Outside the Lines:
High School Hype


Here's the transcript from Show 142 of weekly Outside The Lines - High School Hype

SUN., DEC. 15, 2002
Host: Bob Ley
Reported by: Tom Rinaldi
Guests: Billy Packer, CBS Sports; Dick Vitale, ESPN; Sonny Vaccaro, Director of Sports Development, Adidas

BOB LEY, HOST- December 15, 2002. In the wake of the nationally televised game involving LeBron James, the question rises -- how does coverage like that affect high school kids? It is our topic ahead, Outside the Lines.

He's in high school and he's the lead story.


J.W. STEWART, ESPNEWS ANCHOR- America's best high school player, LeBron James.


STEWART SCOTT, ESPN SPORTSCENTER ANCHOR- National magazine cover boy ...

KEITH RUSSELL, ESPNEWS ANCHOR- He'll be the first pick in the NBA draft.

LEY- The attention on LeBron James is simply the latest and most glaring example of the media explosion surrounding high school sports. Star players identified and publicized at younger and younger ages.

JOSH BOTTHELF, EDITOR OF DIME MAGAZINE- People love to use the word exploitation. It's unfair to these kids to spin it like that. These kids are getting a tremendous amount of exposure.

TOMMY ZBIKOWSKI, QUARTERBACK, BUFFALO GROVE HIGH SCHOOL- It's exciting when you're a high school kid seeing yourself on TV.

LEY- That attention and coverage on kids 15, 16, 17, what does it do to them?

SEAN MCCURDY, ST. ANTHONY HIGH SCHOOL- You need to act like an adult, because there is always a camera on you.

BOBBY HURLEY SR., HEAD COACH ST. ANTHONY HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL- You miss your adolescence. You reach an age later on where you're looking around and saying, wait a minute, I missed all these things.

LEY- Today on Outside the Lines -- high school hype. What the national attention on youngsters does to the kids and the games they play.

There's a young snowboarder who competes at the senior level. He already endorses a soft drink, and he just signed with a major agency to represent him. The youngster is 12. Earlier this year, patriotism and pride knew no bounds, celebrating the stunning gold medal moment of figure skater Sarah Hughes. She, at the time, was 16. LeBron James is 17 years old. He's headed for the NBA, and he has been for several years. That ship has sailed, as has the debate on whether high school kids belong in the pros. But this morning we'll talk less about LeBron than the thousands of youngsters who want to be like him and may draw that belief, even if it is misguided, from viewing their own reflections in newspapers, on television, and in the general national conversation on their sport. We discuss this high school hype this morning.

I'll be talking live in a moment with arguably the most influential men in the business of college basketball. First, Tom Rinaldi considers the increasingly bright spotlight America turns on its high school athletes and what may hide in the shadows.

ESPN REMOTE DIRECTOR- Five, four, three, two, one.

VITALE - Are you serious?

VITALE- I just watched the best high school player I've ever seen at this stage in high school.

TOM RINALDI, ESPN CORRESPONDENT -More than 11,500 fans, nearly 50 reporters, about a dozen cameras, and more than a million and a half people watching on TV across the country, all focused on a high school basketball game and its star attraction, LeBron James.

LEBRON JAMES, ST. VINCENT-ST. MARY HIGH SCHOOL- They came out to see me, and I thank the fans -- I thank everybody for coming out tonight and showing support for me and my team.

SUSAN VINELLA, CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER- It's sort of a chicken and egg thing. Some people say he's getting the attention because of the media. As a media person, I say we're covering what's happening.

RINALDI- What's happening goes beyond LeBron James. High school sports in America have broken into the big-time media spotlight, with an explosion in coverage in the last decade. From the universe of regional cable outlets hosting their own preps sports programming, to high school prospects who publish their diaries on websites, to polls ranking the top 25 high school football and basketball teams across the country, promising athletes can earn media attention long before graduation.

PETER ROBY, DIRECTOR NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR SPORT IN SOCIETY- We're losing the line between before the media's allowed and where it's not. They're in the locker rooms, they're on the sidelines, they're in the huddle.

LOCAL CABLE PLAY-BY-PLAY MAN FOR BUFFALO GROVE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL- This week's match-up, a battle of unbeatens at 4-0.

LOCAL CABLE COLOR COMMENTATOR FOR BUFFALO GROVE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL - ACCESS can't remember a player that has had more notoriety, more publicity than Tommy Zbikowski.

RINALDI- Tommy Zbikowski's most pressing coverage at times comes from cameras, not opposing defenses, much to the annoyance of his coach.

RICH ROBERTS, HEAD FOOTBALL COACH, BUFFALO GROVE HIGH SCHOOL- It's a game, and I still believe we need to treat it like that. This is not a college or a professional game. It's a high school game played by teenagers.

ZBIKOWSKI- You get the nerves the first time you're on TV, and now it's -- it's comfortable now. It's not that bad.

