Two Cents: Stranger Than Fiction: The True Story of an ABA Owner Gone Mad (2/2/2005)

(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)

I am an avid movie buff. In my spare time, I love to veg out in front of a good movie. Even when I don’t have time to kill, I make time for movies.

I’ve seen enough of them that I consider myself a novice cinephile. I say novice because I haven’t seen a Godard or Kurosawa film yet, but I understand what Charles Kane meant when he gasped “Rosebud” on his deathbed.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to try and write a screenplay, but I haven’t ever tried. I think I might have a good premise, so I’m going to pretend that you – the reader – are a high-profile movie producer with Miramax (because they like independent films) and pitch you a movie idea.

Please save your rejection letters until after the pitch.

OK. This is a sure-fire moneymaker. There’s a struggling team in a developmental basketball league. The team is made up of three owners, two of which are married, and one of the owners is a woman who wants to be a pop star.

The wanna-be pop star hires a 23-year-old woman to be the coach of her men’s basketball team, and the coach garners the respect of her players while leading the team to a great record.

The team still struggles however, so one of the co-owners and the GM decide to sign a hero from the local college to boost attendance. The pop star shows up at a press conference to praise the hero and all is right with the world.

Fast forward to just before an important game. The pop star calls her coach before the game and tells her not to play the hero. The coach plays the hero anyway, and the pop star crashes into the locker room at the half and tells the hero he isn’t worth the money.

To begin the third period, as the home team is trying to rally, the pop star storms the floor and tells the coach to bench the hero and then fires the coach for disobeying.

Security escorts the pop star off the floor, while the home team rallies for the win. After the game, the pop star shoves, cusses out and gives the finger to a relative of an injured player, while the coach packs her things.

A day later the pop star’s sister-in-law calls 911 because the pop star has been drinking, taking pills, and trying to hurt herself. The next day the pop star has two stories for two different papers and then issues an apology to the coach, city, and facility for the craziness.

Meanwhile the league office wants to make everything better by handing out free basketballs to youth leagues around town.

I know what you’re thinking. I should start writing my Oscar acceptance speech right away. And I would if this weren’t a true story.

Some of you might have heard of the plight of the Nashville Rhythm, co-owner Sally Anthony and Coach Ashley McElhiney. Anthony cussed out and then fired McElhiney during a game because she didn’t want former Vanderbilt star Matt Freije to play anymore.

Never mind the fact that the Rhythm was paying Freije $10,000 to play two games and Anthony had celebrated the signing at a press conference days before. Of course, later her rationale behind wanting Freije on the bench was because she wasn’t consulted about his joining the team.

Ok… also forget the fact that the 23-year-old McElhiney (the first ever woman head coach in men’s sports) had led Nashville to an 18-7 record, including coming back from 18 points down the night she was fired.

Realizing she needed to strike while the controversy was hot, Anthony swallowed some alcohol with her Xanax and started passing out. She would wake up long enough to cut her arm with scissors, but her sister-in-law admitted Anthony was “just trying to hurt herself” instead of causing more serious harm.

Upon her release from the hospital, she told one Nashville newspaper that a dog had bit her, then another that she had fallen down some stairs.

And yes, the ABA is wishing this whole thing away by giving free basketballs to youth leagues around Nashville.

While researching this article, I saw that one of her musical influences was Tori Amos. I realize Tori has been through some rough times, but she creeps me out. Maybe Anthony was trying to capture the audience that Amos has a stranglehold on or maybe she’s just insane.

On one of Anthony’s unofficial fan sites, the motto ‘Remember, there is no I in TEAM’ is listed like a mission statement for Anthony’s music career.

I think she needs to take that saying to heart, because her antics have made Steinbrenner and Al Davis look like civil-minded humanitarians in comparison.

So, there it is, the latest case of sports imitating life. If you’re an aspiring movie producer out there let’s get to work before this story makes ratings history on the Lifetime Channel.

Categories: Basketball, sports

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