In a Geographic Twist, Hockey Champs May Take Jersey Turnpike to Tennessee

AS bizarre as it sounds, the National Hockey League has crowned a champion from the state of New Jersey that could defend its title in Tennessee. That possibility exists because the New Jersey Devils, who play in the Meadowlands near New York City, have expressed interest in moving their operation to Nashville, where a new arena is eager for occupants and willing to make a nice offer.

If the Devils, who swept the Detroit Red Wings 4-games-to-0 in the Stanley Cup finals, change their address, the departure would mark the first such flight by a championship team.

Witnessing the Devils exit would be a real downer for New Jerseyans, who have never before had a pro team win a league title that bore the state's name.

Other Meadowlands-based teams have won championships - the Giants a football Super Bowl and the Cosmos a soccer crown - but both were identified as New York teams.

Stock car cousins race in SuperTruck series

LIKE country & western music, stock car auto racing has greatly broadened its fan base in recent years. In fact, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) may be one of the hottest sports enterprises in the world these days, thanks partly to very aggressive marketing.

Given the association's midas touch and appeal to shade-tree mechanics, is it any wonder that NASCAR officials are banking on pickup trucks to bring them even greater success?

NASCAR has rolled out a 20-race SuperTruck series this year, with CBS, ABC, ESPN, and The Nashville Network sharing the honors in providing national coverage of the entire season.

"Trucks are extremely popular in America," says NASCAR president Bill France. "Sales figures show that one truck is sold for every two cars. I think this is a natural."

Six of the first seven events have been sellouts, yet most have been at small tracks seating 8,000 to 10,000 spectators. A major test of interest in this form of racing could occur July 1 in Milwaukee, when promoters of the Milwaukee Mile will be seeking to sell roughly 50,000 general admission seats for a race carried by CBS Sports.

The trucks are close cousins to stock cars. Their wheel bases are longer and their roofs higher, which contributes to slightly slower speeds, but like stock cars, they look basically like what many Americans drive.

Realizing the alluring potential truck racing has for a nation of hood lifters, Sears, Roebuck and Co. has made its Craftsman tool brand the circuit's title sponsor for at least three years.

Jersey number switch draws major fine

WHAT'S behind that $100,000 fine the National Basketball Association assessed the Chicago Bulls last week?

All the Bulls did was let Michael Jordan switch jersey numbers (from 45 back to his old 23) and for that they'll have to pay the NBA piper big time.

Some might wonder about the logic of this punishment, given that the league issues far smaller fines to players who fight. There's obviously more to this than meets the eye. Just what is unclear, since accounts of the penalty generally haven't elaborated on this point.

There may be several considerations here, including the need to let people know that Jordan (and by extension his team) is not bigger than the game, that despite his stature the league is the thing.

Then, too, merchandising is a huge revenue source for pro sports these days, and licensed manufacturers don't want to see players cavalierly changing their uniforms in any way. Too much rides on selling true-to-life products.

Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: By sweeping the Orlando Magic 4-games-to-0, the Houston Rockets became the fourth National Basketball Association team in a row to win consecutive titles. Name the other three. (Answer appears below.)

* The United States men's soccer team won the four-country US Cup tournament on Sunday by playing to a scoreless tie against Colombia in Piscataway, N.J. While a 0-0 deadlock is not the most exciting advertisement for soccer, the game did have an exciting finish, with midfielder Mike Burns preserving the tie by clearing a headed ball that was about to enter the US goal with only seconds remaining. The Americans had earlier defeated Nigeria, 3-2, and Mexico, 4-0.

* The Continental Indoor Soccer League, which began its third season Friday, claims sound business practices make it the premier professional circuit in American soccer. Expansion clubs in Seattle and Mexico City join 13 other teams for a 28-game regular season that runs through Oct. 1. Eight-five percent of the games are played on weekends. Major League Soccer, the outdoor circuit promised by the organizers of last summer's World Cup tournament, won't begin until next March.

* Quiz answer: Chicago, Detroit, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

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