RINALDI- Zbikowski has had plenty of opportunities to get comfortable. A blue-chip quarterback prospect from Buffalo Grove High School in Illinois, he's already written a diary for ESPN.com and he has been a fixture on regional cable TV shows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE- I'm sure you're drawing a lot of parallels to the young man who (last year) won the Heisman Trophy, Eric Crouch.

ZBIKOWSKI- A lot. I know a couple of people have even compared me and him, but -- really, I think it's hard to be compared to a Heisman Trophy winner when you haven't even played a down of college football.


ZBIKOWSKI- You're still a teenage kid, still trying to have fun in high school.

RINALDI- On tonight's Gwinnett prep rally. Across the country, high schools get high attention, especially on cable television.

RALPH PICHURNE, HOST OF GWINNETT PEP RALLY- Ralph Pachurne high flying here with you for the next 30 minutes, recapping the week that was in Gwinnett County football.

RINALDI- The Gwinnett prep rally debuted 10 years ago.

ERIC HUNTER- Hello and welcome to Gwinnett prep rally on "Channel Two Emetco."

JEFF BATTEN, BATTEN COMMUNICATIONS- When we started off in 1993, we were one notch better than "Wayne's World."

BATTEN - Ready, camera one.

RINALDI- Since then, the show focusing solely on County prep action in Gwinnett County, Georgia, has clearly grown up, having aired 1,000 episodes already. Its staff works on as many as five high school programs at a time.

BATTEN- We've had huge companies advertise on a local cable access show. The Army has spent money with us. Major car manufacturers have spent money with us. Major restaurant chains have spent money with us. There's no doubt that marketers feel like that the high school sports, no matter on what level, is something that is helpful to them.

RINALDI- Cable coverage has grown from Friday night lights to a broader spotlight for one reason -- people watch.

DAN CAPASSO, MANAGER LOCAL PROGRAMMING, COMCAST- Everybody relates to high school. Not everybody's been to college. You know, very few of us make it to the pro ranks. But everybody has a memory of high school.

HIGH SCHOOL CHEERLEADERS- Defense! Go with us. Defense! Defense!

CAPASSO- It's just the purest game going.

RINALDI- These are pictures from a fashion spread in "Dime Magazine" of 17-year-old junior high school junior, Sebastian Telfair. A dazzling point guard many consider to be the best prep player in New York City, Telfair has been the subject of dozens of positive profiles, but these pictures in "Dime," a new basketball magazine, raised eyebrows instantly.

BOTTHELF- I think a lot of people did have problems with the photos of Telfair. But the people who had problems have never been exposed to this world. You know, he was dressed like a 16-year-old kid. And hip-hop is the prevailing culture in the game of basketball, and it makes some people uncomfortable.

SEBASTIAN TELFAIR, LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL- I didn't think it was going to turn out how it turned out. You know, I thought they were saying nice (things). You know, I was modeling clothes and things like that. Then when I saw the magazine and the way they put it, with models and stuff, people blew it up more than it was. But that's, like, not me.

ROBY- That's why the media has to use some of its better judgment, because that can be considered exploitation.

BOTTHELF- People love to use the word exploitation, you're exploiting these athletes, you're exploiting Sebastian Telfair by putting him in "Dime Magazine," you're exploiting LeBron James by putting him on ESPN. But I think it is unfair to these kids to spin it like that. These kids are getting a tremendous amount of exposure.

RINALDI - One in 35,000 high school basketball players today reaches the NBA. One. Yet as prep schoolers are deemed stars and their teams appear on TV across the country more often, what's the message? For a teenager today, is making it on to TV a goal unto itself?

BUFFALO GROVE PLAY-BY-PLAY GUY- Zbikowski, on the keeper, end zone, touchdown, Buffalo Grove. Four yards out, Tommy Zbikowski.

ZBIKOWSKI- It's exciting when you're a high school kid seeing yourself on TV.

OBIE NWADIKE, ST. ANTHONY HIGH SCHOOL- You're put on camera, makes you feel like you did something, and actually you haven't accomplished anything. But, I mean, it actually gives you a good feeling. You feel almost like you're a pro.

RINALDI - The pros don't practice in a rented gym like the St Anthony Friars do. Coach Bob Hurley's Jersey City high school team has won 23 straight championships and five players have reached the NBA. But even with the school facing closure due to a budget crisis, Hurley doesn't believe televising games for money is an answer.

HURLEY SR - I don't know that we want to start getting in situations where TV is contacting, like the nun in my school and asking if we're available for a day for games. I think that would be -- that's out of the realm of what we should be doing right now.

MCCURDY- Kids are going to be trying to show off and do different things that if the camera wasn't there, they would just be playing a regular game. Now that they're on ESPN, some kids might get intimidated by it, and some kids might thrive to it.

