Class is in session for Dwight Howard in Houston. The topic? Offense. Despite being a seven-time NBA All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Howard’s inside game is built on power and little else. That could change under the tutelage of the most balletic pair of old-school big men the game has ever seen: Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale. Writes Jenkins, “While Olajuwon methodically expanded his repertoire through 17 seasons in Houston, showcasing his speed with a balletic array of spins and counters, Howard’s routine remained fairly constant, forcing up those baby hooks.”
Olajuwon, who won two NBA titles with the Rockets, believes versatility is the one thing preventing Howard from being great. “You can’t have one move,” Olajuwon says. “It’s like having one outfit. I’m not going to wear the same thing to the party that I do to the gym.”
Howard worked with Olajuwon while he was with Orlando. Soon after Howard signed with the Rockets last July, McHale invited The Dream to once again become part of the team to help coach Howard and several of the team’s other big men, including 7-foot center Omer Asik. “How can we get Dwight better?” McHale asks. “That’s what we talk about. If we did nothing, and he played the way he has his entire career, he’d still be the best big guy in the NBA. But if Hakeem and I can give him a couple more tools, and he can master those, what a complement that would be.” | SI senior writer Lee Jenkins
Sports Illustrated is set to premiere Pro Football Now presented by John Hancock, a new live, weekly talk show for SI.com, on Thursday, Sept. 5, 10:30 a.m. EST. Host Maggie Gray and lead analyst and Super Bowl Champion of the New York Giants Amani Toomer will be joined on set by SI writers and experts for provocative discussion on the latest football news as well as preview the upcoming week’s games. For the premiere episode, Gray and Toomer will sit down with New York Giant Victor Cruz to preview the upcoming season. PFN will broadcast from Time Inc.’s new state-of-the-art Manhattan studio, which debuts on Thursday. After each weekly episode premiere, the show will be available on-demand at SI.com/video.
“We’re excited to expand our digital video portfolio with the addition of this new live video talk show,” said Paul Fichtenbaum, Editor, Time Inc. Sports Group. “Sports Illustrated is a leading source of in-depth NFL coverage and we believe our top-notch reporting will translate very well to PFN.”
“I’m excited to join the broadcast team at Sports Illustrated,” said Toomer. “I think the viewers are going to enjoy our candid conversation. We’re going to have a lot of fun this season.”
PFN adds to a growing number of original SI live productions created in 2013. Others include SI Now powered by Ford – Time Inc.’s first live daily talk show, which debuted in June, SI Swimsuit Live from Las Vegas – a 30 minute red carpet and 3D video experience and specials devoted to the NCAA college basketball tournament and NFL draft. These productions are also part of Time Inc.’s company-wide commitment to growing digital video offerings across its portfolio.
“The new Time Inc. video infrastructure with its cutting-edge studios and robust distribution network is an important statement to the advertising community that we are going to be a major player in the video space,” said Mark Ford, Time Inc. EVP, President Sports Group. “We have proven our ability to create award-winning and popular video as our Underdogs series and Swimsuit videos demonstrate. Now, we can offer the marketplace significantly more original content and audience scale which is a major differentiation to our clients.”
Multiplatform Editorial Program Will Identify Up-And-Coming Athletes Across NFL, College Football, Winter Olympics and NCAA Men’s Basketball; Program Sponsored by Symetra
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has a legacy of identifying athletes who are rising stars. For example, SI dubbed LeBron James “The Chosen One” in 2002, during his senior year in high school. James has since won two NBA championships and appeared on 20 SI covers. SI also placed a sixteen-year-old Bryce Harper on the cover in 2009—he has since been named an All-Star and appeared on another SI cover earlier this year. Building upon that tradition, SI is launching a multiplatform “Rising Star” editorial program that will focus on athletes SI editors believe are destined for future greatness.
The “Rising Star” program is sponsored by Symetra, a Bellevue, Wash.-based life insurance company, and launches with the July 29, 2013 SI issue, on newsstands now.
