Although Esposito is No. 1 for all-round crankiness, the one with the most nettlesome repartee may well be Clarke, who often can be seen skating around during pauses in the action, head down, muttering to the officials. What he's probably telling them, according to the refs, is something like, "Nobody spends $15 to watch you drop a puck."
OLYMPIC HOOPS & HOPES
U.S. amateur basketball authorities have been meeting with NBA officials in an effort to ensure that this country assembles its strongest possible team for the 1980 Olympics. U.S. Olympic basketball teams are perennially handicapped by the fact that many of the best American players are professionals, and thus ineligible for the Games. What makes matters worse is that, for various reasons, a number of eligible collegians have also sat out the Olympics, the most notable defections having occurred when Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes both passed up the 1968 Games.
Among the leading players who declined to try out for the U.S. team in 1976 were Leon Douglas and Robert Parish, both of whom felt that doing so might somehow jeopardize anticipated pro contracts. Similar concerns could arise next year. The U.S. Olympic Trials will be held May 18-23 and the NBA draft in mid-June. Because basketball competition in Moscow runs from July 20 to 30, Olympians would have to wait six weeks before signing NBA contracts. Besides being apprehensive about the possibility of injury, some players will no doubt worry that failure to make the Olympic team—or poor performances if they do make it—could hamper their bargaining power with the NBA.
Pro officials rejected suggestions that they reschedule their draft after the Olympics. But they imply that they will try to hold off signing drafted Olympians until the Games are over. It is hoped that players and their agents will cooperate. There is talk of taking out insurance to protect unsigned players against loss of future earnings, although it is unclear whether this in itself could make a player professional.
Bill Wall, executive director of the Amateur Basketball Association, the U.S. governing body for Olympic basketball, says that from 46 to 64 players will be invited to the Trials. Wall pointed out last week that competing in the Olympics greatly enhanced the NBA prospects of, among others, Spencer Haywood, Doug Collins and Phil Ford. Meanwhile a 14-game U.S. tour by the Soviet National Team is in full swing. Playing against major-college competition, the Soviets last week had a 4-1 record, serving notice that they will be tough to beat on their home court at the '80 Olympics.
These are tough times for Colorado sports fans. The NBA Denver Nuggets are off to a 5-11 start, the NHL Colorado Rockies are in last place in the Smythe Division with a 3-9-2 record, two officials of the International Volleyball Association's Denver Comets pleaded guilty last week to drug charges, and the Denver Stars, a professional rodeo team, have declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the football season drags on for Colorado State (4-6), the University of Colorado (1-8) and Air Force Academy (1-9). The NFL Broncos have an 8-3 record but were shellacked 42-7 last month by Pittsburgh, their worst defeat in 11 years. Nor is there cause for unbridled jubilation in fresh reports that the Oakland A's might be moving to Denver; the A's, remember, are a last-place club with a final 1979 record of 54-108.
One positive note for Colorado fans is that a major storm has laid a blanket of snow up to a foot deep on the Rockies. Just in case anybody wants to get away from it all and go skiing.
Atlanta Journal readers were chuckling last week over a yarn recounted by columnist Ron Hudspeth. It seems that a disenchanted Falcon fan had tried to give away two tickets to an upcoming game to strangers at a shopping center but couldn't find any takers. The man then put the tickets under a windshield wiper on his car, hoping that somebody would filch them while he was shopping. He was gone an hour. When he returned, he found six tickets waiting for him—his pair and four others.