A quick quiz. How are Kobe Bryant and I alike? For starters, let’s count the ways in which we’re not: he makes $25 million a year, has a cool nickname — Black Mamba — along with a way better jump shot and can dunk. The world has to be different for people who can dunk. I wouldn’t know. That two-handed dunk Wednesday night, in the second quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ loss (another loss) to the New Orleans Pelicans, apparently proved too much. Like me -- aha! -- he has a bad right shoulder. Him: torn rotator cuff. Me: torn labrum. Me: surgery last Thursday (thank you, Dr. Keith Feder). Kobe: got examined Friday, and now will be examined again Monday, probably out for the season if he, too, needs surgery.
Kobe, I feel your pain.
I can also recommend many excellent prescription drugs.
So many interesting things have been going on while I have been lying low. Tiger Woods flies to Italy, where he appears with a skeleton-patterned scarf and then a gap tooth. The Kenyan marathoner Rita Jeptoo shows up in Boston 2024 bid committee documents. Then there’s a crazy First Amendment issue in those same Boston documents.
And I’m the one who was on prescription meds?
Let’s start with Woods and significant other Lindsey Vonn. He flew to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, to “surprise” her on the occasion of her winning her 63rd World Cup victory, most-ever by a female alpine skier.
To be clear: Lindsey Vonn is an amazing athlete. She deserves rounds of applause for this accomplishment, especially coming back from two knee injuries that kept her out of last year’s Sochi Olympics.
Vonn had recorded career win 62, tying Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Pröll, in Sunday’s downhill at Cortina. Victory 63 came in Monday’s super-G.
Cortina has always been one of Vonn’s favorite spots, along with Lake Louise, Canada. Nothing — repeat, nothing — is a given in alpine skiing. But it was hardly a surprise that she would win there.
Vonn’s family, in anticipation, had come to Cortina to share in her success.
It would have been kind of weird if Woods hadn’t been there, too, wouldn’t it?
Here's the thing: Woods doesn’t go anywhere without a security presence.
So he shows up. "Surprise"! But only on Monday, and trying to be all incognito-like, but then with the look-at-me skeleton scarf.
Strange, strange, strange.
Then, somehow the scarf drops, and there’s an Associated Press photo of him with the gap tooth.
“No way!” Vonn exclaimed when she saw him, according to press accounts. She also said, “I knew it was him immediately. He loves that stupid mask.”
Immediately, the gap tooth took virtually all the attention away from Vonn, and her accomplishment. The spotlight shifted to Woods.
His agent issued a statement that, in its entirety, read like this:
“During a crush of photographers at the awards’ podium at the World Cup event in Italy, a media member with a shoulder-mounted video camera pushed and surged towards the stage, turned and hit Tiger Woods in the mouth. Woods’s tooth was knocked out by the incident.”
We are to believe that Tiger Woods showed up at an event jam-packed with cameras and videographers and no one — not one single lens — captured this riveting action? It hasn’t yet shown up on TMZ? For real?
What is this, Cortina by Zapruder? A gap in the teeth but are there holes in the story? What?
As the expert alpine ski writer Brian Pinelli wrote in USA Today, quoting race secretary general Nicola Colli, “If you look at the pictures, there was no blood, nothing of pain in his face. He was calm, he was quiet.”
As for the statement itself from Woods’ agent — that’s it? You go to the effort of issuing a statement to the hungry press but there are no words of congratulations from Woods to Vonn? Just: some cameraman knocked out my tooth?
Further, and more to the point: it might be understandable why Woods — or Woods’ people — would want to villainize the media.
But Lindsey Vonn? What’s in that sort of play for her? Or U.S. Skiing?
She is the one cross-over star in winter sports. She is the one who, after all, got hurt and seized the opportunity to make a documentary out of it, which is showing Sunday on NBC. Football players get knee injuries all the time. Do they make documentaries out of their rehab? Of course not. Lindsey Vonn? Why not?
So what’s really going on here?
As was the decision by Boston 2024 organizers to include the photo of the marathoner Jeptoo in their bid presentation, the one that purportedly wowed the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors.
Timeline: that presentation was made in December. Jeptoo, winner of the 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathons, among other major races, had tested positive in November for the banned blood-booster EPO.
Hard to understand how the USOC board could have been so wowed when her picture came up. Was anyone seriously paying attention?
Why didn’t Boston 2024 just go with Meb Keflezighi on that very same page, for goodness’ sake? After all, he’s an American, the 2014 Boston Marathon winner as well and the 2004 Athens marathon silver medalist.
The Boston 2024 documents, moreover, repeatedly observe that the city itself will be “Olympic Park” — for instance, “at the heart of the city, at its reinvented waterfront and in its cherished parks.”
It is understood that these documents are a “plan” and not a finished product. Even so, there is a real reason that in recent editions the International Olympic Committee has opted for real Olympic Parks.
The IOC has said time and again that security is priority No. 1. Olympic Parks are more easily, in a word, secure-able.
Think back to the last Summer Olympics in the United States, which featured tremendous open space in a major American city. Within the IOC, Atlanta 1996 is remembered mostly for its transport and technology woes, and for the bomb that went off in Centennial Park.
The less said here about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings the better. Just this: at this very preliminary stage, has anyone stopped seriously to think about the security implications of making the city of Boston “Olympic Park”?
The provision that caused such controversy mid-week, when it was discovered that the USOC had included in its contract with Boston a non-disparagement provision — that is, city workers would not criticize the Games during the bid process -- this is very serious stuff.
Think back a year ago, before the Sochi 2014 Games, when much of the West was up in arms about a Russian law targeting “propaganda” aimed at gays.
Now the USOC writes into its deal with its chosen bid city a clause that would appear to fairly directly contravene not only the letter but the spirit of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights? The fundamental thing that makes the United States different from so many places around the world?
This is not, despite anyone’s best efforts to explain it away as “boilerplate,” anything of the sort. This is a deliberate attempt to chill speech. It is not, in any way, acceptable.
Granted, the parallels are hardly precise -- but if you were Mr. Putin, wouldn't you find some ironic comedy in this episode, in the effort by the U.S. Olympic Committee, of all parties, to restrict free speech? Wouldn't that seem to him a little bit like a case of the pot calling the kettle black?
While that gets sorted out, mark your calendars: IOC president Thomas Bach is due to attend the Super Bowl next weekend in Arizona.
It will be fascinating to see whether he meets with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft — assuming, of course, the NFL doesn’t do what it should do, which is disqualify the Patriots for deflategate. If this were the Olympics, there's a very good argument to be made that the Patriots should be out and the Indianapolis Colts in. The evidence would seem manifest that the Patriots cheated.
At any rate, it was always understood that while the USOC was always in 2024 for one thing only, and that was to win, at the same time any American bid for 2024 was going to travel a long road. In that spirit, Bach met Wednesday — at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — with the head of the Italian Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, and the Italian premier, Matteo Renzi, to discuss Rome’s bid for the 2024 Games.
Renzi: “We can say that after this meeting the bid for the 2024 Olympic Games can continue with more enthusiasm.”
For the record, and with enthusiasm: Kobe has more gold medals than I do. He also speaks way better Italian.