USFL seeking big gain in courtroom; return of a tennis native

The United States Football League is facing what appears to be a third-and-long situation for its survival. The USFL's main hope is to win a substantial damage award from the National Football League in an $1.32 billion antitrust case that began in New York this week. The issue in question is whether the NFL has used its influence to monopolize network TV contracts and generally undermine the USFL. Lawyers for the NFL will be out to prove that no conspiracy exists and that the USFL has been burning its own bridges through inept decisionmaking and foolhardy spending.

A basic premise of the USFL, of course, was that springtime football could fill a void in TV sports scheduling. But faced with declining attendance and soaring deficits, the league decided to switch to a fall schedule, beginning this year. The problem, of course, is that this puts it in head-to-head competition with the NFL, a situation the USFL originally intended to avoid. The USFL has no takers among the three major commercial networks for a new TV contract.

The case is expected to last from six weeks to two months, and unless USFL lawyers have a couple of surprises up their sleeves, don't expect the young league to be around to launch its first fall season, after three spring campaigns. Navratilova can go home again

Defections aren't taken lightly in the Soviet bloc, but it appears Czechoslovakia will let bygones be bygones in the case of Martina Navratilova, the world's top female tennis player. Although she hasn't returned to her homeland since defecting to the United States in 1975, she will travel to Prague in July to help represent the US in the 43-nation Federation Cup competition. The Czech government has issued her the necessary visa, thereby assuring the Americans of fielding a very strong team.

Chris Evert Lloyd, Pam Shriver, and Zina Garrison will join Martina in attempting to wrest the cup from Czechoslovakia, which is the first Eastern European country to be host to the event in its 24-year history.

That the Americans have loaded their roster is a testament to the strength of the host team, which has won each of the last three years and is led by Hana Mandlikova and Helena Sukova. Mandlikova knocked off both Evert Lloyd and Navratilova to win last year's US Open, and Sukova halted Martina's historic 74-match winning streak and bid for a seventh straight Grand Slam title in the semifinals of the 1984 Australian Open.

Czechoslovakia first won the Federation Cup in 1975, when Navratilova was on the team. Martina defected at that year's US Open in Forest Hills, N.Y., and became an American citizen in 1981. Basketball's upside-down lottery

When pro sports leagues sit down to draft amateur players, the idea is for the worst teams to get the best choices. Because of trades made beforehand, however, it doesn't always work out that way, and in the case of the National Basketball Association, the least-talented franchises will have to wait for the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics to choose this year.

With moves made several years earlier, the Sixers and Celtics dealt their way into last Sunday's NBA lottery, which determined the drafting order of seven teams, which either failed to make the current playoffs or had acquired the draft rights of those clubs. In a somewhat complicated drawing, perennial powers Philadelphia and Boston wound up with the No. 1 and 2 selections, respectively, in the June 17 draft, with Golden State, Indiana, New York, Phoenix, and Dallas following in that order. The only one of the latter five to make the playoffs was Dallas.

Fortunately, this will be a deep draft with a half dozen or more relatively equal blue-chip prospects, such as Brad Daugherty, Len Bias, Chris Washburn, and Walter Berry. That spared the league from an untenable situation, which could have occurred if a team of Boston's caliber had won the rights to a franchise-making player like Patrick Ewing. Touching other bases

Why is the cereal-making Kellogg Company concerned about the 1988 Olympic mascot? Because the company feels the tiger mascot of the Seoul Olympics bears a strong resemblance to the company's trademarked caricature, Tony the Tiger. There are some similarities, but none serious, and what stylized drawing wouldn't contain a few? And besides, the Korean tiger can be easily identified, because he wears a hat and the Olympic rings around his neck.

The Milwaukee Bucks were 0-5 against the Boston Celtics during the regular season, and it wouldn't surprise many observers to see the Bucks mopped up in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals, which began Tuesday with a 128-96 Boston victory. The game was a monumental blowout from the beginning, as the visitors, sagging after surviving a seven-game series with Philadelphia, fell behind 29-12 in the first quarter. Their dozen points were an all-time playoff low for an opening period, and were reminiscent of Boston's burning of Atlanta a week earlier, when in a third-quarter massacre, the Celtics held the Hawks to playoff low six points while rolling up 36 themselves, including 24 straight. Boston fans want to bring on the Lakers, but the Houston Rockets just earned a split with Los Angeles in the opening two games of their best-of-seven Western series and now the scene shifts to Texas.

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