Here’s my goodbye with many thanks to Dave’s Digital Domain visitors

Here’s my final post to Dave’s Digital Domain, a blog that started three years ago because those of us in the newspaper business have been pretty much told to blog or die.

I’m retiring this week after 40 years at the Palm Beach Post, so the blogging and the tweeting and all the other digital doodling will cease forthwith, at my choice, just like stepping away from a great company that has taken good care of me and my family since 1978 is my choice. Considering the way things have been going in the industry it’s a real pleasure to be able to say that.

Anyway, I’m hoping somebody enjoyed these posts. The numbers were always modest but this is not soul-crushing in any respect. Digital domination belongs to today’s generation of journalists. I am from another time, and here, in recognition of that, is a blog I wrote in 2015 about the passing of wrestling great Dusty Rhodes.

It has nothing to do with today’s news that Bruno Sammartino has also passed, but that report got some of us in the office talking about spectacular old wrestling heroes and villains and their touring shows, and this is where my mind drifted in response.

I was a kid when Dusty used to blow through our town, packing the West Palm Beach Auditorium like a one-man circus, and his name will always be a reminder of my youth and the fun I used to have with my knucklehead buddies and the joys of not worrying about much of anything but homework.

If you’ve been reading my work in the Post for a while, and bless you if that’s so, I like to think that we’ve all grown up a little bit together.


By

“The American Dream” is a fairly grandiose tag to hang on one man, but Dusty Rhodes, the 275-pound star of many a pro wrestling show at the old West Palm Beach Auditorium, enjoyed the challenge.

The American Dream Dusty Rhodes facing off against Ken Patera in Miami, circa 1978. (Photo: Michelle Bogre / Miami News)

Maybe you think pro wrestling is a joke. OK, Dusty would make you laugh strutting around the ring and sporting his curly mop of dyed-blond hair.

Maybe you were all-in on the blood and sweat and urgency of Texas death-match drama. Dusty delivered that, too, taking chairs over the head and nosedives through the ropes, but always climbing back up to keep the screaming crowds on his side.

Dusty, whose real name was Virgil Runnels, died Thursday at 69. One report said it was kidney failure. Could have been anything, really, considering the destruction that comes over a long career performing in dingy small-town arenas and Madison Square Garden and eventually back to the hinterlands again.

I dug Dusty, and so did all my middle-school buddies, getting dropped off at the West Palm Auditorium by parents who wondered exactly what was wrong with us. It was silly, sure, but it was fun, and never have I heard Dusty’s name spoken in all these years without a smile springing out from way back in the 1970’s.

Larry Mlynczak, my first sports editor at the Palm Beach Post back in the late ’70s, sent an e-mail at the news of Rhodes’ passing to remind me of how people packed that crazy teepee-shaped building to see Dusty. National Wrestling Alliance cards on Monday nights easily outdrew minor-league baseball and most other events around here, and because the same wrestling stars appeared each Saturday on television from Tampa, it actually gave a feel of something big coming to town.

Dusty Rhodes at the Miami Beach Convention Hall. (A.G. Montanari / Miami News)

These were the same people who fought at the Miami Beach Convention Center and in other major venues around the state. These were the same guys, too, who later would merge with the WWE wrestling universe and go nationwide.

We even ran a few paragraphs of the results in the paper, not because the competition was real, but because the interest was. Once Mlynczak dropped in to interview Dusty, just to see what would happen.

“Is wrestling fake?” Larry asked in a dressing-room interview, and Dusty Rhodes asked right back, “When I broke my ankle tumbling out of the ring, was that fake?”

Before long the conversation turned, as it always did around TV microphones, to Dusty’s rough upbringing in Texas. It was a story told by the son of a plumber who wanted to be so much more.

“I was a grave digger in West Texas when I was a teenager,” Dusty said. “I even put some in the ground. I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know their names.

“I knew then that I wanted to be different. I wanted to have a name.”

That’s when Virgil started thinking about becoming Dusty. That’s when he started dreaming that American Dream.

An early birthday greeting for Jupiter’s Billy ‘The Bullet,’ the NBA’s oldest retired player

Got a nice letter the other day from my old pal Billy “The Bullet” Gabor, because that’s the kind of guy that Billy is.