The first sport to be covered will be the NFL, followed by subsequent features identifying rising stars in College Football, the Winter Olympics and NCAA Men’s Basketball. Each Rising Star will also have a dedicated SI Video profile, which will be posted at SI.com/RisingStars.
“Our readers expect SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to introduce them to the champions of tomorrow,” said Frank Wall, VP and Publisher of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. “We leveraged this editorial strength to create a sponsored platform to showcase these up-and-comers.”
“Symetra is delighted to be the founding sponsor of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Rising Stars. Like the exceptional athletes the program will feature, Symetra has big aspirations for the future. Through the SI sponsorship and our other sports marketing platforms, we want to elevate our brand nationally and extend our reputation as an admired financial services company,” said Jim Pirak, Symetra’s senior vice president of Marketing.
The first featured Rising Star is second year Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Despite being one of the nation’s most dangerous all-purpose threats when he played at Florida International, the 5’ 9”, 178-pound speedster from Miami saw 12 receivers drafted before him in the 2012 NFL draft. Hilton used this as motivation and it paid off—he led all first-year wideouts in touchdown catches (seven) and average yards per catch (17.2), ranked second in yards receiving (861) and tied for third in receptions (50) as a rookie with the Colts last season. Hilton is primed in 2013 to improve upon his outstanding rookie season.
When Tom Gouttierre arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1965, coaching basketball was the last thing on his mind. However, the young Peace Corps volunteer who went to teach English wound up transforming a ragtag high school basketball team into a national team with the discipline and skills to beat a foreign power. In this week’s SI, senior writer Chris Ballard (SI_ChrisBallard) tells his extraordinary story.
Asked if he would coach the team by a student, the young traveler was reluctant, considering he was never good at the game himself, but Ballard writes, “Gouttierre was the type of man who believed that enthusiasm conquered all,” and his response was, “You bet!” (PAGE 57)
The team didn’t have much talent, but Gouttierre said they had raw energy and a willingness to play. “It was like watching 10 ants at picnic go after one crumb.” (PAGE 57) The coach used the word “tashkeel,” (PAGE 57) which means organization, to motivate the boys to work together in a culture thriving on independence, suspicion and group loyalty.
While the team initially struggled against superior opponents, they continued to improve and became one of the best teams in the country by embracing the concept of tashkeel. Due to their success, Gouttierre expanded his coaching by hosting clinics and teaching other volunteers to coach the game.
He eventually was asked by the Afghanistan Olympic Committee to coach the first Afghan National team since the country received an invitation to play games against other teams from India and Pakistan. Gouttierre formed a team filled with most of his high school players and a few others from the country. To prepare, he incorporated the notorious and sophisticated UCLA zone press made famous by legendary coach John Wooden. Gouttierre wrote a letter to the head coach a year earlier asking for his advice on how to utilize the press. Ballard describes Gouttierre’s reaction to Wooden, who wrote him back:
““Dear Coach,” the letter began. Gouttierre stopped. John Wooden had just called him Coach! … He broke into a shocked grin.” (PAGE 59) With Wooden’s letter came diagrams, drawings and numbered instructions for his zone press and he told Gouttierre, “I really admire what you are doing.” (PAGE 59)
The team prepared for months, but the planned games against India and Pakistan were cancelled and Gouttierre and his team were devastated. Gouttierre left Kabul shortly after in 1967 and eventually ended up in graduate school at Indiana where he focused on Islamic studies and took Arabic and Persian. He later received a Fullbright fellowship and traveled back to Kabul in 1969 when the chance for the Afghan team to play on the national level presented itself once again – this time against the Chinese. He resumed coaching and the skills, discipline and tashkeel that Gouttierre had instilled in his boys during his first visit to Kabul came through again on the court against the tough Chinese opponents.
