On Tuesday, the Kansas City Royals will play postseason baseball for the first time in 29 years. If you aren't in your mid-30s, there's probably no chance you remember their last appearance, which culminated in the 1985 World Series championship.

A lot has happened in the meantime, and a quick look back offers some jaw-dropping reminders that 1985 was a lifetime ago.

On the final day of Kansas City's long playoff absence, here's a quick time capsule from back when the Royals were a playoff team:

An autopsy of a former Brazilian soccer star has found that the man suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain condition found in more than 40 deceased NFL veterans.

Bellini captained Brazil to a World Cup victory in 1958, and his legend in the country lives on today -- a statue in Rio de Janeiro honors him as one of the country's finest athletes. Bellini died this past March at 83, and it was assumed at the time that complications from Alzheimer's had been the primary cause of his death.

Researchers examining his brain, however, now say Bellini's brain suggests an advanced case of CTE.

CTE has been linked to repeated and traumatic strikes to the head, which are most common in football. Soccer, however, has the second-highest concussion rate among the major sports. Until this point, only one other former soccer player had been diagnosed with CTE.

Bellini's confirmed case could be a wake-up call to the soccer world. As we reported this past summer, former U.S. star Brandi Chastain has been trying to raise awareness of the concussion risks that come with heading a soccer ball.

Chastain has encouraged youth leagues to ban headers among players younger than 14 years old, and has said she already enforces that rule for her own children.

Soccer has been slow to develop a response to those concussion risks, even as awareness of the dangers of brain trauma increase among the public. FIFA, the world's governing soccer body, is only now seeking to implement a defined in-game protocol for head injuries.

In this particular case, Bellini isn't likely to be the sole example. But since CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously, it could be years before we get a better understanding of just how widespread the damage from concussions in soccer might be.

Furthermore, Bellini's story is unique is that it puts CTE in an international sports context. Until now, no international sports figures had been diagnosed with CTE, and since almost all sports-related CTE cases stemmed from American-style football, the condition wasn't seen as a threat in other countries.

Bellini's diagnosis changes that. And, while he lived to the age of 83, The New York Times reports that the condition had been affecting him for decades. His wife told the paper that he had suffered from memory loss for the past 20 years, and his condition worsened eight years ago.

And one time, according to the paper, the soccer star "hired a taxi and asked the driver to take him to the home base of a São Paulo soccer team he had played for decades earlier, because he believed he needed to go to training."

When he left the Philadelphia Daily News to try Hollywood on for size in 1986, John Schulian (b. 1945) assumed he was finished with sportswriting. But sportswriting had a funny way of sneaking back into his life even when he was churning out scripts for such memorable TV series as L.A. Law, Miami Vice, and Wiseguy. He wrote regularly for GQ and Sports Illustrated, just as he had since he came to prominence as a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News in the 1970s. In 1993, before he struck gold as one of the creators of Xena: Warrior Princess, SI asked if he was interested in profiling Chuck Bednarik, the NFL's last full-time two-way player and a symbol of the hearty breed that endured the Depression and World War II. Schulian didn't have to be asked twice. But his enthusiasm didn't convince Bednarik that a mere writer could find his way to his subject’s home in those pre-GPS days. Better they should meet at a large shopping center and proceed from there. The first person Schulian saw when he pulled into the parking lot was a senior citizen with a face like a clenched fist wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey and standing in front of a white van, arms the size of Smithfield hams folded across his chest. Bednarik, of course. And he turned out to be a writer's dream: a man without an unexpressed thought.

He went down hard, left in a heap by a crackback block as naked as it was vicious. Pro football was like that in 1960, a gang fight in shoulder pads, its violence devoid of the high-tech veneer it has today. The crackback was legal, and all the Philadelphia Eagles could do about it that Sunday in Cleveland was carry a linebacker named Bob Pellegrini off on his shield.

Buck Shaw, a gentleman coach in this ruffian's pastime, watched for as long as he could, then he started searching the Eagle sideline for someone to throw into the breach. His first choice was already banged up, and after that the standard 38-man NFL roster felt as tight as a hangman's noose. Looking back, you realize that Shaw had only one choice all along.

"Chuck," he said, "get in there."

And Charles Philip Bednarik, who already had a full-time job as Philadelphia's offensive center and a part-time job selling concrete after practice, headed onto the field without a word. Just the way his father had marched off to the open-hearth furnaces at Bethlehem Steel on so many heartless mornings. Just the way Bednarik himself had climbed behind the machine gun in a B-24 for 30 missions as a teenager fighting in World War II. It was a family tradition: Duty called, you answered.

Chuck Bednarik was 35 years old, still imposing at 6'3" and 235 pounds, but also the father of one daughter too many to be what he really had in mind -- retired. Jackie's birth the previous February gave him five children, all girls, and more bills than he thought he could handle without football. So here he was in his 12th NFL season, telling himself he was taking it easy on his creaky legs by playing center after all those years as an All-Pro linebacker. The only time he intended to move back to defense was in practice, when he wanted to work up a little extra sweat.

And now, five games into the season, this: Jim Brown over there in the Cleveland huddle, waiting to trample some fresh meat, and Bednarik trying to decipher the defensive terminology the Eagles had installed in the two years since he was their middle linebacker. Chuck Weber had his old job now, and Bednarik found himself asking what the left outside linebacker was supposed to do on passing plays. "Take the second man out of the backfield," Weber said. That was as fancy as it would get. Everything else would be about putting the wood to Jim Brown.

Bednarik nodded and turned to face a destiny that went far beyond emergency duty at linebacker. He was taking his first step toward a place in NFL history as the kind of player they don't make anymore.


The kids start at about 7 a.m. and don't stop until fatigue slips them a Mickey after dark. For 20 months it has been this way, three grandchildren roaring around like gnats with turbochargers, and Bednarik feeling every one of his years. And hating the feeling. And letting the kids know about it.

Get to be 68 and you deserve to turn the volume on your life as low as you want it. That's what Bednarik thinks, not without justification. But life has been even more unfair to the kids than it has been to him. The girl is eight, the boys are six and five, and they live with Bednarik and his wife in Coopersburg, Pa., because of a marriage gone bad. The kids' mother, Donna, is there too, trying to put her life back together, flinching every time her father’s anger erupts. "I can't help it,” Bednarik says plaintively. “It's the way I am."

The explanation means nothing to the kids warily eyeing this big man with the flattened nose and the gnarled fingers and the faded tattoos on his right arm. He is one more question in a world that seemingly exists to deny them answers. Only with the passage of time will they realize they were yelled at by Concrete Charlie, the toughest Philadelphia Eagle there ever was.

