When it became known that Bruce Jenner was coming to Twin Falls to speak at a YMCA fundraiser, it sparked a few conversations regarding his placement on a list of “Most Famous People to Ever Come to Twin Falls.”
Having only been here 10 months, I’m not qualified to say where Jenner would rank. Quite likely, there are people more famous who have passed through without a public appearance. And such a list would be arbitrary to some degree anyway.
Jenner’s appearance Tuesday, however, did get me thinking about the most famous people and/or moments that I have had the pleasure of meeting/experiencing in the world of sports.
There are qualifications for making this list: The encounter had to be in a media setting, which eliminates pushing aside a dozen or so people at the 1989 U.S. Open to have Jack Nicklaus autograph my copy of Sports Illustrated with him on the cover after winning the Masters in 1986.
I had to ask a question or engage in a conversion with the subject. Down goes Mike Tyson and his presser after a fifth-round knockout of Francois Botha in his first fight back after biting off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear. I’m not going to lie — it was my first boxing match and the scene was intimidating.
Finally, chance encounters don’t count. That includes the time I ruined Bob Griese’s night and sent him scurrying to his room at The Mirage in Las Vegas. All he was doing was watching our table play Casino War for about 10 minutes before I recognized him, blew his cover and blurted out his name for the entire pit to hear. Bob, if you ever read this, I’m sorry for acting like a star-stricken amateur.
And of course, I’m allowed an exception or two. It’s my list, after all.
10. The Two Ricks: Rick Majerus was a regular contact during my undergrad days at the University of Utah, and I got a question or two in to Rick Pitino after an Arkansas-Kentucky game at Bud Walton Arena when it was one of the top five rivalries in college basketball. The thing people didn’t realize outside of Salt Lake City is that Majerus’ act was for the national stage; when it came to dealing with the local press, it wasn’t a nonstop barrel of laughs.
9. Bob Lanier. This was in the mid-1990s, when the Jazz were stomping everyone and the Warriors were predictably pathetic. Lanier was the Warriors’ interim coach and I had the nerve to stumble into his post-game presser just as it was breaking up. The salvo Lanier fired back at me for not being more prompt is unsuitable to be printed in a family publication.
8. Dario Franchitti. My only regret was that this came before camera phones become commonplace. A group of Southern California writers took the Metrolink from outside California Speedway in Fontana, and Franchitti and Paul Tracy were aboard to promote mass transit usage and their upcoming IRL race.
We finished the trip at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and had lunch, with yours truly sitting to the left of Franchitti, better known then as Ashley Judd’s boyfriend. Franchitti went on to win the Indy 500 three times and marry Judd. Meanwhile, I’m still chasing free meals.
7. Michael Jordan. Another post-game sit-down. After the TV people left, I was able to sit down to the left of His Airness. I don’t remember the questions I asked, but I was close enough to see the hologrammed tie M.J. was wearing. Yes, that’s hologrammed. You could only see his initials if the light hit his tie at the right angle.
6. Madonna. This was when the Material Girl was dating Dennis Rodman, and she shows up with a mini-entourage of three at the Delta Center for a Spurs-Jazz playoff game. This is a teen crush come to life. How can I get closer? Say hello?
Let’s just say people like Madonna have bodyguards to keep people like myself from getting too close. A quick flash of my media credential and a turn in another direction gave me my escape. OK, I didn’t actually talk with Madonna, but I had her attention for about five seconds and that was good enough for me.
5. Bruce Jenner. Two things I have in common with Bruce Jenner: We’re both native New Yorkers (yours truly from Western New York, Jenner from Westchester County) and we rarely ventured into New York City as youngsters. And if Bruce was spending more than a night in Idaho, there is one question that would have to be answered:
Niagara Falls or Shoshone Falls?
4. Magic Johnson. This was about a year after he announced he was HIV-positive, so anytime Magic made an appearance in public, you made note of it because there was part of you wondering if it was the last time you would see him. I had the good fortune to be sitting behind him in press row for a Jazz-Lakers game, and during a timeout, approached his “representative” and asked if I could say hello.
Before the rep could respond, Magic reached over and shook my hand. I introduced myself, told Magic I was glad to see him and hoped he enjoyed his stay in Salt Lake City, to which Magic responded, “The pleasure is all mine.” Now you know why he’s called Magic.
3. O.J. Simpson. Another entry whose qualifications for this list are borderline — I was in Vegas for a NASCAR race and from my experiences at the aforementioned Tyson fight knew that Evander Holyfield-John Ruiz II at Mandalay Bay would be a great place to people watch, as well as get a bite to eat. Space prevents me from telling everything about this encounter (my “conversation” with O.J. revolved around his USC and Buffalo Bills fame), but the number of women that flocked to have their picture taken with The Juice (this was post-acquittal) was both amazing and disturbing.
2. Rick Mears. This rates as one of two lifetime mano a mano athletic “encounters” (Christian Laettner was the other, when we were 12-year-old Little League baseball players), and it came at another media event, at a go-kart track in Southern California. There were three heats involving media people and motor sports figures of varying degrees of fame. I had a good kart in my heat and qualified for the main, where I had an engine that couldn’t power a lawn mower.
Somewhere, I had to make a stand, and coming out of a turn, I kept my line as Mears tried to pass me on the inside. The four-time Indy 500 champ ended up in a wall of tires, I motored on and we shared a laugh about the incident in a sit-down after the race.
1. The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. Have you been dunked on by Blake Griffin or Dominique Wilkins? Have you been bulled over by Emmitt Smith as he scored a touchdown? Have you ever pitched batting practice to Barry Bonds?
Me neither. But I was once put in the Camel Clutch by a legendary wrestling great, and taunted by another one of pro wrestling’s greatest heels all throughout.
To make it even better, that image ended up in print. That was the case in 1999, when the legendary tag-team duo came to Mavericks Stadium in Victorville, Calif., for a third-tier wrestling promoter’s Legends of Wrestling night.
The day before, I did my best Gene Okerlund impression and interviewed both men for a story in the Daily Press, my employer at the time. Looking for a photo to go along with the story, someone thought it would be a good idea if the Sheik put me in his classic finishing move.
No waivers were signed and the Sheik promised he wouldn’t “cinch” the hold, which lasted about 10 seconds. Nonetheless, certain back muscles get a good stretching. It was nothing serious, but it gave me a good idea of what that hold can do if properly applied.
Patrick Sheltra is the sports editor of the Times-News. Tell him about your most interesting sports celebrity encounter at email@example.com, on Twitter @TimesNewsSE or on Facebook by searching for Times-News Patrick Sheltra