When the Afghans led 38-19 at the half, Gouttierre told his boys, “Keep running and I promise you they won’t catch up.” (PAGE 61) He was right. The Chinese lost the game and the boys experienced a new type of confidence they hadn’t before.
Gouttierre continued to live and coach basketball in Kabul until 1974, when he accepted a position as dean of the first center for Afghanistan studies in the U.S. at Nebraska-Omaha. Now, at the age of 72, Gouttierre continues to work as the dean of international studies as well as head of the Afghanistan studies program at the university. He says his biggest accomplishment “was taking these different ethnic groups and showing them how important it was to use their skills together.” (PAGE 63)
Neal Walk, the player chosen after Lew Alcindor in the 1969 NBA draft was never an All-Star, nor did he ever carry a team to a title. In Sports Illustrated’s Where Are They Now? Issue, special contributor Michael Farber finds that Walk ultimately followed the signs – and his dogs – and made his way back to Phoenix, where his NBA Life began.
Former Phoenix Suns general manager Jerry Colangelo lost a coin flip with the Milwaukee Bucks for the 1969 draft’s top pick. The result? He took a chance on the 6’10” center from Florida. His chance paid off for the Suns in the beginning.
“Neal came as advertised,” says Colangelo. “He had post moves, a hook shot. He was a smart player who could pass and had a little touch. He had to wear the booby-prize tag hung on him by media and fans, but he was a pretty good center. You don’t put up 20 and 12 if you aren’t.” (PAGE 96)
Although other NBA players from Walk’s draft garnered much more attention, Walk considered himself to be one of the best in the beginning of his career.
“I didn’t flip the coin. I didn’t call heads or tails,” says Walk. “I was good enough to play against the best – Kareem, Wilt, Bob Lanier—so in a way that makes me one of the best.” (PAGE 96)
After a promising start to his career, a turn of events, or signs as he refers to them, led him down a different journey that saw him wear purple platform shoes off the court and live a vegetarian lifestyle. Walk’s numbers decreased, but for him, “basketball was now about a spiritual adventure.” (PAGE 97) His spiritual adventure and new lifestyle, however, led Walk to experiment with drugs, ultimately leading him to lose weight and focus – all of which hindered his basketball performance.
“He was on his way to a pretty solid career, and all these detours took place… I called him in and told him to straighten out his life or he’d be out of basketball pretty quick,” says Colangelo. (PAGE 98)
Colangelo traded Walk to the New Orleans Jazz in 1974, and from there, Walk bounced around from place-to-place. At one point during his travels and trades, Walk confided in his dogs and left his basketball fate up to his loyal companions – would he play in Italy or stay in Detroit?
While playing abroad in Italy, Walk was caught, once again, with drugs and sent to jail. Not an ideal situation for a professional basketball player; however, Walk says, “It was a cool experience to go to jail, though. An interesting three days,” (PAGE 98).
After bouncing around for awhile, Walk says he “took a six-pack and sat by the sea wall for six hours, spending time with the universe, listening.” (PAGE 98) He called it quits the next day.
From playing in the NBA to experimenting with drugs and ultimately retiring, it seems Walk did it all – but that is not the end of his story.
Diagnosed with atrophy, Walk has spent the last 26 years of his life in a wheel-chair, leaving his once long-limbed legs rail thin. Despite all of this, one unique attribute of Walk remains. He no longer refers to himself as Neal Walk, but rather, as Joshua Hawk, a name he gave himself legally after a spiritual quest he took in the Caribbean in 1980.
“It was like being bar mitzvahed, although you don’t get your cheeks pinched by your grandmother or aunts,” Walk/Hawk says of the transformation. “This was a way to release myself from my singular connection to basketball. I separated me from me.” (PAGE 98)
After his many trials and tribulations, a fortunate event finally happened for Walk at a most unexpected place. While heading toward his vehicle in a parking lot of a community center in Phoenix in 1988, Colangelo spotted Walk and approached him. Although Walk admits he was still upset with Colangelo for trading him, the former GM of the Suns offered Walk a community relations job.
