Sports Notebook

May (all month)

Pro basketball and hockey playoffs

The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League began postseason play in April. After winning an NBA record 72 games in the 82-game regular season, the Chicago Bulls are seeking their fourth league crown of the 1990s. In the NHL, the defending-champion New Jersey Devils have already been eliminated; 1995 runner-up Detroit remains in the hunt.

May 3-5

Titleholders Championship (golf)

The Ladies Professional Golf Association begins May with two of the year's most lucrative events: The Titleholders, which began yesterday, is played on the tour headquarter's course in Daytona Beach, Fla., followed by the LPGA championship in Wilmington, Del. Both offer $1.2 million purses.

May 4

Kentucky Derby

Sartorially splendid aristocrats and tank-top proletarians turn out in force for the opportunity to watch the thoroughbreds vie in the first race of the famous Triple Crown. Twenty horses are expected to bolt from the gate at Churchill Downs in Louisville, with Unbridled's Song, the offspring of 1990 Derby winner Unbridled, among the hottest entries in a large field. A foot injury, however, may put him out of the running.

May 18

Atlanta Grand Prix (track and field)

This whirlwind one-day meet serves not only as the grand opening of the Centennial Olympic Stadium but also as a preview to the nine days of track and field competition during the Summer Games. Two hundred athletes from 30 countries, including American stars Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson, are expected. Ninety-six Atlantans selected from the crowd will participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The meet is one of 18 on the annual Grand Prix circuit, which runs from May to September.

May 26

Indianapolis 500

One of the world's premier auto races will face direct competition from a new race, the US 500, in Brooklyn, Mich. The Michigan event grew out of a feud between the established open-wheel circuit (Championship Auto Racing Teams) and the rival Indy Racing League formed by Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Speedway. The CART circuit boasts many big-name drivers and some major corporate sponsors. Racing fans will watch closely to see whether the US 500 could threaten the Indianapolis 500 in future years.

May 27-29

San Diego vs. Montreal (baseball)

This is not a typo. The Padres and the Expos, National League losers a year ago, are among the hottest teams in the majors. If they don't falter during the intervening weeks, this shapes up as one of the most interesting spring series of the '96 season. In the American League, the high-flying Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians meet May 17-19.

May 27-June 9

French Open (tennis)

Austria's Thomas Muster has only one Grand Slam tournament title in his gym bag - last year's French Open in Paris - yet he owns 37 career titles on clay courts and is attempting to defend 12 of those this year. Steffi Graf is the French Open's reigning women's champion.

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