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Dave Distel

The Plan, Mannie, Tell Us About Your Plan to Bring NBA Back

June 30, 1989|Dave Distel

Mannie Jackson, the former Harlem Globetrotter, is going to bring a National Basketball Assn. franchise to San Diego. No clowning.

And Mannie Jackson is also going to bring us the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China and maybe the Boston Gaaahden.

OK, so I'm clowning.

But you know how cynical journalists can be when farfetched ideas are presented at roll-out-the-red-carpet media conferences. I just wasn't sure if I was being sold options on oil wells on Fiesta Island or a genuine opportunity to be first in line for NBA season tickets.

You see, it might be almost as easy to set up the Eiffel Tower in Balboa Park as it is going to be to plug an NBA team into the existing Sports Arena and/or Harry Cooper's proposed Taj Majal d' Sport.

Mannie Jackson is sincere and serious. I heard him say it, and I heard former National Football League tight end John Mackey say it, and I heard Bill Walton say it. And I believe it.

What struck me, as I observed this press conference, was that it reminded me more of a sales pitch for time-share condominiums than a forum to address the very real problems of coming up with a franchise to play here.

At one point, in fact, Jackson was actually exhorting the media types to memorize, and join him in chanting, the telephone number to call to place $50 deposits for season tickets.

"Repeat it so they can hear it in Paris and New York," he said. "2-2-2 . . . 6-4-3-1."

There you go, Mannie. You hooked me. I actually put it in print.

Unfortunately, I don't usually go to press conferences to pick up telephone numbers I can get off of letterheads. I don't usually go to press conference to pick up sheets detailing how to go about making a deposit on season tickets.

I go to press conferences wanting to learn how somebody who says something is going to happen is going to go about making it happen.

Excuse me, but I don't think I picked up on that Thursday morning at the Sports Arena.

As Mackey said in describing Jackson: "Physically, he's tall, dark and handsome. He's also honest, smart and serious. He's a family man, a friend and a father. He has character and integrity. He's a man who has a dream, and his dream is to bring NBA basketball to San Diego. He also has a plan."

That's where I lost it.

The plan.

Dreams are wonderful, and it is wonderful that Jackson's dreams include San Diego and the National Basketball Assn.

So far, however, Jackson seems to be like a point guard with nowhere to pass the ball. He has partners, but he could not yet name them. He has financial backing, but he could not yet say from where. At this point, he is, figuratively speaking, on a one-on-five fast break against the reality of finding an available NBA team.

With this thought in mind, let me identify the partner Jackson was really trying to woo Thursday.


He has his dream, and he has to know that it meshes with the collective dreams of the San Diego community. Since Donald Sterling packed his wine glasses and self-portraits and took them to Los Angeles with the Clippers, San Diegans have consistently maintained that they want and would support an NBA franchise . . . indeed, that they deserve one.

This guy Jackson is saying he is the man to make it happen, if anybody can. He is asking that interest manifest itself in $50 deposits. It might be called a bet on the come, except for the fact that the money is refundable.

But let's be realistic. Season ticket deposits will do more to reinforce Jackson's sense that he is on the right track than they will do to impress the NBA hierarchy.

Of all the major professional sports leagues, the NBA is the one in the least expansive mood. It went up by two teams for the just-completed season and goes up by two more for 1989-90. I may be wrong, but I would be surprised if the NBA expanded again before the turn of the century.


Things are going so well for the NBA. It actually gets its playoff games on live national television rather than tape delay. Attendance is at record levels. It has now cut four new franchises in on the pie, and it will understandably move cautiously before it again dilutes what has become a very good product.

Consequently, Mannie Jackson and his mystery men are going to have to find someone else's clunker, buy it, move it and rebuild it. Don't get me wrong. They can do it. And they are right to seek an outpouring of community support before they shove too much money onto the table.

So that was the real nature of Thursday's gathering. Mannie Jackson was selling himself and what he says he can do. The community has to buy him if it hopes to buy the NBA.

OK, so this might not be quite as tough as importing the Great Wall of China or Buckingham Palace or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Just remember, all you have to do is dial 2-2-2 . . . and the rest of whatever that number was.

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