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THE SCHOOL OF HIGHER EARNING

If this goes on, the college game will lose some of its energy and a lot of its meaning, but the most direct casualty will probably be the NCAA Basketball Tournament--March Madness--arguably the most popular and exciting sports event of any year. If the tournament's stars, and its star teams, continue to evaporate, the Big Dance could start looking like midnight at the Ramada in Fargo.

That brings us, of course, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The great Bucks and Lakers center was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame last week, and the youngsters eager to fill Grant Hill's $110 sneakers next month might do well to take a look at highlights of this exemplary career.

As a high school player at New York's Power Memorial High School, the then-Lew Alcindor led his team to a 95-6 mark (including a 71-game winning streak) over four years. During Kareem's freshman year at UCLA, the great minds of the NCAA outlawed the slam dunk (how would that go over in '95?), so this inventive kid started working on his trademark--the skyhook. Worked, too: UCLA went 88-2 in his tenure and won three consecutive national championships, in 1967, 1968 and 1969. That feat will likely never be equaled. Nor will Kareem's three straight tournament most valuable player awards.

As a pro, all the man did was become the NBA's all-time scorer (38,387 regular season points), the leader in minutes played (57,446 regular season, 9,000 in the playoffs) and field goals (15,837) and third best in rebounding (17,440). He was the only NBA player to log twenty seasons and the only one to be named MVP six times. His teams won six NBA titles.

Perhaps more important, Kareem was the picture of dignity, strength and fairness on the court--a man for all seasons in a game to which he gave himself with honor.

The Dennis Rodmans of the world are a lost cause. Let us hope Kevin Garnett and Jerry Stackhouse and Corliss Williamson have the sense to look up to the Big Guy. Whatever year they join up, and for whatever reason.

When the green flag drops Sunday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the guy with the whitest knuckles is bound to be Michael Andretti.

Fourth quickest in time trials this year, he starts on the inside of the second row.

But he rarely finishes.
Truth be told, the Andretti Luck is now one of the 500's gloomiest legends. Michael's father, Mario, who won 53 Indy car events before retiring last year, took the checkered flag at the Brickyard only once--in 1969. Otherwise, crashes and failures were his lot. Son Michael is the current Indy circuit leader with 29 wins, but he's never won the 500. In 1992 he came close, leading all the way until his engine quit eleven laps from the finish.

That opened the door for Al Unser Jr., who went on to beat Scott Goodyear by the narrowest margin in race history--half a car length. In fact, the Unser family history has been the mirror image of the Andrettis at Indianapolis. Al Jr.'s dad won the race four times. Uncle Bobby got his face on the trophy three times. Last May Little Al won his second Indy.

The most painful irony? In 1981 runner-up Mario Andretti was awarded first place when the apparent winner was penalized a lap for passing cars illegally under a caution flag. Four months later, the United States Auto Club reversed its decision, setting Andretti back down to second and fining the winner $40,000 instead of taking the title away.

That winner's name? Bobby Unser, of course.
This year, Michael drives the 500 alone. Dad is in the pits, and Little Al, shockingly, failed to qualify. For the first time in 33 years, there is no Unser in the race.

Go, Mike.

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