After performing their second mercy killing in a month, ABA officials smiled gamely last week and declared their league was now healthy, having finally unloaded two teams that had bled the circuit for years. They were sorry to see the San Diego Sails go, they said, as earlier they had been sorry to scratch the Baltimore Claws.
By the end of the week the forced smiles had faded, for now the Virginia Squires and the Utah Stars also appeared to be in danger of collapse. And the Spirits of St. Louis, drawing abominably at home, were talking of moving to Cincinnati. What had been a 10-team operation was down to eight—and maybe to six—clubs.
The solution, says John Y. Brown Jr., the ABA president and husband of Kentucky Colonels Owner Ellie Brown, is merger with the NBA. "It's got to come this year. Twenty-four of the 28 teams in pro basketball lost money last season," he said, citing the owners' favorite statistic, which is based on undisclosed bookkeeping methods. "The NBA lost as much as we did—$100 million has been lost since we started in 1967. A merger is the logical solution."
The ABA now claims it has six strong franchises: Kentucky, New York, Denver, Indiana, San Antonio and, optimistically, St. Louis-Cincinnati. But attendance is down in every city except two, and the fact that the league has no network television contract does not give the ABA much leverage in any discussion of merger with the NBA. Logical as it might seem to Brown, merger in the near future is unlikely. A permanent injunction, obtained by the NBA Players Association, blocks the NBA from even discussing merger until a case testing the legality of the NBA option clause is settled. However, with a tottering ABA threatening to dump 100 unemployed players on the market, the Players Association might decide to drop objections to a merger and its court case.
But another obstacle is the NBA Board of Governors, which has affirmed its intention to defend the option clause in court. There are indications that 10 of the 18 NBA owners—those losing the most money in the costly war with the ABA—want to settle out of court. Four others appear staunchly antimerger. The remaining four could go either way, which is vital, since 14 votes are needed to approve any settlement. Thus, prospects for merger are bleak at best.
AND NO CUT
Apropos all this was a recent radio commercial for the Pennsylvania state lottery. In praising the top prize, $5,000 plus $500 a month for life, which could add up to a couple of hundred thousand, if you live long enough, the announcer exclaimed, "Why, that's as much as presidents make, or even basketball players."
GILDING THE LILY
Fenway Park, the perfect old-fashioned baseball stadium, is having a few things done to it this winter. One, which meets general approval, is padding the outfield fence Fred Lynn ran into with frightening force in that memorable sixth game of the World Series. Another, which is not meeting with such approval, is the installation of a vast electronic message board, complete with instant replay, at the top of the center-field bleachers. Fogies, mostly young, call this a desecration. An organization called POP-UP, which stands for People Opposing Pernicious and Unnecessary Progress, has been picketing, protesting that the glittering new wide-screen board will destroy the antique charm of the sexagenarian ball park. James Fogarty, a 25-year-old POP-UP lawyer, says, "The new scoreboard represents creeping Finleyism."
More progress. The famous old Iffley Road track at Oxford where Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile back in 1954 was bulldozed away last week as construction of a new all-weather synthetic track began. It will be the first track of its kind in Great Britain. Bannister, who was injured in a car accident a few months ago, was unable to attend the ceremony that took place before the dozers got to work, but his daughter Erin, now a student at Oxford, stood in for him. Sentimentalists, or possibly entrepreneurs, took care to fill a few sacks with cinders from the historic track just incase a demand for souvenirs develops.
Another acronymic protest group is STAB, which is purportedly composed of Sportsfans Totally Against Blimps, but seems more to be a product of the fertile mind of Eddie Andelman, another disturbed Bostonian. Andelman (SI, Sept. 4, 1972), a real estate salesman by trade, is a Don Quixote who is forever tilting at what he considers the idiocies and injustices of big-time sport, and in so doing has incurred the wrath of owners, athletes and the press. He has had a radio talk show, been a TV commentator, written a book, had one written about him and traveled to Australia in an abortive effort to find football talent for the New England Patriots. He has criticized Bobby Orr and been sued by Joe Namath. Andelman's stock in trade is obviously not generating goodwill.
Now he has taken on a famous symbol of goodwill, the Goodyear blimp. Andelman is adamantly against it. "There are actually four of them," he claims, "and they've all got to go. The blimp has become bigger than the game. It even receives fan mail. Would the Super Bowl count if the Goodyear blimp wasn't there, hovering overhead? I understand the pecking order of the college bowl games is determined by where it decides to go. There are blimp bowls and non-blimp bowls. Will the Bicentennial be a failure if the blimp doesn't fly over the Liberty Bell next July 4?"
Andelman is preparing anti-blimp cheers, anti-blimp buttons, anti-blimp button stickers. He wants to rally what he calls Blimp Busters around him in the ominously named STAB. "It is a highly organized, well-heeled and select society," he says darkly.