HURLEY- That becomes why I think a lot of our players now aren't as good as perhaps they could be, because there's so much adulation they're receiving at an age when they're just unprepared for it.

RINALDI- Prepared or not, sports coverage is already looking to high school and beyond. ESPN is contemplating plans to broadcast a national high school basketball tournament. The Football Network, a new channel hoping to launch next fall, will show high school games, as well as Pop Warner action.

JERRY SOLOMON, PRESIDENT, THE FOOTBALL NETWORK- I think there's more attention being given to the younger kids because kids are becoming better athletes at a much younger age.

RINALDI- And ESPN The Magazine's most recent issue, with LeBron James on the cover, just featured Aaron Locke for his potential as a future Shaquille O'Neal. He hasn't made SportsCenter yet, though. Locke is 6 years old.

LEY- Tom Rinaldi. To consider high school hype, we welcome Billy Packer. He has been broadcasting college basketball for 30 years. This year will mark his 28th consecutive Final Four, the last 21 as the lead analyst for CBS sports. Billy joins us this morning from Charlotte. Good morning, Billy.


LEY- Dick Vitale has been with ESPN since the network's first basketball season in the Fall of 1979. He also broadcasts on ABC. Dick joins us this morning from Sarasota, Florida. Good morning, Dick.

VITALE - How are you doing, Robert?

LEY- Sonny Vaccaro. His title is director of sports development for Adidas, a title that doesn't begin to address his influence in the sport of high school and college basketball, and Sonny joins us this morning from L.A. Good morning, Sonny.


LEY- Let me begin with Billy, if I could. Billy, what do you make of this armchair psychology and sociology we've seen throughout the week in the wake of the LeBron James game? What has the debate missed?

PACKER- Well, what it has missed, I think, is the exploitation is not of LeBron James or high school athletics. The exploitation is of the sport of basketball, and that's the little world that I live in. When you take in consideration 10 years ago, without question, America was number one in men's basketball throughout the world. In just 10 short years, we went from number one to number six in the world championships. Our junior players finished third. They finished with a bronze medal in the world junior qualifying in the men's; so therefore, we have gone from the world's superpower of basketball through all of the way that the basketball has been handled in the last ten years, to a team that just was sixth place using our professional athletes in the world championships.

LEY- And this all relates to high school?

PACKER- If this were to happen -- Bob, if this had happened, let's say, as an example, if I said to you that 10 years from now -- that's been a 10-year span -- that the United States and its military power would go from rank number one in the world to number six in 10 years' time, there would be hell to pay. But that's what's happened to us in basketball, and I think it's been through the exploitation and the misuse of the game by all of us, and that includes the shoe companies, ESPN, CBS, the NBA, and announcers like Dick and myself that sometimes get in a situation of making things much bigger than they really need to be at that given time.

LEY- You've laid out a great menu of things we can talk about this morning, but Dick, do you draw a straight line from a high school telecast and attention on high schoolers to the decline of the sport as a whole?

VITALE- Well, you know, I can understand what Billy is saying, because obviously I think some of the rules out there create the problem that we have and that our players can't get better. I remember Nick Collison telling me he's got Roy Williams with him on the college campus in the summer, and he can't get Roy to work with him because our rules are on archaic. They don't allow our players to develop, they don't let the coaches work with our kids to develop them, and that's why, when you go to Europe, these players are playing consistently. We talk about exploitation.

All I know is this, LeBron James has created such an unbelievable excitement and interest. I'm at a party last night, and the only thing they wanted to talk to me about -- I wanted to talk about Florida, I wanted to talk about the Maryland game. They didn't want to talk about it. They wanted to talk about LeBron James. Exploitation to me, Robert, is very simple -- when you have unsavory people trying to make money off of kids, what we had here was a situation...

LEY- Who are these unsavory people? Identify them.

VITALE- We talk about people behind the scenes, trying to hustle, make money off t-shirts, etcetera. It's not unsavory when ESPN sits in negotiations with a promoter and with the schools, and they agree to televise it because the runaway freight train of hype on this kid was so big over two years, cover of Sports Illustrated. I think it can be a beautiful story. I look for that which is positive, not negative.

PACKER- Bob, Bob. The unsavory characters could start right with Dick, with ESPN, with guys like myself, with Sonny. We all need to step to want plate and say we are the unsavory characters, and what can we…

VITALE- Well, I don't know about unsavory...

PACKER- Dick, Dick. You work for Adidas. Sonny works for Adidas. He doesn't...

VITALE- No, I don't work for Adidas. You are wrong. I don't work for Adidas, Billy. I don't work for Adidas. Let's get that straight. I don't work for Adidas. I give speeches like I do for any corporation, and if they contract me, I give a speech. Just like you do.

PACKER- We all are so anxious to be calling other people the unsavory characters. We have all played a part and a role in taking basketball from...

VITALE- There is no doubt about it...

PACKER- ... where it is to where it's become.

