Palestra celebrating 60th year; US-Italy basketball exchange

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Just as a rose is a rose is a rose, in football a stadium is a stadium is a stadium. There just aren't many other ways to describe these structures. In basketball, however, the playing facilities are tagged with an interesting diversity of names, especially at the college level. Among the more famous are Kentucky's Rupp Arena, Indiana's Assembly Hall, UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, and Notre Dame's Athletic and Convocation Center. Kansas plays at Allen Field House, North Carolina at Smith Center, Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Oregon at McArthur Court, Georgia Tech at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

Maybe the most intriguing-sounding basketball palace of all is the Palestra in Philadelphia, which is also one of the most quaint and storied facilities of its kind. The 8,722-seat arena, built in 1927, sits on the Ivy League campus of the University of Pennsylvania, but has become famous as the site of Big Five shoot-outs among the city's major basketball-playing schools - Penn, Villanova, Temple, St. Joseph's, and LaSalle. The Palestra was built for basketball and took its name from ancient Greece, where public athletic facilities were called palestras.

Penn's gym no longer corners the local college basketball market. Villanova has moved some of its Big East games into the Spectrum, and other home games into a new on-campus arena, and Temple is moving in a similar direction.

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For nostalgic charm, though, the Palestra is still hard to beat, as Joe Rhodes discovered last season. A free-lance writer, Rhodes traveled across the country to watch 142 college basketball games in 33 states. Writing about the experience for the Sporting News, he made this observation about what he calls the nation's best arena: ``I wish you could walk in from a cold Philadelphia night to smell the wood and the dried sweat and the popcorn, the smell of a basketball game about to be played.''

The old gym will celebrate its 60th birthday tomorrow night when Penn plays host to Yale. And although a refurbishing project has spruced up the inside, replacing some wooden seating with plastic bleachers, the Big Five tradition of throwing colored streamers onto the court after your team's first basket continues. Basketball's pasta pipeline

For players who can't cut the mustard in the National Basketball Association, there are generally two alternatives, one of which requires a passport. Job seekers consider employment either in the Continental Basketball Association or on ``the Continent,'' specifically in the Italian pro league. While most are inclined to try the CBA, which has minor-league franchises in Jacksonville, Fla., Topeka, Kan., and 10 other American communities, a substantial number have migrated to Italy. Fifty-four Americans, in fact, are playing there this winter, including such notable former NBA stars as Bob McAdoo (the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 1975) and George Gervin (the league's scoring champion in 1978, '79, '80, and '82).

Besides employing borderline American pros and ex-NBA stars past their primes, the Italian league also occasionally takes in players unhappy with their NBA contract offers. The most notable recent example of this is Joe Barry Carroll, the 7 ft. 1 in. center of the much-improved Golden State Warriors.

A former Purdue All-American who started his pro career in the NBA, Carroll moved to Italy after a contract dispute with Golden State, but returned to the Bay Area last season. His time away obviously didn't cause an erosion of his talents, since Carroll, once maligned for being one-dimensional and lackadaisical, is actually playing better than ever. In fact, the Western Conference coaches have selected him to play in the NBA All-Star Game Feb. 8 in Seattle. He and teammate Eric (Sleepy) Floyd are the first Warriors so honored since 1982. During a season with Milan, ``J.B.'' led his team to the Italian and European championships. Football hall's new class

Now that he's been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, some people may be asking, ``Who is Jim Langer?'' He made it in, after all, when others with some pretty impressive credentials were left out. And he did so without ever being the National Football League's MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, or a star quarterback, distinctions held, respectively, by three non-elected finalists - Alan Page, Fred Biletnikoff, and former Miami teammate Bob Griese. As a center, Langer hiked the ball to Griese during the 1970s, and played every offensive down during the Dolphins' perfect 1972 season. Picked up on waivers from Cleveland, he became a perennial all-pro. Joining Langer in the largest group to be inducted since 1971 are Joe Greene, Larry Csonka, Gene Upshaw, Len Dawson, Don Maynard, and John Henry Johnson.

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