PRO BASKETBALL—NBA: Houston starting Center Zaid Abdul-Aziz (né Don Smith) announced his retirement the night after Christmas but was back in the lineup two days later as the Rockets beat Atlantic Division leader Buffalo 125-117. Little Calvin Murphy was the Rockets' big man, connecting for a career-high 45 points. Houston also dealt Atlanta a loss but remained 6½ games behind Central front-runner Washington, which registered close wins over Milwaukee and the Hawks. For the 10th time in 33 games Rick Barry scored 40 or more points as Pacific pacesetter Golden State stopped Portland. Two nights later Barry's 37 points were not enough to offset a third-quarter rally by Boston, the Celtics winning 115-105. In the league's Black and Blue Division, the Midwest, things remained tight. The Kansas City-Omaha Kings, who emerged as rulers of the roost, won two and were the only team in the division to score over 100 points during the week and have a victory to show for it. Tailender Milwaukee also got more than 100, but in a losing effort against Washington. Detroit, a half game back of the Kings, managed an 84-83 win over the slumping New York Knicks and a 79-70 victory over Chicago, with which it shared the runner-up slot. The Bulls beat Philadelphia 92-91, a melee ensuing at the buzzer. Cleveland whipped hapless New Orleans, and Seattle had one win. With three big wins, the Los Angeles Lakers threatened upward mobility but remained last in the Pacific.
ABA: Teen-age rookie Moses Malone brought tidings of great joy to the Utah Stars in a 4-1 week. Malone tallied 33 points and had 25 rebounds in a win over financially troubled Indiana and scored 36 points in a losing cause to Western Conference leader Denver. The pure-gold Nuggets rolled right along. In addition to defeating the Stars, Denver beat San Diego and St. Louis and has won 85% of its games. San Antonio held on to second in the West, beating the Conquistadors by 20 as George Gervin twisted for 31 points and James Silas added 24. The Spurs knocked New York out of first place in the East but the Nets reclaimed it with a 100-98 overtime victory against Memphis. Julius Erving's two free throws with 25 seconds remaining clinched the Nets' victory and gave them a one-game hold on first over Kentucky. The Colonels beat the Pacers by eight points and then lost to them by 11. George McGinnis, the league's leading scorer, and Bill Keller, a 5'10" guard, combined for 64 points in the Pacers' victory. Virginia beat Indiana by two points after the starless Squires were bombed out by former Squire Erving and his Net teammates 130-85.
BOATING—For the third time since 1962 U.S. yachtsman HUEY LONG won the 630-nautical-mile Sydney-to-Hobart race, on this occasion with the ketch Ondine III, in three days, 13 hours, 51 minutes and 56 seconds.
BOXING—SOO HWAN HONG of South Korea retained his World Boxing Association bantamweight title with a 15-round split decision victory over Fernando Cabanela of the Philippines, in Seoul.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL—In "Baby Bowl" action preceding the Big Four, Oklahoma State injured Brig-ham Young Quarterback Gary Sheide's shoulder in the first quarter and proceeded to win the Fiesta Bowl 16-6. Mississippi State beat North Carolina 26-24 in the 40th Sun Bowl as sophomore Walter Packer, the Southeastern Conference's leading rusher, ran for two touchdowns and a record 183 yards. In the Peach Bowl there were no touchdowns at all, Texas Tech's Red Raiders and Vanderbilt's Commodores settling for two field goals apiece and a 6-6 tie in a game made vaguely memorable by goal-line stands. Maryland's Randy White blocked a punt, starting a second-half comeback that gave the East a 16-14 victory in the 50th annual East-West Shrine game.
PRO FOOTBALL—Interceptions were costly to both Los Angeles and Oakland as Minnesota and Pittsburgh earned the right to play in Super Bowl IX. The Vikings won 14-10 after Linebacker Wally Hilgenberg picked off a James Harris pass in his own end zone, thwarting a 98-yard Ram drive. And Raider Quarterback Kenny Stabler's last pass of the day was snagged by Linebacker Jack Ham, sealing a game the Steelers won 24-13 (page 12).
HOCKEY—NHL: Boston's Phil Esposito became only the sixth player in league history to score 500 goals when he registered his 33rd and 34th of the season in a 5-4 win over Detroit. The 12-year veteran then got No. 35 in the Bruins' 6-4 loss to Smythe Division leader Vancouver, which also beat the California Seals. Buffalo, front-runner in the Adams Division, picked up two more points over Boston after a 4-0 shutout of Washington and a 3-1 pasting of Chicago. The Black Hawks ended Patrick Division leader Philadelphia's 12-game unbeaten streak as Dennis Hull scored the 250th goal of his career. Norris Division leader Montreal beat Detroit and whomped Kansas City 7-2, which joined Pittsburgh, Detroit and Washington in the no-wins-for-the-week category. Atlanta tied the Penguins with 1:30 remaining, which extended the Flames' unbeaten streak to four games. Pittsburgh blew a 2-0 lead over St. Louis as Stan Gilbertson and Chuck Lefley lifted the Blues to a deadlock. The Los Angeles Kings lost two points to Montreal in the geographically unintelligible Norris Division but managed to beat Vancouver 5-1. Toronto Center Norm Ullman, who had complained about a lack of playing time, scored two goals and assisted on another in a 3-1 Maple Leaf victory over the New York Islanders. The New York Rangers slipped past the Islanders into third place, beating Buffalo 9-5. The best Minnesota could do was settle for a 4-4 tie with Detroit.
WHA: It was the night after Christmas in Chicago's International Amphitheatre and not a Cleveland Crusader or a Chicago Cougar could be found. Their scheduled game had been postponed until Cougar ownership problems could be solved. After Chicago Player-Coach Pat Stapleton and players Ralph Backstrom and Dave Dryden agreed to purchase the team, the Cougars lost to Canadian Division leader Toronto and beat Minnesota 5-3. New England, the Eastern leader, dropped all three of its games and Cleveland advanced four points in the division. Indianapolis won one and tied Vancouver. Houston, best in the West, won a pair, as did runner-up Phoenix. Winnipeg split two with the Roadrunners and handed San Diego a defeat. Quebec whipped Michigan 4-1 after losing 3-2 to the Stags in overtime. Edmonton also beat San Diego but fell to fourth place in the division as Winnipeg moved up to third.
HORSE RACING—MR. PAUL ($22.20), Donald Pierce in the saddle, scored a half-length victory over Neat Claim in the $62,500 California Breeders Champion Stakes at Santa Anita, covering the seven muddy furlongs in 1:23[3/5].
Tommy's Girl ($14.80), Jorge Salinas up, overtook favored La Prevoyante, who collapsed after the race and later died, to win the 1[1/16]-mile $30,500 Miss Florida Handicap by a nose at Miami's Calder Race Course. Her time on grass was 1:43.
MILEPOSTS—FIRED: With seven years remaining on his 10-year contract, HANK STRAM, the only coach the Kansas City Chiefs have ever had. The Chiefs had a 102-61-10 record under Stram, upset the Minnesota Vikings in the 1970 Super Bowl but wound up 5-9 this season.
NAMED: DON JAMES, as head football coach at the University of Washington. At Kent State, James had a four-year 25-18-1 record.
NAMED: As head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, former Packer Quarterback BART STARR, who led his team to five NFL championships between 1961 and 1967, including two Super Bowl wins.
SIGNED: To a three-year contract as head coach of the Detroit Lions, RICK FORZANO, who as acting coach had a 7-7 record last season.
SURPASSED: By Apprentice Jockey CHRIS McCARRON, racing at Laurel Race Course, the world record of 515 victories in a year.