It once was fashionable to ridicule the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers. But the laughing stocks of the National Basketball Association have made people stop laughing. The Cavs are actually talking about making the playoffs. ``It's all we talk about,'' clarifies forward Roy Hinson, who statistically is one of the NBA's two most improved starting players this year. In a league where 16 of 23 teams advance to the post-season, earning the right to continue play may not seem like such a big deal. But for a team that has won 15, 23, and 28 games during the last three 82-game seasons, and not made the playoffs since 1978, well, it is a big deal. When you consider the team's terrible 2-19 start, the prospect seems even more delicious.
Are the Cavaliers for real? The Philadelphia 76ers sure think so after losing twice to Cleveland in four days in February. The Cavs again had the Sixers' number this week, handing Philadelphia, which was without injured center Moses Malone, a 116-89 defeat, its worst of the season.
Cleveland has gone 26-22 since that atrocious start and is now 28-41. Though still really a rebuilding team, the Cavs have seen business pick up considerably at the turnstiles. Average attendance has risen from 5,000 to 7,200.
``We have the confidence now that we can win anytime against any team, whether we're playing at home or on the road,'' says George Karl, who, at 33, is the league's youngest coach.
Under the team's previous owner, the Cavaliers were notorious for trading away draft picks for veterans of questionable value.
It appeared the franchise's future was being sold down the river. In an attempt to stem the tide, and give the current ownership reasonable hope, the league actually restored four first-round picks beginning with the 1983 draft.
Now the team has such talented young players as Hinson, John Bagley, and rookie Melvin Turpin playing alongside experienced hands like World B. Free, Phil Hubbard, and Johnny Davis.
The way television negotiations have been going for the United States Football League, the letters ``USFL'' may wind up standing for Un-Seen Football League if things don't change. None of the major networks seems interested in carrying USFL games when the league switches to a fall schedule next year. This has been apparent in discussions with the networks, each of which televises National Football League action. Frustrated by his inability to make any headway in the USFL's behalf, Eddie Einhorn actually resigned his post as the league's TV negotiator.
ABC, which will continue to televise USFL games through the end of the current season, originally contracted with the league as a means of providing alternative sports programming to the normal spring/summer fare. Now, if something doesn't give, the so-called made-for-TV league may wind up begging for network coverage.
Long noted as a hotbed of girls' high school basketball, Iowa made its mark collegiately this season when a record crowd of 22,157 turned out to watch the University of Iowa's women's team host Ohio State. That helped Coach Vivian Stringer realize one of her dreams, which was to fill Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Capacity was actually exceeded by 6,707 spectators, a figure the state fire marshall was assured will not be repeated. Paid attendance totaled 14,821, which easily broke the previous record for women's basketball of 12,336, set in 1977 at a doubleheader in New York's Madison Square Garden. Not everybody was impressed with the turnout. While crediting Stringer with doing a marvelous job of building the women's basketball program, columnist Ron Maly of the Des Moines Register Tribune claimed that ``Hawkeye officials all but begged for people to show up to the game just so a record could be broken. When some were let in free, the whole deal lost all credibility.''
While spectator interest in the women's game is growing, the Iowa crowd is not really indicative of more modest gains being made at Iowa and across the nation. Iowa's women's team, a good draw, averaged 4,363 spectators this season.
The baseball exiles of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were ended earlier this week by Peter Ueberroth, the game's new commissioner. It was another indication that Ueberroth intends to be his own man. Mays and Mantle, of course, retired as active players years ago, but Bowie Kuhn, who succeeded Ueberroth in office, had told the Hall of Famers to severe all connections with organized baseball as the result of their public relations jobs with Atlantic City gambling casinos. In welcoming the pair back, Ueberroth indicated that he was making some exceptions to current guidelines aimed at keeping the game disassociated from gambling. In studying the situation, he found that club owners haven't always divorced themselves from this activity and that ``all kinds of items could be revised.'' Just what his administration's stand winds up being remains to be seen, but for now anyhow, he wants Willie and Mickey back in the game's good graces.
The greatest current monopoly in college sports is probably the full nelson hold the University of Iowa wrestling team has on the national championship. With their victory in Oklahoma City last weekend, the Hawkeyes made it eight NCAA championships in a row. The coach responsible for this streak is Dan Gable, the coach of last summer's US Olympic wrestling team and arguably the best wrestler the United States has ever produced. After a 64-0 record in high school, Gable went on to a nearly flawless college career at Iowa State, where, in 1970, his lone loss came in his final match. From that major disappointment, however, he went on to capture the 1972 Olympic gold medal at 149.5 pounds, holding his opponents scoreless in six matches.