A Fan's Notes

Go Marlins! Go Panthers! Go Heat! Go to hell.

The next step is for Huizenga to whip up a batch of feasibility studies, which will substantiate that Wayne's World is God's Gift to South Florida.

And how many of these figures will be solid? Well, uh, none of them, actually. "There have been no serious studies -- not one -- that indicate sports franchise developments help an area economically," notes Jim Miller, a historian who studies the relationship between sports and cities. "What you get is businessmen who come in with happy propaganda. The politicians love it, because it makes them look like they're dealing with hard numbers, when what they're really doing is responding to a psychic need."

When aggressive promoters exploit the feel-good appeal of sport, Miller says, civic leaders always go a little loopy. (Remember the Heat?) This might also explain why Metro commissioners recently pledged a mind-boggling $31 million in tax money to help build a racetrack in Homestead for Ralph Sanchez's Miami Grand Prix, which the county will neither own nor derive a profit from. Or why they have agreed to expend nearly $60 million for renovations to the Orange Bowl.

"The mortgaging of cities for sports franchises really goes back to the commercial development of America in the Nineteenth Century," observes Richard Crepeau, a sports historian at Orlando's University of Central Florida. "There has never been a sharply defined difference between the business and political leaders of a community, and so their interests tend to get blurred. Growth, which profits the businessman, is seen as the ideal." Inevitably the rhetoric blossoms, Crepeau says: "There is all this talk of uniting the community, and none of it is real. But we live in a time when our institutions are failing. Cities are a mess. People are scattered and alienated. So we grasp at anything that grants us the illusion of community."

Steve Reese, a historian at Northeastern Illinois University, puts it more bluntly: "Sport gives the people in Miami something to think about other than the terrible state of Miami." A reason to cheer, however briefly, for our troubled and violent home.

When it comes to Wayne's World, though, we should be clear-headed enough to recognize that our money is not going toward rebuilding a community. We're investing in the creation of an attraction. One that will have nothing to do with South Florida's landscape or cultures. And we should be wary enough to ask a few pertinent questions.

Such as: Is it a good thing that local leaders will spend much of the next few years focused on Wayne's World? Or that we commoners will be paying construction costs for the next who-knows-how-many years? And how, precisely, is a theme park supposed to soothe ethnic tensions? Or reduce crime? How will it make an appreciable impact on

the wastelands of Overtown and Liberty City? How much money will it eventually suck from Dade's educational system, or its crumbling sewer system, or its public housing projects? How many acres of wetlands will be paved over, how much of our aquifer defiled? In the end, where will we be returning home to, after a thrilling day at Wayne's World? Could it be the project is just another example of our delusional effort to write off social ills as image problems, and to cure the whole mess by building yet another tourist trap?

And to return to the subject at hand, I pose one last question to the purest of sports fans: Do you really want to buy into a facility where the ballpark is nothing more than a sideshow?

This was a few seasons ago. I was standing on the floor of the Oakland Coliseum Arena, next to Don Nelson, coach of my beloved Golden State Warriors. Nelson was talking to a short, insistent man who turned out to be from the California Prune Advisory Board. I had come all the way from El Paso, Texas, where I was working for a newspaper, to talk with Nelson about his rookie phenom Tim Hardaway, who was stretching on the court, behind the prune man.

As a star at the University of Texas at El Paso, Hardaway had invented the "UTEP two-step," a crossover dribble so quick it was thought he transformed a portion of the ball from mass into energy. Everybody in El Paso knew Hardaway was destined for greatness. But his selection as the fourteenth overall pick in the 1989 college draft rocked the NBA establishment. He was unknown. He was six feet tall. His jump shot looked like a bumblebee in flight. My job was to document how Nelson had figured out what we in El Paso knew all along.

After practice the coach led me to his office. "Timmy impressed the hell out of us at the rookie camps," Nelson explained, chewing on a California prune. "We brought him in for a tryout and had a guy over in the East Bay run some tests. Range of motion. Coordination. That kind of thing. The one that amazed us was the court vision test. They flash a five-digit number on a screen for maybe one thousandth of a second, then ask you what it was. Timmy got all of them."

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