ONCE AGAIN TO NOWHERE
The basketball team picked in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago to represent the U.S. in the Pan American Games may be strong enough to win the Pan Am championship, but it will be hard-pressed to beat Russia in the world tournament that follows in Rio de Janeiro. Why should the finest basketball-playing country in the world be considered lucky if it scrapes through to victory in a tournament it should win with ease? Simple. It doesn't use its best players. Why not? Well, because of the curious and illogical method of selection, three of the four All-Star teams on display at Kansas City were from the armed forces, the AAU and the small colleges, even though everyone knows that the best nonprofessional basketball in the country is played by the 20 or so top big-college teams, who collectively had one All-Star squad at Kansas City.
Further, the collegiate representation was limited because the NCAA kept in force its stringent rules restricting All-Star participation by college players, even though this All-Star tournament was to pick a team to represent the U.S. in a world championship. Finally, no U.S. representative to the world basketball federation has raised his voice during the past four years in favor of a summer tournament, when almost every U.S. player would be free to travel. Some of the outstanding players in the country, Art Heyman of Duke, Jerry Harkness of Loyola, Ron Bonham of Cincinnati and Bill Bradley of Princeton, did not even try out for the squad, and George Wilson of Cincinnati, who made the team, quit later because he did not want to miss a month or so of classes and risk scholastic ineligibility next season.
The U.S. used to put together strong national squads from AAU teams, but AAU basketball has long since been crippled by the growth of professional basketball. To pick a first-class U.S. team now without relying principally on the big colleges is patently ridiculous, but the U.S. Olympic Basketball Committee, which is responsible for our national teams, either is unable or unwilling to accept this obvious fact.
This is all an old story, but it is getting to be a tiresome one. The men in charge mutter, "We're doing the best we can." If the current and continuing mess is the best they can do, it is time to shake up the U.S. Olympic Basketball Committee.
BEAUTY AND THE TAX COLLECTOR
News that New York's Belmont Park, one of the most beautiful race tracks in the U.S., will be closed down this season came as a blow to those who believe that green grass and shade trees are as much a part of racing as $2 windows. According to the New York Racing Association, the stands and roof at Belmont are unsafe, and therefore Belmont's 50 days of racing will be switched to Aqueduct. But Belmont finished its last race meeting in October, and here it is mid-April. Could not the precarious conditions of the stands have been discovered earlier, when steps might have been taken to have Belmont renovated and made safe?
The switch to huge, ugly Aqueduct, which can handle much larger crowds in its treeless wastes than Belmont ever could, will be pleasing at any rate to Governor Nelson Rockefeller and the New York State legislature, because Aqueduct will make more money for the state than Belmont.
Of course, Governor Rockefeller has said in the past that he was opposed to anything that would induce more people to gamble, a remark made in opposition to Mayor Robert F. Wagner's request for legislation authorizing off-track betting. But now the governor needs the more-the-merrier betting at Aqueduct like bread, which may also explain why he authorized an extension in the New York racing season.
We wonder when—and if—Belmont will be rebuilt. State officials may insist on a plant that can pack them in the way Aqueduct does, and never mind the trees. The precedent of a moribund Belmont also bodes ill for summer racing at Saratoga, a charming but losing proposition. New York should remember that horse racing is a sport as well as a revenue-producing arm of state government. The state makes plenty out of racing and should consider it a duty to plow some of it back.