But for the moment, football makes no more sense to the kids than does anything else about their grandfather. "I'm not one of the last 60-minute players," they hear him say. "I am the last.” Then he barks at them to stop making so much noise and to clean up the mess they made in the family room, where trophies, photographs and game balls form a mosaic of the best days of his life. The kids scamper out of sight, years from comprehending the significance of what Bednarik is saying.

He really was the last of a breed. For 58 1⁄2 minutes in the NFL's 1960 championship game, he held his ground in the middle of Philly's Franklin Field, a force of nature determined to postpone the christening of the Green Bay Packers' dynasty. "I didn't run down on kickoffs, that's all," Bednarik says. The rest of that frosty December 26, on both offense and defense, he played with the passion that crested when he wrestled Packers fullback Jim Taylor to the ground one last time and held him there until the final gun punctuated the Eagles’ 17–13 victory.

Philadelphia hasn't ruled pro football since then, and pro football hasn't produced a player with the combination of talent, hunger and opportunity to duplicate what Bednarik did. It is a far different game now, of course, its complexities seeming to increase exponentially every year, but the athletes playing it are so much bigger and faster than Bednarik and his contemporaries that surely someone with the ability to go both ways must dwell among them. It is just as easy to imagine Walter Payton having shifted from running back to safety, or Lawrence Taylor moving from linebacker to tight end. But that day is long past, for the NFL of the '90s is a monument to specialization.

There are running backs who block but don’t run, others who run but only from inside the five-yard line and still others who exist for no other reason than to catch passes. Some linebackers can’t play the run, and some can't play the pass, and there are monsters on the defensive line who dream of decapitating quarterbacks but resemble the Maiden Surprised when they come face mask to face mask with a pulling guard.

“No way in hell any of them can go both ways,” Bednarik insists. "They don’t want to. They’re afraid they'll get hurt. And the money's too big, that's another thing. They'd just say, 'Forget it, I'm already making enough.'"

The sentiment is what you might expect from someone who signed with the Eagles for $10,000 when he left the University of Pennsylvania for the 1949 season and who was pulling down only 17 grand when he made sure they were champions 11 years later. Seventeen grand, and Reggie White fled Philadelphia for Green Bay over the winter for what, $4 million a year? “If he gets that much,” Bednarik says, “I should be in the same class.” But at least White has already proved that some day he will be taking his place alongside Concrete Charlie in the Hall of Fame. At least he isn't a runny-nosed quarterback like Drew Bledsoe, signing a long-term deal for $14.5 million before he has ever taken a snap for the New England Patriots. "When I read about that," Bednarik says, "I wanted to regurgitate."

He nurtures the resentment he is sure every star of his era shares, feeding it with the dollar figures he sees in the sports pages every day, priming it with the memory that his fattest contract with the Eagles paid him $25,000, in 1962, his farewell season.

“People laugh when they hear what I made,” he says. “I tell them, 'Hey, don't laugh at me. I could do everything but eat a football.'" Even when he was in his 50s, brought back by then coach Dick Vermeil to show the struggling Eagles what a champion looked like, Bednarik was something to behold. He walked into training camp, bent over the first ball he saw and whistled a strike back through his legs to a punter unused to such service from the team’s long snappers. "And you know the amazing thing?” Vermeil says. "Chuck didn't look."

He was born for the game, a physical giant among his generation's linebackers, and so versatile that he occasionally got the call to punt and kick off. “This guy was a football athlete,” says Nick Skorich, an Eagle assistant and head coach for six years. “He was a very strong blocker at center and quick as a cat off the ball.” He had to be, because week in, week out he was tangling with Sam Huff or Joe Schmidt, Bill George or Les Richter, the best middle linebackers of the day. Bednarik more than held his own against them, or so we are told, which is the problem with judging the performance of any center. Who the hell knows what's happening in that pile of humanity?

It is different with linebackers. Linebackers are out there in the open for all to see, and that was where Bednarik was always at his best. He could intercept a pass with a single meat hook and tackle with the cold-blooded efficiency of a sniper. “Dick Butkus was the one who manhandled people,” says Tom Brookshier, the loquacious former Eagle cornerback. “Chuck just snapped them down like rag dolls.”

It was a style that left Frank Gifford for dead, and New York seething, in 1960, and it made people everywhere forget that Concrete Charlie, for all his love of collisions, played the game in a way that went beyond the purely physical. "He was probably the most instinctive football player I've ever seen," says Maxie Baughan, a rookie linebacker with the Eagles in Bednarik's whole-schmear season. Bednarik could see a guard inching one foot backward in preparation for a sweep or a tight end setting up just a little farther from the tackle than normal for a pass play. Most important, he could think along with the best coaches in the business.

And the coaches didn't appreciate that, which may explain the rude goodbye that the Dallas Cowboys' Tom Landry tried to give Bednarik in ’62. First the Cowboys ran a trap, pulling a guard and running a back through the hole. "Chuck was standing right there,” Brookshier says. “Almost killed the guy.” Next the Cowboys ran a sweep behind that same pulling guard, only to have Bednarik catch the ballcarrier from behind. "Almost beheaded the guy," Brookshier says. Finally the Cowboys pulled the guard, faked the sweep and threw a screen pass. Bednarik turned it into a two-yard loss. “He had such a sense for the game,” Brookshier says. "You could do all that shifting and put all those men in motion, and Chuck still went right where the ball was."

Three decades later Bednarik is in his family room watching a tape from NFL Films that validates what all the fuss was about. The grandchildren have been shooed off to another part of the house, and he has found the strange peace that comes from seeing himself saying on the TV screen, “All you can think of is 'Kill, kill, kill.'" He laughs about what a ham he was back then, but the footage that follows his admission proves that it was no joke. Bednarik sinks deep in his easy chair. “This movie,” he says, "turns me on even now."

Suddenly the spell is broken by a chorus of voices and a stampede through the kitchen. The grandchildren again, thundering out to the backyard. "Hey, how many times I have to tell you?" Bednarik shouts. “Close the door!"


The pass was behind Gifford. It was a bad delivery under the best of circumstances, life-threatening where he was now, crossing over the middle. But Gifford was too much the pro not to reach back and grab the ball. He tucked it under his arm and turned back in the right direction, all in the same motion -- and then Bednarik hit him like a lifetime supply of bad news.

