Opening Notes

Opening Notes

Towering hoop dreams

TOM FENNELL June 23 1997
Opening Notes

Opening Notes

Towering hoop dreams

TOM FENNELL June 23 1997

Opening Notes

Towering hoop dreams

TOM FENNELL

Michael Ri’s personal statistics speak for him: he stands seven feet, nine inches tall, weighs 280 pounds and wears a size-20 running shoe. Ri, a North Korean, is in Canada on a 90-day visitor’s visa. He played for his country’s national basket-ball team and former Canadian team coach Jack Donohue, who is tutoring him, says he may have what it takes to play in the NBA. Before he can turn pro, Ri will have to overcome a major hurdle: the United States and North Korea have not had diplomatic relations since the 1950s, and the NBA has warned team officials not to sign the giant Korean. Still, at his formal introduction to the media in Ottawa, the 27-year-old said he hopes to be invited to a training camp this fall. He also made it clear that if he signs a fat contract, he will not be sending the money home to his impoverished country. “The money I make is mine,” said Ri.

If he finally makes it, he would be the tallest player in the league by two inches. The rail-thin Ri is determined to push his weight to 310 pounds for his tryout. “He inhales food,” says Donohue. “He would like to be the first Asian to play in ^ the NBA.” And in a sport | where size counts, Ri just^ might make it. 1

Anyone in the market for a scow?

For nearly three years, 6,000 workers toiled on the 13-kmlong Confederation Bridge linking New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The bridge, the longest in Canada, required a massive amount of equipment to build, and much of it—nearly 3,100 pieces—was abandoned at the construction site. Later this month, on behalf of the consortium that built the bridge, Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers of Vancouver will hold one of the biggest sales of construction machinery and material ever held in Canada. Just a few of the items on the block: 200 half-ton trucks, 180 600-ton lifts, 600 chainsaws, giant trailers used to move bridge spans,

boats and scows, anchor chains, wharf bumpers the size of a house and enough extension cord to stretch from the Island to Toronto. Ritchie sales manager Terry Christopher says he expects about 1,600 people to attend from as far away as Bangkok, and auctioneers are being flown in from across North America to help move the thousands of pieces of equipment. As he prepared for the massive sale, Christopher was struck by how quickly the bridge builders had left following its completion. “This is a really strange one,” says Christopher. “The desks still have paper on them—they virtually got up and walked away.”

Some royally rotten reviews

It was another one of those bad-image weeks for Prince Charles. His Church of England parish priest complained that the Prince is more often seen playing polo or shooting stags on Sundays than in prayer. Already uneasy about Charles’s interest in Islam, the Church said it would debate his churchgoing habits at a general synod next month. Then his mother issued the royal equivalent of a scolding. Go ahead and take your friends along on the Royal Yacht Britannia’s farewell cruise in July, said the Queen. But pick up the tab yourself. Finally, an opinion poll of teenagers ranked Charles as Britain’s third-worst father. Only soccer bad boy Paul Gascoigne and one Grant Mitchell scored lower than the Prince—and Mitchell is not even a real person. He is a television soap character, a parody of the quick-tempered, insensitive male. What was Charles’s ex up to in the meantime? Oh, Princess Diana was busy speaking out against land mines and preparing to auction off some other old frocks for charity. Impeccable touch.

No-show tourism

Hong Kong is bustling with activities— everything from parades, fireworks displays and classical music concerts—to mark the handover of the British colony to Chinese control on July 1. The hotel and tourism industries were expecting things to get much busier as the big day approaches. Anticipating an invasion by thousands of foreigners intent on witnessing the formal end of 155 years of British rule, many travel agents paid nonrefundable deposits to prebook blocks of hotel rooms. But the rush never materialized, and the Hong Kong Hotels Association says as many as 5,000 rooms, or 14 per cent of the total supply of 34,000, are still available. Now, the recriminations have begun, and the association is blaming the foreign press, which it says scared off visitors by predicting that the colony would be doomed following the Communist takeover. “The press has misinformed the public,” argues Thomas Axmacher, general manager of the Regent Hotel and chairman of the association.“People think the city won’t be safe anymore.” Axmacher, however, neglected to mention one important point: many of the rooms were going for $400 a night, and that may be just as intimidating as the People’s Liberation Army.

Dead man balking

His execution by lethal injection was just four days away when Canadian Joseph Stanley Faulder, on death row in a Texas prison for 20 years, got his reprieve. Last week, the 59-year-old former mechanic from Jasper, Alta., learned that his lawyer, Sandra Babcock, had convinced an appeals court to give him an indefinite stay of execution—because of the possibility that evidence had been withheld from the defence at Faulder’s 1977 trial for murder. A judge will determine whether a new trial should be ordered. Faulder had been sentenced to death for the 1975 killing of Inez Phillips, the mother of a prominent Texas oilman, in Gladewater, Tex. Neither his family in Alberta nor the Canadian government knew of Faulder’s plight until 1991, when they were alerted by Babcock. “Stanley assumed we knew, but we didn’t know where he was or what happened,” says Faulder’s sister Pat Nicholl, 64, of Jasper. “It’s a tremendous relief.” In a last-ditch effort to save his life, the Canadian government also argued that Faulder’s right to contact a consular official was denied when he was arrested. But not everyone welcomed the stay of execution. Calgary Reform MP Art Hanger, a strong advocate of the death penalty, says Ottawa had no right to interfere. Perhaps two other Canadians on death row in the United States—Ronald Smith in Montana and Michael Kelly Roberts in Washington—do not share Hanger’s sentiment.

Passages

RETIRING: After 40 years and eight months as host of Gilmour’s Albums— CBC Radio’s longest-running, highest-rated one-man show—Clyde Gilmour, 85.

Since his eclectic music show began in 1956, Gilmour has introduced his audience to hundreds of artists and

composers. His vast collection of LPs, CDs, 45s and 78s is crammed into the basement of his Toronto home. The 500,000 Canadians who tuned into his show each week will still be able to listen to rebroadcasts from the CBC archives until August.

DIED: Social activist Helen Tracy, 88, who founded the Elizabeth Fry Society, an agency that helps women in conflict with the law; in Toronto.

WON: The National Basketball Association championship, by the Chicago Bulls, who triumphed over the Utah Jazz four games to two, in Chicago.

DIED: Former journalist and dean of the faculty of applied arts at Ryerson Polytechnic University, Paul Nowack, 61, of lateral sclerosis in Toronto. Once a columnist and editor at Saturday Night and a senior editor of Maclean’s, he also served as chairman of Ryerson’s journalism faculty.

DIED: Arts patron and clothing executive Ben Dunkelman, 83; of cancer, in Toronto.

He operated Tip Top Tailors, which was founded by his father, and later opened Dunkelman’s Gallery.

CHARGES DROPPED: For tax evasion, against German tennis star Steffi Graf; in Germany. Chief district attorney Hubert Jobski said Graf has agreed to pay $1 million to the state and to charitable causes. The investigation grew out of the Jan. 27 conviction of her father, Peter, of evading $10 million in taxes on his daughter’s earnings.

REPRIMANDED: Top Canadian Formula One race-car driver Jacques Villeneuve, 26, who was warned that he must stop criticizing rule changes to make the races safer; by the International Automobile Federation, in Paris. Villeneuve harshly criticized the introduction of narrower cars and grooved, rather than slick, tires to reduce speeds.