LEY- Let me get a T.O. baby, to use one of your phrases.

VITALE- The definition of unsavory, I didn't buy that, I don't buy that at all...

LEY- Sonny Vaccaro...

VITALE- ...when you criticize me for televising the game, which is so ludicrous and absurd...

PACKER- No, it has to start with all of us.

VITALE- Well, I agree. But we're not unsavory.

LEY- Let's bring in our third panelist.

VITALE- I'm going to church to pray for you and everybody else after I leave here.

LEY- Sonny, who is savory and who is unsavory? I mean, you've been at the heart of this debate for your lifetime.

VACCARO- Robert, you know, the unsavory part is undistinguishable, Bob, because you don't know what people are doing for bad purposes. I understand Dick's plea and I understand what Billy Packer is trying to say, but basically they're both saying something that is nonexistent. You know, I don't know if we can call anyone unsavory if they are doing something with consent of the people involved.

I don't know if coaching is so bad that Billy thinks our game is falling apart. The very people he's talked about, that's looting these games, all these high school kids that lost, they were coached by their high school coaches, Billy. All these pro guys that lost, they were coached by great college coaches.

You know, I understand Billy's plea with the coaching, and I agree with that, and I understand Bobby Hurley's opening introduction to this, because we do need coaching. But what has happened, ladies and gentlemen, we have picked on a very few people, young kids, in this society to have a whole contest on a whole debate about it, and I think it's wrong. I'm going to get a chance to say this. I think it's the most racist thing I have ever seen in my life, is the picking on high school and AAU basketball players, and I think the more we do this, the bigger the racism and the schism gets, Bob, and I am part and parcel to every part of it, and my whole life has been devoted to this. So I will let my other guys speak.

LEY- I mentioned Sarah Hughes at the top, I mentioned the snowboarder. We see the Olympic athletes. There is not the hue and cry, Billy, as when young black kids are associated with AAU coaches, and here we are, four middle aged white guys talking about this.

PACKER- Well, let me explain something to you, why I say this is parallel to men's basketball. Let's just take what we've done with women's basketball in America; the racial situation is basically the same. Women's basketball in the early 1980's was so far behind the Europeans and the Russians, people said we could never catch up.

You know what our women did this summer? They won the gold in the world championship. You know what our women's junior team did? They won the gold. You know what they beat Brazil by in the championship game? Over 30 points. So we have moved in a direction of men's basketball, under the same circumstances, in an entirely different way than we moved in women's basketball, and I think that's because of all of us that had a responsibility to make the game something that it's not.

And we all owe, and whatever we can do to get back on track, to make the game the important thing and not exploit the game, as we all have in different ways. And I'm not -- unsavory might have been the wrong term in respect to somebody thinks that being underworld. Sonny does what he does in a great way. If you ever write a chapter on the history of merchandising basketball, Sonny Vaccaro has to be a major factor in that. And I applaud him, because Sonny in this respect, is always called by many writers to be a guy that works under the table.

I don't think that's the case at all. I think he's worked on top of the table within the system. So in that regard, I agree to Sonny. The point that Sonny and Dick and everybody in basketball is going to have to agree on, however, is we have taken our men's game in this sport and taken it from world dominance to something right now that is questionable, and that's where we have to take account and be held accountable for.

LEY- OK, Dick, I know you wanted to respond, we'll get to it in just a second. We will have more on high school hype, as we continue Outside the Lines.

BOTTHELF- You don't hear the outcry when there's a 15-year-old tennis player or an ice skater. But when it's, you know, a poor black kid or just a black kid in general, I think -- you know, especially when he's part of the hip-hop culture that a lot of white America's not used to, that is something that grabs peoples attention.

ROBY- If you are going to have an opportunity to sell the rights to your television games, to your sports games, to a local cable operator who knows he can drive revenue up, you are going to be tempted to do that, and the superintendent of schools, the principal, the athletic director and the coaches involved have to get together and say, if in fact we are going to try to do these things, then how we going to do it to minimize the intrusion on the kids and keep it in its proper perspective.

LEY- That's Peter Roby. We continue now with Billy Packer, Dick Vitale and Sonny Vaccaro. Dick, the game you telecast the other night, the school's realized some money off of that, but how many schools realistically are in that position, and what the temptation might be for other schools who think they have the next big thing to do the same thing?

VITALE- Well, you got to realize we are dealing with a rare situation here. This kid is a phenom. A teenage phenom. I will put...

LEY- All right. But there is one of those every couple of years, though, Dick. Isn't there?

VITALE- I was very used. Out of all of superstars, Mary Lou Retton, Tiger Woods. Nobody went crazy and screamed when Tiger Woods was on TV in the U.S. Amateurs win. Bottom line...

LEY- Right, but we're not talking about a school though, possibly seeing it as a possible lure to make money.

