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As I See It by Jimmy Vaccaro

16 April 2003

With the NBA winding down I thought it would be nice to take a road trip before the playoffs started. My mother lives with my brother and my sister-in-law Pam north of L.A., and it is an easy drive, so I spent the last three days there. I do not fly but it is only a Jim Rome and a half of a Dan Patrick show stretch from Vegas. I am not a Jim Rome fan and actually caught a break as Jim Lampley was subbing for "Romi" and it was a quick three-hour show. A lot of good commentary and some good guests were on the show.

One in particular was a young man by the name of Craig Shivers, who is a pro bull rider. They are having their first $1 million dollar event in Colorado in two weeks and that hit home for me. The connection is that my daughter, who attends UNLV on a scholarship and receives the grant because she is on the UNLV rodeo team, is a Vegas cowgirl right down to her Dodge Ram that pulls the trailer with horses Moe and Mamma in tow. Okay, back to the bull riding. Her boyfriend is a bull rider and each time I see him I just shake my head and he gets the message. I think I would rather run off tackle with no pads and look up and see Zack Thomas and Brian Urlicher as opposed to sitting on the back of a 2,000-pound bull named Thunderdome who ain't in the best of moods. Sure football and hockey are violent sports, but these guys fit into a niche sport that takes more guts than the law allows.

A little side-note to all you Vegas travelers. The next time you attend that "Knights of the Roundtable" show at the Excalibur and see all of that jousting and riding, most of those kids are from the UNLV rodeo team because of their experience handling horses. Like I said before, my daughter does all the girl events but I never go to watch because it is just too stressful. The last time I was on a horse it was at an amusement park back in Pittsburgh and the horse was tied to pole that went around in a circle.

Back to the story. I got to my brother's house in about 5 hours and the obligatory Italian hugging and kissing took place then the next move is we all eat. We talked for awhile and then took my mother for a drive and went back to the house, ate a little more, then relaxed.

I am sure most of you are familiar with my brother Sonny and his connection to Adidas and to basketball in general. Most of the day at Sonny's is like taking a virtual reality tour that takes you through the world of basketball from just about every angle you could possibly think of. I told him Adidas should have a contest with the prize being an all-day access pass to his house and, if you are a genuine freak of the game, I am sure you would enter more than once.

Let me share with you what I saw on the second day from around 8 a.m. until mid-afternoon. For openers I might talk on the phone for 10 hours in the course a year and Sonny probably averages around 10 hours a day. This was the day when Roy Williams was to have his press conference in Chapel Hill and Pitt had not announced that Jamie Dixon was to be the new head-man with Ben Howland having accepted the UCLA job. So there were actually two positions that looked like they would be filled that day: Pitt and North Carolina.

The lines were burning up. Radio stations were asking Sonny who he thought would be filling the positions that came in rapid-fire order. The two lines were constantly blinking and Pam would field a lot of the calls trying to separate family, friends and business. She is definitely underpaid. When the college stuff died down for a moment, B.J. Armstrong of the Chicago Bulls called to tell Sonny he was going to accept the new position with the Bulls and work with John Paxson as John had just been announced as the new honcho who, I suppose, was taking the job vacated by Jerry Krausse just last week. They talked for about 10 minutes and I could tell from listening that the Bulls were just ecstatic concerning the play of both Eddie Curry and Tyson Chandler (mainly in the second half of the season). If the young "you can call me Jay" Williams improves, I think you could tack on 8 to 10 wins for the team next year and that would be a major jump. When they hung up the phone it immediately rang again; it was Chris Wallace who is the General Manager of the Celtics. I could tell by the tone of the conversation that they were talking about the ugly loss that the Celtics had just had a few days earlier with the 76ers and Chris was rightly concerned about the playoff picture.

Remember that Sonny's job is just like his counterparts at Nike, Reebok and anyone else who is in the race, and that is to put his shoes on the most visible players on the highest profile teams. It is just business, no more and no less. No matter what your personal take is on the shoe companies involvement, that part is what it is. The schools are looking for the best deals, the coaches are looking for the best deals and the pro players are looking for the MOST MONEY.

Players have contracts that run out, so they always test the waters when they re-up. As Hyman Roth once said, "It is business." Kobe was signed by my brother and Adidas, and it looks like Nike has the inside track as Kobe is looking to switch.

