TOO BITTER AN END
In the 112-109 loss to Philadelphia that eliminated Houston from the NBA playoffs last week, the Rockets acquitted themselves nobly, earning the respect of everyone who saw them. The same, however, could not be said of Rocket Coach Tom Nissalke.
For Houston and the 15,676 fans who packed The Summit, the defeat was a heartbreaker that left some players in tears and Nissalke enraged at the officiating. Among the decisions that infuriated him was a charging foul called on John Lucas by Referee Jake O'Donnell. It nullified a Lucas basket in the last five seconds which would have tied the score at 111 and sent the game into overtime.
That Houston would dispute the call is understandable and, in light of what the loss cost his club, perhaps so was Nissalke's indictment of the referees in his postgame remarks to newspapermen. "I thought it was sick officiating," he told them. "Sick."
But when Nissalke took his case to courtside and incited thousands of fans who had remained there, he went too far. Speaking over a p.a. mike in an interview with Gene Peterson, the Rockets' radio announcer, Nissalke said, "I don't like to use the word 'robbery' but that's what it was.... The official was 10 feet out of position on one play and then Darryl Dawkins [of the 76ers] got a dunk shot where he took three steps.... It was just terrible.... It was ludicrous. We play one of the great games of the year and we lose it on a call like that. It's pathetic."
Nissalke's bitter commentary, which reached every corner of the Rockets' home arena, was punctuated by loud, approving cheers from the fans.
Regardless of the merits of O'Donnell's call—and several disinterested spectators thought it correct—Nissalke's remarks are deplorable. Not only do they smack of sour grapes, but also by making them over the public address system Nissalke could well have incited a riot. (P.S. Two days after the game it was announced that Nissalke had been named NBA Coach of the Year.)
NEW HOPE FOR FINLEY?
When Federal Judge Newell Edenfield upheld Bowie Kuhn's suspension of Ted Turner last week, the ruling was hailed as another triumph for the powers of the baseball commissioner. But the judge views his decision in exactly the opposite fashion, which may be a break for the A's Charlie Finley.
Kuhn originally fined Turner $10,000 for tampering with Gary Matthews, an outfielder then with the Giants. Later Kuhn added to Turner's penalty by suspending the Braves' owner for one year and taking away the team's first choice in next month's amateur draft.