Bill Gabor, photographed at his home in Jupiter on January 29, 2014, holding an engraved ice bucket. “When we won (the league title) in 1955, we didn’t get anything from the NBA,” he said. “The stockholders gave us this engraved ice bucket.” (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

The longtime Jupiter resident, whose 96th birthday is coming in May, has got old-fashioned manners and incredibly sharp memories to share. He’s the oldest living former NBA player, a star with the Syracuse Nationals in the days of George Mikan. I’m rolling out one my columns on him from 2014 because it’s one week until my retirement from the Palm Beach Post and I’m pretty much doing what pleases me most these days.

Give this a spin, for Billy’s sake. I think you’ll be glad.

*********************************************

(This column originally appeared in the Feb. 13, 2014 edition of the Palm Beach Post)

by Dave George

Post Columnist

History lessons learned
Jupiter’s Bill Gabor, 91, was an All-Star when the NBA was born.

   Only a high-caliber athlete could earn a nickname like “Billy the Bullet.”
“If you see me walk today, there’s no way you’d think that,” Bill Gabor, as in neighbor, says with a laugh.
Still, as steady as the tides, you’ll find Gabor hoofing the 1.5-mile distance from his oceanfront condo to the Juno Beach pier and back, every day but Tuesday, which is when this 91-year-old star of the NBA’s formative years does his volunteer work at the hospital.
This is not a story about slam dunks or preening Hollywood stars in sweet court-side seats or sneakers so flashy that they really should arrive at the arena in their own limousines. All of that goes with today’s NBA, and with an All-Star game to be viewed by millions worldwide Sunday night.
Gabor’s tale is worth telling, though, because he was there when the NBA was born, and he was among the earliest of NBA All-Stars, too, back when college basketball got all the headlines.
“I played in the 1953 All-Star Game in Fort Wayne, Ind.,” Gabor said. “Got a $100 war bond for it that I had to hold for 10 years to get the $100.”
It gets colder. When Gabor was a member of the NBA champion Syracuse Nationals two years later, there was no ring ceremony to commemorate the team’s greatness. Each of the Nats was rewarded with a metal ice bucket, engraved for posterity and presented by the team’s stockholders.
How’s that for a bucket-list achievement? It made sense way back then, just like it did for an NBA team to travel by ship from one game to another, and across a wintry Great Lake at that.
“We started to fly the last couple of years I was in the league,” said Gabor, who retired in 1955, “but one time we started out on the east coast of Lake Michigan and we wouldn’t land in Milwaukee. We didn’t have time to take a train around the bottom of the lake so we took a freighter across and it was very, very rough, with very limited passenger accommodations.
“You couldn’t go outside with the railings all covered with ice. Then they started cooking and a lot of guys got sick and were throwing up and lying in bed. We finally got to Milwaukee a little late and took taxis to the game but we beat them, so the papers in Syracuse ran the headline ‘Syracuse Sailors Beat Milwaukee.'”
Back, though, to the 1953 All-Star Game, which was staged in the newly opened Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
“Just an old bandbox,” that’s how Gabor remembers it, but on that January night, with a crowd of 10,322 exceeding the capacity and a giant-like 6-foot-10 George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers on display, Fort Wayne was as close to fantastic as it ever will get.
Gabor was such a high scorer that his number was retired at Syracuse University in 2009, yet in that long-ago All-Star game he was a reserve on the East team behind all-timers like Bob Cousy and Dolph Schayes. Also watching most of the game from the bench was Baltimore’s Don Barksdale, the first black player on an All-Star roster. Another bit of history: The West’s 79-75 win that night remains the lowest-scoring All-Star game.
Mikan was the game’s MVP, scoring 22 points with 16 rebounds and looking as intimidating as a lumbering man in thick eyeglasses can be.
“Mikan was very slow and he couldn’t jump like they do today,” said Gabor, “but he was so strong he would just turn around and shoot a hook shot and nobody could do anything about it.
“He was like Shaq, unstoppable, though I think they should outlaw the slam dunk. A guy like Shaq, he gets the ball, turns around and knocks the guy on his butt. What kind of a shot is that?”
Gabor, who was 5-11, made sure to get his own shots in, though. Set shots, mostly. The rest of the time he was stealing balls and fouling out a lot. What do you expect from a guy whose other nickname was “The Human Projectile?”
“Boston, they had some rowdy fans,” Gabor said. “We were playing a close game there one day and a fight broke out between some players. The referees broke it up but the fans were throwing debris on the floor and I was picking it up and throwing it back. The ref got hold of my teammate Paul Seymour and said, ‘Get that darn Gabor out. He’s gonna start a riot.’ ”
One day you may see this super senior driving down U.S. 1 in his Chevy Malibu, the one with the license-plate holder that says, “National Basketball Retired Players Association.” After 24 years in Palm Beach County, Gabor, as in neighbor, is truly one of us.
Imagine how shocked today’s soaring NBA All-Stars would be to learn that he is also one of them.

