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Following a suggestion by '95 winner Harold Miner, the NBA will make the final round of its All-Star Weekend slam dunk contest a "dunking duel." The first round will remain the same, with contestants getting 90 seconds to get in as many impressive dunks as possible (WASHINGTON TIMES, 1/9). PROFILE: Commissioner David Stern was profiled in Sunday's N.Y. TIMES, with comparisons to a "trapeze artist" for his handling of the lockout. Still, small-market teams express concern over the "Larry Bird Exception," which survived the shut- down. Pacers President Donnie Walsh: "There is still no real salary cap ... Teams are going to look for suite deals." Stern, on the future: "I could let go and try something else. I haven't seen a good substitute to this point" (Harvey Araton, N.Y. TIMES, 1/7). THE FIRST $25 MILLION MAN? In Chicago, Sam Smith ponders the off-season, with salary negotiations looming for Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutumbo and Michael Jordan. David Falk, agent to all but Shaq, predicts a new salary structure this summer with some players making above $20M. Falk: "It's (up to me) to set the market with Dikembe, Alonzo and Juwan Howard." If O'Neal gets $20M, Smith asks how Jordan can not be paid at least that --- and maybe $25M. Smith notes one possibility being floated is a $10M "sponsor bonus" to Jordan from Nike as a form of a "salary-cap avoidance compromise" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/8).
Ameritech said it would make phones available in its customer service offices to help Browns fans make free long- distance phone-calls to the league or other NFL team front offices in protest of the Browns' move. The offer runs tomorrow through Sunday. In addition, Save Our Browns is urging fans to use tomorrow to flood the NFL league and team offices with e- mail. Cleveland Mayor Michael White urged fans everywhere to "reach out and touch the NFL" (Adams & Ethridge, Akron BEACON JOURNAL, 1/10). OTHER BROWNS NOTES: 49ers President Carmen Policy said he believes Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will negotiate a settlement before the owners' March meeting. Policy saw the possibility of an "assets swap," where Browns Owner Art Modell gets to move to Baltimore, but "the Browns" stay in Cleveland (Vito Stellino, Baltimore SUN, 1/9)....In motions filed in Cuyahoga County court, attorneys from the Browns and the city of Cleveland are battling over the city's claim that the team and Modell's financial, tax, phone and personal records are crucial in the city's suit to prevent the move. County Judge Kenneth Callahan is expected to rule this week on the matter (Akron BEACON JOURNAL, 1/8). JUST ONE STEP AWAY: At a press conference yesterday, Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said he thought there might be "six- and-a-half" owners who will be rooting for the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl (Mult., 1/10). SALARY SPREAD: According to the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, never before has the NFLPA's salary survey so "profoundly reflected" the polarization between haves and have-nots. The NFLPA finds 360 players (20%) had contracts averaging more than $1M a year, with highs for the number of players earning over $2M (119), $3M (22), $4M (7) and $5M (4). But, 443 players had deals averaging less than $178,000 -- the minimum for a veteran with more than three years' experience. Of the 22 players making $3M+, 14 were on offense (Len Pasquarelli, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 1/7).
In naming Mike Gartner and Ron Francis as special picks to the All-Star Game, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman avoided a "verbal scrap" with Wayne Gretzky over the game's selection process. Gretzky believes the Game should not have to feature players from all teams (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/10). CURRENCY EQUALIZATION PLAN: The NHL Board of Governors voted last Friday to approve a plan to assist Canadian clubs over the disparity between U.S. and Canadian currencies. Teams must qualify by having revenues at least 80% of the league average or by meeting league-set standards for selling, season tickets, skyboxes and dasher-board signage. Teams may receive up to $5M in U.S. dollars (NHL).
Dale Earnhardt has extended his contract to drive on the Winston Cup circuit through 2000. Earnhardt was believed to be considering a move to becoming a Winston Cup car owner (AP/INDIANAPOLIS STAR-NEWS, 1/9)....A media tour of the construction site of Bruton Smith's Texas Motor Speedway tomorrow coincides with speculation the track could get a Winston Cup event for September 29 (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/10)....The CFL Grey Cup game in Hamilton will be held November 24, not December 8 as originally scheduled (Hamilton SPECTATOR, 1/9)....Noting the PGA Tour's seemingly "endless" season with all the "second season" events now scheduled in November and December, Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said they may have to "re-evaluate" how they schedule the 4th quarter (N.Y. TIMES, 1/7)....With the MLBPA yet to respond to the owners' November 15 labor proposal, one owner compares MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr to UNC basketball coach Dean Smith, the inventor of the four-corner offense (Jerome Holtzman, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/7).