MILAN, Italy — Former NBA star Bob McAdoo, dreaming of making basketball the top sport in a country of soccer nuts, begins his second consecutive season with Tracer of Milan in the Italian major league.
The 36-year-old center leads an assortment of 32 non-Italian players, including 27 Americans, three Yugoslavs, one Brazilian and one Bulgarian, in the 16-team competition starting Sunday. The season will wind up with play-offs between 12 teams in April.
McAdoo, who was among just 13 foreign players who had their contracts extended for a second year, led Tracer to an unprecedented "grand slam" in Italy's basketball history last season.
Paced by McAdoo, Tracer won the European Cup of Champions, the Italian title, the Cup of Italy and more recently, the Intercontinental Cup.
"We can't think of improving last season's results. It's simply impossible," said McAdoo, who will team up with newly hired American Rickey Brown, formerly of Golden State and Atlanta. Mike D'Antoni, the third American player of the Milanese team and a veteran of the Italian league, retains the position of captain and play-maker.
Basketball is second only to soccer in popularity and attendance in Italy and has the potential to grow further, according to McAdoo and other observers.
Italian indoor sports arenas, which can hold between 6,000 and 8,000 people, are often sold out for league and European tournament matches, attracting increasing investment from commercial sponsors, ranging from banks, electronic and petrochemical groups to makers of furniture, textiles and mineral water.
Foreign players, mostly from the U.S. market, are a main attraction.
Americans Dan Roundfield, Greg Ballard, Jeff Turner and Mark Olberding are the most popular among this season's 19 newcomers, also including Yugoslav ace Aza Petrovic.
Roundfield, 34, formerly of the Washington Bullets, got one of the year's most lucrative contracts by signing on with San Benedetto for $320,000 and a villa in the hills surrounding Turin.
Turner, 25, a member of the U.S. team that won the title at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, joined Arexons Cantu, explaining: "The dream of any American youth who plays basketball is to join the NBA. The dream of any NBA player who has problems or little luck in the American league is to transfer to Italy."
Turner, a former player for the New Jersey Nets, added: "Italian basketball has a high reputation after McAdoo and Carroll decided to move to Italy."
Turner, McAdoo, and Olberding, who joined Benetton Treviso, and Ballard, who transferred to Scavolini of Pesaro, all reportedly got yearly contracts of more than $300,000.
Yet the star of stars of the foreign legion is once again expected to be Oscar Schmidt, the Brazilian center who was the top league scorer last season and who rejected bids by NBA clubs to play his fourth Italian season with Snaidero of Caserta.
Oscar, who led Brazil to a sensational victory against the United States in the finals of the Pan American games, said he could have gained more money in the NBA, "but there are other and more important motivations in the Italian league."
Petrovic, 27, could turn a serious threat for Oscar in the list of top scorers as he teams with Ballard on the Scavolini lineup.