“I wanted Neal to have something with dignity,” says Colangelo. (PAGE 100) Walk has worked in various roles with the suns for the past three decades before being fired last October.
Walk recently married his second wife, Georgia Hawk, who doubles as his caregiver in 2011. Together, the couple spends time laying low and watching Hawk’s two-year-old granddaughter. Looking back on his life, however, Walk chooses to be more mindful of the present. “The universe speaks. Sometimes in whispers. Sometimes in sonic booms. I’m willing to listen more. Joshua Hawk listens better than Neal Walk ever did.” (PAGE 100)
Twenty years ago nine kids took to a makeshift diamond to tell a story about baseball and capture the essence of youth in 1962. Two decades later, the actors from The Sandlot have scattered professionally and geographically, but some remain close and all are connected by the same experience and the same iconic line: “You’re killing me Smalls!” SI writer Matt Gagne takes a look at what the actors who played the nine main characters have been up to since the movie came out – from acting and playing poker to saving lives and running a pizza shop.
Patrick Renna – Ham:
Known as the pudgy, freckled-faced kid who spoke the infamous line, “You’re killing me Smalls,” Patrick Renna discusses his post-Sandlot athletic success from mastering slow-pitch softball to earning a hole-in-one during a difficult shot at a California golf course last July. The 34-year-old Renna, who is married and lives in L.A., continues to pursue acting, but recollects his fondest memory from the Sandlot days when he and fellow co-star Chauncey Leopardi went crazy feasting on ice cream and ordering other room service items from a Ritz-Carlton during a publicity tour.
“We probably spent $5,000,” Renna says. “I think they forgot we were teenagers.” (PAGE 64)
Chauncey Leopardi – Squints:
With his memorable glasses covering most of his face and wide, toothy grin, Chauncey Leopardi, who played Squints in the movie, hasn’t forgotten the scene when he was lucky enough to be the one who kissed lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn. Leopardi claims his ear-to-ear smile seen in the movie wasn’t just acting. “That wasn’t Squints,” he says. “That was me. I still have that smile.” (PAGE 65)
His smile is not the only thing Leopardi, 32, still has. He was able to captivate a new kind of audience with his acting skills through a recent gig as a telemarketer in the Los Angeles area. “I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s just reading from a script, and I’ve been doing that my whole life.’” (PAGE 65) Acting also helped him survive as a successful professional poker player from 2009 to ’12 (he tells SI he lost nearly all of his earnings one night in Las Vegas last year). Leopardi currently works as a project manager at a friend’s air-filtration company and operates a property-management company with friends.
Mike Vitar – Benny the Jet:
From Sandlot hero to real-life hero, Mike Vitar, 34, is a 14-year veteran of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Although his character Benny the Jet made it to the big leagues as a Los Angeles Dodgers player in the movie, Vitar has to settle for playing third base and occasionally catcher for his Los Angeles Fire Department’s baseball and softball teams.
“I’m just an average guy with a family,” says Vitar, who played in as many as three overlapping baseball leagues before he and his wife, Kym, had three kids. (PAGE 66)
Vitar had a chance to live out his movie character’s dream by playing a game for his men’s league’s championship at Dodger Stadium in 2004. Vitar tells SI he was initially reluctant to play Benny. Spotted by a casting agent while waiting in line for bumper cars at a carnival, Vitar was not interested in the agent’s offer, but Vitar’s brother Pablo (an L.A. police officer who died of colon cancer in 2008) convinced him otherwise. Vitar said his brother persuaded him to take the role, saying, “Hey, dummy, you can play baseball all summer long if you do this.” (PAGE 66)
Tom Guiry – Scotty Smalls:
Tom Guiry, 32, is probably the one who hears “You’re killing me, Smalls,” more than any of the other guys from the movie, which makes sense, considering Guiry played awkward new-kid-on-the-block Scotty Smalls. Guiry, who is now a patient transporter at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Jersey, still has 30 and 40-year-old somethings, who grew up with The Sandlot, run up to him and ask for his autograph and to speak the famous line – including one memorable incident with a patient he was transporting.