It is common knowledge that both Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have shoe deals that are up soon. That being said, the doorbell rang and it was a young guy who was there just to speak to Sonny on a very informal conversation concerning Kevin Garnett. You know one of those "have your people contact my people and they will talk and then we can have lunch next week." The pro guys have a guy for everything. They spoke for about 20 minutes and then he left. I have no idea what shoe Kevin endorses now, or what shoe he will have on in the future, but they cover all the bases and the best deal will be accepted.

Next the phone rings and it is agent Arne Tellum who represents everyone from Nomar Garciapara to Kobe Bryant. Arne is a real nice soft-spoken guy, but he wields a heavy sword for his clients. They were talking about coaching changes and some of the high school kids, other than LeBron James, who were thinking of skipping college. Sonny says, as the other phone rings, that he will call later as he believes this is the call concerning the Pitt job. Well it was and it was the confirmation that Jamie Dixon had just gotten the Pitt job. After Skip Prosser turned the job down, they wanted to talk to one more high profile coach and when that coach said "No" they gave the job to Dixon. You have heard coaches speak on hiring & firing and how it affects a lot of people; the Pitt job was no exception.

After it was verified that Dixon got the job, on the phone with sonny was Barry Rohrssen who was an assistant for Ben Howland (who is a friend of mine). Barry was the assistant in Vegas under Bill Bayno and I got to know him fairly well. He is a New York guy with tremendous ties on the East coast and a very valuable piece to any programs puzzle due to his connections. It was no secret that Ben Howland wanted him to follow him to UCLA, but Barry wanted to wait and see how the Pitt job unfolded. Although the final choice was Barry's, he wanted to run a few things by Sonny and get his opinion.

One thing about my brother is that if you don't want to talk about it, that is fine, but if you want his opinion be ready for about 30 minutes of conversation. If you read any late edition paper you saw that Barry stayed with Pitt, but Howland's other assistant at Pitt (Ernie Ziegler) decided to go out West and team up with Ben at UCLA.

So now we have been through two general managers, a financial advisor, an agent, assistant coach, and it is just past noon. It's time for a little lunch and Pam is reminding him of the three people he has to call back and to check the daily FedEx's that have arrived and the ones that need to be sent.

Now remember that even though we all know that Roy Williams has not officially accepted the Carolina job, it will not be announced until the ESPN press conference later that night. The phone is ringing off the hook to see if Sonny knows anything about Bill Self moving over to the Jayhawks' side of the field. I told Sonny that him and all his friends can go on for infinity with these jobs. "So if Self leaves, who will take the Illini?" You can see that this can go on forever. All that stuff would surely give me a headache but, as you can see, people like my brother and his peers & counterparts live to do this. Amazingly enough there was only one phone call that day concerning LeBron James which, according to his call counts, comes in at about 10 a day.

Now the press conference with Roy Williams is over and it is critiqued, but even sonny has had enough for the day. The phone once again starts to ring but he tells Pam to tell them he will call them back in the morning. "Vac" looks like he just went 15 with Mohammed Ali and did not even want to wait around for the decision. He wore me out and I wasn't off the couch for an hour the whole day.

I woke up the following morning, had breakfast, loaded up with my new Adidas gear and was about to leave when the phone rang; it was Timmy Gurgurich, the assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns and a very close and personal friend of both Sonny and I for almost 35 years. Timmy, like Sonny, just goes right to the hoops after he asks about your family. I got 5 good minutes on the young Stoudamire kid and Joe Johnson, the kid they got in the trade from the Celtics. I wished him the best with the upcoming series with the Spurs and I was ready to head back to Vegas.

So I said goodbye to the family, turned on the radio and left. I was home before I knew it. When I got home I called Sonny and Pam to let them know I got home. When Pam picked up the phone she said, "I am glad you are home and will tell your brother WHEN HE GETS OFF THE PHONE."

All those box car 50-80-100 million dollar deals you read about starts with a phone call. If you had that "All-Access" card for just one day, you would see what I mean.

Take care,

Jimmy V

This article is courtesy of Don Best Sports, the industry leader in live lines service. Please visit our website at to get the latest odds, scores, lines, and sports information.

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