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Basketball belligerence mars NBA playoffs; super Sycamores?

By Ross AtkinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 15, 1987

As if we don't already see enough footage of fights (mostly hockey) on the late-night sports news, now we are being subjected to a fairly steady stream of basketball bouts and near-fisticuffs. A distasteful outbreak of chippiness has reared its ugly head in the National Basketball Association's playoffs, with the worst recent example being the several exchanges that marred Wednesday night's Atlanta Hawks-Detroit Pistons game, which the Pistons won 104-96 to take their series 4-1 and advance to the Eastern Conference finals. There they will meet the winner of the Boston-Milwaukee series, which resumes tonight.

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Fines for the various fracases that have dotted the playoffs certainly will be meted out in virtually every case, but monetary punishment, unless really substantial, may not keep the lid on the problem. Its roots really lie in the excessive physicality the league permits throughout the season. Push just comes to shove more often in post-season games, because more is at stake, emotions are running higher, and the same players confront one another in a succession of games, sometimes causing frictions to carry over.

Employing a third game official might help in detecting some of the rough stuff that causes tempers to reach a boil. And certainly ejecting or suspending the warring players would get everyone's attention. Basically, however, the problem needs to be nipped in the bud by clamping down on the hand-checking, leaning, and bumping that has become part and parcel of NBA play. Big-name Sycamores

Bird and Olajuwon, two of the best names in basketball, will appear on the same roster next season. In this case, though, we're not talking Larry and Akeem, but their younger brothers, and the team is neither the Boston Celtics nor the Houston Rockets, but the Indiana State Sycamores.

Eddie Bird has already been at his brother Larry's alma mater for a year, and Taju Olajuwon plans to enroll at the Terre Haute campus next fall.

Eddie, a 6 ft. 6 in. forward who played intramural ball this year, had to sit out his freshman season because he didn't meet certain academic requirements. His eligibility is virtually assured, though, in view of a 2.9 grade-point average his first semester.

According to the school's sports information department, Taju didn't want to be in a fishbowl alone, and knew Eddie would help to divert media attention. Other factors possibly influencing his choice of college were a desire to stay out of brother Akeem's long shadow, a chance to play in basketball-happy Indiana (an experience related to him by his Houston high school coach, a Hoosier), and the presence of another Nigerian, Olufemi Akinola, on the Indiana State team.

Taju and Eddie may not be a match for their brothers, but they could ignite a program locked in reverse virtually ever since Larry departed in 1979. The Sycamores, who were 33-1 in Larry's senior season and lost only to Michigan State in the NCAA title game, are coming off their their worst record, 9-20, during the lackluster post-Bird era.

Taju Olajuwon might be the real key to a turnaround. If he grows several more inches, a possibility given his massive hands, he could change from a 6-7 forward into an Akeem-the-Dream-like, seven-foot center. But even if this doesn't happen, the Sycamores once again will have a team with marquee value. Touching other bases