Two former Atlantic Coast Conference basketball players were avid viewers as the Boston Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets, 112-100, in Game 1 of the NBA championship series Monday. One, Len Bias of Maryland, watched near the Celtics bench, a guest of the winners. The second, Ralph Sampson of Virginia, was supposed to be playing center for the Rockets but was whistled for three personal fouls in the first five minutes, was benched for the remainder of the first half and was ineffective afterward, making just one of 13 field goal attempts.
Today, both men expressed their wishes: Bias, to play with Boston; Sampson, to play against them. Bias will have to wait until the NBA draft on June 17 to find out where his future lies. Sampson will have a second chance on Thursday night at Boston Garden in Game 2.
"The officiating is definitely different in big games like these, and they have a feel for different things, too," he said. "I just hope the referees are consistent and not read the papers or talk to other people about what should be happening."
The series opener was officiated by Jack Madden and Ed Rush, two of the league's senior members, but that did little to placate the Rockets. They felt they had a bad deal on a number of calls, particularly Sampson's early fouls and the fifth personal foul on forward Akeem Olajuwon in the third quarter, which replays showed to be a questionable call.
"There was one play where the ball clearly went off of Dennis Johnson's leg and out of bounds and Madden was looking right at it," said one Houston player. "He gave it to them anyway. I knew right then that we weren't gonna get anything from them."
Of course, with 39 consecutive wins and a 48-1 overall record at home this season, the Celtics have little need for assistance from the referees, but they are as conscious of being hurt by them as Houston is.
"You want your team to play under the best conditions possible, and that includes the officials," said Celtics General Manager Jan Volk. "At this stage of the season , you don't want to see someone out there who doesn't belong, but they only need three at a time, so they should do all right."
Because of the number of talented big men in the series -- Sampson, Olajuwon, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, et al. -- quality officiating would have to be considered a high priority. Rod Thorn, the NBA vice president in charge of operations, one of the men responsible for the assignment of officials, said that only the top seven or eight referees would work the championship series.
"That's based on a ratings system used during the regular season," he said. "We'll rotate them around. If it's a seven-game series, some will work a couple of games, others only one."
Thorn would not reveal the names of the top referees, nor would he describe the criteria used for rating them. "That's a deep, dark secret," he said, jokingly.
"At this point there aren't going to be any who make you cringe when you see them as you walk onto the floor," said McHale.
Most players said they believed that problems that arise during games often are a result of an official's individual style.
"There are some refs who will let you play tougher and some who don't. All you can do is try to establish your own game and take it from there," said Parish. "The first three or four calls of a game will let you know how it's gonna be for the whole game."
On Monday, three of the first four fouls called were against Sampson, the other against Olajuwon. Houston guard Robert Reid said he felt that the tremendous buildup over the play down low may have been a contributing factor in those opening minutes.
"You had two guys who knew that it was a big game with big people, and they felt they had to control things," Reid said. "The league saw how we played against Los Angeles and how they played against Milwaukee . . . They didn't want any brawls."
Said McHale: "I think they should reward good defense and not call anything that hinders another player's shot, but who the hell knows what it is they look for? There are times when you're passive and get into foul trouble and others when you're super-aggressive and nothing is called against you.
"If you're getting the calls, you're not gonna complain, and if you aren't, you will. It's as simple as that."
After he sat through Boston's workout today and then chatted with forward Larry Bird and other players, Bias said: "I'd love to play with the Celtics, but it really doesn't matter what I want. It's whoever picks me."
Celtics President Red Auerbach said Bias' visit didn't mean that the all-America was the player Boston would select with the No. 2 choice overall next month.
"We're just bringing guys in for physicals. You want to make sure they're okay in case you do decide to take them," he said. Brad Daugherty of North Carolina, Chris Washburn of North Carolina State and William Bedford of Memphis State are other college players who probably would be brought into town before the draft, he added. "The Knicks who will pick fifth have already had five guys in."
The Washington Bullets, who would like to draft Bias, have the 12th selection in the first round.
"They're so far down . . . what can I say?" said Bias. "Right now I'm just trying to take all this in. It's been exciting, but it all probably won't dawn on me until I get home."