VITALE- The bottom line is here, we had a phenom, and there was curiosity. Everybody went bananas to see him. I think the one common denominator -- and I don't know the correlation here -- where I disagree with Billy, that's a whole different issue about the world championships and about those games and the development of players. The bottom line is a situation where Billy has great passion for the game. I have great passion.

So does Sonny. And I couldn't agree more with him about Sonny, who is so responsible for coaches making thousands of dollars wearing shoes, when I was coaching -- Sonny, I wish you were there. I got three free Converse, and I thought it was a great thing. Everybody makes a big thing if Billy and I disagree. We are different styles. I'm shy and introverted. He is loud and boisterous. But the bottom line is, we both have a common denominator. We love the game. We all are part of the game.

LEY- Let's talk about the game. Sonny, what's happened to the high school game? Yes, we've got great kids, we identify the best of them earlier and earlier. But for the 99.9 percent of the teams and schools that aren't LeBron James or Sebastian Telfair, what's happened to that game in the last 10 years?

VACCARO- The game that LeBron played, that's what happened. Oak Hill Academy, that's not a high school. The media has made it out to be one of the greatest things in the world. They are number one in USA today. Dick pontificated about their 501 wins and two losses over the years. That's not hype.

VACCARO- No, no, no. Dick, Dick, Dick.

VITALE- No, I didn't, Sonny. No, that's not true, Sonny. I didn't mention that at all.

VACCARO- OK, I am using that -- OK, I don't want this to get into a verbal thing. Bob asked me a question. My point is, Oak Hill Academy is not a high school. A lot of these schools aren't high schools. We're talking, what Billy and Dick and I are used to, the town where you grew up and there was 55 kids in the town and you went to the high school. Bob, it's gone beyond that. We recruit. See, my gripe against the high schools, it's not the high school we knew. The coaches from the high school teams -- you know, most of these guys are not teachers. They...

VITALE- They're not -- a high school coach has been removed from the formula because of AAU competition in the summer. You know, a lot of AAU coaches do a great job.

VACCARO- Thank God for the AAU, because it gives our kids something to do...

VITALE- I agree with that.

LEY- Billy, let me bounce that off of you, because the AAU coaches and the AAU programs are a convenient whipping boy for the excesses, or what people see as the excess. Do you share that opinion, thank God for the AAU's?

PACKER- I don't share that opinion at all. Whenever a player can get an opportunity to maximize his skills and move forward as a basketball player and certainly competition against other people and getting an opportunity to play in the summer, it's something that I did -- basically went down to the local playground and played.

VITALE - I say Amen to that Bob.

PACKER - Obviously my skills could have been advanced if I'd have played against better players more often, so I don't fault the AAU programs at all.

What I fault is the exploitation. As an example, Oak Hill ranked number one in the nation. I did a game yesterday, Maryland against Florida, two quality college basketball teams. Based on what I saw the other night in the television game -- and I really charted that game -- there was not a player on Oak Hill's team that could have affected in any way, shape, or form the Maryland-Florida game, and yet we're talking about Oak Hill like these are a great group of players that are destined to take over the college game. It is amazing to me how promotion and hype have turned people into quality. That's not necessarily what makes quality.

LEY- Whose promotion, whose hype?

PACKER- Well, let's face it, let's take all of us. Let's take -- let's start off with the game the other night, talking about this -- the number one team in the nation, "USA Today" was ranking them...

VITALE- What I said, Billy, during the show. Billy, if you heard the show. If you say you heard the show...

PACKER- I listened to the show very closely.

VITALE- Well, Billy, I questioned the number one rankings. I said I don't know how they come up with these rankings.

PACKER- Well, Dick, let me...

VITALE- I have no idea how they come up with those.

PACKER- Dick, let me question this, and I just heard your excerpt there again. This is the greatest high school player I've ever seen. You are an intelligent guy in regard to basketball, as is Sonny. I've only seen the young man play one time.

So I sat down and I said to myself, of all the high school players I've ever seen, Billy, rank your first and second team. And you know what, LeBron James doesn't fit my first or second team all-time in terms of high school players. That's where we get out of the reality, into the hype. And believe me, if I were to name the guys that I picked, Moses Malone, Connie Hawkins, Wilt Chamberlain, Calvin Murphy, Pete Maravich, George McGinnis, Kevin Garnett, Kareem Jabbar, Pearl Washington, and Austin Carr -- LeBron James does not make that 10. And so we...

VITALE- Well, that's your opinion.

LEY- Let me get back to the topic...

VITALE- You're saying -- wait a minute, time-out, time-out.

LEY- No, Dick, Dick, Dick, hold on.

VITALE- I have a problem with that, Bob. Number one, he is saying that...

LEY- Quickly.

VITALE- ...now after we know the results...

PACKER- No, no, I'm talking about -- as high school...

VITALE- I don't buy that. I don't buy that.

PACKER- ... players 17 years of age, Dick, he does not rank with any of those 10 as a 17-year-old player.

