FIRMNESS AND RESTRAINT
After Larry O'Brien surprised everybody last week by announcing his resignation as NBA commissioner, effective Feb. 1, the encomiums to him poured in from practically every league city. But among more casual NBA observers there was also some foot shuffling and throat clearing. Oh, yeah, sure. Larry O'Brien. The reaction was almost as understated as O'Brien's eight-season stewardship had at times appeared to be. It seemed so long ago that O'Brien presided over the ABA-NBA merger and the Oscar Robertson antitrust settlement. And what about the NBA's recent successes, such as the collective-bargaining agreement that averted a strike last season and its get-tough drug policy? Weren't those widely perceived as being coups by the players' union, not by management?
But give O'Brien credit. Public perceptions aside, the landmark collective-bargaining agreement, which was sensibly designed to check spiraling salaries, and the new drug-control policy were, in fact, worked out in a unique spirit of cooperation between NBA Players Association General Counsel Larry Fleisher and O'Brien. O'Brien preferred a non-confrontational approach to league problems, but he wasn't afraid to act swiftly and forcefully when necessary. He served notice of this when, in 1975, just days after assuming the job, he cracked down on the Knicks, who had signed ABA refugee George McGinnis, even though the 76ers held his draft rights. O'Brien immediately voided the New York contract, restored McGinnis' rights to Philly and docked the Knicks a future No. 1 pick for poaching. When the Lakers' Kermit Washington slugged Houston's Rudy Tomjanovich during a game in 1977, inflicting serious injuries. O'Brien imposed a fine and suspension on Washington that cost him $60,000. By such means O'Brien adroitly forestalled and defused controversy in a sport that, contested by the biggest of men in the closest of quarters, was ripe for it.
O'Brien's critics point to the league's lingering competitive imbalance and financial woes. But there's little a commissioner alone can do other than try to hold expansion in check and void ludicrous trades, both areas in which O'Brien was vigilant. As one NBA watcher put it, "The commissioner has no real power over which yo-yos will own an NBA team. It's up to the other yo-yos." But thanks largely to O'Brien's firm yet restrained leadership (all signs indicate that the "yo-yos" will name David J. Stern, the league's executive vice-president to succeed him), the NBA stands as an island of semisanity in the sea of pro sports. Now, when people think of drugs, they are just as likely to think of pro football as basketball; when they think of player violence—the rough play that has occurred during the current NBA referee strike notwithstanding—they think of hockey. And when they think of spendthrift free agency, they increasingly think of baseball.
SIGN OF RESPECT
Each week during the football season, the Student Supply Store, which is located near the Iowa State campus in Ames, puts a big sign in its front window saying SPLATTER OKLAHOMA or BEAT KANSAS and so on, depending on the name of the Cyclones' upcoming foe. Before Iowa State was shelled 72-29 two weeks ago by the nation's top-ranked team, the sign in the window was worded a bit differently. It said: MAINTAIN DIGNITY AGAINST NEBRASKA.
One day last spring, NBC-TV college basketball commentator Al McGuire called up Rich Hussey, the network's director of sports programming, and said, "My God, we have to have Ray's last game! How can we not have Ray's last game?" McGuire, the former Marquette coach, was referring to Ray Meyer, who plans to retire at the end of the 1983-84 season after 42 years as the DePaul Blue Demons' coach. Hussey quickly agreed that Meyer's regular-season finale should be telecast, but it was decided that the team's scheduled season-ender at home against Dayton on March 10 wouldn't have quite the same pizzazz as, say, a De-Paul vs. Marquette windup. So Hussey tried to get the DePaul-Marquette game that had been scheduled for Feb. 18 in Milwaukee moved to Chicago and into the March 10 slot originally set aside for DePaul-Dayton.
The switch wasn't quite as simple as it seemed. Marquette said it would cooperate as long as it wound up with the same number of home games on its schedule. That meant the Warriors needed a replacement game in Milwaukee if the game with DePaul was going to move to DePaul's home arena. The only team on Marquette's schedule that would consider giving up a home game was Northwestern, but that school needed to give its fans something in return. The Wildcats' athletic director, Doug Single, wanted to start a series with DePaul, so after getting a guarantee for a game with the Blue Demons for the 1984-85 season. Northwestern agreed to play Marquette in Milwaukee. The only date open in Milwaukee was Dec. 10. Northwestern, however, already had a game with George Mason for Dec. 10. Northwestern had an open date on Jan. 14, but George Mason had a game against Monmouth scheduled for that day. George Mason had an open date on Jan. 7, but Monmouth had a game with Rider. Monmouth had an open date on Jan. 11, but Rider had a game against American University. Fortunately, Rider and American both had openings on Jan. 12. They arranged to play on the 12th, Rider and Monmouth agreed to meet on Jan. 11, Monmouth and George Mason on Jan. 7, Northwestern and George Mason on Jan. 14 and Northwestern and Marquette on Dec. 10, Stetson had been scheduled to play Marquette on March 10, but that game was moved to Feb. 18, the day originally set for Marquette-DePaul. And what about Dayton? The Flyers consented to move their game against DePaul to Feb. 18 on condition that the game be regionally televised and that Dayton find an opponent for the open date it now had on March 10. Old Dominion agreed to fill that bill.