Thirty-three years later there are still people reeling from the Tackle, none of them named Gifford or Bednarik. In New York somebody always seems to be coming up to old number 16 of the Giants and telling him they were there the day he got starched in the Polo Grounds (it was Yankee Stadium). Other times they
say that everything could have been avoided if Charlie Conerly had thrown the ball where he was supposed to (George Shaw was the guilty Giant quarterback).

And then there was Howard Cosell, who sat beside Gifford on Monday Night Football for 14 years and seemed to bring up Bednarik whenever he was stuck for something to say. One week Cosell would accuse Bednarik of blindsiding Gifford, the next he would blame Bednarik for knocking Gifford out of football. Both were classic examples of telling it like it wasn't.

But it is too late to undo any of the above, for the Tackle has taken on a life of its own. So Gifford plays along by telling what sounds like an apocryphal story about one of his early dates with the woman who would become his third wife. “Kathie Lee,” he told her, “one word you're going to hear a lot of around me is Bednarik.” And Kathie Lee supposedly said, “What's that, a pasta?”

For all the laughing Gifford does when he spins that yarn, there was nothing funny about November 20, 1960, the day Bednarik handed him his lunch. The Eagles, who complemented Concrete Charlie and Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin with a roster full of tough, resourceful John Does, blew into New York intent on knocking the Giants on their media-fed reputation. Philadelphia was leading 17–10 with under two minutes to play, but the Giants kept slashing and pounding, smelling one of those comeback victories that were supposed to be the Eagles’ specialty. Then Gifford caught that pass. "I ran through him right up here,” Bednarik says, slapping himself on the chest hard enough to break something. "Right here." And this time he pops the passenger in his van on the chest. "It was like when you hit a home run; you say, 'Jeez, I didn't even feel it hit the bat.'"

Huff would later call it "the greatest tackle I’ve ever seen," but at the time it happened his emotion was utter despair. Gifford fell backward, the ball flew forward. When Weber pounced on it, Bednarik started dancing as if St. Vitus had taken possession of him. And as he danced, he yelled at Gifford, “This game is over!” But Gifford couldn't hear him.

"He didn't hurt me,” Gifford insists. “When he hit me, I landed on my ass and then my head snapped back. That was what put me out -- the whiplash, not Bednarik."

Whatever the cause, Gifford looked like he was past tense as he lay there motionless. A funereal silence fell over the crowd, and Bednarik rejoiced no more. He has never been given to regret, but in that moment he almost changed his ways. Maybe he actually would have repented if he had been next to the first Mrs. Gifford after her husband had been carried off on a stretcher. She was standing outside the Giants' dressing room when the team physician stuck his head out the door and said, “I’m afraid he's dead." Only after she stopped wobbling did Mrs. Gifford learn that the doctor was talking about a security guard who had suffered a heart attack during the game. Even so, Gifford didn’t get off lightly. He had a concussion that kept him out for the rest of the season and all of 1961. But in ’62 he returned as a flanker and played with honor for three more seasons. He would also have the good grace to invite Bednarik to play golf with him, and he would never, ever whine about the Tackle. “It was perfectly legal,” Gifford says. “If I'd had the chance, I would have done the same thing to Chuck."

But all that came later. In the week after the Tackle, with a Giant-Eagle rematch looming, Gifford got back at Bednarik the only way he could, by refusing to take his calls or to acknowledge the flowers and fruit he sent to the hospital. Naturally there was talk that Gifford's teammates would try to break Concrete Charlie into little pieces, especially since Conerly kept calling him a cheap-shot artist in the papers. But talk was all it turned out to be. The Eagles, on the other hand, didn't run their mouths until after they had whipped the Giants a second time. Bednarik hasn't stopped talking since then.

"This is a true story,” he says. "They're having a charity roast for Gifford in Parsippany, N. J., a couple of years ago, and I'm one of the roasters. I ask the manager of this place if he'll do me a favor. Then, when it's my turn to talk, the lights go down and it's dark for five or six seconds. Nobody knows what the hell's going on until I tell them, 'Now you know how Frank Gifford felt when I hit him.'"


He grew up poor, and poor boys fight the wars for this country. He never thought anything of it back then. All he knew was that every other guy from the south side of Bethlehem, Pa., was in a uniform, and he figured he should be in a uniform too. So he enlisted without finishing his senior year at Liberty High School. It was a special program they had; your mother picked up your diploma while you went off to kill or be killed. Bednarik didn’t take anything with him but the memories of the place he called Betlam until the speech teachers at Penn classed up his pronunciation. Betlam was where his father emigrated from Czechoslovakia and worked all those years in the steel mill without making foreman because he couldn’t read or write English. It was where his mother gave birth to him and his three brothers and two sisters, then shepherded them through the Depression with potato soup and second-hand clothes. It was where he made 90 cents a round caddying at Saucon Valley Country Club and $2 a day toiling on a farm at the foot of South Mountain, and gave every penny to his mother. It was where he fought in the streets and scaled the wall at the old Lehigh University stadium to play until the guards chased him off. “It was,” he says, “the greatest place in the world to be a kid."

The worst place was in the sky over Europe, just him and a bunch of other kids in an Army Air Corps bomber with the Nazis down below trying to incinerate them. "The antiaircraft fire would be all around us,” Bednarik says. "It was so thick you could walk on it. And you could hear it penetrating. Ping! Ping! Ping! Here you are, this wild, dumb kid, you didn't think you were afraid of anything, and now, every time you take off, you’re convinced this is it, you're gonna be ashes."

Thirty times he went through that behind his .50-caliber machine gun.

He still has the pieces of paper on which he neatly wrote each target, each date.

It started with Berlin on August 27, 1944, and ended with Zwiesel on April 20, 1945. He looks at those names now and remembers the base in England that he flew out of, the wake-ups at four o’clock in the morning, the big breakfasts he ate in case one of them turned out to be his last meal, the rain and fog that made just getting off the ground a dance with death. "We'd have to scratch missions because our planes kept banging together,” he says. “These guys were knocking each other off.”

Bednarik almost bought it himself when his plane, crippled by flak, skidded off the runway on landing and crashed. To escape he kicked out a window and jumped 20 feet to the ground. Then he did what he did after every mission, good or bad. He lit a cigarette and headed for the briefing room, where there was always a bottle on the table. “I was 18, 19 years old,” he says, “and I was drinking that damn whiskey straight.”

The passing of time does nothing to help him forget, because the war comes back to him whenever he looks at the tattoo on his right forearm. It isn't like the CPB monogram that adorns his right biceps, a souvenir from a night on some Army town. The tattoo on his forearm shows a flower blossoming to reveal the word mother. He got it in case his plane was shot down and his arm was all that remained of him to identify.