VITALE- No, not now, because those guys have done it, Billy.

PACKER. No, period. I'm talking about when they were 17 years of age.

VITALE- Oh, I don't know about that.

LEY- The point is moot to our discussion. He's a hell of a player. But Sonny, let's talk about the...

VITALE- He's more than a hell of a player. And I agree with Jay Bilas, who said on our radio, who I respect ...

PACKER- Jay wasn't old enough to see Connie Hawkins play -- or Wilt Chamberlain play.

LEY- Let's talk about -- upfront without any money, Sonny. And that's where a lot of people have unease about this. LeBron James for example. There has been some lip service paid to him going to college, but from my understanding at these high school camps he was staying at, and kids would stay in the dorm, he would be in the hotel. It would be extra so-called benefits given to him. So he was ineligible anyway, to go to college from several years ago.

That's where the unease. You understand where people look at these camps, look at the shoe contracts, look at high schools having shoe contracts, and have an unease with this.

VACCARO- You know, it is funny. They have an unease with that, but they don't have an unease with me paying UCLA a lot of money and Nike paying North Carolina a lot of money, and the coaches that Dick referred. See, my problem with this whole set, Bob, is we only have an unease with the lowest common denominator, the least educated of all of them. The high school principal, the high school athletic director -- These people aren't really capable of running a big, first-class organization.

And certainly the high school kid, LeBron notwithstanding, doesn't really understand all the monetary situations happening -- things around him -- at this point in time. But we go and take it one step further and go to the more educated people, the college presidents. Well, they've accepted all the money that you're alluding to, Bob.

I've been beat over the head for 25 years, and I'm proud of getting beat over the head because of what I've done was made you think. You know what I've also done? I offered you money and you took it. So, we're going back, and I watched the previous people talk about exploitation and using all that. No one's exploiting anybody here if somebody else takes something knowingly and willingly and it's a partnership, Bob.

VITALE- Hey Bob. Let me say this, Bob.

LEY- And you -- hold on, Dick, just for a second. Just to establish. We talked about LeBron James. It's either you or Nike is going to put $25 million -- or even add one -- put $25 million into LeBron James' pocket shortly, right?

VACCARO- I'd do it tomorrow morning. I would do it yesterday morning, Bob. I would have done it the first time I saw him two-and-a-half years ago. But you know, the shame about it is, LeBron and his family couldn't make some sort of agreement to do this and put it in a trust fund. The shame about it is all the speculation that we're talking about it. You know, because it's a business deal that the corporate community's willing to do. Nike wants to do it. We're willing to do it. And LeBron's willing to do it.

So why can't he do it? Why can't any child do it? And that's my problem, Bob, with the whole thing. I'm not going to argue with Billy and Dick on the rationale of the game. I'm going to argue with them on the rationale of these people not allowing to better themselves at this point in time, and also, don't ever forget, we're talking to the people, and we made the rules, as Dick alluded to, the hardest for them to understand. These rules are so ambiguous, it's impossible. I will die -- excuse me, Richard -- I will die fighting for, you know, these kids and these people to have a right to share in the wealth of the whole God-dang situation.


PACKER- Bob, I agree in Sonny's position, because he's always been upfront about all this. But let me tell you the gamble that Sonny's taking. Let's talk about LeBron James. I have talked to many NBA people, and they say that he won't be a factor in their league until at least three seasons.

Can I tell you, if they talk about $25 million shoe contracts, there will be $25 million within three years in terms of his NBA contract if he's the Lottery number one guy. That means that in the three-year period of time that most NBA people agree he will not be a factor, there will be a $45 million investment in this young man, assuming that he turns out to be as good as Dick says that he's going to be, or that people are projecting he will be.

LEY- And what's wrong with that?

PACKER- I applaud Sonny in this respect. If you're willing to make a $45 million -- or a portion of 50 percent of a $45 million gamble on a player that may or may not be the next Michael Jordan, I applaud Sonny for going forward. And here's one of the things I really agree with Sonny.

Here's where I have a problem with the NCAA as an example. This young man should be allowed to have personal counsel, and it should be paid for by those people that are generating income so that he can make an intelligent decision of what he is going to do, not only with the money and when he should take it and how he should take it.

Can we expect a young man who does not have a father, has a mother that is not in a position to make these kind of determinations over multi-million dollar contracts, that this boy is prevented from having that opportunity to have proper council? That council is going to be working with the Sonny Vaccaro's, and unfortunately, we have our heads buried in the sand in regard to players like this that are phenoms, but to gamble...

VITALE- I will tell you this...

PACKER- ... in my estimation, I am amazed at Sonny or the people at Nike can go to Phil Knight and say, hey, let's spend $25 million on a guy we are not sure is going to be there.

LEY- All right. Just a quick note. The Sports Reporters are coming along in just a second, shortly after 10:00 Eastern. Dick, go ahead, respond.

