Arsenio Hall would like to tell the Utah Jazz that he's sorry.
No, he isn't the one who arranged for Golden State to lose their last six games of the season so they could be the team's first-round opponent in the ongoing NBA playoffs. It's just that he's still feeling badly about snubbing Jazzmen Jose Ortiz, Bobby Hanson, Darrell Griffith and Thurl Bailey when they visited his late-night talk show a month or so ago.You remember the show. Karl Malone was Hall's first guest of the evening, and while he was doing his monologue Hall recognized John Stockton in the studio audience and had him stand up and take a bow. But he didn't say anything about Ortiz, Hanson, Griffith and Bailey, who were sitting on the same row with Stockton. And it still bothers him.
"John was wearing a red shirt and so it was easy to pick him out of the crowd," Hall said during a telephone interview last week. "But with the lights in my eyes and everything, I just didn't recognize the other guys. I still feel real bad about it."
Obviously, Hall is a basketball nut. "I love the game," he said. "Love to watch it. Love to play it, even though I never could score more than eight points a game in high school."
But that's not the reason he's doing those anti-drug spots you're seeing on playoff games and on KSTU. The public service announcements, he said, are for the kids.
"I feel like I'm so lucky," he said with an interesting mixture of soft-spoken intensity. "I'm successful. I'm happening. And I wonder, why me? There are people more talented than I am. Why am I so lucky? But then I say, who cares about why? Let me do something with my life besides buy Porsches and party."
And that something begins with talking to his fans about the dangers of drugs. "I've met a lot of kids who are in trouble," he said, "so this is where I want to start."
With some top-flight consultants he developed a substance abuse campaign that features real kids, not actors. "I wanted children who have been there," Hall said. "There's an honesty that comes from these kids that helps tell the story better than anything we could make up."
NBA Commissioner David Stern agreed. When he saw Hall's program he offered to include it in the league's PSA package. "Basically, he's giving us about $3-$5 million in commercial time on TBS and CBS," said an incredulous Hall. "There's no way I could get in the door at CBS with my PSA. I couldn't get in the door at NBC or ABC, either. I'm still Arsenio Hall, that talk show host who is their ultimate nightmare.
"But David Stern got me in, and I'm grateful to him. He had no reason to do this. I mean, it's not like he's going to gain anything from it. I'm just very happy he has this kind of interest in our youth."
And now that he's got the kind of exposure the NBA can provide, Hall is hoping he can touch some lives.
"I am where I am today because when I was a kid growing up in the ghettos of Cleveland I saw stories about Jerry West and Andrew Young, and I believed that if they could make something of themselves, so could I," Hall said. "One of the great tragedies in America today is that all our role models are biting the dust. Rock stars, actors and athletes get busted for drug use. Comics work their audiences into a frenzy, screaming and chanting about drugs. Everyone in the spotlight seems to be getting in trouble.
"I'm not saying that famous people don't have the right to make a mistake," Hall continued. "But I have no sympathy for people who throw their lives away to drugs. When you're blessed to have all the opportunities that these people enjoy, and then to mess it up knowing that there are kids out there watching you and probably emulating you, well, I don't even feel sorry for you."
Which is probably why Hall has decided to take the high road with his life and career - as opposed to the "high" road. "I'm very aware of the fact that kids are watching me," he said, "and I just think it's important to try to set a good example. I have this feeling that if I keep busy in a positive way maybe I can make my life worthwhile.
"Besides," he added, chuckling impishly, "it helps keep me out of trouble."