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BASEBALL: USA TODAY reports that interleague play continued to draw well, as attendance through "all but one game" this weekend averaged 34,459, up from the regular season average of 26,568 (USA TODAY, 6/8)....In DC, Mark Maske examined the prospects of an international baseball tournament and reported that "sources close to the situation say that if there is an event in the fall of 1999, it likely would be a scaled-down invitational tournament rather than a full-scale World Cup" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/7)....In Boston, Peter Gammons, on the Mets trade for Hideo Nomo: "At a time when the NBA is flying its star back and forth between Chicago and Salt Lake City in his last final hurrah before its lockout/strike and no more than 11 people in Fairfax County know who's in the Stanley Cup finals, baseball's renaissance fair has moved to Broadway (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/7). ...ESPN's Mike Lupica, on AL President Gene Budig's suspension of players and managers after the Angles-Royals melee: "To me, he has acted more like a commissioner lately than any commissioner that we have. He sent a powerful message by going after the managers here" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 6/7)....In N.Y., Iver Peterson examined minor league baseball's move "into the teeming suburbs of metropolitan New York. The "sudden interest" in minor league ball is attributed to a "robust economy, the bargain basement admission prices and easy access. Above all, they credit the mood of baby boomers" looking for family-oriented entertainment (N.Y. TIMES, 6/6). RACING: NASCAR's Pontiac Excitement 400 drew the largest crowd to witness a sporting event in VA, as 103,000 fans attended the Richmond Int'l Raceway (TIMES-DISPATCH, 6/7)....Three-day attendance for CART's ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix was "down slightly from last season," drawing 146,135 compared to 157,542. Sunday's Grand Prix drew 64,458, about 3,000 over last year (DETROIT NEWS, 6/8).
In an effort to "head off a potential boycott" of this summer's World Championships in Athens, USA Basketball has sent letters to team members "threatening legal action if the players fail to honor their signed contracts with the organization," according to Mike Wise of the N.Y. TIMES. Two agents representing players on the team said that the letter requests they make their intentions known and "ends with the threat of legal action." Wise: "Whether USA Basketball will file separate suits charging breach of contract against the players is unclear. But the action is the latest indication that players and owners have a long summer ahead, and that a lockout is almost certain" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/7). In L.A., Mark Heisler reported that if NBA players boycott the Championships, USA Basketball "is expected" to send its Goodwill Games team of collegians (L.A. TIMES, 6/7). But in Houston, Eddie Sefko called on NBA players to participate in the Championships, win a gold medal, and then "revel" from the "wave of positive public sentiment that would be working in their favor" in CBA negotiations. One NBA "insider" involved in USA Basketball says this "scenario" has been discussed by the players and "met with general approval" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 6/6).
NBA veterans "have been duped by the superstars and their agents into thinking" that the "Larry Bird Exemption" was in the "best interest of all players," according to Dwight Jaynes of the Portland OREGONIAN. Jaynes: "It isn't. And it will be interesting to see what will happen within the union if the vast, silent majority of players wakes up and understands that if the big stars don't have the ability to make $15 million per season, there will be more money for the rest of them." But he wrote that the players are not "going to listen until they face one harsh reality: It's better to be working for a fair and, in fact, sizable wage than it is to be locked out of [a] job and earning nothing while in search of even more money" (OREGONIAN, 6/5). LOCKOUT WATCH: In Denver, Mike Monroe wrote that at a time "when the league should be reveling in its glorious fascination, everyone connected with the sport is holding his or her breath." He wrote that a lockout "appears inevitable," and added, "Count on it." NBA owners "felt strongly enough about fundamental change that they decided the risk" of re-opening the CBA "was worth it" (DENVER POST, 6/7). In Seattle, Steve Kelley, a self-professed NBA fan, wrote, "There is a growing public cynicism about the NBA; a belief among the ticket-buying public that the players and the owners have forgotten about the fans. A work stoppage would feed that cynicism" (SEATTLE TIMES, 6/5). In St. Paul, Tom Powers wrote the NBA's image "is about to take a major hit ... all because of labor problems" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 6/7). In Charlotte, Rick Bonnell wrote that any NBA team employee who discusses labor issues faces a $1M fine by the league. Bonnell, after attending the pre-draft camp in Chicago: "Everyone I spoke with is convinced there's no compromise in sight" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 6/7). In San Antonio, Glenn Rogers on why the union and league can't reach a sensible financial solution: "What's lacking is any semblance of trust, on either side" (EXPRESS NEWS, 6/6). WORLD PARTY: The Spurs will play the Clippers on December 12 at Mexico City's Palacio de los Deportes. OCESA Presenta will serve as the local promoter for the game (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS NEWS, 6/8). In France, the CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Philip Hersh wrote that soccer "remains the world's most popular sport, but basketball has made tremendous gains in the last decade, especially in Asia and Africa." In France, basketball "has become the most popular sport for many adolescents, especially in the poor suburbs of Paris that are home to many Arabs and black African immigrants" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/7). BLOOMBERG NEWS' Jerry Crasnick wrote under the header, "Could Baseball Benefit From Michael Jordan's Retirement?" Andy Berlin, from N.Y. ad agency Berlin, Cameron & Partners: "Basketball has its act together more than the NFL or baseball. It's a far more professional marketing organization. Go to Kenya and you'll see people wearing Chicago Bulls shirts" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 6/5). NOTES: Heat President & Exec VP/Business Jay Cross: "We definitely would lose more money by playing next season than not playing" (MIAMI HERALD, 6/8). In Akron, Chris Tomasson is writing a five-part series on the state of the NBA. Part One on Sunday examined the "issues and problems facing the sport"; Part Two today looks at the "rising players salaries" (BEACON JOURNAL 6/7-9). In Boston, Peter May: "Can it be true that the IRS is going to drop the hammer on as many as 15 referees after the playoffs?" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/7). In Chicago, Sam Smith wrote of talk that the IRS "agreed to hold off until later this month indictments of a number of top" refs (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/7).