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Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2004 / 2 Kislev, 5765

Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom
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Mr. Honored, make way for Mr. Entitled | The Sports World announced a passing of the torch this week. Mr. Honored, the founder and CEO, is officially stepping down. Mr. Entitled will be taking his place.

Mr. Entitled, younger and more energetic, has long been rumored a successor to the aging Mr. Honored, who in recent years seemed frail. At certain glitzy industry functions - such as the NBA All-Star Game or the ESPY Awards - Mr. Honored was barely able to stand. Mr. Entitled, meanwhile, attended every party and has been featured in TV spots with Gary Payton and Ray Lewis.

The power struggle between Honored and Entitled has been well documented. Mr. Honored rose to prominence a century ago, on the philosophy that playing pro sports was a privilege. Mr. Entitled, a product of the free-agency era, built on the belief that pro athletes should be granted special treatment.

In recent years, Mr. Entitled had been more hands-on in the day-to-day operations, with such headline grabbers as Kobe Bryant's sex life, Maurice Clarett's indulgences, and baseball pitcher Kevin Brown, who had a private plane for his family negotiated into his contract.

Insiders say the final straw came last week, when Indiana Pacers star Ron Artest asked his coach if he could take off the first month of the season, because he was fatigued after promoting his rap album.

"That broke Mr. Honored's back," said one official, who asked to remain anonymous. "I mean, he was crying."

News of the shakeup was greeted mildly on Wall Street. Mr. Entitled issued a statement, saying "Mr. Honored will always have a place in our shareholders' hearts. But his philosophy was for a different time. We wish him well. And, by the way, we think Ron Artest is absolutely justified."

Mr. Honored declined to comment.

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Mr. Honored will be remembered mostly for his early accomplishments, such as baseball players dedicating home runs to sick little boys, or pro football teams that barnstormed through small towns and rode trains with the locals.

He was most comfortable with athletes such as Lou Gehrig or Satchel Paige. At social gatherings, Mr. Honored was quick with an anecdote, such as the time Tigers outfielder Al Kaline gave back part of his salary because he didn't have a good year.

But Mr. Honored's grip on his company began to loosen in the last 30 years. Free-agent contracts spiraled. College players refused to talk to the media. High school seniors were driving Lincoln Navigators.

"When Charles Barkley told people 'I ain't nobody's role model,' something died inside Mr. Honored," a source said. "He always thought being a role model was a privilege."

About that time, a young Mr. Entitled, known for his flashy suits, was moving up the ranks. He gained influence with big-money shoe contracts and special treatment for athletes arrested on drunken driving or sexual assault cases. With every new holdout or player trade demand, Mr. Entitled gained influence. When the Dream Team jetted in and out of the Barcelona Games, Mr. Entitled was named vice president. And when LeBron James signed a $100 million shoe deal, just out of high school, Mr. Entitled was given a corner office.

It was only a matter of time before the succession took place.

A source said the Artest incident prompted Mr. Honored to step aside. Artest, while holding up his new CD cover, was asked about the "integrity of the game."

"I don't know what that means," he said.

Mr. Honored, who was reportedly watching on TV, flicked off the set and summoned his aides.

There will be no formal baton pass. A spokesman for Mr. Entitled said he was "too busy" with MTV and PlayStation meetings, as well as securing strip clubs where players "can be left alone."

Meanwhile, Mr. Honored scribbled a statement, saying he plans to listen to old radio broadcasts and find a quiet baseball field to play catch.

No replacement was named for Mr. Entitled's old job, but Mr. Dance In The End Zone has been mentioned.

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