There were only two things the Eagles didn't get from Bednarik in 1960: the color TV and the $1,000 that had been their gifts to him when he said he was retiring at the end of the previous season. The Eagles didn’t ask for them back, and Bednarik didn’t offer to return them. If he ever felt sheepish about it, that ended when he started going both ways.

For no player could do more for his team than Bednarik did as pro football began evolving into a game of specialists. He risked old bones that could just as easily have been out of harm's way, and even though he never missed a game that season -- and only three in his entire career -- every step hurt like the dickens.

Bednarik doesn't talk about it, which is surprising because, as Dick Vermeil says, "it usually takes about 20 seconds to find out what’s on Chuck’s mind.” But this is different. This is about the code he lived by as a player, one that treated the mere thought of calling in sick as a betrayal of his manhood. "There's a difference between pain and injury,” Baughan says, “and Chuck showed everybody on our team what it was."

His brave front collapsed in front of only one person, the former Emma Margetich, who married Bednarik in 1948 and went on to reward him with five daughters. It was Emma who pulled him out of bed when he couldn’t make it on his own, who kneaded his aching muscles, who held his hand until he could settle into the hot bath she had drawn for him.

"Why are you doing this?” she kept asking. “They’re not paying you for it.” And every time, his voice little more than a whisper, he would reply, “Because we have to win.” Nobody in Philadelphia felt that need more than Bednarik did, maybe because in the increasingly distant past he had been the town's biggest winner. It started when he took his high school coach’s advice and became the least likely Ivy Leaguer that Penn has ever seen, a hard case who had every opponent he put a dent in screaming for the Quakers to live up to their nickname and de-emphasize football.

Next came the 1949 NFL champion Eagles, with halfback Steve Van Buren and end Pete Pihos lighting the way with their Hall of Fame greatness, and the rookie Bednarik ready to go elsewhere after warming the bench for all of his first two regular-season games. On the train home from a victory in Detroit, he took a deep breath and went to see the head coach, who refused to fly and had one of those names you don't find anymore, Earle (Greasy) Neale. "I told him, ‘Coach Neale, I want to be traded, I want to go somewhere I can play,’ ” Bednarik says. "And after that I started every week -- he had me flip-flopping between center and linebacker -- and I never sat down for the next 14 years."

He got a tie clasp and a $1,100 winner’s share for being part of that championship season, and then it seemed that he would never be treated so royally again. Some years before their return to glory, the Eagles were plug-ugly, others they managed to maintain their dignity, but the team's best always fell short of Bednarik's. From 1950 to ’56 and in '60 he was an All-Pro linebacker.

In the ’54 Pro Bowl he punted in place of the injured Charley Trippi and spent the rest of the game winning the MVP award by recovering three fumbles and running an interception back for a touchdown. But Bednarik did not return to the winner’s circle until Van Brocklin hit town.

As far as everybody else in the league was concerned, when the Los Angeles Rams traded the Dutchman to Philadelphia months before the opening of the '58 season, it just meant one more Eagle with a tainted reputation. Tommy McDonald was being accused of making up his pass patterns as he went along, Brookshier was deemed too slow to play cornerback, and end Pete Retzlaff bore the taint of having been cut twice by Detroit. And now they had Van Brocklin, a long-in-the-tooth quarterback with the disposition of an unfed doberman.

In Philly, however, he was able to do what he hadn't done in L.A. He won.

And winning rendered his personality deficiencies secondary. So McDonald had to take it when Van Brocklin told him that a separated shoulder wasn't reason enough to leave a game, and Brookshier, fearing he had been paralyzed after making a tackle, had to grit his teeth when the Dutchman ordered his carcass dragged off the field. "Actually Van Brocklin was a lot like me,” Bednarik says. “We both had that heavy temperament."

But once you got past Dutch's mouth, he didn't weigh much. The Eagles knew that Van Brocklin wasn't one to stand and fight, having seen him hightail it away from a postgame beef with Pellegrini in Los Angeles. Concrete Charlie, on the other hand, was as two-fisted as they came. He decked a teammate who was clowning around during calisthenics just as readily as he tried to punch the face off a Pittsburgh Steeler guard named Chuck Noll. Somehow, though, Bednarik was even tougher on himself. In '61, for example, he tore his right biceps so terribly that it wound up in a lump by his elbow. "He hardly missed a down," says Skorich, who had ascended to head coach by then, “and I know for a fact he's never let a doctor touch his arm.” That was the kind of man it took to go both ways in an era when the species was all but extinct.

The San Francisco 49ers were reluctant to ask Leo Nomellini to play offensive tackle, preferring that he pour all his energy into defense, and the Giants no longer let Gifford wear himself out at defensive back. In the early days of the American Football League the Kansas City Chiefs had linebacker E. J. Holub double-dipping at center until his ravaged knees put him on offense permanently. But none of them ever carried the load that Bednarik did. When Buck Shaw kept asking him to go both ways, there was a championship riding on it. "Give it up, old man,” Paul Brown said when Bednarik got knocked out of bounds and landed at his feet in that championship season. Bednarik responded by calling the patriarch of the Browns a 10-letter obscenity. Damned if he would give anything up.

-- Excerpted by permission from Football: Great Writing About The National Sport. Edited by John Schulian. Copyright (c) 2014 by Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. Published by The Library Of America. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.

Chess doesn't have a long tradition in NBA circles, but you can't blame Daryl Morey. The Houston Rockets GM, already known for his cerebral approach to basketball, tweeted out some photos Monday of NBA stars playing chess against grandmasters and child prodigies alike.

Morey was tweeting to promote an event he sponsored at a Houston-area magnet school, where Morey and other professionals from across the Houston sports community came together to play chess with sixth and seventh-grade students.

Rockets players Trevor Ariza and Troy Daniels attended the event, as well as Susan Polgar, the world's first female chess grandmaster. Ariza teamed up with one of the middle-schoolers to take on Polgar, and the two sides traded pieces deep into the match:

Ariza's photo doesn't hold a candle to the black-and-white picture Morey had posted earlier, which shows a slender boy taking on three NBA stars at the same time. A little Internet research reveals that the photo is of 11-year-old Bob Seltzer taking on then-Celtics Bill Walton, Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale -- the latter of whom is the Rocket's current head coach -- in three separate matches at once.

The contest was organized as part of a multiple sclerosis fundraising event in 1986, and the photo was published by Chess Horizons Magazine in 1987.

