Shoe biz score: Its Nike 13, Reebok 3
This week, Nike signed
13-year-old soccer phenom Freddy Adu to a multiyear endorsement deal worth about $1 million. What next, Reebok dipping into the cradle for a 3-year-old?
It has happened, sort of. Reebok has announced that it will build a marketing campaign around 'Lil' Mark Walker Jr. of Kansas City, Mo., a 3-year-old prodigy it will bill as 'the future of basketball.' Lil Mark will be featured knocking down shots on an 8-foot basket in a TV commercial.
Walker's mother, LaShawn, serves as his press agent and promoter, and she has been in touch with every media outlet in Kansas City about her son. She shipped video of Lil Mark to Reebok and, sadly, the shoe company bought.
But that's a different story than the one of Adu, a native of Ghana who has lived in Washington, D.C., for the last five years. Adu, who was offered a lucrative deal from Italian pro team Inter Milan when he was 11, is a member of the U.S. under-17 national team and is an incredible prospect. He has signed with a sports agency and relinquished his amateur standing with his Nike deal, though he never intended to play collegiately.
The kid is a whiz, and, through an accelerated program, he's scheduled to graduate from high school next spring. Still, there's something unsettling about all of this. Anyone has a right to earn a living, no matter what age. But child laws are meant to protect the growth of children. At 13, Freddy Adu is still a child. You wonder what he will be like in a decade or so. And you wonder why a sports and apparel company considers it necessary to sign someone at such a young age.
• Bob Albers was in the eye of the storm last week, both figuratively and literally, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Albers, the 62-year-old chief executive officer of United States (Franz) Bakery in Portland, played in the Colonial pro-am in the same fivesome as Ñ ta-da! Ñ Annika Sorenstam.
Bank of America, a Franz customer, is a prime sponsor of the Colonial, so it offered 100 people the chance to qualify for a spot in the pro-am a month before the event. Albers shot 75, qualified and, through his good fortune, earned a date with the belle of the golf ball.
Trouble was, it rained cats and dogs.
'Just horrible Ñ like our worst day in Portland,' says Albers, for 18 years a member of TGIF, the group that runs the LPGA Safeway Classic. 'I went through four gloves and every towel in my bag. I was afraid the club would slip out of my hands and hit somebody.'
The round was called off after 10 holes, 'and they absolutely made the right choice,' says Albers, who carries a 4 handicap.
Still, Albers got his time in the spotlight next to Sorenstam, whom he knew from her appearances in the Portland tournament. He experienced first-hand what she lived with that week.
'I never thought it would be like this,' Sorenstam told Albers at the first tee.
'Are you nervous?' Albers asked her.
'How can you not be?' she responded.
'If you think you're nervous, multiply it by five for me,' Albers told her.
Albers: 'There were people standing five and 10 deep around every tee. People were lined along the entire fairway on all the holes, yelling, 'Go Annika!' I have never played before a crowd like that Ñ not even close. I played OK, but it wasn't easy.'
Albers came away with increased admiration for Sorenstam.
'Annika is a great athlete, clearly the most dominant female golfer in the world, and she has worked at it,' Albers says. 'She has an exercise routine that would stagger almost any athlete, one that includes 1,000 sit-ups a day and pull-ups with 25-pound weights around her waist. She's a great ball-striker, but she flies the ball 230 or 240 on the drive while the men fly it 280. And her putting let her down in the tournament. She had eight three-putts or she would have made the cut.
'Annika is probably a prelude of what will come on the LPGA Tour in the next five to 10 years. I mean, someone like Michelle Wie Ñ imagine her in five years if she does her weight training. She will hit the ball with the men.'
Michelle, of course, is the 13-year-old Hawaiian sensation who will play in the Safeway Classic Sept. 26-28 at Columbia Edgewater.
• Former Westview High standout Trevor Crowe is expected to be in Arizona's lineup as the designated hitter today as the Wildcats face Notre Dame in the NCAA Regionals.
The 5-11, 185-pound Crowe had a successful freshman year, hitting .317 Ñ the Wildcats batted .329 as a team Ñ with 14 doubles and 13 stolen bases. This is only the second NCAA Tournament appearance by Arizona since 1993.
• Tom Briggs, who spent three seasons (1997-99) with the now-defunct Portland Forest Dragons, has been named Lineman of the Year in the Arena Football League.
The 6-5, 270-pound Briggs plays for the Dallas Desperadoes and under coach Joe Avezzano. A third-quarter concussion took Briggs out of the game, and his loss was huge as the Desperadoes fell 49-45 in a first-round playoff game against Georgia.
• Oregon's Luke Jackson, Gonzaga's Blake Stepp and Utah's Tim Frost are among 51 players invited to try out for the U.S. national basketball team. The trials are today through Sunday in Colorado Springs, Colo. The team will play in the Pan Am Games in the Dominican Republic in August.
• University of Portland's Ryan Craig is shooting for All-America status when he competes in the 10,000 meters June 10-14 at the NCAA Championships in Sacramento, Calif.
Craig, a 6-3, 140-pound junior from Spokane, had a time of 29 minutes, 4 seconds at the Stanford Invitational in March and is a good bet to break the school record of 28:48 set by teammate Joe Driscoll last season. Craig probably won't do it at the NCAA meet, where strategy normally dictates a slow race, but he hopes to finish among the top eight.
Coach Rob Conner worries only about Craig's late-season stamina. Craig takes supplements for an iron deficiency that has plagued him for several years.
'It's not that he's feeling great, but he keeps running well enough to surprise us,' Conner says. 'If Ryan places in the top 10 at nationals, we will be ecstatic. I think it's safe to say that when he's done, we'll call him the greatest all-time distance runner at UP.'
• Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart is pushing to increase the Wildcats' fan base through an areawide golf event called the Big Blue Caravan, which he says is patterned after the Oregon State caravan developed during his years at OSU.
'Our first year at Oregon State, we went to a couple of places where it was six administrators and about 12 people,' Barnhart tells the Cincinnati Post. 'The next year it got to be about 40 or 50 people, and the third year it was 100.'
Kentucky's basketball team, incidentally, is considering facing Michigan State next season at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, in an attempt to set an NCAA single-season record. Capacity is about 68,000. The basketball court will be set in the middle of the football field. The Spartans want to do it, and Barnhart says he sees no reason to oppose it.
• The June 28 Les Schwab Bowl at PGE Park, in which the state's top senior prep football players will participate, promises an intriguing quarterback matchup. Central Catholic's Ryan Gunderson, who will play at Oregon State next year, will lead the North squad, while Sheldon's Alex Brink, bound for Washington State, will lead the South.