, ABC is planning to enlist the services of 15-year-old sportscaster Grant Paulsen, a former Little Leaguer making the ex-jock-to-broadcast-booth transition.

Paulsen worked the last Super Bowl for ABC, but this is something else -- probably the first time the young veteran has been able to interview athletes at a major sporting event younger than himself.

Also available for viewing this weekend:

TODAY

* Travers Stakes

(ESPN, 2 p.m.)

Is there a "Seabiscuit" jinx? Last Saturday, Gary Stevens, whose portrayal of jockey George Woolf was a highlight of the movie, fell off his ride in the Arlington Million and was stepped on by another horse, leaving Stevens with a collapsed lung. Funny Cide, the so-called "new Seabiscuit," has spent the last two weeks running a high fever, rival Empire Maker has been battling a virus, both have been scratched and their long-anticipated rematch will have to be anticipated a good while longer.

* Grambling at San Jose State

(ESPN2, 3 p.m.)

ESPN kicks off the 2003 college football season. Reason to watch: Yes, Grambling's star player is actually named Bruce Eugene, and, yes, he led the nation with 4,483 yards passing last season.

* NASCAR Winston Cup

Sharpie 500 (TNT, 4:30 p.m.)

TV executives were highly intrigued by that punch-up between Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch at last weekend's GFS Marketplace 400. Full-contact stock car racing -- if NASCAR can flesh out the details and pull the marketing together, the NFL just might be catchable.

* San Diego Chargers at Houston Texans

(Fox Sports Net 2, 5:30 p.m.)

Never mind the exhibition season so far, the Charger Girls' 2004 swimsuit calendar is out! According to a Charger news release, the calendar "was shot on location at beaches and scenic points in and around Cabo San Lucas, Mexico." Charger fans, take note. Many of your favorite players will be vacationing at similar locations, starting shortly after Christmas.

SUNDAY

* WUSA Founder's Cup III

(ESPN2, 1 p.m.)

There might not be a Founder's Cup IV. The embattled women's soccer league made it to its third championship game largely because its players agreed to take significant pay cuts this season. Average attendance dropped for the second consecutive year. Television ratings remain microscopic.

To the rest of the population, next month's Women's World Cup is a pretty big soccer tournament. To WUSA, it could be the last life preserver.

* World Gymnastics Championships

(Channel 4, 11 a.m.)

Less than a year away from the 2004 Olympics, NBC will televise the women's world team finals, won by the United States Wednesday night. It's never too early to begin training to watch tape-delayed gymnastics coverage on NBC.

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