Unassuming as he may appear, Seltzer was a chess prodigy. At the time he was ranked No. 1 nationally among 11- and 12-year-olds. And it's important to mentioned all three Celtics he faced had at least some chess acumen. Bill Walton remains an avid chess fan today, according to Polgar.

But Seltzer had no problem juggling the three stars: he forced McHale and Walton to resign early and put Ainge in checkmate after a respectable 35 moves.

As part of his chess event, Morey also gave the schoolkids a lesson on the similarities between chess and basketball. It's fun idea and a noble effort to educate on Morey's part, even if most NBA players couldn't tell their king-side castle from their en passant.

Fans in Buffalo should be thrilled to learn that the estate of late Bills owner Ralph Wilson has agreed to sell the franchise to Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula. That means the Bills will be staying in Western New York, a region whose identity is linked to the football team. In his new book Second To None author Joseph Valerio revisits how the Bills made an unprecedented four consecutive trips to the Super Bowl. But he also examines why this team means so much to its community, and it goes back to the formation of the franchise. Here is an excerpt:

When the American Football League announced in 1959 that Buffalo would to field one of its eight teams, it seemed to lift the spirit of upstate New York. Those truly were the good old days for this working-class American city. Big industries seem to stretch out in every direction: Bethlehem Steel, Republic Steel, Anaconda, General Motors, Ford, and Dunlop, companies that enriched the American dream and experience, thrived in and around Buffalo. With the advent of a professional football team, Buffalo had finally achieved major-league status. Everyone, it seemed, was enthusiastic and bursting with civic pride. It hardly mattered that the Bills would be playing in creaky old Buffalo War Memorial Stadium -- "the old rock pile," as it was dismissively known -- which was often used for stock car races.

"It was just a great time and it was a different time," Donn Bartz, one of the first season-ticket holders said. “We used to be able to bring in our lunches, cases of beer, and you'd sit there and eat and drink and enjoy the game."

Tailgate parties right on the 50-yard line. How much better can it get?

The city of Buffalo may have gained a professional football team, but it never lost its small-town aura. "We'd park right on the streets or in somebody’s front yard. Not like nowadays," Bartz said. Those really were the golden days before personal seat licenses, corporate suites, and preferred parking fees began to fleece fans.

By 1970, when the Bills and the rest of the AFL merged into the NFL, plans were already under way to build a new stadium in Buffalo, one befitting a team that had won two AFL championships. “The merger really gave pride to the city,” Bartz said. "We really felt the pride of saying 'we belong to the NFL.' It gave some credence to the city. We were a major-league town."

One developer even wanted to build an all-weather stadium -- a dome! -- in suburban Lancaster, but the local high school protested, and that proposal was eventually dropped. At that time the city was experiencing economic stress. Buffalo's aging steel industry and obsolete processes were no longer profitable, and Bethlehem Steel practically shuttered its entire operation. Other industries were departing for the Sun Belt. In the two decades from 1960 to 1980, nearly 40,000 factory jobs were lost. The fragmentation brought about by urban renewal exacted a terrible price: large pockets of neighborhoods were razed and citizens were moved into high-rise projects. The ethnic and diverse middle class was all but uprooted; communities -- built upon immigration and migration and supported by work in the steel and manufacturing industries with substantial union wages -- suffered.

Finally, after years of litigation, a new 80,000-seat stadium was erected on the outskirts of Buffalo, in Orchard Park, under the management of Frank Schoenle and his construction company. By the time the new venue opened for business in 1973, it had already been named Rich Stadium after a local corporation, Rich Products -- for a fee. Ralph Wilson had negotiated a 25-year, $1.5 million deal for the stadium’s naming rights, one of the earliest such marketing agreements in American sports. Wilson was even canny enough to work out a compromise with the company who wanted the stadium to be named Coffee Rich Stadium after its premier product. A quarter of a century later, when the agreement expired, the stadium was renamed Ralph Wilson Stadium -- but only after the Rich Corporation balked at paying a whopping new rights fee, which would have brought the price up to par with other naming rights at the time.

For all but a few months of the year, the Bills were the lifeblood of the town. From the time in midsummer when they reported to training camp until well after the last game of the season, in virtually every town in upstate New York fans devoured football tidbits and gossiped about their team. Long before sports talk radio, the Bills commanded 24/7 coverage throughout the region.

"When football came it gave a release to the people, so they had something besides work in their lives," Bartz said, "something else to occupy their time and make them feel good. It wasn’t just work, eat, and sleep. You have your coffee break at the water cooler and you're always talking about the team. A lot of people would talk until Wednesday or maybe even Thursday about how bad we were last Sunday. If it was a tough loss, you didn’t start looking ahead to the next game until Friday. Some people, it eats at them for quite a while. I have a few friends like that. But that’s the nature of the beast. We live and die football. We live and die Bills."

Bill Polian believes the bond between the team and the town is "unique, to use a euphemism." He said of that passion, "It only exists in Green Bay -- and Boston with baseball -- in professional sports. Yeah it’s regional, but it's 365 days of the year, 24 hours of the day. The thing that's unique about Buffalo is that in most other cities it will be the business leaders who tend to be transplants. That’s just the nature of business in America. Politicians and people who work in government, they may be casual fans they’re not real hard-core fans. But Buffalo's different.

"The congressman who represented the south towns where the stadium is located, and where the vast majority of us live, was Jack Kemp, a former Bills quarterback. The county executive was Ed Rutkowski, a former Bill. The mayor when I was there was Jimmy Griffin, a legendary guy who was loved for his down to earth, everyman qualities and was a brilliant politician and mayor as well."

Griffin is best remembered for his outspoken ways. During the blizzard of 1985, he suggested the people in Buffalo should "go home, buy a six-pack of beer, and watch a good football game." He was forever known as “Jimmy Six-Pack.”

These men, who ran the city, shared at least one thing in common with each and every one of their constituents: they cared passionately about their Bills. Several of them would gather at the Quarterback Club every Monday after a home game during the football season in a restaurant in Memorial Auditorium where the politicians would flank Polian on the dais. “You had up to 1,500 people there,” Polian said, “and lunch was being served and the mayor would say to me, ‘Hey Bill, what are we going to do about right corner? We got to get play out of right corner. We're getting picked on. What are we going to do about this?’” Polian laughs, as if he still has to answer for that a quarter of a century later. "But he was a dyed-in-the-wool fan. I mean he cared about the Bills as much as he cared about anything else. And that’s the way it was, 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day. Everything Bills, all the time. People really cared."