"It got to where I was offering Al McGuire for end-of-the-season banquets," Hussey said of the machinations and inducements it took to make all the switches. The network also agreed to pick up some air-travel expenses for George Mason and hotel bills for Monmouth and Rider. Was all this worth the effort? "Everyone was willing to go the extra mile for Ray," Hussey said.
LETTING GEORGE DO IT
In case you haven't been reading the newspapers lately, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner are fussing again, this time over Kuhn's plans to hold a disciplinary hearing on criticism that Steinbrenner leveled at American League President Lee MacPhail following the latter's ruling against the Yankees in last season's Pine Tar Case. Steinbrenner has gone to court to block the hearing. Citing several cases in which Kuhn has ruled against him in the past, Steinbrenner claimed the commissioner was biased against him. All of which may make you wonder, in case you have been reading the papers, what The Washington Post was referring to in a story last week headlined: BOWIE LETS GEORGE DO IT IN OVERTIME. What would Bowie possibly let George do these days—in overtime or otherwise?
The story referred to a goal that Bowie (Md.) High School freshman Chris George scored in the second overtime to beat Eleanor Roosevelt High in the state AA regional soccer finals.
YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN, GERRY
During a recent visit to Rome, 15 Catholic bishops from the U.S. were invited to dinner at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II. One of them, Bishop William E. McManus of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (Ind.), later reported in the diocesan newspaper. The Harmonizer, that the Pope served his visitors baked sea bass and that they in turn informed the Holy Father about developments in the U.S. church. McManus also wrote: "One bishop, not I, told the Pope about Notre Dame's football team; another bishop requested papal prayers for Coach Faust, 'a fine Catholic gentleman'! The Pope smiled as if to indicate that his attention was centered on much more complicated contests."
HOOTING DOWN THE 'HOO
The University of Virginia has had a variety of sports mascots over the years. In the 1930s the mascot was a beloved mongrel dog named Beta, who is buried in hallowed ground in the university cemetery alongside a later mascot mutt, Seal, who achieved immortality by irrigating a Penn cheerleader's megaphone during a big upset of the Quakers in 1949. In recent years a student dressed as a Cavalier, the school's official nickname, has served as the mascot.
But Virginia students and Old Grads have drawn the line with the 'Hoo, a furry, orange-costumed character (see photo) that replaced the Cavalier as mascot at the start of this football season. The brainchild of Sports Promotion Director Todd Turner, who described it as "an entertainment device," the 'Hoo—the nickname is short for Wahoo, a name sometimes used to refer to Virginia athletes—debuted at Virginia's home opener against Duke on Sept. 3 and promptly 1) was showered with ice cubes from detractors in the stands and 2) suffered the forced removal of its tongue by pie-eyed fraternity boys. Because of fear of further violence, the 'Hoo (with a student inside) appeared only briefly on the sidelines during the Navy game on Sept. 10. As objections to the 'Hoo mounted. Athletic Director Dick Schultz invited the school's student council to come up with an alternative. The council settled on a redesigned Cavalier. He's scheduled to swing into action during the basketball season, and next football season he'll have a dog as a sidekick.
And what of the 'Hoo? The ill-fated creature, one of the few negative aspects of an unusually successful season (6-4, with one game left) that included a 17-14 upset of North Carolina on Saturday, is now only an unhappy memory. An editorial in The Cavalier Daily described it as "a video game reject who tried out for Ms. Pac-Man and didn't make the cut." A letter to the paper was rougher still. It called the 'Hoo "a bastard child born out of the incestuous relationship between the athletic department and the cash register."
THEY SAID IT
•Clay Bittner, Memphis State defensive back, on whether he attributed a key pass interception he made in a 28-25 win over Tulane to an ability to read offenses: "I wasn't trying to read anything. I'm just a freshman."
•John Brodie, TV football commentator and ex-49er quarterback, recalling his fling on the PGA tour two decades ago: "I was the leading money spender."
•Paul Owens, the Phillies' malaprophappy manager, to a cab driver with a loud radio: "Hey, cabbie, could you turn that thing down a hundred disciples?"
•Jack Kelly Jr., U.S. Olympic Committee vice-president, on present-day-amateurism: "Let's be honest. A proper definition of an amateur today is one who accepts cash, not checks."