Josh Levin wrote an interesting piece for Slate several months ago charting the decline of Sports Illustrated from the venue in which real writers wrote about sports to one with less-interesting charticles and cheezoid sports-gossip than ESPN The Magazine. But while Levin may be right that the magazine is “as cool as a 55-year old with his hat turned backwards” at the front of the book, SI still has some good writers on payroll, and occasionally even lets them write good things. Or so I gather. I haven’t read an issue in a non-waiting-room-related capacity since maybe 2000. But S.L. Price’s carefully wrought and thoughtful profile of Rick Majerus — the link came to me via Brendan Flynn, and can be found here — is a really impressive piece of work.
Majerus, like so many big-time coaches, comes off as a brilliant, driven, deeply lonely and possibly mentally ill man whose ability to understand systems and structures on the court is married to a tragic lack of insight in his own life. Oh, and also he’s naked disturbingly often. If that thought disturbs you, you should probably stop reading right now. Stop reading and ask yourself why you’re afraid of a nude Rick Majerus. Here’s Price on Majerus’s weird tendency to use his body as a prop:
Something about the body: Is it a weapon? A shield? Or is it just that Majerus, unlike so many in our fit-versus-fat culture, simply doesn’t care about the impact of his physique? He may be the least self-conscious man alive. How else to explain his propensity to get naked — in practice, watching film, at meetings, during interviews? Nearly every former player of Majerus’s has a can-you-believe-it anecdote.
“The first time, [Utah was] recruiting me, and after the game I went down to the [Utes’] locker room,” says Jeff Johnsen, who signed with Utah in 1996. “His hair’s everywhere and his sweater’s off and he’s just drenched, and he’s eating a whole pizza in front of me and he’s like, ‘You want any?’ I grab a piece, and then he starts undressing and gets in the shower and is still talking to me. It was funny. It was weird. How many grown, fat, naked men do you see when you’re a high school kid?”
Another player remembers Majerus calling him up to his hotel room on various occasions, and “he’d answer the door in his towel and I’d come in and the towel would fall off and it was like nothing had happened. He’d just be standing there buck naked. One year he had this lower-back injury, and he would have the trainer massage it with ultrasound. But instead of just lowering his pants a little bit, Majerus would pull his pants down to his ankles and sit in a chair and coach us. Sometimes he’d be like, ‘Guys, bring it in, take a knee.’ We’d come in, and we’re just like, No way this is happening.”
None of these players believes that his habit of dropping trou was sexual. In a sense, the players look upon it as their coach’s greatest sight gag, made even loonier by his deadpan expression. “He’s oblivious,” Burgess says. “He just doesn’t care.”
The incident alluded to — well, not very subtly — in this post’s title appears a bit deeper into the article. If you’ve got some time to spend reading a long magazine article this afternoon, this is a good one.