Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Venus Williams' Extra Win And The Best Athlete Book I've Read

Venus Williams

Venus Williams might have won more than $1.3 million for winning Wimbledon on Saturday, but she'll pick up an additional check from the folks at Reebok. The company signed Williams to the largest endorsement contract in women's sports history in December 2000, but due to the on again, off again nature of her play the company chose not to renew Williams after the three-year deal expired. But she still gets paid to wear the Reebok brand even though she's not technically pitched on the company's roster of athletes.

"Reebok and Venus Williams have had a longstanding relationship and we are proud that she continues to support the brand by wearing Reebok performance footwear and apparel both on and off the court," said Todd Krinsky, the brand's vice president of sports and entertainment marketing.

It's a nice win for Reebok, but it is a bit strange considering she has absolutely no presence in any of their advertising campaigns and can't even be found on the company's Web site.

Meanwhile, it was hard not to notice that much of Williams' box--including boyfriend golfer Hank Kuhne--was wearing hats with the EOS Airlines logo on it. It was an incredible coup for the airline, which advertises its business class 757 service from New York to London. As the competition has heated up for cheap, luxury service to London from the New York airports-- Maxjet and Silverjet to name a few--EOS undoubtedly had some extra Web hits over the weekend thanks to curious tennis watchers who wanted to find out what they were all about. Williams and her family took the airline to Wimbledon.

The Best Athlete Book I've Ever Read
I spend much more time reading business books than sports books. That's in part because I think books about athletes are usually downright awful. They tell us about things we already know about, they are for the most part badly written and, for this reason, only sell to hardcore fans who are willing to pay $24.95 in hopes of finding one story they haven't heard before.

The new book written by tennis star James Blake,co-written by Andrew Friedman, is called "Breaking Back"and it's quite simply the best athlete book I've ever read. Why was it so good? Because Blake's story--his father's death, contracting zoster, breaking his neck and his subsequent comeback--is so good that the tennis is the least significant part of the book. In fact, I counted a 60-page stretch in which not one tennis match was ever mentioned.

Most athletes write books when someone approaches them. But their years in age or their time on the court, field or wherever they play doesn't automatically qualify them as having enough worthy of an autobiography. Blake's comeback story is so rich that almost the entire book focuses on just one year of his life.

His story might have been told over and over again on Oprah, Late Night with David Letterman and in countless magazine articles, but Blake held enough back to give the reader tales he or she never heard. Are you ready for this? I cried on page 93, 103 and 110. I'm not sure if you will too (because I was reading from the galley copy), but if you don't get touched by Blake's bad luck turned good story, you're simply not human.

Lastly, the book is clearly in Blake's voice, something that doesn't always happen when an athlete and a writer collaborate. From a tennis coach who prefers to talk more than hit balls to parents who value education more than the game to a group of fans who are among the closest friends an athlete has ever had, Blake's story is worth the money HarperCollins is asking for. And the best part is that although the book ends, his career moves on and the story will continue before your eyes.

Popovich Popping The Cork
Anyone who read the blog on Friday knew that I was in Paris for vacation. Although I wasn't at Tony Parker-Eva Longoria wedding I did have some spies around the city to try to give me some insight on what was happening. Here's the best nugget I got. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and others, including Sean Elliott, went to a restaurant called Taillevent, where the wine list is said to be among the finest in the country. Turns out, our spies report, Popovich ordered a 1959 Magnum of Chateau d'Yquem--said to be the favorite of Queen Elizabeth II for 4,000 Euros ($5,480). Popovich really loves wines. According to Henry Abbott at True Hoop, Popovich was actually about to become an investor in a wine business.

Questions?  Comments?