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NBA: San Diego Effort Too Late : League Official Says Expansion Out, Move Unlikely

June 29, 1989|BRIAN HEWITT | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The National Basketball Assn. acknowledged Wednesday that it talked last March to Mannie L. Jackson, the black business executive from Minneapolis who will tell a San Diego press conference today how he plans to bring the NBA back to the city.

The NBA also said Wednesday that Jackson and his purchase group are too late.

"If this were three years ago, the NBA would have looked at San Diego just as seriously as it looked at the other cities that applied for expansion franchises," said Russ Granik, NBA executive vice president and No. 2 man to Commissioner David Stern. "If San Diego had been ready at that time, we would have considered them."

The league instead granted expansion franchises to Miami, Charlotte, N.C., Minneapolis and Orlando, Fla.

Did San Diego approach the NBA at that time?

"Not in the form of a substantial ownership group," Granik said.

When the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Timberwolves take the court for the first time next fall, the NBA will have expanded to 27 teams. None of the other three major professional sports leagues (NHL, NFL and Major League baseball) have expanded in the past 10 years.

"We have no new plans for expansion," Granik repeated. "And we do not see the chances of anybody getting a new team in the next few years. By a few years, I don't know if that's four or five or 10 years."

The NBA has been acutely aware of the lack of black ownership among its franchises and has consistently been at the forefront of affirmative action programs among professional sports leagues.

But Jackson's race, as it relates to his desire to own an NBA team, apparently doesn't matter right now.

"The minority issue is irrelevant when there aren't any franchises available or for sale," Granik said. "There's no question minority ownership would be welcome, but that doesn't go for franchises that don't exist."

Jackson, a vice president with Honeywell Inc., was unavailable for comment Wednesday. His publicist said he was en route to San Diego where, among other things, he was scheduled for an early Thursday morning "rehearsal" in advance of his Sports Arena press conference.

But Jackson was quoted in Wednesday's San Diego Tribune as saying he felt after his two-hour meeting with Stern last March that there was a "10% chance" of gaining a franchise for San Diego.

"If you asked me today, I'd say it's in the 30% range," the Tribune quoted Jackson as saying. "And if I come out to San Diego this weekend with the community behind us, it could well be over 50%."

Granik sat in on the meeting between Stern and Jackson. And he said he was impressed with Jackson on a personal level. "But," Granik said, "our view on expansion has been consistent, and we have expressed it to anybody who has asked."

Added Granik: "We have done no background investigation (on Jackson) because we are not in the process of reviewing ownership."

According to a league source, Jackson and Stern also discussed at the meeting the possibility of Jackson's group buying an existing franchise.

"To the best of my knowledge, there are no teams for sale," Granik said. "I hesitate as a league official to say that for sure. But we have a pretty good feeling that no team is in dire straits or on the market. We have no situations of a team needing to be sold."

The NBA team unhappiest with its present circumstances is the Clippers. They are constantly fighting to find a way to escape the long shadow cast from across town by the Lakers.

But Clipper owner Donald Sterling has been an anathema to the San Diego sports community ever since he moved the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984.

And, Sterling said recently, "anybody who knows Donald T. Sterling knows this team is not for sale."

Both of San Diego's previous NBA franchises--the Rockets and the Clippers--moved away after unsuccessful and relatively short stays.

Jackson, 49, is a former Harlem Globetrotter who was recruited to pursue an NBA franchise for San Diego by Richard Esquinas. Esquinas is a business partner of Harry Cooper, the La Jolla multimillionaire who wants to build a 22,900-seat sports palace that would house NHL and NBA franchises.

Esquinas did not return phone calls from The Times Wednesday.

"If, in five or 10 years, the NBA was looking to expand, San Diego wouldn't have anything held against it because two other NBA teams left San Diego previously," Granik said.

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