These are strange days in the arenas and on the playing fields, wouldn't you say?

The White Sox have sent nagging irritant Michael Jordan down to Single A, and the United States government is sending the Patriots to South Korea--probably because they haven't won the AFC East in about a hundred years. A grand jury says that Tonya Harding used funds from the U.S. Figure Skating Association to help finance the whack attack on Nancy Kerrigan. But Tonya copped a plea a couple of weeks back, so instead of going to the slammer she's going to Hollywood, where guys in Armani suits and $300 sunglasses are going to buy her lunch and hand over a ton of dough to make movies about her fascinating life. In that same little corner of the world, Kerrigan used her recent trip to Disneyland to dis Mickey Mouse, who's her new employer.

In pro football, the owners have finally voted to institute the college game's exciting two-point conversion. This has taken only twenty-five years. A lot of NFL coaches, who are ordinarily pretty macho types, say they don't like the idea because it will put more "pressure" on them. Too bad. Because football coaches don't know what pressure is. Pressure is what afflicts a brain surgeon every time the operating-room nurse slaps a scalpel into his hand. Pressure is what a beat cop feels when a stick-up man points a shotgun at her. Pressure is going out to get a loaf of bread in Sarajevo.

Meanwhile, your Denver Broncos have angered two of their traditional rivals, and you can look for revenge when the leaves start to fall. After the Broncos wined and dined Raiders speedball Tim Brown and offered him a salary King Tut would envy, Brown got his fleet feet and his Heisman Trophy back in gear and went right on home to Papa Al Davis, who was clearly cackling behind his sleeve and working over the Broncos' front office the whole time. But Bowlen and company's second choice is the better player. San Diego wideout Anthony Miller, now a Donk, runs more precise routes than Brown, and he has better hands. Last year he grabbed 84 passes for 1,162 yards on a mediocre offense. He's a click slower than Brown, but still the Ferrari John Elway needs for one more ride to the Super Bowl.

Down in sunny Miami, outside (and we mean outside) linebacker Bryan Cox is mighty upset that the NFL fined him ten thousand bucks for making obscene gestures to fans in Buffalo last year. As any fool can tell you, any Bills fan insensitive enough to get the finger from Bryan Cox is guilty of racial discrimination, and he means to prove it in court. Better hire Clarence Darrow, Bry.

Women's tennis, on the other hand, has turned into Snow White and the 700 Dwarfs. German star Steffi Graf has won 50 of her 52 matches so far in 1994, and all five big tournaments. In the last two months, in fact, she has dropped only one set of tennis, and she looms a lock to sweep her second Grand Slam. Hot stuff, huh? Well, no. In another era, one including a reasonable facsimile of Billie Jean King, a Martina Navratilova in decent form and a couple of Chris Everts, Graf would still be a pretty strong competitor. But she wouldn't blow everyone away like Hitler in '39.

Truth be told, the collection of stumblers and pat-ballers and head cases she faces these days look like Helen Keller out there. The great irony, of course, is that the only current player who can stay between the lines with Graf is Monica Seles, who's still traumatized after being stabbed last year at the Hamburg Open. Her attacker, as it turns out, was a German Steffi Graf fan. Rumor has it he's collaborating with Jeff Gillooly on a do-it-yourself book for terrorists. No wonder the women's tour no longer has a corporate sponsor; right now it doesn't deserve one.

And how about little Mikey Andretti? Off he goes to Europe last year, intent on imitating Dad by winning the Formula 1 Drivers Championship and, possibly, learning to eat spaghetti without cutting it up. Three months later home he comes looking like an Iraqi taxi driver who's just been through an ice storm at rush hour. Five accidents for Mike last summer. A slew of nonfinishes. Little matter: The bigger, clumsier (if such things can be called clumsy) Indianapolis cars suit Andretti the Younger just fine once again, and last Sunday he won the first Indy Car event of the year--in Australia.

The baseball season also starts next week, but when the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies roll into town to open against the Rockies Monday, they won't have John Kruk with them. As you probably know, the shaggy, self-deprecating first baseman is undergoing radiation therapy after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. The offending unit has already been removed from Kruk, and while the recovery rate for this type of cancer is excellent, he won't play for several months.

Until then, consider the man who saved John Kruk's life.
It was Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, the Phils' now-departed reliever, who fired an errant pick-off throw into the front of the big first baseman's pants last year, dispatching him to the emergency room. On a later checkup for bruises and the like, the cancer problem showed up. So Kruk credits the Wild Thing with early detection. In all likelihood, neither one of them will ever have another 2-0 count.

The most interesting sports story of the week, however, has nothing to do with Kruk keeping his eye on the ball, or North Carolina flopping in the Big Dance, or the probability of Torville and Dean putting out a contract on that Russian judge. It has to do, as so many great classics do, with Beauty and the Beast.

To wit:
After spending some quality time with Charles Barkley (or not spending it, depending on which supermarket tabloid you read), pop star Madonna has decided she wants an entire NBA basketball team of her own. Hey, if Madonna wants an airline or the Taj Mahal or a country as her plaything, she probably can manage that, too. Such are the prerogatives of the rich and nontalented in the Age of Publicity.

As it happens, though, neither Mr. Barkley's Phoenix Suns nor the club the Material Girl really covets, the Chicago Bulls, is available at the moment. Last time we checked, the Los Angeles Lakers were not for sale, either--not even to Madonna. But that's the team for her. Has to be.

Not only does fellow cover person Jack Nicholson usually grace the front row at the Forum with his Cheshire-cat grin all agleam. Not only do major twentieth-century figures like Keanu Reeves and the brother of Sean Penn's personal fitness trainer drop by to add their luster to the night. Not only that, Magic is back.

Magic Johnson, the man several fellow players said they would not step onto the court with for fear of catching AIDS from one of his jump shots, says he's coming out of retirement to coach the Lakers. And if his bankability in Tinseltown doesn't just about wrap up the deal by which Madonna becomes the newest owner in pro sports, then she's not the greatest actress since Zasu Pitts.

Imagine Opening Night. Six hundred showgirls descend from the arena ceiling on trapezes, each clad only in pink steam. The dazzling figure at center court is Madonna herself, perched in a zirconium-encrusted gondola afloat in a glimmering lake of faux rubies. While the Lakers, wearing copies of the owner's latest coffee-table book inside their shorts, go through warm-up drills, 4,300 vendors hawk Madonna videos in the star-studded throng at $29.95 each. Later, no one gets out without one.

Madonna herself sings the National Anthem--will sing it at every home game, in fact--then demonstrates her love of the game by simulating a different intimacy with each member of the visiting team. At halftime she reviews the grosses. And when the game's over, she invites everyone in the building over to her place for oolong tea and a leather bondage workout.

Then again, maybe the Nuggets would be a sounder choice. Two hours in concert and the owner will be able to finance that new arena the team wants so much.


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