Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Debbie Black is not only the shortest player in the WNBA at 5-foot-3 but she also has suffered ten broken noses during her 14-year professional basketball career. Her fans at AmericanAirlines Arena sit together in a black-and-blue section, where they tally the number of times she hits the floor in a game. A huge banner sports one Band Aid-style cross for each crash; her record is 16, in the 2001 opening game against rival New York Liberty. She usually gets possession of the ball and comes up grinning, though sometimes stitches are required. Her dives are not in vain. Black, or "The Pest," as she's known to many fans, led the league last year for steals and was named WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. Her take on her lack of height? It's an advantage. "I'm the closest player to the floor," she says. Not that she's all sweetness and light. When Liberty guard Teresa Weatherspoon missed a shot just before the half-time buzzer on July 22 and shoved Black to the ground in frustration, our homegirl got up, turned around, and gave chase. Black didn't hit T-Spoon, but seven technical fouls split between the two teams later, the Sol guard had proven she's no pushover. Unlike the Heat, who occupy the AmericanAirlines Arena the rest of the year, the Black-led Sol made the playoffs in 2001, its second year in the league. Not bad for a team that was predicted to come in last during its freshman year; it ended that season with a double-overtime win and the best record of four expansion teams. Under Black's leadership last year, it became the first 2000 expansion team to make the playoffs.
Everybody knew the Dolphins' offensive line wasn't very good last year, even with a healthy Mark Dixon. While the team's inability to run the ball was often demoralizing, at least the Fins were a team that could stop the run, right? Umm, no. On December 16, 2001, the San Francisco 49ers exposed the Dolphins' vulnerability to a strong running game with several punishing, clock-eating drives en route to a 21-0 victory. This cemented our selection of Gardener as the one player Miami could not do without. Largely because the big defensive tackle was out with a back injury, the Niners' interior linemen were able to get off the line to put a helmet on Zach Thomas, nullifying his speed and playmaking. This year, the coaches are talking about moving Gardener to defensive end to save his back from the beating he takes playing inside. Not sure we agree: While he's a good enough player to make an impact outside, his true gift is as a run-stuffer. If he's healthy, that's where he belongs. If team brass leaves him there, Thomas will be grateful. So will we.
If the Marlins' ownership had been stable this past winter, Cliffy would already be gone. Of course, had that been the case, he might have had an even better year in 2001. His post-All-Star slump seemed to correlate directly to the failure of the stadium drive and the uncertainty about the team's South Florida future. As it was, Floyd still ended up with excellent numbers, offering a consistent, mostly healthy (hooray!) presence in the three-hole, steady, sometimes spectacular defense. And he was the closest thing these pups had to veteran leadership. This year, by the time the trading deadline rolls around, he'll be ripping screaming liners into the right-centerfield gap for a playoff contender -- here, if the young pitching progresses, Luis Castillo and Charles Johnson rebound, and Alex Gonzalez gets his shit together, but more likely somewhere else.
Our favorite feature of this strip of sand in Deerfield Beach is the absence of cars zipping by on A1A ten yards from your beach blanket. In 1967, the Army Corps of Engineers set up boulder piles on the sand every 30 feet or so to prevent erosion. You can sit on the rocks and enjoy the water, lie on the sand, or dive into the ocean. The sand is broader than most of the Fort Lauderdale beaches, and there are vegetation breaks that separate your shot at tranquility from the busy and polluted street. Part of the strip has condos and guesthouses, but they're small and set back from the shore. The sand is dotted with the occasional tiki hut, and a concrete walking path lines the northern end. The nicest, quietest part of the beach is the southern border, which the lifeguards call south beach, not to be confused with South Beach, which is filled with people, restaurants, and dance clubs instead of sea shells and breaking waves. Metered parking is eight bits an hour.
Hidden behind sand dunes and patches of natural Florida vegetation, this place can easily be missed. After you find a parking spot, which admittedly can be close to a mission impossible during the winter season, lug your sun umbrella, towels, and folding chairs through one of the thick and canopied beach entrances. There, you will understand why Delray is among the nation's favorite beach resort towns. The nearly mile-long, pristine, and wide beach is unusually clean and welcoming, without rocks, piers, or fishermen. Food and nonalcoholic drinks are allowed, but don't feed the sea gulls no matter how cute they seem; they'll turn into pests. There is a recreation area in the beach's southern part where teenagers sometimes pass the football and kite enthusiasts fly their creations in the shapes of birds, scuba divers, and sharks. The beach also offers chair rentals, five volleyball courts, showers and bathrooms, a water sports rental shack, and several exotic diving attractions (be mindful of the resident ray at the 19th-century wreck just offshore). And when the sun hits the water just right here and the ocean turns breathtakingly turquoise, you will remember why you live in South Florida.
"Swim Nude to Prevent Sea Lice Infection." Such was the recent headline in a U.S. Public Health Service professional journal. Skinny-dipping is not naughty; it's healthy, experts say, referring to the rash that generally appears on bodies covered in swimsuits. You see, the microscopic jellyfish get trapped beneath the material and release a skin-irritating venom. If that doesn't scare the pants off you, then forget this advice: Peel off your duds behind the Marriott hotel on A1A, scurry across a private beach (though we have had no trouble running around nude for nearly an hour around midnight on several occasions), and give the moon to the night sky.