It was a birthright to be a Bills fan, as if your parents had signed some certificate at the hospital before they brought you home, a baptismal right. "Most importantly, every young child who comes into the world in western New York for the 10 years I was there was born a Bills fan," Polian said. "They were brought into a Bills family and he or she was a Bills fan from Day One."

Of course, the fans had not always reacted with such a religious fervor. When Polian arrived, attendance was at an all-time low, and there was talk of the Bills relocating to places such as Seattle or Jacksonville. Polian knew one of his foremost challenges was to build a strong and loyal fan base. If you build that, the players will come.

“We needed to try and create new ways to try and sell the team in the marketplace,” Polian said. "We felt we needed some corporate support, and some corporate leaders were great along those lines. And the biggest outfit to come out of that effort was Marine Midland Bank, and we hit the nail on the head. We made retail tickets available through the bank outlets. We created the Shout Zone, the signature for that campaign. We didn't discount tickets, but we kept pricing realistic for the marketplace. We played one preseason game at home instead of two, which effectively created a discount. We discounted season tickets as opposed to individual over-the-counter gameday sales. And that combination, coupled with extensive availability in the branches in western New York, made it really a good thing. We started to move tickets and started some esprit de corps, teamwork with bank employees, and got it going in the right direction."

As Polian began to construct a better team, attendance began to steadily increase. It wasn't as if the Bills were in the fight of their lives for the entertainment dollar in western New York. They were pretty much the only game in the region. Sure Buffalo had a philharmonic and a first-rate art museum, but football -- well, that was the big show. The Bills gave citizens a different sense of self-esteem. It gave them a national identity.

Dick Zolnowski, who was a police officer in Buffalo for 21 years, remembers the surge in pride he felt when the Bills advanced to the 1988 AFC Championship Game. "On every street corner they were selling Bills souvenirs and they had lines down the streets," he said. "You'd go to other cities, and when they heard I was from Buffalo, they were really excited, and all they wanted to hear was stories about Kelly and Thomas and Bennett. I was in Fort Lauderdale to see my brother, and it was around Christmastime. People wanted to know what were the players really like, what was going on in Buffalo. It made me feel really good. I was like the hit of the party. Buffalo, you would think it was New York City or London. You were from Buffalo. You were at the top."

-- Excerpted by permission from Second To None by Joseph Valerio. Copyright (c) 2014 by Joseph Valerio. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

On August 29, 1977, Indians second baseman Duane Kuiper hit a home run off Steve Stone of the White Sox. Nearly four decades later, that homer is still holds a special place in baseball history. It is the subject of this column by ESPN's Jayson Stark in a new collection of his work titled Wild Pitches.

You think it's hard to hit 755 home runs? Let's talk about a feat that’s just as hard:

Hitting one home run.

And only one.

In 3,379 at-bats.

Now, you may think we're only tossing a crazy statement like that out there as some cheap stunt to get your attention. But this is one cheap stunt we can back up with actual facts.

And the actual facts tell us there are more members in the 750 Homer Club (two) than there are in the One Homer in 3,000 At-Bats Club (one).

Feel free to look that up.

So at a time when we were interrupting pretty much all our regularly scheduled programming to commemorate a man who hit more home runs than anyone else who ever lived, shouldn’t we be fair? And just? And balanced?

Shouldn’t we devote at least one minor piece of literature to the man who has made history in the most diametrically opposite way possible?

Well, of course we should. So here's to the King of Not Hitting Homers.

Here’s to Duane Eugene Kuiper -- for 12 seasons a sure-handed, not-so-power-packed big-league second baseman, and now (irony of ironies) a terrific broadcaster for those San Francisco (Home of Barry) Giants.

The Home Run Made Duane Kuiper Famous. So mark your calendars.

Who among us will ever forget it?

OK, so the answer to that is: just about everybody. But not Duane Kuiper himself, naturally. He has retold this tale a whole lot more than 755 times since then. That’s for darned sure.

He was playing second base for the Indians back then, in only his third full season in the big leagues. He stepped in to hit against White Sox pitcher Steve Stone in the first inning of a game at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

Only 6,236 witnesses were on hand. We’re sure millions more wish they were.

"I remember I hit it, and I saw Wayne Nordhagen, the right fielder, running after it, and I saw his number,” Kuiper reminisced. “And I never saw a right fielder’s number. I saw him running back, and I said, “You know what? This is going to go out.’”

That’s a thought that didn’t exactly race through Kuiper’s brain every time he swung the bat, you understand. So pay attention -- because, in fact, this ball did go out. Way out. Deep into the third row. Or possibly the fourth.

But the precise location isn’t important now. What’s important is that the historic baseball clattered off (what else?) an empty seat and caromed back onto the field.

So Wayne Nordhagen, astutely recognizing that this was a guy who was capable of playing eight more seasons without ever hitting another home run, picked up the ball and fired it toward the Cleveland dugout. Which means Duane Kuiper got to save the baseball.

But that’s not all he saved.

As he was leaving the dugout to head for the plate a second time that night, his teammate, Bill Melton, said to him, "You’re not going to use that bat again, are you?"

“So I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’” Kuiper recalled. “He said, ‘You may not hit another one. You ought to put that one away.’ Well, I didn’t know he was telling the truth. But I tried to bunt for a hit my next time up, and then I did put my bat away. Never used it again."

Instead, he gave the bat and the ball to the equipment manager, who had them mounted together, with a plaque that read Duane Kuiper’s first major-league home run. A few years later, a clairvoyant teammate grabbed a marker and added the fateful words, “and only," on there. But that’s not important, either.

What's important is that Kuiper has the ball and the bat. You'd think he'd have sent them off to Cooperstown years ago. But mysteriously, Cooperstown has never asked. So Duane Kuiper knows just where to look any time he wants to savor his magic moment.

“Yeah, in the attic," he laughed. "It's mounted in the attic. It would probably take me 10 minutes to get to it, but I have a general idea where it's at."

Meanwhile, we still have the general idea that you, our loyal audience, don’t yet comprehend the cosmic significance of the home run that plaque has preserved. So let’s pause for a brief history lesson:

  • In the 62 seasons since World War II, no other members of the One Homer in Their Whole Darned Career Club have even come within 1,000 at-bats of Duane Kuiper’s lifetime total. And just two one-homer men even made it to 2,000 career at-bats: Woody Woodward (one in 2,187 at-bats) and Al Newman (one in 2,107).
  • In that same time span, every other player who batted as many times as Kuiper managed to hit at least five home runs -- with the exception of longtime pinger Frank Taveras (who hit two).
  • And even if we take in all of baseball's eras -- live-ball, dead-ball, gloves-without-fingers, mound-45-feet-from-home-plate, etc. -- you'd still have to go back to 1886 (to the retirement of the mysterious Davy Force) to find another player who hit just one homer and came within 450 at-bats of getting as many shots to hit one as Kuiper did.

