Mr. Hustle loves Reggie Theus.
Kobe Bean Bryant? Not so much.
He’s a fan of the Maloofs – even had dinner with Palms Casino frontman George Maloof just last week. He loves A-Rod even more than Theus, mainly because – as Pete Rose was telling me – the Yankees slugger has a hunger for learning baseball that’s insatiable. He picks Rose’s brain whenever they have dinner together, sends him endless text messages on his fancy IPhone.
Speaking of which, that was about the time this conversation on a Southwest flight from Burbank to Las Vegas hit the height of surreal. Pete Rose….no, Pete Freakin’ Rose!….was showing this lifelong baseball fanatic his new toy after an hour’s worth of friendly conversation. There's a classic picture of him sliding head-first (as always) that pops up when the phone turns on, and the gals at his souvenir shop at Caesar's in Vegas helped him get the font nice and big so he can read all those queries from A-Rod with ease. Oh yeah, we're buds now.
It all started in the front row, where I went against my normal nature and plopped down in the middle seat because, well, it was a short flight and that leg room is so enticing. A quick glance to my right reveals that Rose is my wingman, and I'm not about to not say hello. All in all, Rose could not have been a nicer man.
I caught him during part of his routine, as he spends half the month in Los Angeles and the other half at his Vegas store that - it appears - is his main hub of his life of signing autographs and selling t-shirts that read, "I'm sorry I bet on baseball." But the phone bit was only one of the many fascinating and surreal moments...
* He wants my opinion on the NBA referee scandal involving Tim Donaghy, and it's all I can do to not blurt out "It's a gambling disgrace the likes of which American sports has never seen!" Oh, wait...
* For the record, he has no idea how OJ Simpson got those autographed Pete Rose baseballs that he subsquently lost and and was so hell-bent on reclaiming during his Vegas souvenir sting operation in September.
* The Vegas NBA All-Star weekend in February was as bad for him as it was for everybody else.
* Rose - a former Cincinnati Reds manager himself, remember - thinks the Yankees should have done more to hold on to Joe Torre and holds the man in the highest esteem.
Theus is in his favor, too, though I assumed their connection was a Vegas thing and don't know the backstory beyond that. Regardless, Rose weighed in on what it will take for Theus to get the most out of his Kings players. And truthfully, Rose was impressive when the topic turned to managing men and his voice turned from conversational to authoritative.
"His job is to get the most out of each and every one of those guys," Rose said. "You have to rule with one set of rules, but treat every player as an individual and know what makes them tick.
"There's three ways to handle a player. There's guys who need a good kick in the (butt) to get going, guys who need you to pat them on the (butt) and guys that you can just leave alone."
And there's guys like me, who just couldn't stand to let Mr. Hustle fly alone.
- Sam Amick