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NBA Commissioner David Stern said Michael Jordan's retirement means, "We're going to have a mountain to climb now, sure. We're just going to have to use stronger ropes, I guess" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/13). In Philadelphia, Bob Ford: "The NBA stumbled when Jordan took his baseball sabbatical. Now it seems set to fall harder in his absence. That Jordan would abandon the league in the hour it needs him most -- with its very popularity on the line -- is telling. Only Jordan could save this stunted season, and you'd better believe he knows it" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/13). Rick Burton, Dir of the Univ. of OR's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, estimates that Jordan's departure "would likely cost the league" $200M beyond the $1B it has already lost due to a shortened season. Peter Roby, Reebok Int'l VP/Consumer Marketing in North America: "I would have suggested that the NBA is facing a big problem even if Michael Jordan does come back. And now they are facing coming back from a work stoppage without the greatest player ever to play." Woolf Associates' COO Larry Moulter: "Even though the league is supported by corporations that buy up a lot of premium seating, the NBA must identify with the middle class. And kids getting arrested with guns and marijuana in their car just aren't going to sell it." The Bonham Group President Dean Bonham: "I think the NBA should take a very proactive tack and they ought to assemble a team of stars they can push" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/13). In N.Y., Wallace Matthews writes that Jordan's exit is "forcing the NBA to start cleaning up" its image (N.Y. POST, 1/13). A BIG HIT: MSG President Dave Checketts: "This guy is probably the most recognized man in the world. To lose a star like that is a big hit. However, it also means that it provides a time now to have the young stars take a step up" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/13). NBC's Bob Costas: "To many people, Michael Jordan is the NBA and what happens to the NBA is that it settles back into a lower level of popularity that it may not approach ever again without Michael Jordan." NBC's Katie Couric, to Tim Russert: "On the eve of the president's impeachment trial in the Senate, everybody is talking about Michael Jordan's retirement. What does that say to you?" Russert: "It says everything about where America's interest is this very morning, and that's MJ" (NBC, 1/13). Jordan's retirement was the lead story on the "CBS Evening News." Steiner Sports Marketing's Dave Smith: "The NBA without Michael Jordan is in deep trouble. ... And I think it's going to take a long time for them to recover." CBS's Anthony Mason said that in losing Jordan, the NBA is losing its "billion dollar man" ("CBS Evening News," 1/13). WHO IS READY? Brandweek Editor Matthew Grimm: "Jordan's retirement puts the spotlight on everybody else, and that's not necessarily a good thing for the NBA right now. They have quite a mountain to climb in terms of public perception" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/13). Bob Williams, President of Burns Sports Celebrity: "They have about two months to make a collective effort with some of the league's elite stars .. to pick up some of the slack" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/13). In Chicago, Carol Slezak reports that Lakers G Kobe Bryant is "ready" to be the NBA's "new superstar" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/13). Bryant: "I feel responsible, as a young player, to try to carry on the tradition he and other players have developed." Pistons F Grant Hill: "We're going to miss him. But the NBA is going to be all right" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/13). WE WILL SURVIVE, WE WILL GET BY: In Boston, Bob Ryan: "If the NBA is to be salvaged, it must, must, must be bigger than one man. ... The NBA has many long-range problems. Having Jordan to promote and slobber over might provide a pleasant distraction for the masses. ... He serves his league best by leaving it" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/13). In N.Y., Peter Vecsey writes that Jordan's departure should be "no problem" for the league. If some of the young stars "don't catch attention of fans, then the NBA should take a page from the NFL and market teams instead of individuals. ... I say some other superhero will suddenly emerge" (N.Y. POST, 1/13). In Detroit, Mitch Albom writes, "Eventually, someone else will come along -- or rather someone else will be made. The shoe companies, the soft drinks, the fast-food products and the NBA itself cannot resist the urge to find a successor" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/13). ONE MORE THING MISSING: Raptors President Richard Peddie said Jordan's presence was worth C$500,000 a year to his team in additional revenue (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/13). SHAQ-DADDY: Lakers C Shaquille O'Neal, on Jordan: "We're going to miss him and I can tell all my ten children from nine different women that I played against the great Michael Jordan" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/13).
Speedway Motorsports Chair Bruton Smith "is pressing" NASCAR to split its Winston Cup schedule into two divisions, allowing for more races to accommodate new tracks, according to Larry Woody of the Nashville TENNESSEAN. Smith said that he has been talking with NASCAR President Bill France about the idea for "three or four years," but "so far, nothing has happened." Smith: "Sponsors like to see their car win or run in the top five. Increasing the races would increase their chances." The Winston Cup series currently has 34 races per season (TENNESSEAN, 1/13). Smith said that one league could race in the East, one in the West, and both televised as a Sunday doubleheader (DETROIT NEWS, 1/13). NASCAR'S CRYSTAL BALL: Speaking at NASCAR's Media Tour in Charlotte, Speedway Motorsports President Humpy Wheeler said he "believes" NASCAR racing in the year 2020 will include drivers earning up to $50M a year, HDTV putting "fans in the driver's seats" and satellite TV producers able to "bankroll" ten int'l races (PHILA. DAILY NEWS, 1/13).
CT-based Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance is now "on the hook" to the ABL for a $6M bank loan "it may never recover," according to Kauffman & Wong of the HARTFORD COURANT. Among the ABL's 1,000 creditors, Phoenix "is taking by far the biggest hit" among those who will lose money, since it "guaranteed payment of a loan from Fleet Bank." ABL bankruptcy lawyer Michael Lubic said that the league "plans its own antitrust suit" against the WNBA, "a move that might provide more money for season-ticket holders and others." Lubic said that he could "offer no details" of the ABL's legal plans, nor would he identify the defendant in the case (HARTFORD COURANT, 1/13). CT's Commissioner of Economic & Community Development James Abromaitis wrote a letter Friday to the WNBA urging them to locate a franchise in Hartford by "offering the [CT Gov. John Rowland] administration's assistance" (HARTFORD COURANT, 1/13). ALL-STAR GAME FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE ABL: In San Jose, Sheldon Spencer writes that two ABL fans have announced plans for a "hoopSalute" game featuring Jennifer Azzi and "at least" ten others former ABL players who have "tentatively agreed" to participate. The 1,600-seat De Anza College (CA) gym will host the game on January 24. The event, not endorsed by the ABL, will pay each player a $5,000 appearance fee, and tickets will range in price from $50 to $1,500 (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 1/13).