So there. Impressed yet?

No wonder Kuiper hung onto the bat and the ball -- and the seat, too, for that matter. The Indians gave him the seat after they traded him to the Giants in 1982. And where can you find that historic seat now? In his garage, where it has been residing since he hauled it in from his yard because the paint started cracking.

"I like to say that I hit it so hard, the ball cracked the top of the seat," Kuiper quipped. “But it doesn’t look like that happened."

At the time that home run hit that seat, it was too early in Kuiper’s career for him, or anyone, to have the proper perspective on what that mighty blast represented. That home run left the yard in 1977. But Kuiper didn’t leave the playing field himself until 1985. So he racked up another 1,997 at-bats in his day, every one of them 100 percent trot-free.

In all that time, he said, there were barely even any close calls. But there was one near-miss he’ll never forget -- a triple off the top of the fence in 1981.

And the reason Kuiper will never forget it is because the pitcher who gave it up happened to be the same guy who had served up The Homer -- Steve Stone.

"I remember standing on third, looking at Stoney's face, and I realized that [having the second ball not go out] was a good thing,” Kuiper said, at his sympathetic best. "To have two in your whole life -- and have them both off the same guy -- that would have been rough. Plus Stoney was born in Cleveland. His parents lived there. He did not need to hear all that crap."

Nope, sure didn't. So instead, all the crap was reserved for Kuiper himself.

As the seasons and at-bats mounted -- but the homer total didn't -- he heard it all from America’s most compassionate fans, folks who obviously didn't sufficiently appreciate the art of not homering.

But Duane Kuiper appreciated it. And that’s what mattered. He knew exactly what he was and exactly what he wasn’t. And while Hank Aaron reincarnate was what he wasn't, he never did see any problem with that.

"You know, when I got to the big leagues, [manager] Frank Robinson pulled me aside,” Kuiper said. “And he said, ‘I’ll give you 10 at-bats. If you hit more than two balls in the air, I’ll send you back to Triple A.’ I kind of laughed. And he said, ‘This is not a joke. I will send your ass back to Triple A.' Because I could run, and his whole idea was: hit the ball in the hole and make the shortstop throw you out. And that was the stroke that kept me in the big leagues.

“Of course,” Duane Kuiper couldn’t help but add, “I kind of had that stroke anyway."

Did he think about what he might do or say if he ever hit another homer?

Sure he did. But does it bug him, even a little bit, that he never hit another homer? Not for one second.

"There's something special about one," Kuiper philosophized. "There's not a whole lot special about two. I mean, nobody ever keeps their second major league hit."

-- Excerpted by permission from Wild Pitches by Jayson Stark. Copyright (c) 2014 by Jayson Stark. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter @jaysonst.

As anyone who has seen The Sandlot surely knows, Babe Ruth-signed balls are the Holy Grail of baseball memorabilia.

Baseball aficionados don't part with them easily, and when they do they can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in return.

So when John Lackey, who was traded to the Cardinals from the Red Sox at the MLB trade deadline, was willing to swap a Bambino-signed ball for a jersey number and nothing else, it was a big deal.

St. Louis reliever Pat Neshek, who owned the No. 41 at the time of Lackey's acquisition by the Cardinals, tweeted this photo Wednesday:

Lackey is one of the more superstitious players in baseball, so perhaps he feels tied to the No. 41. But compared to what other athletes have paid for a number, this is a substantial price. According to some reports, the price of a Ruth-signed ball varies wildly depending on the condition, and those in bad shape could go for as low as $3,000 or $4,000. The ones in good condition, however, have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the most expensive one going for $388,375.

In recent years players have paid $25,000, $50,000 and even forked over a year's supply of diapers for the right to a certain number.

From Art Modell's founding of the franchise in 1996 to the decision to draft Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, to victories in two Super Bowls the past 15 years, the Baltimore Ravens' short history has been full of highlights. Jamison Hensley has covered much of that history, first as a Baltimore Sun reporter for 11 seasons before moving to ESPN. In this excerpt from his new book Flying High: Stories Of The Baltimore Ravens, Hensley describes how the team got quarterback Joe Flacco even though owner Steve Bisciotti had pushed hard to draft Boston College star Matt Ryan.

Long before winning the Super Bowl in February 2013, the Ravens realized the extent of Joe Cool's calm demeanor at a cold and windy pre-draft workout at the University of Delaware.

Joe Flacco showed up with a bag of footballs and a few of his Delaware receivers. To see how Flacco would react, Ravens officials arrived with brand new NFL balls along with three other collegiate receivers that the team wanted to work out.

Flacco didn't blink. He smiled and asked how they wanted him to start. The throwing conditions were poor. The footballs were slick. Flacco was unfamiliar with the receivers. And only five of 150 passes hit the ground.

The Ravens wanted to confuse Flacco, and instead, they came away with more clarity about the future of the quarterback position.

Team officials walked to their cars in silence. They didn't even look at each other. With just a month left before the draft, the Ravens didn't want to give anyone watching a hint that they were so impressed with Flacco.

"It was there that we all looked at each other and kind of said the same thing: ‘Do you believe what we just saw?'" said Cam Cameron, the Ravens' offensive coordinator at the time.

So, imagine the Ravens' surprise when owner Steve Bisciotti challenged them to draft a different franchise quarterback -- Matt Ryan.

"I told those guys that if they had Matt Ryan listed as the best quarterback in the draft, then I'm willing to give up the whole damn draft for him," Bisciotti said. "I told them there is nothing worse for an owner or for them to be managing a business without a franchise quarterback. I said, ‘I don't care what we have to pay for him to trade up. We're getting Matt Ryan.'"

The Ravens, who were drafting No. 8 in 2008, knew they would have to jump six spots to No. 2 (and ahead of the Atlanta Falcons) to get Ryan. Baltimore called the St. Louis Rams, who had the second overall pick, and they wanted two first-round picks (2008 and 2009) along with the Ravens' picks in the second and third rounds.

Team officials convinced Bisciotti the smarter play was to trade back, acquire more picks, and take Flacco. The Ravens had Ryan rated as the No. 3 player in the entire draft and Flacco at No. 15. There wasn't much separation between the quarterbacks in the Ravens' opinion.

