09.24.07

Sonny Vaccaro’s College Tour

Posted in Basketball, The Marketplace at 9:17 am by

As noted in this space earlier, James Gandolfini has tapped the story of legendary sneaker pimp Sonny Vaccaro for an upcoming HBO film. Pete Thamel, writing in Friday’s New York Times, attended the first of what could be many speaking engagements for the former Nike, Adidas and Rebok representative.

A career and life riddled with contrasts added another Wednesday night when Vaccaro, who at 67 still describes himself as a renegade, gave a 90-minute speech at the Harvard Law School.

The latest contrast is that one of the most vocal critics of the N.C.A.A., and an ardent supporter of players skipping college for professional careers, is in demand on the academic circuit. Vaccaro is to speak at Yale on Friday and at Maryland on Sept. 26. In the spring, he spoke at Pennsylvania and at Duke.

Perhaps Vaccaro™s most intriguing criticism came from the N.C.A.A.™s decision to question the standardized test score of the Southern California freshman O. J. Mayo. Mayo, one of the top high school recruits in the country, took the standardized test only once, according to Vaccaro.

The N.C.A.A. questioned the validity of the score. Scores are typically questioned only when there is a significant leap from one score to the next. Mayo took the handwriting sample and is eligible to play this season.

œThey assumed he was cheating, they told him he was a no-good illiterate, Vaccaro said.

The speech began with Vaccaro greeting, and sometimes hugging, most of the 30 people in attendance. It meandered from touring with the rock group Grand Funk Railroad to George Gervin signing his first pro contract on a napkin. Vaccaro talked gleefully of buying airplane tickets for the parents of college players, saying that he had a œdeal with USAir in the 1980s. He also talked about the racial bias of critics railing against the exploitation of young black basketball players, but not white golfers and tennis players.

One Response to “Sonny Vaccaro’s College Tour”

  1. Mark Swiderski says:

    “He also talked about the racial bias of critics railing against the exploitation of young black basketball players, but not white golfers and tennis players.”

    Mildly interesting point by Vaccaro. I always thought, though, that there was an implict class consideration in the lack of criticism, and the fact that most tennis/golf phenoms come from privileged backgrounds somewhat mitigated their possible exploitation. Or at least knocked it down a few years; there was plenty of criticism of Jennifer Capriati going pro at 14, and plenty of “I told you sos” when her nose-ringed, post pot bust mugshot turned up on the cover of PEOPLE a few years later.

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