Dream Team II Can't Please Fickle Fans; Price Is Right at the PGA; SI Turns 40

THE entry from the United States won the World Basketball Championships Sunday in Toronto by thrashing the Russians, 137-91. No surprise there. But that doesn't mean the event lacked controversy.

Dream Team II, as it was pegged, suffered throughout from comparisons with the 1992 Olympic champions headlined by Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird.

Using the Dream Team label a second time was a mistake. How many sequels top the original? That mistake is likely to be rectified for the next team, which will represent the US in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Dream Team II will be remembered for its outside shooting - led by Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller, who sank 30 three-point attempts. That made a mockery of the closer-in three-point line in international play. The play of MVP Shaquille O'Neal confirmed that he's the dominant player - and personality - of his era. The team's in-your-face attitude, toned down by the final, will likely continue to redefine basketball etiquette. Celebrating an exciting play is definitely ``in.''

As in 1992, the Dream Team games were such lopsided affairs, it was hard to judge the progress of the foreign competition. Some observers thought the world showed it was catching up a bit and that several players from other teams would be offered NBA contracts. Golf's foreign accent

NICK PRICE'S victory Sunday at the Professional Golfers Association championship in Tulsa, Okla., concluded a sweep of all four major championships by non-American players. At the moment, there's little talk that it's a meaningful trend. Foreign players are a major contingent on the American PGA tour and are as familiar with courses and conditions as their US counterparts.

The late-blooming Price, from Zimbabwe, who also won the British Open last month, may be the bigger story. He dominated the tournament, winning comfortably by six strokes. His 11-under-par 269 was the lowest ever in a major US championship. Analysts and fellow players agree that his game is a notch above any other player's. Price's back-to-back wins in major championships were the first since Tom Watson did it in 1982. Touching other bases

* Sports Illustrated magazine marks 40 years of publication today with a special cover. It repeats the first issue of Aug. 16, 1954, with Eddie Mathews of the Milwaukee Braves taking a mighty swing. The celebration really has two parts: On Sept. 19, the official ``40th anniversary edition'' will be published.

Many fans know that Muhammad Ali has appeared on the cover of SI more than any other athlete (32 times). But what sport is represented by five of the top 10 people to appear? (See answer at end of column.)

* Little-big-man Michael Chang served 13 aces in a semifinal win over David Weaton at the ATP Championships in Mason, Ohio. The 5 ft., 9 in. Chang is known for his baseline play; most of the big servers in the game stand well over 6 feet tall. But Chang reminded reporters that he's twice notched 15 aces in a match before. Chang followed up his ace extravaganza in a more conventional manner Sunday, beating Stefan Edberg to win the tournament for the second year.

* Football fans who wanted to see undefeated Nebraska meet undefeated West Virginia in a bowl game will get their chance - eight months late. Of course, it won't be for a national championship. Instead, they will meet in college football's 1994 Kickoff Classic Aug. 28 at Giants Stadium. Both teams will have new faces in key positions. ``This is not last year,'' West Virginia's Don Nehlen said last week. ``Nebraska is a different team and we are a different team.''

* The Dallas Cowboys-Houston Oilers exhibition game last night in Mexico City was expected to set a record for the largest crowd ever to watch an American football game. Aztec Stadium holds 110,000 people and was nearly sold out before the game. The previous record was set in 1947 when a crowd of 105,840 watched the Chicago Bears play the college all-stars at Soldier Field in Chicago.

* If there's no more baseball in 1994, here's one fan's choices for postseason awards: National League MVP: Houston's Jeff Bagwell (.367 average, 39 home runs, 116 RBI, 104 runs scored, 32 doubles). American League MVP: Chicago's Frank Thomas (.353 average, 38 home runs, 101 RBI, 106 runs scored, 34 doubles). National League Cy Young winner: Atlanta's Greg Maddux (16-6 record, 1.67 ERA, 156 strikeouts). American League: Seattle's Randy Johnson (13-7, 3.19 ERA, 204 strikeouts, the most in the majors).

* Quiz answer: Five of the top 10 Sports Illustrated cover athletes are basketball players: Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Bill Walton.

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