Columns » Harry King - Sports

Championship a joke, but no one cares

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As a backup, the owner of the Arkansas RimRockers bought a championship trophy. In the American Basketball Association, there is no sure thing. Aside from a league vice president presenting the trophy purchased by the ABA, the league championship game was a joke and nobody in the record crowd of 14,989 gave a flip. They turned out last Saturday night to see their RimRockers, particularly former Razorbacks, beat up on whoever showed for the title game. ABA could be the Absurd Basketball Association or the Always Bizarre Association. Arkansas’s franchise, well run by president Otis Birdsong and well funded by car dealer Larry Crain Sr., is a model for the other 20-something teams in the league. When the season began, the league included 37 teams. More than a half-dozen folded. Portland and Louisiana lasted 12 games each; Arkansas played a league-high 37 games and others played something in between. Arkansas had the second-best record in the league and was supposed to play the 27-1 Utah Snowbears or Snowbirds or whoever in the finals. Instead, Utah withdrew from playoffs with the team and ABA officials blaming each other, while the 12-16 Blackhawks of Bellevue, Wash., beat Maryland to reach the finals. Earlier, a 21-10 Nashville team announced it was skipping the playoff because it had lost several players and other teams would be more competitive. I doubt seriously if 12-18 Oakland University, winner of the Mid-Continent League tournament, considered such a magnanimous move to make room for Maryland in the NCAA. Besides, in the ABA, roster fluctuations are the norm, as players jump at other opportunities. Scotty Thurman and a couple of others left the RimRockers in early January to play overseas and, a week earlier, Todd Day announced he was quitting. Eight days later, he was back on the team. Oliver Miller played for a Texas team against the RimRockers one week and switched sides the next week. On the court Saturday night, the lead changed hands 18 times in the first half before the Blackhawks went to the dressing room with a 51-49 lead. Early on, black socks with the NBA logo didn’t help Day, who missed seven of his first eight. Conservatively listed at 320 pounds, Miller didn’t make it across midcourt, but that sly maneuver left him in position to block a shot that led to a Day basket and a 45-44 lead. At the half, Arkansas Coach Joe Harge and one of his assistants stood in the dim light outside the dressing room and checked out a stat sheet that showed the RimRockers 3-of-14 from 3-point range and only 40 percent from the field. Early in the second half, Day broke the ninth and final tie of the game with a three-pointer for 61-58, grabbed his right leg and went to the bench. During that timeout, so many T-shirts were given away that Arkansas’s Shawnson Johnson wound up with one. He pitched it to Harge, who fired the souvenir into the stands. Kareem Reid’s ninth field goal and two free throws pushed the lead to 67-58. Oregon State’s Brian Jackson, maybe the only Arkansas player who could locate Bellevue on a map, made two free throws for the first double-digit lead, 71-60. Dunks by Brandon Dean and Day finished the Blackhawks, 87-71, and delighted the crowd. A technical on Bellevue coach Rick Turner and his coat-throwing reaction were of little consequence in the 118-103 final. (The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday that Turner had gotten into an altercation on Thursday night at Gusano’s in the River Market district.) Always in motion, Reid scored 36. Day had 32 points, 24 coming in the second half. Along with the Blackhawks, the RimRockers padded the crowd with Scooby-Doo and the Easter Bunny. During the year, the marketing folks also lined up race car driver Mark Martin, former UA football star Matt Jones, pro wrestler Sean Michaels and SpongeBob SquarePants for autograph sessions. All along, the RimRockers appropriately promoted the former Razorback players. Last week, on local radio, the ad encouraged fans to join Day, Reid, Miller, Dean and the “rest of the RimRockers” for the championship game. Before the game, all four went into the stands to hug a friend from Fayetteville. For 18 home games prior to Saturday night, the average attendance was more than 5,000. Such numbers should make Arkansas mighty attractive to the NBA’s Developmental League.

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