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For years the annual Maurice Stokes Memorial Game was a rite of summer for NBA players: a showcase for the game's stars and touted rookies, a chance to relax in the haven of Kutsher's Country Club in Monticello, N.Y. and a way to raise funds for needy ex-NBA players, college students and summer leagues. All of this was in memory of Stokes, the former Rochester and Cincinnati Royals star who, after being stricken with encephalitis, spent 12 years struggling to regain a semblance of health before he died in 1970 at the age of 37.
The show went on again this year. George McGinnis made his debut in NBA company with every bit of expected brilliance; 6'10" Darryl Dawkins demonstrated that the stride from May-nard Evans High School to the Philadelphia ' 76ers might be a baby step; and the Phoenix Suns' John Shumate, who sat out his rookie year with a lung ailment, looked healthier than ever. But there were moments when the traditionally benign atmosphere was punctuated with bad humor and misplaced priorities.
First, Donald Schupak, part owner of the ABA Spirits of St. Louis, threatened a lawsuit to open up the game to ABA players. "Why?" shouted Red Auerbach. "This is our game. The money we raise is for ex-NBA players. Let the ABA take care of its own." That attitude by the older NBA people like Auerbach and Eddie Gottlieb ignored both the spirit of charity and the promotional value of Julius Erving, the ABA's ranking superstar, who wanted to come but was not invited. "To Red and Eddie, the ABA might as well be Russia," said Hank Lowenkron, one of the game's promoters.
Some players got into the niggling, too, reportedly charging that the game MVP award was fixed for McGinnis, the NBA's newest star, although officials denied it. All the bickering seemed silly in view of the game's purpose, which was underscored by the story of Ray Felix, one of the first 7-footers, who played nine years in the NBA and never made more than $10,500 a season. The 44-year-old Felix, unemployed since February, injured his knee two weeks ago and turned to the Stokes Foundation for financial help. "This is what the game is about," says Haskell Cohen, one of the game's founders. "But with all the big money around now, lots of players don't care like they used to. Some of these kids hardly even know who Maurice was. And some say they'll come and don't show." And some who want to come are not allowed to. It doesn't quite figure.
It is a source of wonder to some observers that there are millions of people who like country music. But then there are millions of people who like Big Macs and Frank Sinatra, so who's to argue? At any rate, country music has given rise to a nutty sort of In game among sportswriters and broadcasters, particularly people like Don Meredith, who continually dredge up from memory unforgettable gems from country-music songs. And, it must be admitted, if the tunes of country songs are deadly, the lyrics certainly are not. Some samples, from Meredith and friends.
"He broke my heart at Walgreens and I cried all the way to Sears."
"Don't come home a-drinkin', with lovin' on your mind."
"I had a good woman but she married Lawrence."
"I feel better all over more than anywhere else."