SAN DIEGO — Mannie L. Jackson showed up Thursday at a press conference in the Sports Arena and talked articulately, impressively and forcefully about the National Basketball Assn. franchise he plans to bring to San Diego.
Trouble was, the NBA was nowhere in sight. Neither was San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor.
None of which bothered Jackson.
"At every step of my life somebody has told me something can't be done. I don't know where I'd be if I had listened to the first person who told me that," Jackson said.
Jackson is a black business executive from Minneapolis who is heading a group of unidentified investors who want to return the NBA to San Diego after a five-year absence. Jackson said he couldn't identify the investors just now. And, he said, he couldn't say when he will be able to identify those investors.
But he asked for a show of support from the San Diego sports community in the form of $50 season-ticket pledges that will be refunded if he can't deliver an NBA team. The more pledges he gets, the more he figures the NBA will pay attention to his bid.
"The NBA seems to have accepted that approach (season-ticket pledges) as a kind of barometer," he said.
Told of Jackson's pledge program, one NBA official, who asked not to be identified, said, "That's dangerous."
Jackson's plans call for the NBA team to play eventually in the downtown sports facility being planned by La Jolla multimillionaire Harry Cooper and his partner, Richard Esquinas. Jackson said the NBA has told him it has no plans to expand and he said it was more likely he and his backers will have to buy an existing NBA franchise and relocate it.
Cooper's arena plans, announced last winter, met with resistance from the local political community--a situation Jackson said he is aware of. "I have been in contact with Mayor O'Connor's office a lot and I have gone overboard to make sure Maureen has been close to what's happening. I expect in another two or three weeks we will spend some quality time together," he said.
O'Connor, Jackson said, sent him flowers upon his arrival in San Diego Wednesday.
Jackson's welcoming committee at the press conference included former Harlem Globetrotter teammate Meadowlark Lemon, who delivered an invocation, former NFL tight end John Mackey, Cooper, Esquinas, former NBA and UCLA basketball star Bill Walton and a host of groupies who often applauded loudly when Jackson said things like:
--"Our goal is to get an NBA franchise for San Diego and we're not gonna ever let (NBA Commissioner) David Stern forget it."
--"I have a sign on my desk that says: 'Be patient and keep the pressure on.' "
--"Two of the strongest financial institutions in America are behind us and will be identified at the appropriate time."
Jackson said he will submit a formal application next month for entry into the NBA. The application, he said, will be accompanied by a non-refundable $100,000 application fee. The name of his corporation is San Diego NBA Franchise, Inc. But, he said, "That $100,000 will come from me. Right now I am San Diego NBA Franchise, Inc."
Jackson, 49, will be chairman and chief executive of the team. But, he said, he will retain his position as vice president and general manager of the Commercial Buildings Group of Honeywell, Inc. in Minneapolis.
The fans, he said, will determine the name of the team. And he said he eventually wants at least 25% of the ownership to be local. "I want to live in this city one day, too," he said. "And I'll be buying property soon to establish a residence here."
If he succeeds in obtaining a franchise, Jackson would be the first black owner in the NBA. But he stopped short of committing himself to hiring either a black general manager or coach. "My values and ideals say that ours will be an organization of inclusion that happens to be black-owned," he said. "As far as how we operate and manage the club, it will be with the most competent people we can find."
Jackson met with Stern last March and left with the impression that he had a 10% chance of getting a team. He said he will leave San Diego Sunday and "if I don't feel it's about 50-50 at this stage, I'll reconnect and reconsider my options."
Cooper and Esquinas, who now run the Sports Arena, already have negotiated a favorable lease with Jackson if he gets a team before Cooper's arena opens. Jackson also said he will actively seek the support of the San Diego Sports Assn. in promoting the team in the community.
Then he ticked off statistics aimed at the NBA offices in New York.
San Diego, he said, has the sixth largest population in the United States and is expected to grow by another 1 million by the year 2,010. He said San Diego's economy is growing faster than the rest of California's and the rest of the country.
San Diego, he said, is larger than half the markets that already have NBA teams and is growing faster than all but three NBA markets.
DETAILS, DETAILS Dave Distel looks for a plan amid the dream to return an NBA franchise to San Diego. Page 7A.