Sonny Vaccaro is one of the most despicable people in the world of sports today, and that's really saying something, considering the incredible variety of hustlers, bloodsuckers and thugs who permeate and poison the athletic scene.
Vaccaro is a long-time athletic-shoe-company pimp who went from Nike to Adidas and then to Reebok. He is best-known for selling his noxious vision of wearing wildly overpriced shoes as some sort of lifestyle choice; he apparently sold his ideals several shoe companies back.
Even the average person who doesn't like sports at all has heard the stories of inner-city kids who get killed for their shoes, and while it really doesn't happen that often, the fact that it has happened even once can be laid at the feet of people like Vaccaro, who created a wave of false values and phony idol worship.
Those inside the basketball world know Vaccaro more for his hucksterism that built a youth-basketball dream world populated by ridiculously spoiled kids and their even-more-ridiculous parents, who fantasize about hitting the financial jackpot while living vicariously through their 14-year-old offspring. It's an ugly place, one that manages to suck the fun out of what should be a celebration of movement, athleticism and teamwork. After a couple of years of playing on one of these "elite" teams, most kids would rather pass a kidney stone than a basketball.
I once met Vaccaro at a basketball thing. Even though we didn't shake hands, after he left, I still felt the need to make sure that my wedding band was still on my finger. He wore one of those stupid velour running suits, like he was filming a scene for The Sopranos, and he had the crap-eating grin of someone who had learned that P.T. Barnum's claim that a sucker is born every minute was dead-on.
If you ever want to get really creeped out, attend one of the basketball "tournaments" that Vaccaro originated. Twelve-year-old boys, decked out from head to toe in brand-new gear supplied by the shoe company to which the club-team coach decided to whore himself out, strut around Las Vegas like they own the place (or at least plan to in the not-too-distant future). They play a bastardized version of basketball—all offense, with the only thing remotely resembling defense being the occasional exaggerated blocked shot that draws squeals from the sidelines, but only serves to give the ball back to the offense.
First off, no pre-teen kid should be allowed to play on a team that bills itself as "Elite," "All-Stars" or even "Above Average." If there were truth in advertising, the teams would be known as "The Tucson We-Can-Jump-Pretty-Well-But-We-Don't-Know-Dookie-About-Real-Basketball-ers." Hopefully the shirt-maker doesn't charge by the letter.
Last year, Vaccaro was behind the Brandon Jennings stink-fest. Jennings was scheduled to come to the University of Arizona for his one-and-done before moving on to the NBA. But he had this small problem at the prep school he was attending: The first time he took the SAT, he scored about two points higher than what you get for signing your name. So he took it again (although cameras in the room show him looking oddly like an Asian female), and his score was suspiciously high. So, instead of facing further scrutiny as to whether he was indeed dumber than a stick, he took his game and went to play in Europe for a year, thereby circumventing the NBA's one-year-in-college rule.
Vaccaro has tried to label Jennings as a trailblazer and a revolutionary, when, in fact, Jennings is just another knucklehead with a quick first step.
But Jennings is just so last year. These days, the shoe pimp is touting his latest disaster, 17-year-old Jeremy Tyler, who will not only forgo college, but will be skipping his senior year of high school to play pro basketball overseas. I saw Tyler on TV, and he was muttering some nonsense that, when run through the B.S. machine, translated to, "Me me money, me money, me me me. Money."
Vaccaro sees himself as some Pied Piper, leading a parade of precocious athletes to riches overseas while sticking it to The Man at the same time. In every speech and interview he gives, he makes the same twisted analogy, talking about how some kids leave high school early to pursue careers in golf, gymnastics or tennis, and nobody says a word, because they're white.
(Don't you just love it when white people scream racism in the name of minorities who, when looking at a certain situation, don't feel the need to claim it themselves?)
Of course, Vaccaro's claim has a hole in it big enough to drive a truck through, but he counts on people being reluctant to counter charges of racism for fear of appearing to take racist stances.
Fortunately, there are people like Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt, who is also the president of the Black Coaches Association. Hewitt, quoted in USA Today, said, "The reality is if you're a tennis player or golfer, your family has a safety net. ... It scares me that the message that we're sending to African-American youth is, 'Don't worry about your college education.'"
That's certainly the message Sonny Vaccaro is sending. In his Brave New World, there are Alphas, Betas and Jamals.