HONOLULU, DEC. 27 -- The 24th annual Rainbow Classic begins here tonight, an event that once was big news in these islands. Back in the 1960s and '70s, the Rainbow was an annual chance for basketball fans here to see top teams from the mainland play. And, in those days, there was always a chance that the host team -- Hawaii -- might win the tournament.
All that has changed. Hawaii (1-7) has almost no chance to win this year, even with a relatively weak field. The Rainbows have not won a first-round game since 1984 and last won the tournament in 1971.
Beyond that, top-flight basketball has become passe in Hawaii. During an eight-day stretch that will end Wednesday, Honolulu will have hosted four tournaments and no fewer than 18 Division I mainland schools. That doesn't include local NAIA schools that host teams, it doesn't include the eight-team Maui Classic held over Thanksgiving, it doesn't include yet another Hawaii-hosted tournament in early December and it doesn't include teams like Georgetown and Nevada-Las Vegas that came here to start their seasons by beating up on poor Hawaii-Loa twice each.
Once, the Rainbow Classic would fill, or nearly fill, 8,000-seat Neal S. Blaisdell Arena. If any session draws 2,500 this week it will be a minor miracle.
"Basketball is down in Hawaii," said Chaminade Athletic Director Mike Vasconcellos after his school's Christmas Classic drew 1,200 total for three days. "It's no big deal to people to see teams like Oklahoma, Virginia, Georgia, N.C. State, Louisville. They're here all the time. If the local teams were good, it might be different. But we're not right now."
Because so many schools have come here to play in recent years, the NCAA has passed regulations to limit teams to one trip every four years. Next month, though, the rule is likely to be amended to allow one trip west (Hawaii and Alaska) and one trip east (the preseason NIT and Puerto Rico) during each four-year period. That still doesn't solve the problem of already signed contracts. Virginia, for example, is to play in the Rainbow in two years and Alaska in three.
There is one reassuring thing. Here, 5,000 miles away from Georgetown and Maryland, Hawaii -- the big name school in town -- won't play Chaminade, the crosstown rival. Some things apparently are universal . . .
The University of California has finally found a name for the place where it plays basketball.
For years, the building was known as Harmon Gym, named for the man whose donation led to the building of the original Harmon Gym in 1878. But in 1985 when Lou Campanelli became coach he decided it would be more dignified to call it Harmon Arena.
That caused a lot of giggles in the Bay Area. One local columnist called the place Harmon Gym/Arena/Stop'n-Shop and Drive-Thru Bank. Last Monday, the problem was solved.
In an emotional halftime ceremony during Cal's 83-70 victory over UCLA, the name of Pete Newell was attached to the court. Although Harmon is still the name of the building, from now on people will call Cal's basketball arena Newell Court.
Newell coached Cal to its only NCAA title in 1959 and retired in 1960 with a 119-44 record at the school. He had won his last eight games from UCLA and John Wooden. Since that time -- including Monday's victory -- the Golden Bears are 3-55 against UCLA. "I'm glad we beat UCLA tonight," Newell said after the game, which was also witnessed by his four sons and many of his former players. "Harmon was really rocking tonight and that's the way it should be."
He meant Newell was rocking. "To me," Newell said laughing, "it will always be Harmon."
You Can Call Me Dean
One visitor here this week is Atsushi Fujita, chairman of the annual Phenix Ball tournament in Japan. He's looking for teams. North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano introduced Fujita at the pretournament banquet Saturday night.
"Stand up Mr. Fujita," Valvano said, gesturing with his hands. "Mr. Fujita, folks, doesn't speak English. He thinks I am Dean Smith and he's going to invite me to Japan. Please don't tell him the truth. From now on I've told all my players to answer to the name J.R."
Speaking of J.R. Reid, word around the Atlantic Coast Conference is that the real Dean Smith has told several recruits that Reid may turn pro at the end of his sophomore season. A clever recruiting ploy, or . . . ?
Valvano, naturally, stole the show at the banquet. Each coach was given three minutes to talk. Valvano took 15. Referring to a famous incident here several years ago when Bradley Coach Dick Versace ripped a referee's whistle off and threw it into the stands, Valvano said: "They asked me what I thought of the call. I said I wanted the guy to work my game, too -- as long as he still didn't have his whistle." . . .
Prediction: Arizona will win its 18 Pacific-10 games by an average margin of 15 points.
The Upset Pick's Christmas present came wrapped in blue and orange, courtesy of Illinois, which stomped Missouri to send the record to 3-4. This week: Villanova goes to Atlanta and knocks off Auburn in the first round of the Cotton States Classic.