June 2012 Archives

Why the Olympics are so special

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  Over the years, the Olympics have played an important role in my life. I enjoy the excitement it provides every four years. For two weeks in summer I have been thrilled, had my heart broken and taken on an escalator ride from the highest elation to the lowest despair. ABC-TV's Wide World of Sports coined the perfect phrase..."The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat".

This year, the London Games will showcase the skills of elite athletes in peak condition. However, not everyone can become an elite athlete.  As a member of President Nixon's Council on Physical Fitness alongside my pal, Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe, I learned that the term Olympian means different things to many people.  Yet, the idea of a competition to do one's best always prevailed.

President Eisenhower created the Council in 1956... hoping it would become a catalytic agent to stimulate physical fitness especially in our youth. At the time, we lagged far behind European youngsters.

First Lady Michelle Obama and New York's Mayor Bloomberg are today attempting to legislate proper eating habits among youngsters.  Their hearts are in the right place, but they are going about it the wrong way.

I applaud voluntary organized physical activities.

Ernie V. wrote "Growing with Sports". Out of print now, it should be required reading in elementary/ middle schools. It has an important message for parents and kids alike. A former New York Knick, he became a Pediatrician. The book and its message proved his point.

Using the book as a guide, he and his wife raised four children-- every one an academic over-achiever plus All-Americans/Olympians in five different sports

 Today, there are Olympic sub-areas.  Each, in some way, is an important part of our daily lives... among them: Paralympics, Special Olympics, Senior Olympics and Junior Olympics.

 Grantland Rice once wrote, "When the great scorer comes to mark beside your name, he writes-not that you won, or lost - but how you played the game". These sub-areas epitomize this slogan.

The Paralympics Summer Games is the second largest sporting event in the world next to the Olympic games. It was first held in (Rome) 1960 for only Wheelchair Athletes. Originally called the Wheelchair Games was created in 1948 for disabled World War II veterans. Today, there are six major classifications... the visually impaired, physical disabilities, amputee athletes, cerebral palsy sufferers and spinal cord injured.

The Special Olympics began in 1968. Eunice Shriver, President Kennedy's sister, organized the first games. She proved that people with intellectual disabilities were far more capable in sports and physical activities than experts thought. Today, there are over 2million athletes worldwide run by 500,000 non-profit volunteers.

 The first Senior Olympic Games were in St. Louis, (1987).  Today, blessed by the USOC, the Senior Summer Games is one of the world's largest multi-sports events. It is dedicated to motivating active adults to lead a healthy life style.

The Olympic motto says: In Latin, " Citius, Atius, Fortius" - In English, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger."

Thank you Grantland Rice !








Hockey greatness amidst palm trees and sunshine

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Today, it is a recognized fact that Los Angeles was the Sports Capitol of America... at least on one day, May20th. On that day, one might say it was the perfect storm. In a concentrated area of perhaps 300 yards, three professional major sports events took place.

America's Greatest Bicycle Race, The Amgen Tour of  California, finished at noon. The Kings' Stanley Cup playoff game started at noon. The NBA Playoff Game with The Clippers then followed at 7:30.  

It was a mammoth undertaking when one had to realize it all took place in and around 1111 South Figueroa Street, home of the magnificent Sports Palace known as Staples Center. It required massive traffic logistics, blocking of  Downtown LA streets and re-routing motor traffic for 48 hours.  In addition, the arena had to be changed from an Ice Skating Configuration to a Basketball Floor. Not an easy job ... done without a hitch.

This brought back a great many memories of my days at the Forum in Inglewood, the then home of the Lakers and the Kings.  The days when there was more than one event were the most exciting. I  used to enjoy going into the empty arena and picture what the blank canvas, (that actually was what the concrete floor) would become when the artists know as the "Crew" made it come to life in many forms.

One Sunday, I was sitting there with Pat Riley and Bill Bertka before a Lakers evening game.  I had to be there!  Pat was always the earliest Laker to arrive and Bill, the unknown man who for years was behind the scenes being instrumental in building the Laker powerhouses. Bill  was also student of Sports Business and Arena operations. He  eventually headed up Invest West Sports embodying all he learned.

The night before, we had all been there for a night of Championship Boxing. In the morning, a local Baptist Church held its services. In the afternoon, there was a Kings hockey game and that night it was the Lakers.

I  only mention this because what AEG, owners and producers of all three events on May 20th, plus Staples Center had to do and achieve was magnificent.  It was a feat I could understand.  They performed perfectly and the public took it all for granted going away happy. AEG had to get ready for the next event, perhaps a Concert, or a Fight.