There is no truth to rumors that Goodrich is funding the organization.
LONG AND SHORT OF IT
While the unbeaten Minnesota Vikings were trouncing the Atlanta Falcons 38-0 a couple of Sundays ago, Fran Tarkenton put on one of his ball-control shows in the third quarter, an 18-play series that moved the Vikings to the Atlanta 46, from which point they punted to the Falcons' 10. Over the press box PA system came the announcement: "Time of possession, 10 minutes and 41 seconds."
Then, on Atlanta's first down, Quarterback Kim McQuilken dropped back to pass, was sacked, fumbled, and Minnesota's Jim Marshall recovered on the five. The announcer couldn't resist another report: "Time of possession, three seconds."
The question put to the President's Commission on Olympic Sports last week by Howard Cosell, one of those invited to appear before it during a two-day hearing in New York, was: Why another commission? Cosell's point was well taken. In past years we have watched groups presided over by Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Theodore Kheel and Bobby Kennedy try to mediate the problems and achieve hardly a modicum of solution. And the legislation that has been proposed and sometimes passed has all too often been watered down to nothing.
Why then one more apparently meaningless invasion of the battlefields on which the AAU and the NCAA muddle about, self-righteously sniping at one another? The AAU and the NCAA each want to rule U.S. amateur sport and each wants the U.S. Olympic Committee to be its own creature. What can another commission do about it?
Well, for one thing, President Ford promised this commission that he would act swiftly and decisively upon its recommendations. The commission's first report, due next February, will concern itself with an organizational overhaul, which might mean a junking of the present USOC and a fresh start. The second report, due next September, after the Olympics, will most likely be a recommendation for direct supervision of the separate Olympic sports by a subcommittee of a higher sports authority clearly independent of AAU and NCAA alike. Both these groups will probably react negatively to the proposals, but the International Olympic Committee, which tends to look to the U.S. as the athletic leader of the Western world and is a bit sick of the internal squabbling that has vitiated American strength, is all for the idea. The IOC even sent its No. 2 man, Willi Daume of West Germany, to give the commission the benefit of his experience in organizing Olympic sports in West Germany.
Specific details won't be known until 1976, but everyone concerned with sport must hope that one strong, accepted governing force will take over, settling once and for all the jurisdictional nonsense that has gone on for so long.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid have reformed. After polluting a staggering amount of Western Hemisphere acreage with bullets, shell casings, damaged bicycles, busted furniture, shattered windows and broken hearts, Paul Newman has become a member of the Environmental Defense Fund and Robert Redford is on the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
All right, men, suppose you start by picking up all those dead bodies you've left lying around.
One Tuesday last month, when the World Football League still breathed and the Sun of Southern California was a football team, a wide receiver named Dave Williams underwent knee surgery. After such an operation a player would ordinarily be out for several weeks, if not for the season, but Williams was running in practice the next day and the following Sunday played for the Sun in a game in Honolulu.
This apparent miracle must be credited in large part to a device called an arthroscope, which is used primarily for diagnosis. It is a slender tubular instrument, incorporating a light, that is inserted into the knee for interior examination. Dr. Richard O'Connor of West Covina, Calif., adapted the arthroscope so that it could accommodate minute "snippers" and "tweezers," so to speak. The snippers clip away torn cartilage and the tweezers clean up the area, functioning through an incision so small that the patient is able to get up and walk almost at once.
Dr. Robert Kerlan, the famous sports orthopedist, says the new method of removing cartilage is important pioneering work, but cautions that it is not yet applicable to most knee injuries. Williams' trouble was a small tear of the meniscus, a crescent-shaped cartilage in the knee, and Kerlan says relatively few knee injuries involve precisely that type of tear.
Nonetheless, the "operating arthroscope," as Dr. O'Connor calls it, represents a significant advance. After his hour-long surgery, Williams said, "I got up and walked right away. Dr. O'Connor told me to stay off the knee for a couple of days, but I went out the next day and ran on it." And played in a game that weekend. And was out of a job three days later, when the league folded.
THEY SAID IT
•Joe Zanussi, New York Ranger throw-in in the deal that sent Jean Ratelle and Brad Park to the Boston Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais: "I have a chance to be remembered as the biggest spare tire in hockey history."
•Bum Phillips, Houston Oiler coach, on Billy Johnson, his sensational receiver-kick return specialist: "Billy is an equal opportunity runner. He gives everyone on the other team a chance to tackle him."
•Bill Madlock, Chicago Cub third baseman: "One thing about the Chicago Bears—when their season starts, it sure takes the heat off us Cubs."
•Andy Johnson, New England running back, once drafted as a third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, asked when he decided on football: "When I saw Brooks Robinson play."