Whatever happens to Heat now, it can’t be worse than their opening 1996 draw against MJ’s merciless Bulls

 

There is one super player in the Eastern Conference but no super teams, which makes me feel kind of hopeful about the Miami Heat’s chances for getting past Philadelphia and reaching the second round of the playoffs.

If that doesn’t sound like much of a goal, or even if you’re feeling a little sorry for this team devoid of dominating stars, think back to Pat Riley’s first season in Miami.

In his role as head coach and master of everything, the Godfather worked deals that

Dennis Rodman fouls Alonzo Mourning. Photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post.

brought Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway to the Heat. Together they went 42-40 in the regular season, not much different than the results we’re seeing now, but then came a first-round matchup with the 72-10 Chicago Bulls in the 1996 playoffs.

Here is a column I wrote at the end of that horrible mismatch, a three-game sweep by the Bulls in which the closest game was 17 points. Dennis Rodman’s spicy autobiography “Bad As I Wanna Be” was released right then, too, which made the whole series feel like a promotional tour for the Worm and a fruitless exercise for the Heat.

“We played hard,” said Miami’s Rex Chapman, but they are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”

Things are so much better now. Even if the Heat had drawn LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the first round this weekend, it couldn’t have been as dismal. They’re plenty they can do against any team in the East these days. So let the 2018 playoffs begin, but not before this reminder of what life was like for Miami and everybody else under the inviolate Jordan Rules.

 

(From the May 2, 1996 edition of the Palm Beach Post)

By Dave George

Post Columnist

        A PRIMER ON HOW TO BE GREAT

The Miami Heat took their medicine sitting down Wednesday night, their celebrity coach never leaving his chair in the fourth quarter of a 112-91 loss and their sellout home crowd reduced to gawking at the greatness of the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat weren’t just swept in this best-of-five opening playoff series. They were vacuumed up, bagged and left by the curb of Miami Arena. Total domination, Pat Riley called it, and so it was. Michael Jordan headed for the locker room early, and Scottie Pippen called for his ice bags on the bench. Had this blowout lasted another few minutes, he would have called for his pipe and slippers, too.
“I know one thing I’m going to aspire to next year,” Riley said, and a roomful of reporters leaned forward for a philosophical pearl. “I’m going to make sure the playoff seed has to be six through three. It cannot be seventh through eighth.”
It cannot, in other words, bring the Heat anywhere close to Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs. The No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference is for sparring partners, not contenders. Miami can move up based on the progress made after the great February trade-off. Wednesday, however, was too wobbly to use as a foundation for anything but a fire drill.
“We ran into a good team,” said Rex Chapman, who scored 39 points in a February upset of the Bulls here but only six Wednesday. “We played hard. They are on a mission and there’s nothing you can do.”
Jimmy Buffet did his best to make this Game 3 worth playing. He sang the national anthem and 15,200 fans, armed with giveaway clacker noisemakers, provided the passionate percussion. This will be remembered, however, as the night the music died. Miami trailed by 31 points at one point and pretty much went through the motions while Chicago’s benchwarmers piled it on.
Chicago will at least get a fight from the New York Knicks. All Miami provided was a vacation.
So overwhelming is Chicago’s power over the masses that all it takes is one Bulls player to make a low-profile team like the Heat an irrelevance in their own building. Wednesday’s pre-game sideshow centered on Dennis Rodman and his bawdy book, advance copies of which are beginning to make the rounds.
On the cover is a photo of the Worm in the nude, holding a basketball where the sun don’t shine and the fig leaves don’t grow. There is a chapter devoted to the intimate details of Rodman’s brief fling with Madonna, which is surprising only in that Madonna didn’t strike first with this subject matter. NBA Commissioner David Stern, at Miami Arena Wednesday to monitor the storm around Chicago’s playoff run, said Rodman “is a phenomenon, maybe the best media creation of his own image that I’ve ever seen.”
Rodman, meanwhile, sat at his locker before the game saying whatever he believed would shock reporters most. “Pat Riley’s time has passed,” he said, and “the Knicks have a yellow streak down their back.” Of Alonzo Mourning, Rodman asked “$15 million for what? He hasn’t accomplished anything to me.”
Rodman wears controversy like a crown, always willing to take the lunacy to another level. Miami counters with a seriousness that is deadly. Zo screams. Riley preens. And all the while the Bulls are laughing.
Blaming Mourning’s lack of production, a popular rationale in the first two blowouts at Chicago, didn’t even fly this time. Zo had 20 points by half time, more even than Jordan, and finished with a game-high 30.
The Bulls, meanwhile, were their usual brutish selves, piling on at every opportunity. Did Rodman really slam home a reverse dunk in the second quarter or was that a preview for his upcoming music video? At some point it ceases to matter.
We have come to that point, of course, and surpassed it. The glorious debut season of Pat Riley has ended in the manner of Kevin Loughery before him.
Sitting down and looking up at the merciless Chicago Bulls.

[Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep Palm Beach County ties]

[Golden Bear’s grandson thrills Masters crowd with an ace of his own]

[Amendola is another Texas Tech tough guy, like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker]

 

Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep roots in Palm Beach County

I’ll be meeting with Boynton Beach’s Felipe Alou this week for a column on his new book, “Alou: My Baseball Journey,” and a celebration of his long ties to Palm Beach County.

As an appetizer, here is something I wrote way back in 1991 about a West Palm Beach Expos team that Felipe managed to the Florida State League championship. What happened to them on the bus ride home from the title series in Clearwater is a classic tale of life in the minors.

(A column from the Sept. 11, 1991 Palm Beach Post)

By Dave George, Sports Columnist

MINOR CELEBRATIONS CAN’T DAMPEN MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

   Sirens blared in the streets of West Palm Beach Tuesday, heralding the
arrival of the newly crowned Florida State League champions. A police car led the West Palm Beach Expos‘ bus down Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and into the
Municipal Stadium parking lot, the triumphant conclusion to a return trip from Clearwater and the deciding game of the league championship series.
Somewhere, a dog barked, his echo bouncing off dark buildings. Perhaps a

Felipe Alou around 1991 as manager of the West Palm Beach Expos, a job he held for seven seasons before moving up to manage the Montreal Expos and San Francisco Giants (Palm Beach Post file photo)

drifter stirred drowsily on a bus stop bench. If anyone else other than a
handful of loyal fans was aware of the Expos‘ victory parade, which lasted
from approximately 4:28 to 4:30 a.m., they could only have been on their way
to make the doughnuts.
By 5:15, most of the Expos‘ clubhouse was stripped of personal belongings, the parking lot cleared of players’ cars. Six hours earlier, these young
dreamers had been hugging and laughing and whooping it up over a league title that was 138 games in the making. The celebration, however, didn’t make it to sunrise. The real world had lurched back into action by then and the Expos had resumed their offseason lives, each group oblivious of the other.
“There are lot of West Palm Beach Expos in Alabama and Mississippi and
South Carolina right now, all of them headed home,” said Expos pitcher Doug
Bochtler, a former John I. Leonard High School star.
Rest assured that none of them are traveling by bus. Never again will they board one of those rolling bricks voluntarily.
“I guarantee you that if a major league team wins the World Series, their plane doesn’t break down on the way home like our bus did last night,”
Bochtler said.
SOME VICTORY LAP
Stranded on I-95 near Blue Heron Boulevard, the champions dealt with one
last dose of Class-A confusion. Still riding the high of the franchise’s first league title in 17 years, philosophy won out over frustration.
“When the bus kicked out, I guess it was just fate, something to keep the team together a little longer,” said Ron Colangelo, the Expos‘ radio voice.
Move over, Pops Stargell. Here is a real baseball family, playing for
minor league scraps rather than bonus playoff money. Playing like there may be no other games to play, next season or any other. For some of the
overachievers on the roster of manager Felipe Alou, there won’t be.
“A couple of the guys came by my house around noon to say goodbye on
their way out of town,” Bochtler said. “The way everybody left showed the
biggest key to us winning the whole thing. This wasn’t a traditional handshake and good luck thing. There were guys hugging and saying thanks. We all know
this could be our only chance at winning a championship.”
Bochtler never won a baseball title before, despite being good enough to
share the FSL lead in victories (12). He was 7-2 with an 0.72 ERA as a Leonard senior, but didn’t experience the team success of a district title. Same goes for his American Legion Post 47 team or Indian River Community College.
Taking the field in Clearwater Monday night, all the emotions bubbled up
at once. The Expos were playing for the league title, but they were doing so
in front of just 292 fans. Also, even though West Palm Beach was about to win it all as a wild-card playoff entry, not a single Expo name was called as FSL President Chuck Murphy announced the league all-star team before the game.
Minor slights, these were, when the team was sized for championship rings a
few hours later.
“That was the greatest feeling ever,” Bochtler said. “Even if I make it
some day to pitch in Montreal, that ring won’t come off me.”
MOM KNOWS BEST
All the rainouts and rescheduled doubleheaders should come with some
reward. The Expos have a loyal following, averaging nearly 1,800 at home games in 1991 to rank second in the league. But in the end, it’s up to the players
to find their own motivation. They won the opening game of the FSL
championship series at home before a crowd of 480. They won for themselves.
Alone.
“People who don’t get involved with this team don’t know what they’re
missing,” said Louise Hiers of West Palm Beach. “These are just young kids a
long way from home, some of them for the first time.”
Louise, 65, is known as “Mom” by the Expos. She has been at almost every
home game for the last 18 seasons. Monday night she was with them in
Clearwater, and when the team arrived at Municipal Stadium early Tuesday
morning, she was there again, kissing and hugging each player as he stepped
off the bus.
Thus, Mom sent her family to the four winds. A championship team dissolved into the dawn, just like all beautiful dreams.

