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With the NBA's All-Star Weekend in New York, Stefan Fatsis of the WALL STREET JOURNAL examines the state of the league under the header, "NBA Bravely Plans For Post-Jordan Era." The league's "shifting business strategy reveals an industry laying the groundwork for transition ... testing a pack of new players for stardom and renewing sponsorship contracts" before Michael Jordan retires. In addition, the league is "undertaking projects deemphasizing the NBA brand [and] ... extending its international reach." Although Bulls merchandise accounts for "nearly" 20% of total sales, with Jordan's jersey "far and away" the top seller, the NBA "maintains it can handle the ball" without Jordan. Now, the league is working with licensees such as Champion to "identify which young players deserve the most attention." Fatsis adds that NBC is "joining the game plan." During last weekend's Bulls-Lakers broadcast, the network "hyped not Jordan but" Kobe Bryant (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/6). ALL-STAR NOTES: NBC's "Meet The Press" this Sunday will host Stern, Bob Costas, Jordan, Bryant, Tim Duncan and Keith Van Horn (NBAE)....NEWSDAY's Shaun Powell writes that this weekend's NBA festivities are "almost totally restricted to stuffy corporate types and sponsors," with only "a few" tickets made available to outsiders." Powell expects that the Sprewell hearing will "spill over into the festivities and spoil the mood" (NEWSDAY, 2/6). Also in N.Y., Karen Hunter writes an op-ed in the DAILY NEWS and criticizes the lack of tickets for the fans (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/6).
In day four of Martin v. PGA Tour, Ken Venturi, who during his win at the '64 U.S. Open "walked the course in 100-degree heat with severe dehydration," testified that Martin "should not be allowed" to use a cart, according to Thomas Heath of the WASHINGTON POST. Venturi: "It's changing the level of competition." Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Scott Verplank also testified yesterday as the Tour began its case, and all "agreed" that walking is "an integral part of tournament golf." Nicklaus added that carts would "tarnish" golf's image on TV and would "reinforce the belief that it is a non-strenuous, country club activity." While each witness said that they "admire" Martin, each said that his use of a cart would be "unfair" to other competitors (Thomas Heath, WASHINGTON POST, 2/6). VENTURI TALKS: While questioning Venturi, Martin's attorney William Wiswall tried to establish that since Venturi won the '64 Open, the fatigue must not have affected him. Wiswall: "The fatigue didn't affect you?" Venturi: "It damn near killed me." Verplank testified that he "benefited from" the injunction Martin was granted last year, which allowed players to ride a cart at the PGA qualifying tournament. Verplank, who won the event: "I rode the whole week. I felt great" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/6). PGA Tour attorney William Malendon: "You're starting to see now what we believe this case is all about. ... It's about whether or not an organization such as the PGA Tour or [MLB] or the NBA can make the rules for its competition" (ESPN, 2/5). IF HE LOSES? ESPN's Jimmy Roberts said that PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and former USGA President Judy Bell will "perhaps" be the final witnesses. Roberts reported that Martin said that "one of the reasons he may not appeal, is because he was told by [U.S. Senator] Tom Harkin that if he does lose, it is entirely possible that some action will be taken in Congress" (ESPN, 2/5). But in L.A., Jim Murray warned against Congressional intervention and wrote it "has no business dictating how" the game of golf should "be played." Murray: "The [ADA] is meant to give the disabled an opportunity. It's not meant to give them an advantage. If it is, it's unconstitutional" (L.A. TIMES, 2/5). THEIR WORST NIGHTMARE? Media reaction continues on the Martin case: In SI, Rick Reilly, on the Tour's stance: "Shame on them. ... Shame on every self-important and greedy Tour pro who won't budge an inch of tradition to fit in a spoonful of compassion" (SI, 2/9). In K.C., Jeffrey Flanagan PGA Tour comes across as "nothing but a collection of predominantly white, wealthy, completely self-centered men incapable of envisioning anything beyond their own greed" (K.C. STAR, 2/6). While a PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS editorial calls the Tour's stance a PR "disaster," it says it is "right to stick by its rules" (PHIL. DAILY NEWS, 2/6). PUBLIC POLICY: A CBS SportsLine poll posted this week asked users, "Should the PGA Tour allow disabled golfers to ride in carts?" Of 5,031 respondents, 63% said yes. In a similar survey posted January 28, ESPN SportsZone asked whether the PGA Tour's stance on Martin was insensitive. Of the 4,931 respondents, 55% said the Tour's stance was insensitive (THE DAILY)....Martin's trial was the subject of Thursday's "Talk Back Live" on CNN (2/5).
NBA Commissioner David Stern spent "nearly" five hours yesterday being questioned as the Latrell Sprewell hearing "crept to a conclusion," according to David Steele of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Afterward, with his "tongue loosened somewhat" following arbitrator John Feerick's "loosening of the gag order," Stern "spoke as if the stand taken by the league and the Warriors ... had a good chance of being upheld." Stern: "I'm very comfortable with our actions. ... I feel comfortable that I have acquitted myself the way I'm supposed to." Also yesterday, NBA VP/Security Horace Balmer testified for "more than" three hours, completing his testimony from Wednesday. Steele writes that the league and Warriors "closed testimony with what appears to be a solid one-two punch" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 2/6). USA TODAY's David DuPree reports that NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter said that his side was "confident of the outcome." Post-hearing briefs are due by February 13, and closing arguments will be made February 16 in New York. Following that, Feerick will have 30 days to issue his decision (USA TODAY, 2/6).