A POINT GUARD WITHOUT A COUNTRY
Maria Rivera, star point guard for the University of Miami, is trapped in a zone press. She wants very much to play for the U.S. Olympic team, and Kay Yow, the coach of that team, would love to have her try out. But Rivera was born in Puerto Rico, and FIBA, the international basketball federation, considers Puerto Rico a nation unto itself in sports. Consequently, FIBA says she can't play for the U.S. even though Puerto Rico 1) is a U.S. commonwealth and 2) does not currently have a women's Olympic basketball team.
Last year Rivera made the U.S. Pan Am squad but was dropped when FIBA threatened to disqualify the whole team if she played. At first Rivera was told she would have to apply for U.S. citizenship, an absurdity since she, like any Puerto Rican, is already a U.S. citizen. Her case was recently appealed before the FIBA eligibility committee, which voted 7-1 against her, the sole vote in her favor being cast by Bill Wall, executive director of the Amateur Basketball Association- USA.
A group in Miami, Gentlemen of Sports, has sent a petition with 112,000 signatures on behalf of Rivera to FIBA headquarters in Munich, West Germany, and Rivera still has one more appeal coming, to the FIBA executive committee. But the Olympic tryouts are in April, and the committee won't meet until May. "I feel for her," said Wall. "She's caught in a terrible bind, and I don't think she has much of a chance."
Rivera hasn't let her problem affect her play. Three weeks ago she got her 2,299th point to break Rick Barry's alltime scoring record at Miami, and last week she concluded the regular season with 628 points, a 23.1 point-per-game average. UM has retired her jersey.
"In a certain way, I do feel as if I am a woman without a country," says Rivera. "What am I supposed to do? I don't have time to sit and wait."