PLAYOFF MADNESS II
In our April 15 issue we took the NHL to task for devaluing the regular season by allowing too many weak-sister teams into the playoffs. Now it's time to give the NBA equal time. As a public service, we herewith rerun our NHL item more or less intact, albeit with NBA names and numbers substituted where appropriate:
"When the NBA's 23 teams had finished on Sunday with the regular season's 943 games, the 16 clubs that qualified for the playoffs included four with losing records: Chicago, at 38-44; Washington, 40-42; and Phoenix and Cleveland, 36-46. Boston, whose 63-19 mark was best in the league, had 27 more wins than the Cavaliers, yet when these two teams begin their best-of-five playoff series this week, the Celtics' only advantage will be an extra home game. Is it too much to ask that the NBA limit playoff berths to teams that have .500 records or better? Someday NBA fans will wake up and decide that they're not going to pay to see regular-season games that don't really much matter."
THE ENSHRINEMENT OF A TOUGH COACH
Robert (Bull Cyclone) Sullivan was inducted posthumously into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame two weeks ago, an occasion that Frank Deford's story The Toughest Couch There Ever Was (SI, April 30, 1984) helped bring about. Until it appeared, Sullivan was little known outside dirt-poor Kemper County, Miss. He died a broken man in 1970 after being fired as football coach at East Mississippi Junior College by Stumpy Harbour, the school's president, who envied his success.
Among the 700 people attending the ceremony in Jackson were Sullivan's widow, Virginia, and scores of former players. Also on hand was Deford, who picked up several new Bull Cyclone stories that, he reports, made Sullivan sound "a lot tougher than even I had painted him." Two of the best:
?In one game a Lion player broke a finger, and it dangled from his hand at an ugly angle. As the boy writhed on the ground, Sullivan walked over, pinged the finger and called out, "Bring me the scissors." The injured player hurried back into the game and played like a demon the rest of the way.
?A player Bull had been counting on quit the squad. Sullivan angrily hauled the player's uniform and equipment onto the field and set fire to all of it as the other players watched. "Don't ever mention his name again." Bull said. Notes Deford, "And they didn't—not even to me when I interviewed some of them 20 years later."
But there was another story that showed a different side of Sullivan. One Saturday, Itawamba Junior College showed up for a game against East Mississippi with only 16 players. The rest of the team had the flu. "It wouldn't be fair," said Bull, who ordered all but 16 of his own players into the stands and gave up a chance for what otherwise would have been a sure victory.