Last summer came word that local billionaire Kenny Troutt was spending a small chunk of his estimable fortune to bankroll two youth AAU basketball teams, both called the Texas Titans. (One's made up of third-graders; the other, fifth-graders.) And Troutt ain't just buying socks and balls, neither, but chartering private planes (or the Mavs or Spurs' jets, when necessary); paying for three full-time coaches, two skills instructors and a trainer-nutritionist; putting them up at posh hotels; and giving them whatever else they need to win. And he's currently building a high-school-sized practice facility in his 13,000-square-foot, $7.8-million mansion on Strait Lane.
Needless to say, a lot of folks didn't think Troutt was teaching those kids very good lessons: Phil Taylor in Sports Illustrated wrote last summer: "Don't be surprised...if some future self-absorbed Terrell Owens clone comes out of that Texas AAU program, or one like it." And in the issue of SI landing in subscribers' mailboxes today, columnist Rick Reilly takes on Troutt and the Titans by comparing the local team to the D.C. Assault, against which the older Titans team regularly competes.
Only, see, there's no comparison: The Assault "pile into assistant coach Ed Powell's 2000 Suburban" for an eight-hour ride to Columbia, South Carolina. The Assault players, who usually stay in seedy budget motels on the road, "feel lucky if they get to stay in a Holiday Inn Express." They dine on KFC on good days, practice in a rec center maybe two days a week if they can get the courts and have a social worker for a coach who has to cover meager expenses the parents can't cough up. The list of differences between the two teams goes on. And on.
There is, of course, an obvious punch line here, and if you can't wait till the piece appears online or on newsstands, feel free to jump. But, surely, you can see it coming from a thousand miles away.
Here, since you're clearly interested, are the last three grafs of Reilly's column:
A lot of rival coaches and parents would like to dismember the Titans. They think Troutt is spoiling this team as well as the fourth-grade Titans. (He has a son on that team too.) They think 10 is too young to be living like an NBA star. They say Troutt unfairly attracts some of the most talented kids in Dallas with his money. But even rivals say that at least Troutt isn't trying to make money off his players' backs the scourge of AAU ball and his players are humble and well-behaved. "I'm not spoiling these kids," says Troutt, who co-owns 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide. "Any kid that's willing to practice six hours a week and travel three weekends out of four is working hard for what he gets." To which his critics say, "Sounds brutal. Where do we sign up?"
Powell isn't complaining. His kids are disciplined and well-coached. "Sure, we wish we had some of those things they have, but we believe that if you're not handed things, then you're hungrier and you play a little harder. When you're sharing a car for five or six hours, when you're sleeping in the same bed as your teammate, he's not your teammate any longer. He's your brother."
The Titans played the Assault four times last year. The Assault won all four.
Like I said, you saw that coming, didn't you? A three-pointer from mid-court. Friggin' buzzer-beater. --Robert Wilonsky