Last week, New Times writer Ashley Harrell turned out a spellbinding cover story on Miami Heat benchwarmer Dorell Wright. The 21-year-old straight-from-high-school phenom an amiable California youngster with big ambitions and a yearning for more playing time seemed to come to life on the page because of Harrell's vivid writing and dogged reporting.
Harrell talked to a lot of people about Wright, including his mother, his agent, his high school coaches, and his roommate. She talked to everybody, that is, except Wright himself and anybody else connected with the Heat organization.
The reasons for this are mysterious and troubling. For more than a month, Heat public relations officials stonewalled Harrell's efforts to speak with the young athlete. When she reached Tim Donovan, vice president for public relations, he said, "The Heat does not grant New Times any access under any circumstances."
It's a dreary old story around the New Times offices. For a decade or so, Heat flacks have said that, as a matter of policy, they don't cooperate with either Miami New Times or New Times Broward-Palm Beach because of stories published in the past about the company. They specifically cite exposés in Miami New Times about Heat majority owner Micky Arison (several stories wittily referred to him as "a greedy corporate pig"), his aggressive pursuit of a county-financed arena, and the treatment of non-American employees on his Carnival Cruise Lines ships. Arison, of course, denied all charges (though American Airlines Arena still stands there, at a hefty $550 million cost to taxpayers), but no lawsuits ensued, and there wasn't even much of a response on the paper's letters-to-the-editor page.
The most recent of the Miami New Times stories cited by the team was published in 2000.
In Harrell's case, the Heat strung her along for a while, probably because of her tenacity and persuasiveness. Two weeks after her first call, one of the Heat's lesser P.R. people finally got back to her, saying he was going to try to work something out. How about if Harrell submitted questions for Dorell via e-mail? She did... and waited. And waited.
In the meantime, she talked to the people who really cared about Wright, getting the inside story about her likable, impulsive, sometimes-goofy subject. And she wrote hilariously about attending a game with binoculars and watching him fidget on the bench.
Then, a week before the story was scheduled to be published, Heat flack Michael Lissack called to say there would be no Heat-sanctioned responses from Wright. Harrell, he said, had broken the Heat's rules.
"We're not happy because proper procedure was not followed," Lissack said. "Every media request that has to do with a player has to go through our department." Blam. Sound of door slamming shut.
So the Heat is breaking new ground here. Reporters must ask permission to do stories. Failure to do so has wide-ranging repercussions. After Lissack's response, none of Harrell's sources returned phone calls. The Big Heat Machine had obviously made the rounds, urging Wright's friends not to cooperate with this renegade reporter.
Contrary to Heat-thought, the kind of persistence Harrell displays is often rewarded with major journalism prizes. (Did Miami Herald reporter Debbie Cenziper, who just won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for her "House of Lies" stories, ask for permission from the corrupt Miami-Dade Housing Agency?)
Sadly, the closed-door policy has resulted in some of the most lackluster sports journalism in America. Heat beat reporters at the dailies hardly ever break any news about the Heat that isn't spoon-fed by the P.R. department. Coverage of the mysterious replacement of Coach Stan Van Gundy by Pat Riley 21 games into last year's season, for example, was reflexively regurgitated as Van Gundy's desire to spend more time with his family.
Daily coverage is usually little more than a string of post-game clichés from the players ("I'll do anything for the team") and vague rumination by Riley ("We have what we've got and we'll go where we go," he said recently).
So the Heat press corps is a club New Times wouldn't want to join. Not with the kind of strings that the thin-skinned Heat attaches to membership. In the meantime, New Times will continue to do stories about this publicly subsidized professional team even if it's "not the way things are done here," as Donovan put it.
And, oh yeah: Go Heat.
For all you liberated dudes and dudettes, nudity may be the least interesting thing happening at Sunsport Gardens nudist resort in Loxahatchee. The fact that everyone walks around naked pales in comparison to the 42-year-old resort's progressive ideas. The resort uses solar energy to heat its pool and showers. In March, the hideaway hosted a candidates' forum for a local election. And today, it remains as far as Tailpipe knows the only place you can go to get in on a decent game of Wiggle Waggle Bingo.
Lesser-known is the fact that a longtime resident named Don has started a nursery on the premises. May 1 marks the date of the Nekked Man Nursery's first official anniversary.
"I've had the garden for about four years," Don explains. "A year ago, I expanded it to start the nursery. I started with just caladiums I'd buy 200 of them and pot them and sell them to my neighbors." Now, he has more than 600 plants native lantana, bougainvillea, banana trees.
"They're basically a third of the price you'd pay at Home Depot," Don says. "I sell most for $5 or less. Except the large bougainvillea at the store, those go for around $40; I sell them for $20. Banana trees start at $5."
Don does it for love, not money; he's got another job as the front-desk guy at Sunsport, and he DJs the resort's Saturday-night parties. "It's great," he says. "I just wake up, wash my face, put on my sandals" just his sandals "and come to work."
The conversation ended when Dan had to hang up and get back to a project. "I'm making a sign to put out front: Honk once for service, honk twice for service with clothes."
That Flushing Sound
Add another $1.6 million of public funds to the funeral pyre that was the Hollywood Art District (HART). The mortgage company has foreclosed on the Hollywood Bread building and the adjacent parking garage, where an 18-story condo was supposed to rise.
It wasn't supposed to happen that way, of course. The city, spurred by developers' desperation to clear red tape so that construction could begin and units could be marketed quickly, let a few little details slip. So the city has no equity in the property nor does its hapless developer, Gary Posner. Ugh. If the city can't find a new developer who can chip in $3.4 million by May 17, the properties get sold at public auction and, ergo, the $1.6 million in loans paid by Hollywood to Posner's group will be gone.
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The damage isn't all financial. It's aesthetic. With building costs still soaring and the condo market still in the doldrums, that corner, just off Young Circle, figures to stagnate, blighting the new, sparkling Hollywood ArtsPark in Young Circle.
You remember Posner. He's the guy who took the "art" out of "HART" (scuttling plans for a legitimate theater after pitching it as a centerpiece for his development plan). Now he's in violation of the development agreement. As a consequence, he may be out of the $270,000 a year he was supposed to get for the mortgage on the Hollywood Academy of Arts and Science, a charter school. The last payment was due in January.
But hell, Posner's a friend of Mayor Mara Giulianti. Maybe city officials will go easy on him. They have in the past. But wait. Maybe the city shouldn't keep shoveling money Posner's way, like good money after bad. Neil Fritz, director of Hollywood's Community Redevelopment Agency, didn't return Tailpipe's calls.
As told to Edmund Newton