The Golden Bear’s grandson thrills Masters crowd with an ace of his own

Jack Nicklaus probably thought he had seen everything in golf, and then something happened on Wednesday afternoon that brought a tear to his eye.

Gary ‘G.T.’ Nicklaus, Jr., far right, celebrates hitting a hole-in-one on the ninth tee with his grandfather Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2018 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2018 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Jack’s grandson G.T. Nicklaus, who was caddying for the Golden Bear in the Masters Par-3 Contest, stepped up to the tee on the final hole and tried his luck, just for fun. Of course, the ball sailed over a broad lake, landed safely on the green and then trickled and tracked and after the longest while plopped into the cup for a hole-in-one.

Shocking? Sure, but G.T., the 15-year-old son of former PGA Tour player Gary Nicklaus, Jr. and a freshman at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, has played before crowds before. In the PNC Father/Son Challenge with his grandfather as a playing partner. In the Florida state high school championship tournament, too, where he shot an 85 as an eight-grader a few years ago.

“You always want the best for your kids and your grandkids,” Nicklaus told ESPN. “But when you’ve got a grandson who comes along and the kid makes a hole-in-one at the biggest venue in the world on day when he is caddying for his grandfather…Wow.

“This is very, very special…One obviously I’ll never forget.”

Back in December, when Jack and G.T. teamed to finish 15th at the PNC Father/Son Challenge in Orlando, Jack said “He likes being in front of people. I always looked at playing golf out in front of people as fun, and I think he has pretty much the same attitude.”

The Masters Par-3 is designed to be entertaining for players and their families, with little kids bopping along in tiny caddy outfits and teenagers, like G.T., sometimes playing a shot or two.

For one of the kids to outdo the pros, however, and get the loudest cheer of the day, is almost too much to ask. G.T.’s ace turned into a bigger story than the fact that Tom Watson, 68, won the nine-hole event with a score of six-under-par 21. He’s the oldest champion in the history of the Par-3 and played in a group with Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Here’s one last quote from Jack last December about G.T., one of his and Barbara’s 22 grandchildren.

“G.T. is a big kid and has the potential to be a very talented player,” Jack said. “He is already a nice player, and his game should only get better as time goes on. So only time will tell whether he will be and wants to be a really good player. For now, I just want him to enjoy this experience, just as I will enjoy it.”

On Thursday morning Nicklaus and Player will tee off at No. 1 as honorary starters for the first round of the Masters. Will G.T. carry his grandfather’s bag? Might be a good idea, for good luck.

[Wade’s return has not significantly improved Heat in stat that counts most]

[Wildest man in March Madness once coached CBA team in West Palm]

[Like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker, Amendola is a Texas Tech tough guy]