Muhammad Ali found a June fight on his hands, after all -- with his own, tape-recorded voice yesterday.
It was a replay of a 1978 news conference in New Orleans, for edification of a federal jury hearing a $20 million slander suit against the former heavyweight champion. Ali took the witness stand in U.S. District Court in the Louisiana metropolis to deny to the jury of four women and two men, all white, the accusations of two white promoters of his September 1978 bout with Leon Spinks that he racially slurred them and damaged their business and reputations. Ali said the courtroom version of the news conference held three days after he regained his championship from Spinks in the Superdome was edited so as to distort his remarks.
Plaintiffs Philip Ciaccio, a New Orleans city councilman, and Jake DiMaggio, businessman, were partners with Sherman Copelin and Don Hubbard in Louisiana Sports Inc., set up to handle local promotion of the Superdome match. The media conference in question took place when Ali became incensed over a suit by DiMaggio and Ciaccio against Copelin and Hubbard for allegedly skimming $1 million of the proceeds. The champ was unaware that Copelin and Hubbard had come up with $400,000 and settled quietly out of court that morning. He unloosed a loud, disjointed torrent of words some of which some people took as calling the two white racists for suing their two black partners . . .
Lee MacPhail, the American League president looking for videotape of Billy Martin's latest flap, meantime took telephone testimony from the fiery Oakland manager and his chief adversary of Sunday's argument, umpire Dale Ford.
"We got films," Martin said, "that show he put his hands on me."
"That's an out-and-out complete lie," said Ford, who gave Martin the bum's rush in a second-inning dispute over a checked-swing strikeout during the A's loss to Boston.
Marvin Miller, Major League Players Association exec, said that if Martin is right, then he agrees with Billy's statement that Ford ought to be punished the same as Pittsburgh player Bill Madlock was for laying hand -- or glove -- to an umpire. In fact, said Miller, "If touching an umpire without intent to harm gets the discipline Madlock received (15-day suspension, $5,000 fine), the reverse, an umpire touching a player, manager or coach, is worse."
Yet Martin contended that things heated up again after the game, in a tunnel below the Oakland Coliseum stands, to an extent that Ford challenged him to a fight. A tape recording of that dispute also has been requested by MacPhail . . .
Then there was the case in U.S. District Court, that jeopardized (slightly) today's NBA draft because it excludes the Providence Steamrollers.
Robert A. (Skip) Chernov, a Rhode Island (former) rock concert promoter, last summer bought the rights to the Steamrollers, who folded out of the pro basketball big league's predecessor, the Basketball Association of America, as it merged with the National Basketball League in August 1949 to become the NBA.
Chernov then asked the NBA to reactivate the franchise. He was turned down, although he claimed minutes of the 1949 meeting showed the team could be reactivated at any time.
Judge Francis J. Boyle said yesterday that Chernov was relying on a "very slender reed" in his legal battle and that the consequences of postponing the draft would outweigh the possible harm to Chernov -- whose lawyer testified the Steamrollers would suffer "irreparable harm" if it couldn't dip into the "bumper crop" of draft talent. Judge Boyle saved today's draft without killing Chernov's pending suit . . .
Bob Hoskins is dead, at 34, less than nine years sice he recovered a fumble in the end zone for the touchdown with which the San Francisco 49ers spoiled the George Allen Redskins' first playoff appearance, 24-20. Hoskins joined the 49ers in 1969 and played defensive tackle through 1975 -- starting every game his final two campaigns although having contracted Hodgkin's disease before the 1974 season, necessitating major surgery and treatments. A heart attack is cited in his death Sunday night in Redwood City, Calif., bereaving a wife and four children . . .
Walla Walla, Wash., here comes Jerry Davis. That's the Class A destination of the Howard U. third baseman drafted last week by San Diego, signed yesterday and assigned to the Padres' Northwest League farm. . . .
Navy was among nine Eastern schools, including Penn State and Pitt, whose athletic directors met yesterday in Philadelphia to discuss formation of an Eastern Football Conference. As to rumors of Maryland joining, Acting Athletic Director Jim Kehoe averred, "No chance." But representatives of Syracuse, Boston College, Rutgers, West Virginia and Army were on hand with host Temple's Athletic Director Ernie Casale, who said concern over spiraling travel costs for intersectional play was a prime factor. For now, the directors agreed to schedule more football games with the schools represented at the meeting -- and to talk conference with their administrations before meeting again at the NCAA convention in Miami Beach next January. Meantime, the young basketball circuits Big East and Eastern Eight can rest easy over previous reports the proposed football league would require concomitant membership in basketball . . .
The list of Woottenized basketball stars -- De Matha alumni he deveoped -- grows for today's luncheon at which Coach Morgan Wootten will be honored at the Touchdown Club. Here's one ex-Stag who may or may not make it to the function but overdue for mention while Mackin's Jo Jo Hunter stole headline as his Colorado guardmate last season: T-Bone Toney Ellis, who wrapped up his four-year Big Eight career as the Buffaloes' all-time assists and steals leader.