Even the Champions Can Use a Design Boost

REDESIGNING uniforms and team logos is such a central merchandising strategy these days, one wonders how long teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Celtics, and Lakers can stick with a traditional look. The Houston Rockets certainly aren't beholden to their logo and in fact may see the decision to ditch it as a way to capitalize on back-to-back National Basketball Association championships.

The Rockets not only have introduced a fierce rocket into their logo redesign, they have gone to new color combination - switching from red, black, and gold to blue, metallic blue, red, and silver. There's also a secondary logo that uses the rocket whirling around a capital ''R.''

For the Seattle SuperSonics, a major disappointment in the playoffs the last two years, adopting a new logo and colors might help to wipe the slate clean as they move into a new arena. But even if the team's not a winner, the new look, which still incorporates the Space Needle, should score points with consumers.

Drenching halt to US Pro Tennis

WHO ever heard of a tennis tournament in which only one player reaches the final? It happened over the weekend in Brookline, Mass., where South African Wayne Ferreira picked up a runner-up check ($25,000) at the US Pro Championships and was the event's highest finisher.

Rain wiped out the semifinal match that would have determined Ferreira's opponent, and rain Sunday led to the cancellation of the remainder of the tournament. Ticket holders were offered refunds.

Surely a winner would have been determined if the tournament possessed the stature its name implies.The event's title is an anachronism dating to 1964, when first held at venerable Longwood Cricket Club before pros were allowed in the US championships (the US Open since 1968). Today the US Pro is not a stop on the men's regular tennis tour and is considered an exhibition.

Buckeye finish for baseball?

THE Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds could meet in an all-Ohio World Series. Both teams lead their divisions, the Indians by a seemingly insurmountable 18-1/2 games (through Sunday) in the American League Central, and the Reds by 6-1/2 in the corresponding National League division.

Some consideration has reportedly been given to running passenger train service between the two cities in the event of a cross-state series.

If Cleveland and Cincinnati were to make the playoffs and advance through the two-stage league championship format, baseball would add another interesting geographic rivalry to its postseason play. Oakland met San Francisco in the 1989 World Series, Los Angeles and Oakland were opponents the previous year, and in 1985 the series shuttled back and forth between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: Of the National Football League's 30 teams, only one has a helmet unadorned by any kind of logo. Can you name it? (Answer appears below.)

* Major-league baseball can speed up play, move into new stadiums, and resolve its labor dispute, but until it can get players, managers, and coaches to stop spitting an air of backwardness will remain.

* Trivia find: Shortly after World War II, baseball boasted nearly 60 minor leagues. Today there are about a third as many.

* In case you wondered, the Cabbage Patch Kids will be the official mascot of the 1996 United States Olympic team. Why? Because the popular stuffed toys, like the Olympic team, supposedly celebrate diversity and individuality in looks and personality traits. The OlympiKids were also mascots in 1992.

* A prediction: Michael Jordan will attempt to play the senior golf tour when he reaches 50, and other retired basketball, baseball, football, and hockey players will attempt to join him.

* Prospective National Football League players undergo extensive physical testing, but mental aptitude is not overlooked. It comes under scrutiny in a little-known standardized exam called the Wonderlic, a 50-question test that Sports Illustrated reports can be taken in 12 minutes. The test is written at a sixth-grade level and includes no rocket-scientist questions. Former Cincinnati punter Pat McInally once recorded a perfect score. McInally, in case you're wondering, attended Harvard.

* For the makers of golf shoes, much attention is now focused underfoot. Metal spikes may be on the way out; rubber spikes and plastic discs are in. Some clubs have begun adopting spikeless-only policies, and although less than 100 supposedly have gone this route, many more are expected to begin to follow. Metal spikes are clunky and menacing off of grass, even if good for traction on it.

* In an age when TV viewership drives professional sports, it will seem odd not to have pro football in Los Angeles. The Rams and Raiders have both fled the city for greener pastures, in St. Louis and Oakland, Calif., respectively. By 1998, however, National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue expects Los Angeles will have a team, either an expansion club or a relocated existing franchise.

* Having observed a successful junior golf program during a recent California vacation, this writer concludes that the game could use a lot more of such programs. Children as young as six or seven are not only capable of hitting the ball, but relish the opportunity, especially when it occurs on a real golf course. Someone could probably do well financially by creating junior-size courses in which youngsters felt welcome.

* Quiz answer: Cleveland Browns.

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