TOO BITTER AN END
In the 112-109 loss to Philadelphia that eliminated Houston from the NBA playoffs last week, the Rockets acquitted themselves nobly, earning the respect of everyone who saw them. The same, however, could not be said of Rocket Coach Tom Nissalke.
For Houston and the 15,676 fans who packed The Summit, the defeat was a heartbreaker that left some players in tears and Nissalke enraged at the officiating. Among the decisions that infuriated him was a charging foul called on John Lucas by Referee Jake O'Donnell. It nullified a Lucas basket in the last five seconds which would have tied the score at 111 and sent the game into overtime.
That Houston would dispute the call is understandable and, in light of what the loss cost his club, perhaps so was Nissalke's indictment of the referees in his postgame remarks to newspapermen. "I thought it was sick officiating," he told them. "Sick."
But when Nissalke took his case to courtside and incited thousands of fans who had remained there, he went too far. Speaking over a p.a. mike in an interview with Gene Peterson, the Rockets' radio announcer, Nissalke said, "I don't like to use the word 'robbery' but that's what it was.... The official was 10 feet out of position on one play and then Darryl Dawkins [of the 76ers] got a dunk shot where he took three steps.... It was just terrible.... It was ludicrous. We play one of the great games of the year and we lose it on a call like that. It's pathetic."
Nissalke's bitter commentary, which reached every corner of the Rockets' home arena, was punctuated by loud, approving cheers from the fans.
Regardless of the merits of O'Donnell's call—and several disinterested spectators thought it correct—Nissalke's remarks are deplorable. Not only do they smack of sour grapes, but also by making them over the public address system Nissalke could well have incited a riot. (P.S. Two days after the game it was announced that Nissalke had been named NBA Coach of the Year.)
NEW HOPE FOR FINLEY?
When Federal Judge Newell Edenfield upheld Bowie Kuhn's suspension of Ted Turner last week, the ruling was hailed as another triumph for the powers of the baseball commissioner. But the judge views his decision in exactly the opposite fashion, which may be a break for the A's Charlie Finley.
Kuhn originally fined Turner $10,000 for tampering with Gary Matthews, an outfielder then with the Giants. Later Kuhn added to Turner's penalty by suspending the Braves' owner for one year and taking away the team's first choice in next month's amateur draft.
Edenfield, however, ruled that Kuhn could not take away the draft choice because his powers, under baseball's Basic Agreement, were specified and thus limited. The decision is counter that of Federal Judge Frank McGarr in Illinois, who said that the commissioner's powers seem to be unlimited in dismissing Finley's suit against Kuhn after the commissioner voided the sale of three A's last year.
"I went the other way," Edenfield said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times" Jerry Holtzman. "Kuhn's got a lot more power than anyone I know, but it's not absolute."
Thus the score stands 1-1 on interpretation of Kuhn's power, and Edenfield's decision should strengthen Finley's impending legal appeal.
In a circumstance that has by now become familiar, Phillips University of Enid, Okla. cut back on its intercollegiate sports program this year for financial reasons. In deciding to drop some sports, however, Phillips wisely elected to keep men's and women's basketball and men's baseball. The three surviving teams responded with their best cumulative effort in the school's 70-year history.
The men's basketball team had a 23-8 record, their finest since 1927 and their first winning season in a decade. The Haymakers also made the NAIA district playoffs for the first time. The women's team finished second in the AIAW Small College Tournament, and its 38-3 season included a 33-game win streak.
Not to be outdone, the baseball team entered postseason competition ranked No. 1 in the nation by the NAIA. The Haymakers' 43-4 record, which includes a 29-game win streak and Coach Joe Record's 500th victory in 23 years at the school, is the best in Phillips history.
As the result of a bout postponed by a split lip suffered in training, Olympic boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard has taken to wearing a foam-rubber mask while sparring. Unlike conventional boxing headgear, Leonard's mask covers nearly his entire face. Because it absorbs opponents' punches, it might be expected to give Leonard a false sense of security. Not so, says Sugar Ray. "Even though I can't feel them when I've got the mask on, I know those punches hurt. You never forget that."
When 42-year-old A. J. Foyt starts his 20th consecutive Indianapolis 500 this Sunday, he will be adding to a sports longevity record rivaling those of George Blanda and Gordie Howe. Foyt's first 500 was in 1958, and of the 33 drivers who started that race he is the only one still active in big-time racing. In fact, two of his rivals this year—Gary Bettenhausen and Johnny Parsons—are sons of men A.J. drove against in his rookie year at the Speedway. In the two decades since, Foyt has been the fastest qualifier four times, has led the race a record 10 times and has won it three times (1961-64-67), a record he shares with Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose and Louis Meyer. This year A.J. is the fourth-fastest qualifier, with a speed of 194.563 mph, more than 51 mph faster than his qualifying average for his first race. The only other time A.J. started from fourth on the grid was in 1967, the last time he won Indy.
