Doug Logan is an Adjunct Professor of Sports Management, at New York University.
He was the CEO for USATF from 2008 until September 2010.
He was also the CEO, President and Commissioner for Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999. To read more about his background and involvement in Track, Soccer, Rugby and the Music industry, read my Freelap Friday Five Interview
This is his 48th article. Click here for his entire series.
SHIN SPLINTS 2014
For the past several weeks sports fans have been living under the “NFL Draft Bubble”. The league has done a marvelous job at creating off-season excitement with this event. We have been subject to pre-draft and post-draft analysis with pundits determining “winners” and “losers”. The slickly produced draft, broadcast from Radio City Music Hall, drew over 12 million viewers in its first night.
When I think of professional drafts of college players, however, I remember, with a chuckle, the Continental Basketball Association [CBA] draft of 1986. No one could ever accuse this event of being either slick or produced. But first, I must digress and explain how I got involved in it.
In the winter of 1985-86 I was managing the Rockford MetroCentre in Illinois, a 10,000 seat sports and entertainment venue. I was actively attempting to recruit a minor league sports team as an anchor tenant. I happened to see an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal, seeking a buyer for an existing franchise. After responding to a post office box, I learned that a Dr. Seymour Killstein was trying to sell his CBA team, the Lancaster [PA] Lightning. I also learned that he was about to culminate a sale to a Chicago businessman named Jay Polan. All I had to do was facilitate the sale by providing the new owner with a place to play and my problem was solved. Little did I know that this path would enmesh me in a cast of characters worthy of a Damon Runyon drama?
Most people believe that sports entrepreneurs are mega-wealthy individuals or corporations with armies of lawyers, accountants and executives to do their bidding. And, in most major sports leagues, this is largely true. But, minor league sports attract a strange breed of people with significantly fewer resources and some strange behaviors and character flaws. Killstein, known as “Cy”, was an urologist who used to perform surgery while wearing a telephone headset. He would plan his social life, trade players, and reportedly conduct transactions with his bookie, while operating on the nether regions of his patients. Polan owned a very profitable bus company in Chicago, where he had contracts to transport about half the children in the city’s public schools. When I first visited his “office” I had to remove some greasy rags from my chair before I sat.
I ultimately made a deal with Polan, who hired the late Chicago Bull star guard, Norm Van Lier, as the coach. Norm was a lovely man, who at the time was struggling with an alcohol problem. Later in his life I was able to assist him in conquering his demons and by the time he died at age 61 in 2009, he was sober and serene.
This leads me to the 1986 draft. The draft was conducted on a conference call with the CBA league office in Conshohocken, PA. [Are you starting to get the picture?]. The Commissioner, Jimmy Drucker [son of a famed NBA referee], would write the names of drafted players on a blackboard, with chalk. Our “war room” was my office in the arena and I was surrounded by the coach, who had some magic elixir mixed into his coffee, the bus company exec, and a couple of hangers-on from the playgrounds of Chicago. We all thought we knew what we were doing, but none of us had a clue.
We managed to bluff our way through the first few rounds, but, when we got to our position at #57, none of us had any idea who we wanted. I then suggested to the group that we could get a few headlines by drafting the first woman player in the CBA, and suggested we name Cheryl Miller as our pick.
Cheryl, sister of Indiana Pacers All-Star and Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller, was the best female player in the country. At 6’2”, she had a storied career at USC, leading the Trojans to 2 national titles and winning the Naismith College Player of the Year Award. To this day, she is the sixth highest scorer in NCAA history [3,018 points] and the third highest rebounder. She led the US women’s team to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.
Cheryl grew up in California playing with and against Reggie’s male friends. He used to say that his toughest one-on-one opponent was his baby sister. If any woman could play against men, it had to be Cheryl.
We did wind up getting some headlines, even nationally, but the story continued to play out. Rather than accept that this was just a publicity stunt, Polan, egged on by his wife Mickey, truly thought we could sign her and convince her to play. He pushed me to set up a meeting with her. I wound up talking with Reggie’s agent, the LA lawyer, Arn Tellem, and as I remember the conversation went something like this.
“Kid, are you crazy? I’m not going to let her get anywhere near you! I have a deal done with ABC TV for her and she’s going to make a nice living as a broadcaster. Her playing days are over.”
I told him agreed with his career choice for her but I was asking on behalf of a lunatic who would not take no for an answer. I then begged him for a few minutes of his time to tell “my guy”, to his face, what he had just told me. I must have been persuasive because he said he could spare some time that next Saturday morning after he played tennis.
Which led us to a bizarre meeting in an LA law firm on a Saturday, with me, the bus company owner, and the agent [in tennis togs], and a firm rejection of our preposterous plan. Tellem, today, is the lead agent in the Wasserman Media Group. Van Lier got fired after the first twenty games and died prematurely, albeit sober and happy. In 1989 Polan was indicted for bribing a Chicago Alderman and served three years in a California penitentiary. Mickey convinced him to accept a “strategic” divorce to keep many of their assets away from forfeiture. I’m not sure she remembered the strategic part when he got out of the slammer and he has since passed away.
Cheryl Miller has had a great career as a college and professional coach. She continues to broadcast games. Recently, she has joined her brother in the Hall-of Fame. But, she never played against men in the CBA.