Although his days at the sandlot might be over, Guiry still pursues acting in the New York area, but his true passion is helping the patients he transports and works with at the hospital.
“I’m really polite to people, because when you’re sick it’s hard to be nice,” he says. “It’s always nice to put a smile on someone’s face. And if I can’t do it acting, maybe I can do it this way.” (PAGE 66)
Marty York – Yeah Yeah
Since his days playing the hyper-active kid who constantly said, “Yeah, yeah,” to everything – dubbing his name in the movie – Marty York, 32, has had somewhat of a troubled past since then. From a tragic car accident in 1997 that left him in a coma for a week to a jail sentence for domestic battery in 2009, York, who currently resides in Valencia, California, is working to get his life back together.
“I’m moving forward—trying to get away from all that.” (PAGE 67)
Grant Gelt – Bertram
From serving as the head of operations at Uprising Creative, an artistic agency in Los Angeles to traveling the world and managing the blues-rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Grant Gelt, 33, has come a long way from his Sandlot days. With tattoos from various places around the world covering his body, Gelt admits he has become tamer since his younger days.
“The 16-year-old punk-rock me would be so pissed at the grown-up me… All I want to do is golf.” (PAGE 67)
Looking back, Gelt’s 12-year-old ways might not be so happy with his grown-up self either. Some of Gelt’s fondest memories from filming the movie include pretending to puke during the infamous chewing tobacco scene and the old props used on set.
“Being 12 and getting to play with fake barf… Everything was great,” Gelt says. (PAGE 67)
Victor Dimattia – Timmy
Victor Dimattia, 32, moved from Delaware to San Francisco in 2004 with hopes to make it big with his punk rock band, but after a couple years, he decided to pursue the film program at the Academy of Art University to study directing and screenwriting. He also now works as a bartender in L.A. His role in the Sandlot, however, still gives him perks. Out recently with his co-star Marty York, he was allowed VIP access at a nightclub in L.A. because the bouncer recognized them from the movie.
Dimattia says,“This guy recites the entire thing off the top of his head and then says, ‘Get the f— in here, come on.’” (PAGE 67)
Shane Obedzinski – Repeat
Known for reciting the same words and phrases as his brother Timmy in the movie, “Repeat,” or Shane Obedzinski, 30, tried his hand at becoming a drummer for hard rock bands in his early 20s. Obedzinski eventually quit the music business and started opening and managing pizza chains. However, he,“got tired of doing it for rich people” (PAGE 67) so he and a friend decided to open their own chain in Braden, Florida and have owned and operated it ever since.
Obedzinski is at his shop seven days a week, but when he finds time off, he and his girlfriend enjoy using their year-long passes at Disney theme parks.
Obedzinski’s surprised reaction to co-star Leopardi kissing the life guard was singled out in the movie, yet to this day, still doesn’t know why.
“I don’t know why my face was singled out in the movie,” he says, “but it was a legit reaction.” (PAGE 67)
Brandon Quintin Adams – Kenny
Although he has made appearances on other well-known TV shows and movies (The Mighty Ducks movies, The Fresh Prince of Bell-air, Moesha), Brandon Quintin Adams, 33, is most known for his role as the young pitcher of the Sandlot who declares, “Here comes my heater” (PAGE 67). Adams stays busy these days by acting, writing, directing and rapping in the L.A. area and spends time with 7-year-old daughter on the side. “I’m nonstop, always trying to find somewhere new to spark my mind.” (PAGE 67)
In 2002, his life was forever changed when his best friend and fellow actor Merlin Santana was shot dead at 26. Adams says, “I’m adamant about not being fearful, not wasting time.” (PAGE 67)
“Do what makes you happy. Not for money, not for fame, but for yourself.” (PAGE 67)