2013 re­view

There was also a bark­ing line­man, an Aussie Rules mas­quer­ade and that Brazil­ian masseur who de­cided to be­come a goal­keeper, As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

From Putin to Rod­man to Kobe’s mom, and from a bark­ing line­man, an Aussie Rules mas­quer­ade and that Brazil­ian masseur who de­cided to be­come a goal­keeper — it has been one weird year.

The story had all the el­e­ments of a Cold War thriller: a wealthy Amer­i­can busi­ness­man, Rus­sian lead­er­ship at the high­est lev­els, diplo­matic in­trigue and pur­loined jewels. Re­gret­tably, there was no ro­man­tic sub­plot. But if the movie rights on this are ever sold, that will be an easy ad­di­tion to the script.

The mys­tery of Robert Kraft’s way­ward Su­per Bowl ring was one of many odd places sports wan­dered into in 2013. Here are a few more:

A sus­pect in Van­cou­ver’s 2011 Stan­ley Cup ri­ots was iden­ti­fied as a for­mer Miss Con­ge­nial­ity beauty pageant win­ner; a top high school girls’ bas­ket­ball team in Iowa fea­tured four sets of sis­ters; ski star Lind­sey Vonn was called off a New York red car­pet at a Lin­coln Center fash­ion gath­er­ing for a ran­dom drug test.

Torii Hunter of the Detroit Tigers missed a game be­cause of an Achilles ten­don in­jury caused by wear­ing dress shoes that were too tight; New York Jets coach Rex Ryan ran with the bulls in Pam­plona af­ter his team was un­able to run with the Bears, Bron­cos and Ben­gals; the world’s old­est marathoner, In­dian-born Fauju Singh, de­cided enough was enough and stopped run­ning at 101. “I will miss it,” he said.

Mean­while, Kraft’s saga be­gan in June in one of New York’s finest ho­tels. The owner of the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots was speak­ing at a gala where he was be­ing hon­ored.

He re­galed the guests by telling them how one of his Su­per Bowl rings wound up on dis­play at the Krem­lin.

Kraft said he was vis­it­ing St. Peters­burg with a busi­ness del­e­ga­tion in 2005 when he was in­tro­duced to Vladimir Putin and showed the Rus­sian pres­i­dent the di­a­mond-en­crusted ring.

“I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket,” Kraft said, as quoted by the New York Post. “And three KGB guys got around him and walked out.”

At the time, Kraft said it was a gift but would later say he wanted the ring back. The White House, he sug­gested, thought it best for him to say this was in­deed a gift and not stir po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions.

Days later, the story shifted across the At­lantic. Putin was in Lon­don and his spokesman was asked about the Tale of the Ring. Dmitry Peskov said he was there when Putin met Kraft. Peskov dis­missed the en­tire episode as a mat­ter bet­ter suited for a “de­tailed talk with psy­cho­an­a­lysts”. Or co­me­di­ans. Kraft spokesman Stacey James called it an “anec­do­tal” story the owner plays for laughs. Putin soon weighed in dryly on “this com­pli­cated in­ter­na­tional prob­lem”. He said, in fact, he didn’t re­mem­ber Kraft. But, Putin went on, if this ring is “so valu­able”, he would be happy to make amends and or­der Kraft some new jew­elry.

This was not the only puz­zling in­ter­sec­tion be­tween sports and pol­i­tics in 2013.

Den­nis Rod­man, of course, landed in the un­likely spot of the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea. The for­mer NBA star, for whom flam­boy­ance is an un­der­state­ment, was wined and dined dur­ing his mis­sion of bas­ket­ball diplo­macy by DPRK leader Kim Jongun. Rod­man, who knows about win­ning ti­tles with the Chicago Bulls, later seemed miffed he did not win the No­bel Peace Prize.