VITALE- Well, I just want to simply say this. You know, we're talking about LeBron James. What about DeAngelo Collins? What about Lenny Cooke? What about all those that don't make it? If you really want to solve the problems out there, you can solve them very simply. Very simply. Make all freshman ineligible academically...

LEY- All right, Dick. Chances of that happening are what?

VITALE- OK, but you want to solve problems there? That's one way. Here is the second one. Number two. Why in baseball does it work so beautifully, where a kid, once he enters the college campus can't go to the draft until after his third year? That way it opens the door for kids like LeBron. If they want to go to the pro's after high school, so be it. Let them go to the pros. The college game will go on and on. You know, there are a lot of other kids out there. We are talking about a handful of kids. LeBron James.

What about Omar Cook right now? What about kids like Rod Grizzard, Marcus Taylor? All these kids who got bad advice who listened to guys on the street filling their heads up, who thought they were going to be first round draft choices, and they are not drafted, and they are thrown to the wayside...

PACKER- Dick, Dick, Dick. Look in the mirror...

VITALE- That's the problem.

PACKER- Dick, look in the mirror. You are one of the guys that hyped these players at a point where it is ridiculous. As an example, the game I did yesterday, Maryland and Florida. Chris Wilcox, Darnell Harvey. Two players that left those particular schools. You know what they are averaging? Seven minutes a game in the NBA. One point and one rebound...

VITALE- Exactly...

PACKER- And yet these guys were the Diaper Dandies, the super dupers. They can't miss lottery picks. No they were not...

LEY- Time out. Time out.

VITALE- Time out Billy.

PACKER- ...they are beyond the point of their ability.

LEY- Sonny, you talk to all these kids, you know about them all the time. But Sonny -- Sonny could be closer than anybody -- to the best high school kids year in and year out. To what extent to what they see on the winter nights, when they -- and Dick and I started this back in the 1980s -- talking about high school recruits, and we all share on the incentive. There is an incentive to be shared.

VITALE- There are a lot of big talk shows now. Every talk show...

LEY- OK, but to what extent, Sonny, do these kids listen and revel in hearing their names mentioned and start to believe they are better than they are, because they see themselves on television?

PACKER- They do.

VACCARO- They look forward to it. They look forward to coming to the camps, playing in the all-star games. I agree on that theory. But the only thing that Richard forgot here, is Marcus Taylor was guided by his father. Marcus Taylor didn't play in the AAU circuit. I am saying to you, and the other two kids you referred to, Dick, and it is a question I will direct back to Billy. I don't honestly believe that 90 percent of the kids who we have talked about, who failed because they may or may not have left school too early, or went out of high school, Richard, academically were qualified to go to college in the first place.

VITALE- Yes, but if they knew they had to go to college, Sonny, but see if the kid wants -- I have no problem with a kid going to the pro's out of high school if that is what he wants to do. I know some beautiful people that don't go to college. College is not for everyone. There are a lot of hard working, blue collar people, and if the kid wants to further his skills, and basketball is what he wants to do, so be it. College is for those that want to be there, and want to go to school.

And the bottom line is, as far as hype or Billy says, our job is to talk about the kids we see. And I will never apologize for saying that a kid is a Diaper Dandy. I will never apologize for saying a kid is a superstar. I will pour my heart out to that, pour my enthusiasm out to that. The bottom line is, remember, you can't hide talent. And when a kid is talented like LeBron James, you are not going to hide him. People want to see him, and he will...

LEY- Now, Dick. If you hide him...

VITALE- ... be on TV. And nothing...

LEY- ... but at the same time...

VITALE- ... and that is the bottom line.

LEY- Billy. By the time we get to March, over the last 10 years, what's happened to the quality of the college game? The best are gone.

PACKER- Absolutely, the college game has been diluted...

VITALE- The NBA games too, Billy...

PACKER- ... excuse me, Dick. I believe he was talking to me. The college game ...

VITALE- The NBA games as well.

PACKER- ... has been diluted. The NBA has been diluted horribly. There are 60 guys that have college eligibility who are now out of college, supposedly playing in the NBA. Start to try to name who they are and how they have affected the NBA game. It is amazing to me to see how much the NBA game has been diluted at the expense of the college game, and both of them have been drastically effected in the ability to play on the court. It is because guys have been hyped into believing that they are something that they are not, and the NBA being willing to go ahead and talk about signing a guy on potential rather than performance.

LEY- Well then, we all...

VITALE- I agree with Billy...

LEY- Let me ask you this. There is a new head...

VITALE- I agree with Billy there.

LEY- Well, Dick. Let me ask you this. There is a new head of the NCAA. It is the man who fired Bobby Knight, Myles Brand, president of Indiana University. He has talked about penalizing schools on the basis of graduation rates, and rewarding schools on the basis of graduation rates. It rarely gets to graduating with the best players these days. Dick, is such a thing even feasible?