When the NFL owners meet next month in New York, they will decide whether to accept one of the biggest money offers ever made to professional sport. The offer comes from a California promoter and film producer named Bill Sargent, who has bid $400 million for five-year television rights to the Super Bowl and the playoff games that precede it.
Sargent wants to turn the NFL postseason into a closed-circuit TV package that will be screened in 500 theaters and auditoriums. The playoff format for 1978, when Sargent's theater network would go into operation, will consist of nine games. A fan wanting to see any one or all of them would pay $100 for the package. Because Sargent expects to sell two million tickets a season, his bid far exceeds the $60 million that CBS, NBC and ABC now pay the league for televising the entire schedule, including the playoffs.
Sargent's proposal should be voted down, for while it may sound like a bonanza for the owners, it would diminish the television audience by almost 80 million fans, thereby making available the most important part of the season to only an elite few. The NFL owes much of its current popularity to home television, which has nurtured a generation of fans. Tuning them out when the season reaches its climax would be rank ingratitude and also a sure way to make fans turn off for good.
UCLA Basketball Coach Gene Bartow does not suffer criticism gladly, as his latest—and perhaps last—Los Angeles radio appearance indicated.
As the featured guest on Bud Furillo's sports talk show over KIIS, Bartow reacted hotly when a caller said that the Bruins' coach failed to teach fundamentals properly last season. "That is hogwash, hogwash, hogwash!" Bartow redundantly shouted.
Then came a commercial break and there went Bartow. Telling Furillo, "I can't take any more of this," he left the studio. Bartow later apologized to Furillo but said he would forgo any more radio appearances, "because I'm so controversial."
The occasion has yet to earn a footnote in a history book, but Jack Dempsey recently revealed that he once fought the late Howard Hughes.
Dempsey, who will be 82 on June 24, said that many years ago he was approached at his Saratoga, N.Y. training camp by Hughes, then a tall, thin, dapper teen-ager, who said he wanted to be a fighter. He asked Dempsey to spar with him and not pull any punches. Dempsey obliged only too well.
"We put on the trunks and gloves and stepped into the ring," said Dempsey. "I slapped him around a little, then knocked him down a couple of times to prove he wasn't meant to be a fighter. He took the hint and went on to bigger things."
COFFEE, TEA OR MUSCLE?
As we reported in this space last year (SCORECARD, Sept. 27, 1976), passengers on Lufthansa flights can tune their headsets to a bilingual (English-German) channel and, without leaving their seats, take part in a 30-minute program of isometric exercises set to music.
Now SAS has added visual to the audio. Aided by a seven-minute film, passengers can perform eight different exercises—also without leaving their seats—beginning with jogging in place. To jog sitting down, explains an SAS brochure, "Use simple, rhythmic movements...raising your heels alternately as high as possible. At the same time, raise your arms in a bent position and rock rhythmically forward and back...."
The next exercise is "shoulder rolling," which SAS claims "lubricates the inner joints. Move the shoulders gently and rhythmically at intervals, describing large circles both forward and backward."
The other calisthenics are forward bends, foot rolling, head turning and nodding, toe raises, knees up against the elbows and hand turning. The airline says its exercises are "effective enough to keep intercontinental passengers fresh and alert during flights so they arrive at their destinations in top shape physically and mentally." SAS adds that the program is entirely voluntary.
UNGUIDED MISSILE MISSIVE
Politicians have long been known to leap before looking, but Baltimore City Councilman Donald G. Hammen may well have set an indoor record. In the aftermath of the tumultuous unwelcome given ex-Oriole Reggie Jackson when the Yankees played Baltimore at Memorial Stadium last month, Hammen introduced a bill that would prohibit "...any person or persons to toss, throw, fling or project or cause to be tossed, thrown, flung or projected, any missile upon or in the direction of any person participating in any sporting event or upon any playing field or arena during the course of a sporting event." The bill calls for a fine of $500 and/ or 30 days in jail upon conviction for each offense. Sounds like a good idea.
But wait. Is not a baseball or football a missile that can be tossed, thrown, flung or projected? And would not "any person or persons" include Oriole Pitcher Jim Palmer and Colt Quarterback Bert Jones? Not counting warm-up pitches or throws to first base, Palmer probably projects missiles in the direction of persons participating in a sporting event about 4,000 times during a season. That flagrant abuse of the councilman's law would cost him more than $2 million in fines and/ or 120,000 days in jail. Jones, on the other hand, would get off much lighter—$171,500 and 10,290 days—or 28 years—in jail.
Says Councilman Hammen, "Obviously the bill needs amending."
THEY SAID IT
•Earl Williams, Oakland A's right-handed slugger, reminded that his homer off Yankee Reliever Sparky Lyle was his first of eight homers this year off a lefthander: "I'm an equal opportunity hitter."
•Bruce Jenner, decathlon gold medalist, after breaking his leg in a motorcycle accident: "Thank goodness this didn't happen a year ago. Everybody would have been saying, 'Bruce who?' "
•Jim Essian, Chicago White Sox catcher, on hitting his first major league home run in his 101st game: "I wanted to go into my home run trot, but I realized I didn't have one."