Getting back to today. The Kings are in the Stanley Cup Finals and no one could be prouder then the AEG's President and CEO, Tim  Leiwicke.  I talked briefly with Tim at a dinner, held on the roof of the Grammy Museum, which is also located in the Staples Complex, known as "LA Live", the night before America's Greatest Race, May 19th.

Tim, is the visionary who has been able to revitalize Downtown LA with the blessing and backing of  Phil Anschutz, Chairman and Owner of AEG.

In the years that Tim has been in LA, he has brought many innovations and events to the city.  However, if the truth be known, no one achievement will thrill him more than the Kings winning the Stanley Cup.

From day one, this visionary has fought tooth and nail as well worked hard  for the success of the Kings against all odds.  This year, based on how the Kings have been playing especially in the Playoffs, his endurance should be rewarded. Note:  at this writing the Kings are leading New Jersey Devils 2-0 in the Finals.

Which reminds me of the early days when the Kings joined the NHL  as an expansion  team bought in by my boss at the time, Jack Kent Cooke. I was working at the Forum, which he built in Inglewood, California.  The Forum, often called the "House that Jack built," like Staples Center today housed both the Lakers and the Kings, which he owned.

In the 70's, the Kings averaged slightly over 3000 fans. Anyone with a season ticket could sit wherever they wished. In fact, I would go into the Arena looking for my friend Neil Carrey and although I knew where his season seats were, it was always a surprise to see him sitting on many occasions in different seats always looking for better location.

Mr. Cooke, a Canadian by birth, lost money every year he owned the team. In fact, in one of his most famous interviews, he told the reporter and I quote fairly accurately, "There are 800,000 Canadians living in Greater Los Angeles and it's obvious they left Canada because they hated Hockey."

This appeared to be true!  We tried everything.  I would twice a week go with goalie Rogie Vachon, defenseman Gilles Marott, Trainer Peter Demers and then Hockey Analyst, my good friend the late Dan Avey , to Middle schools and High Schools in a packaged show to introduce Hockey to potential young fans. I gave away countless free tickets as an inducement... nothing worked.

Hockey was practically unknown in Southern California at that time. I come from a Hockey playing State, Massachusetts. There, I was used to my friends who played hockey, going to practice a 2 and 3 in the morning in order to get practice time.  In  L.A. at that time there may have been only four Social Ice Rinks in the entire area.

With all of our hard work nothing would fill arenas, until Bruce McNall later the owner of the Kings, brought in Hockey's greatest player as well as Ambassador of the game, Wayne Gretzky... L.A. loves a winner and Wayne has always been that.

I first saw Wayne in action in 1971.  My friend Mike O'Hara and the late Dennis Murphy brought about the World Hockey Association.  This upstart league had persuaded many of the NHL's tope players to join them . Two of those joining the fledgling WHA were two of the games best.  Hall of Famers, Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings and Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks joined the new league.

This move gave immediate credibility to  the WHA. Just as in L.A. the league was floundering until a teen-ager from Brantford, Ontario joined the Indianapolis Races later traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Even with his charisma, "The Great One", as he has been called could not prevent the league from failing. The Oilers were merged into the NHL when  after 7 years, the league folded in 1975

I first heard of Wayne when I was involved in an ABC TV show during the 70's called "Superstars". He was the talk of the competition, beating many more lustrous stars of the day in a grueling decathlon of sports skills. Years later, for a brief time while he was still at Edmonton, I was involved with Wayne's Management Team and was his guest at his first Stanley Cup Final in Long Island.

As a sidebar, while still working for Jack Kent Cooke, along with the late Stanley Ralph Ross, I was co-host on KFI of L.A.s first pure Sportstalk show, "Art and Stan", the Average Fan. We were going great guns, until Mr. Cooke called me into his office and gave me an ultimatum.

"Young man I have a tape here of a show called "Art and Stan" the average fan.  It seems this fellow Art Sheldon who sounds strangely like you is constantly praising The WHA at the Sports Arena.  I suggest if you know him, tell him to quit immediately".  Ah well! That was the end of Sportstalk for me. (I loved the wide-open play of the WHA).

Curses, foiled again.

This time in the Hockey crazy environs known as Los Angeles built on the legacy of Gretzky and the determination as well as grit of Leiwicke will realize the dream of finally hoisting in victory at 11th and Figueroa,

...The Stanley Cup.



Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.