Also miffed was Chechen strong­man Ramzan Kady­rov. Dur­ing a Rus­sian league soc­cer game he be­came in­censed that the cap­tain of Terek Grozny was ejected. Kady­rov grabbed a mi­cro­phone and roared to the fans: “The ref’s been bought off! You’re an ass!” On re­flec­tion, he called his re­sponse “a cry from the soul”.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came in peace to a Knicks game last Jan­uary at Madi­son Square Gar­den. A court­side wait­ress stopped by to take or­ders, al­though it’s not clear if it was for the mayor. Stephen Jack­son of the Spurs crashed into the wait­ress and left the game with a sprained an­kle. Bloomberg was later seen munch­ing pop­corn.

The law found some play­ers in cu­ri­ous spots, no­tably Kobe Bryant.

The Los An­ge­les Lak­ers star be­came en­tan­gled in a law­suit in­volv­ing his mother.

At is­sue was whether a New Jersey auc­tion house could sell some of his me­mora­bilia, which his mother of­fered for sale.

The par­ties set­tled, but there was this en­try in court pa­pers: “Mom, I never told you that you could have the me­mora­bilia,” and Pamela Bryant re­sponded, “Yes, but you never said you wanted it, ei­ther”.

Florida line­backer An­to­nio Mor­ri­son was charged un­der one of the more ob­scure laws on the books — bark­ing at a po­lice dog.

Ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties, Mor­ri­son was walk­ing by an open win­dow of a po­lice car. He de­cided to bark at the dog; the dog de­cided to bark back. A deputy ar­rested Mor­ri­son. The charges were dropped, and it was ac­knowl­edged a warn­ing to the bark­ing player would have been more ap­pro­pri­ate.

Two Aus­tralian Rules foot­ball play­ers thought they’d have some good fun. Josh Caddy and Bil­lie Smedts donned ski masks and broke into a team­mate’s house. One prob­lem: Caddy and Smedts were at the wrong ad­dress. Po­lice, with guns drawn, soon ar­rested them.

Em­bar­rass­ments, not just from pranks gone wrong, came in all forms.

The com­mis­sioner of Ja­panese base­ball, Ry­ozo Kato, in­tro­duced a new, live­lier ball. There was, how­ever, an omis­sion. He didn’t no­tify the play­ers. Kato apol­o­gized and said he would have to “care­fully re­flect on my re­spon­si­bil­ity to the game”.

A fourth-di­vi­sion Brazil­ian soc­cer club was tossed from the play­offs af­ter its masseur jumped on the field. The masseur, Romildo da Silva, took his spot in the va­cated goal and pro­ceeded to make two key saves. Op­pos­ing play­ers chased him off the field, and po­lice ar­rested him for his own pro­tec­tion.

Nige­rian soc­cer had its own mess. Two lower league games that ended in scores of 79-0 and 67-0 were found to be fixed. Life­time player bans and team sus­pen­sions fol­lowed. The Nige­rian fed­er­a­tion de­cried the games as a “mind-bog­gling show of shame”.

Most ath­letes serve up boil­er­plate cliches in postgame com­ments. But some re­veal per­haps more than they should.

Con­sider mixed mar­tial arts fighter Nick Diaz. While dis­cussing his loss in a ti­tle bout in Mon­treal, he talked about his fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion: “I just have to in­vest a lit­tle bit more, now that I have a lit­tle bit more money. You know what? I’ve never paid taxes in my life. I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to jail.”

Ten­nis star Richard Gas­quet took a deep philo­soph­i­cal turn af­ter his five-set loss to Stanis­las Wawrinka at the French Open. When asked to de­scribe where the pain from the de­feat hurt most, he said: “In the soul, for sure.”

KYODO NEWS / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

For­mer NBA star Den­nis Rod­man speaks to jour­nal­ists at Cap­i­tal In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Bei­jing af­ter ar­riv­ing from Py­ongyang on Dec 23. Rod­man is try­ing to or­ga­nize a se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tion games in the DPRK to pro­mote ‘bas­ket­ball diplo­macy’.

ALEXAN­DER ZEMLIANICHENKO / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots owner Robert Kraft while hold­ing Kraft’s di­a­mond-en­crusted Su­per Bowl ring, as me­dia mogul Ru­pert Mur­doch (center) looks on dur­ing a meet­ing of Amer­i­can busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives in St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia, in 2005.

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