Nastase: calmer but still candid The Suns: also rising?

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Off the cuff -- This is a weather report on Ilie Nastase, the tennis great, who still storms at umpires occasionally but has cut down considerably on his thunder and lightning.

The last time I looked, Nastase was ranked No. 62 in the world and having trouble with his consistency. But there was nothing the matter with his candor at the Jack Kramer Open when he told reporters: "Bjorn Borg is the best in the world. He is so strong physically that he can tell himself to win and he does. I don't think the fans would object if the promoters were to automatically put him in every final."

And on young players: "They make all this big money now because of what guys like me and Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall did to promote the game, but they don't appreciate it. They should play all the tournaments and not just pick their spots." Nastase, a Romanian who has won the US, French, and Italian Opens but never Wimbledon, owns a $500,000 farm 70 miles south of Paris.

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Off the grapevine -- Not many pro basketball observers agreed with Coach John MacLeod's statement after Los Angeles destroyed his Phoenix Suns 4-1 in the play- offs: "We are the team of the future in the NBA," he said. "We have the balance and we can win a championship with the centers we have, providing they improve." MacLeod was referring to Alvan Adams, who doesn't have the bulk or the strength to handle physically tough opponents in a short series, and Rich Kelley , who lacks consistency.

Asked about the future of Bill Walton, senior vice-president Irv Kaze of the San Diego Clippers replied: "Walton says he wants to play, and we assume that he is going to play again. But at this point I don't think we would deliberately go out and try to build a team around him." San Diego is in the process of having a special sneaker designed for Walton that would both support and protect the ankle that has given him so much trouble. Last year Bill missed 68 of the Clippers' 82 games.

Kaze again on Lloyd Free, who was runner-up in the NBA scoring race to San Antonio's George Gervin and who has asked to be traded: "Sometimes, when Free gets upset, he says things that he doesn't really mean."

Off the freeway -- This past winter pitching coach Red Adams and infield coach Monty Basgall of the Los Angeles Dodgers gave numerous clinics in Australia as month-long guests of that country's baseball federation. "Until five or six years ago, baseball was a very minor sport over there," Adams said. "A few cricket players used baseball as a way to sharpen their skills, but mostly the finer points of the game were ignored. Now, with so many youth leagues springing up, the Australians are starting to get into a real growth period.

"Amateur players [meaning those in municipal leagues] range in age from 18 to 35, and major stadiums have been planned for Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth."

If anybody cares, my All-NBA Rookie team consists of center Bill Cartwright of the New York Knicks; forwards Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics and Calvin Natt of the Portland Trail Blazers; and guards Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and Sidney Moncrief of the Milwaukee Bucks. Best rookie: Boston's Bird, who averaged 21.3 points per game and had 852 rebounds.

Off the quoteboard -- From Phil Niekro Sr. on his two sons, both of whom are major league pitchers: "I'm proud of them and happy they don't have to work for a living."

From pro basketball's Dennis Awtrey on why he has been traded to six teams in eight years: "People like me."

From former New York Jets punter Curley Johnson, recalling the Joe Namath days: "We didn't lose many games -- and we never lost a party!"

From Texas pitcher Jim Kern on being removed from a game by manager Pat Corrales: "I told Pat that I wasn't tired. He told me: 'Maybe you're not but my outfielders sure are.'"

From Muhammad Ali on himself: "I'm still the greatest. I'm just more humble about it now."

From Moses Malone of the Houston Rockets, the year he won the NBA's rebounding title: "I got a lot of help from my teammates. They missed a lot, leaving everything for me."

From QB Jack Thompson of the Cincinnati Bengals on the 10 touchdowns he scored at Washington State: "It's amazing what the human body can do when chased by a larger human body."

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