VITALE- Well, I will tell you this, Bob. If you really care about graduated players, then you make freshmen ineligible; let them enjoy their freshman year.

LEY- But Dick, this is not going to happen, is it?

VITALE- Let the -- well, I don't know if it is going to happen. If you really care -- but of course, financially that will not happen. I agree with Billy whole-heartedly about the quality of play on the NBA, the collegiate level, and that is why I say, a David Stern who had came out with a 20-year-old...

VACCARO- Please, Bob...

VITALE- ... age limit, was also...

VACCARO- Bob, let me...

VITALE- ...something that was very interesting. David, a great commissioner ...


VITALE- ... I thought that if he could sit down...

PACKER- OK, he is not a great commissioner...

VITALE- Wait a minute here...

PACKER- ... he is a good executive for 29 owners. He is not a great commissioner in regard to the status of basketball.

VITALE- I think he is pretty good.

PACKER- He is having a disastrous effect with respect on basketball.

VITALE- I think he has done a great job in marketing. I think that if David Stern could sit down with the Players' Union and with the NCAA, and come up with some...

PACKER- What dream world do you live in?

VITALE- ... sanity.


VITALE- Well, you know, I have been dreaming. I've had not….

LEY- We have 30 seconds in the television world, guys, and I have got the clock. So we are going to move on.

VITALE- Bob, Bob...

LEY- Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick. Hold on just a second. I am going to give each one of you a chance for a closing comment to wrap it up, and ...

VITALE- Hey, I got to go to church, Bob, you told me 10:30 mass, man. I have got to go pray for William, Sonny and me...

LEY- You would have been gone if your answers were shorter, so you can pray on shorter answers.

VITALE- No, I am going to tell our boss now, you promised me 10:00. My wife is waiting, the kids are waiting...

LEY- Alright. Hold on.

VITALE- I got to go pray for you guys.

LEY- Let's go around the horn, and Sonny, where are we going to be in five years in this entire situation?

VACCARO- You know, Bob, I don't know where we are going to be in five years. The only thing I question, my two honorable friends across from you there. You know, tell me about the University of Minnesota and tell me about the University of Michigan. All these great universities that went in and told these kids they were getting great educations. I don't want to go on ad infinitum, Bob.

But the college game is nothing more than a minor league used and paid for so the colleges and the coaches got very, very wealthy. I am sick of listening to the greatness of the college sports. I am sick at listening to universities, and I am sick of listening -- you know, Mr. Myles Brand could be the president of the NCAA.

You know, he had a situation in Indiana that he did or didn't take care of. I have no idea what he did or didn't do. But I do know that the people running the Big 10, the people running the Southeastern Conference, they are the two biggest conferences in the world. These two conferences are infested with nothing but illegalities. And you sit here and tell me about high school and AAU? I am repulsed at that, because no one wants to address damn Michigan and Minnesota and all the damn schools that go on. Now I got my five cents -- I love you, Bob Ley.

LEY- All right, Billy. Reacting wrap-ups.

PACKER- Well, here is what my opinion is, and this is the only way we are going to move in a positive direction in regard to men's basketball in this country. There needs to be a summit. All the different diversions that have been involved in this game, including the NBA, the NCAA, AAU basketball, men like Sonny Vaccaro, the Dick Vitale's of this world, the networks that are involved in this, the NBA Players' Association.

Nothing starts without the NBA Players' Association and David Stern coming to the table. I think if all those entities got together in a room, understanding each other's problems, and you can see they are diverse in regard to some of the things that Sonny has brought up. That is the only way to put this game in a direction that can be positive. Otherwise, we are going to see it, I think, continue in decline and we will find our position in basketball maybe not even sixth in years to come.

LEY- Dick, a quick comment please.

VITALE- Well I would love to have seen someone like C.M. Newton or Dave Gavitt or somebody like the Gene Corrigan, as the executive director of the NCAA, or Tom Jorgensen. Somebody that is involved in terms of the athletic sea. Bottom line is until we can clean up the entire situation where we have this insanity going on.

I mean, Sonny brought up Michigan, and that is a great, great point. I mean that was such a humiliation and embarrassment which took place there with the Fab Five. And to penalize innocent kids that are there now I think is really a crime. But, Billy, I left you two tickets to see LeBron play. You didn't show up. You are just like Elvis, man. You didn't show up.

LEY- All right...

PACKER- Let's not get off on this tangent.

VITALE- No, we got to get off this tangent.

LEY- Billy Packer, Dick Vitale, Sonny Vaccaro, we could have gone for hours. Maybe sometime we will. Gentlemen, thank you all for an honest dialogue. I appreciate it.

VACCARO- Thank you, Bob.

LEY- We continue....

PACKER- Thank you, Bob.

LEY- ...in...

VITALE- Take care, Bob.

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