NBA going through a rough, tough time

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It used to be such a pulsating game, combining speed, finesse, slick passing and dribbling, nifty ballhandling, well-conceived plays and a wide variety of shots. Now, it's pushing, tripping, rabbit-punching and half-nelsons, which aren't even called, with lots of in-your-face sassing, ugly slam dunks and other subtle forms of violence.


The NBA and its TV network NBC can extol the virtues of the Bulls-Knicks series as being intense and hard fought all they want; frenzied, chaotic and almost beyond redemption are more apt descriptions. But the ratings are up!

If a fan was watching pro hoops for the first time, he probably would swear it's graduate school for the Big East . . . or the sequel to the movie "Rollerball."


* One of the best PR moves of the year was organizers giving Mark Rypien of the Washington Redskins a spot in the Kemper Open field May 28-31. Ryp has been only too glad to do one of those "I'm going to the Kemper Open" commercials, a la the "I'm going to Disney World" ads falling to the winning quarterback in the Super Bowl.

* The Stanley Cup playoffs are far and away the best thing hockey has going, but it would have been nice if at least one division winner made it through the preliminaries to the semifinals, thus helping to legitimize the regular season. Chicago, a No. 2 seed, appears destined to face No. 3 Pittsburgh for the goblet.

* Oh-oh, what hath Greg LeMond wrought? On the eve of the Tour Du Pont, he said, "A top 10 finish in this race would probably be good for me," alluding to his previous efforts in the top American event (27-78-12) and his usual slow starts each season.

When he buzzed past huge, cheering crowds in Washington Sunday, however, he established his condition as being fit-fit, meaning he'll be a big favorite in next month's Tour de France. And there is no greater pressure than the favorite's role in an international competition when added to the jingoism U.S. television (ABC) will provide.

* It's usually a pretty good idea to stop reading about the horses vying in the Triple Crown races about now, because authors consistently attempt to pick out the year's best 3-year-old off inconclusive data provided over just a few months.

In their biggest money-making year, the average 3-year-old will go to the post 20 times. The number drops to 10-12 for a stakes star. Most of them aren't even mature yet, a proper training regimen is just established and much of the best racing takes place in the late summer and the fall right up to the Breeders' Cup. Anyone bestowing immortality on a horse at this point is just guessing.

* One of the most memorable moments in Orioles history, according to those who witnessed it, passed Monday with little or no notice. It was May 18, 1957, and the O's and White Sox had set a 10:30 p.m. curfew on the game so that the Mighty Whiteys could catch a train.

The Birds trailed by a run with Dick Williams at bat in the ninth inning and the curfew was about 10 seconds away. All Chicago pitcher Paul LaPalme had to do is hold the ball and victory was assured. He decided to throw it and Williams smacked it for a homer tying the game. A month later, the game was replayed from the beginning and Baltimore won.


* Max Kisner, the Glen Burnie fight promoter who never lacked for energy and enthusiasm, has vowed to reimburse all those due refunds for tickets purchased for a boxing show at LaFontaine Bleu a year ago that never materialized. He's distributing a form to be filled out and returned to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Just like Don King, right?

* One of the best scenes at the LPGA Championship in Bethesda the other day was rookie Karen Noble's showing up in the press room to talk about her closing 65, giving her a share of second place and a check for $71,000. "This is my first time here, what do I do?" she asked. Back in the pack after shooting 73-70-70, Karen's close was not only the best round shot in the tourney, but increased her check by about 60 grand.

* If Churchill Downs can admit its mistake and change the time for the first quarter-mile of the Kentucky Derby a couple of weeks ago, isn't it about time the folks at the Maryland Jockey Club correct the huge injustice dealt Secretariat during the 1973 Preakness? Recall, everyone knew "Big Red" ran a record time and there was ample evidence to prove it. Still, Pimlico went with a hand time turned in by a guy with an obstructed view of the start.