Strikes, Jordan's return top issues
IN a year plagued by strikes to America's national pastime to the return of basketball superstar Michael Jordan, 1995 has proved interesting in US sport.
Despite being billed as the 'comeback of the century', the return of Jordan to basketball after an 18-month absence to play baseball was overshadowed by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.
After the NBA defending champions floated through the regular season to a rather unimpressive sixth-place finish, a mid-season trade with Portland reunited the towering Nigerian with his old college buddy, Clyde Drexler, providing just the ingredient the Rockets needed.
Overcoming a season of injuries and the suspension of Vernon Maxwell, the Rockets gelled in the playoffs, beating Utah, Phoenix and San Antonio to set up a final against the Orlando Magic.
Shutting down the Magic's big gun, Shaquille O'Neal, Olajuwon averaged 32.8 points a game as Houston won the series four straight for their second consecutive NBA crown.
The return of Jordan bodes well for the NBA next season. After a relatively unsuccessful baseball stint with a Chicago Whitesox farm team, the Chicago Bulls ace proved he could still dominate on the court as he hit a season record 55 points in only his fifth game back.
With baseball there was very little to get excited about. After a 71/2-month labour strike cancelled last year's World Series, the fans planned their own protest, staying away in droves when the season finally began on April 26.
A proposed pre-season using replacement players in minor leaguers and retired players proved to be a farce and never did happen. Just when the official season began, the umpires were locked out in a contract dispute with the league. The season eventually did start with replacement umpires.
With the regular umpires now back, perennial cellar-dwellers Cleveland Indians boast the league's best record, but it is Boston that are making all the headlines as their five-game lead in the American League East has people talking.
Like baseball, the National (ice) Hockey League was also plagued by a players' lockout. In a strike-shortened season, the league failed to build on the momentum generated by the New York Rangers-Vancouver Canucks final of the previous season.
While the defending champion Rangers were swept four straight by Philadelphia in the second round, the Stanley Cup did stay close to New York. The New Jersey Devils, a team without superstars who play just across the river from Manhattan in East Rutherford, played sound, defensive hockey to beat the heavily favoured Detroit Redwings in four straight.
The Devils are now expected to move to Nashville within two years after failing to come to a lease agreement with their present landlords at the Meadowlands Arena.
On the fairways, the Americans are back. After being shut out of all four 'major' golf tournaments for the first time in 40 years, Americans have dominated both the US Masters and US Open this year.
Receiving the news that his golfing mentor Harvey Penick had died, Ben Crenshaw left Augusta, Georgia, on the eve of Masters to be a pall bearer at the funeral in Texas.
Playing with what he called a '15th club in his bag', the 43-year-old overcame his emotions to register a one-shot victory and his second Masters' title.
It was a happier occasion at the US Open as the diminutive Corey Pavin, described as 'the best player never to have won a major', mastered the tough Shinnecock Hills course to win by two strokes over Greg Norman.
With tennis, image is everything for superstar Andre Agassi. Following his win at last September's US Open, a new, improved Agassi appeared at the Australian Open with a fresh look and boasting that he was a good bet to win.
True to his words, he recovered from an opening set loss to beat defending champion Pete Sampras for his third Grand Slam title. Since then, the flamboyant Agassi has been elevated to number one in the world rankings.
On the grid iron, the San Francisco 49ers prevented Dallas from winning the NFL title for the third time as they stormed to a 21-0 lead to beat the Cowboys 38-28.
In the Superbowl, the 49ers scored a touchdown in the first minute and went on to crush the San Diego Chargers 49-26.