The team's scouts thought Flacco had a lower floor than Ryan, but he had the higher ceiling.

The Ravens dropped from a top-10 pick to near the bottom of the first round, which proved too far down to Bisciotti's liking. He started getting antsy that Flacco wouldn't drop to the Ravens. He didn't want to get stuck with a quarterback like Chad Henne or Brian Brohm, who weren't rated anywhere close to Flacco on the Ravens' board.

Bisciotti wanted the Ravens to trade a third-round pick and move up, but Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel at the time, didn't think the team should do it. DeCosta told Bisciotti that Flacco would be there at No. 26. Bisciotti then looked across the table at DeCosta and told him, "And what if he isn't? What if somebody takes him? Is it going to be worth an extra third-round pick? We have three of them. So, stop being a pick whore. Let's give up a third, and go back and get him, and be done with this."

The Ravens gave up a pick in the third and sixth rounds to Houston in order to go to No. 18 and take Flacco. At the news conference, general manager Ozzie Newsome essentially delivered the coronation of Flacco, calling him "the guy to lead our football team into the future."

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. questioned the pick, saying Flacco was a second-round talent. The biggest criticism with Flacco was he played in Division I-AA against Towson and New Hampshire instead of national powers like Alabama and Texas.

"I had to go down to the minor leagues of college football to prove who I was," Flacco said. "I'm going to carry that with me for the rest of my life and use it for the best."

Flacco provided a glimpse of the future in his first practice with the Ravens, hitting wide receiver Mark Clayton on target with a pass that soared 50 yards in the air.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who watched 15 quarterbacks start for the Ravens from 1996 to 2007, couldn't hide his excitement.

"We've got ourselves a quarterback," Lewis told a team official.

The Ravens, though, wanted to bring Flacco along slowly. The plan was to sit him for his entire rookie season. The hope was for Troy Smith to win the starting job.

But, by the third game of the preseason, Flacco went from third string to starter after Smith came down with a serious tonsil infection and Kyle Boller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

"I didn't want to sit," Flacco said. "If you're going to say I'm your guy, then you should play me. I don't see any benefit of sitting and watching."

Flacco won over fans as quickly as he did the Ravens' organization. In his first career start, he surprisingly scored with his feet instead of his arm, running for a 38-yard touchdown in a 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.

In the first half, fans waved purple placards that read, "Wacko 4 Flacco." In the second half, the crowd chanted, "Let's go Flacco," something no other Ravens starting quarterback before him -- from Vinny Testaverde to Troy Smith -- had ever inspired.

"I kind of thought I heard it, but I wasn't really sure. I thought, ‘Why would they be doing that?'" Flacco said with a laugh. "Hey, if I can keep them on my side like that, it will be a good time."

-- Excerpted by permission from Flying High: Stories Of The Baltimore Ravens by Jamison Hensley. Copyright (c) 2014 by Jamison Hensley. Published by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Jamison Hensley on Twitter @jamisonhensley.

Hawks guard Kyle Korver was 12 when his family moved from Iowa to California, which forced him to change his fashion.

"I had never worn a pair of jeans before, until I moved to Iowa," Korver said. "Then on my first of school in Iowa, I had to wear jeans because it was so cold. Actually the first day of school got canceled because there was too much snow on the ground. And I was like, 'This happens? This is amazing.' And we got to go sledding all day."

Korver's frigid but fun welcome to Iowa was one of many amusing recollections that USA Basketball players, who are preparing for the FIBA World Cup, had about the first day back in class after summer vacation.

Rudy Gay: "Ninth grade. I actually had a job. I went out and bought my whole first-day outfit. I actually spent my whole savings on it. I saw P. Diddy wear an outfit, and I tried to buy the same thing."

Stephen Curry: "Thinking back to high school, what I used to wear ... Like jean shorts and a striped polo that was probably two sizes too big. I thought I was fly, for sure, but looking back, not at all."

Check out this video for more memories, not all of which center around clothes, from them and others including Kyrie Irving, Kenneth Faried, Gordon Hayward and DeMar DeRozan:

As it turns out, Curry wasn't exaggerating about his outfit.

If the USA Basketball players were forced to write one of those "how I spent my summer vacation" essays, they would have plenty of material this year. The team had training camp in Las Vegas. Then it went to Chicago for an exhibition against Brazil as well as various appearances as part of the World Basketball Festival presented by Nike and Jordan Brand. And now it will head to Spain for the World Cup.

As NBA executives, players and fans await the decision of free agent LeBron James, one name has been appearing quite often in connection with the four-time MVP.

James' agent, Rich Paul, has been working feverishly behind the scenes for years in preparation for this summer. Paul, a Cleveland native, is reportedly the one who is leading the Cavaliers to believe they have a chance to sign James, and according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "everyone's at the mercy of Paul's agenda now."

So, just who is Rich Paul?

A friend of James since his high school days, Paul's role in Team LeBron has evolved from helping to plan parties to running James' free agency. He is part of James' famously close inner circle and he has been working with James since he was drafted.

Perhaps the most amazing part of their relationship is that James and Paul met by chance some 12 years ago at the Akron-Canton Airport. James, then 17 years old and on his way to the 2002 Final Four in Atlanta, sported a Michael Vick jersey for the trip. At the airport he noticed a man wearing an authentic Warren Moon throwback jersey along with white Air Force 1's. James was impressed.

James asked the man where he got the jersey and Paul, then 21, replied that he sold throwback jerseys out of the trunk of his car. The two exchanged contact information, and soon Paul hooked James up with a Magic Johnson Lakers jersey and a Joe Namath Rams uniform.

"If I don't have on that jersey, we don't have a conversation," Paul told Chris Broussard for a 2012 feature in ESPN The Magazine.

James and Paul grew close and bonded over their many similarities. Broussard describes the relationship in his article:

Both had mothers who struggled with the perils of urban life while raising their sons. Both grew up in the 'hood but attended mostly white Catholic high schools to play basketball. Both recognized the importance of doing well in school. "We used to say, There's nothing cool about being a dummy," Paul recalls.

Over the years Paul's role has evolved from planning parties and events to helping guide James' marketing strategy to taking over as his agent. Paul has even acted alongside James in a State Farm commercial. Here he is pretending he doesn't like Kid 'n Play:

Paul, who never graduated from college, started Klutch Sports Group in 2012 and represents Eric Bledsoe, Jabari Parker and Tristan Thompson in addition to James.

Now, as James prepares to make a decision that will define the NBA for decades to come, Paul is right beside him. He's met with five teams already and will sit down with James and Pat Riley this week.

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