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A Half-Court Gamble : Abdul-Jabbar and Dr. J Take It to the Hoop in $19.95 'Clash'

February 23, 1992|STEVEN HERBERT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has an answer to those people wondering why, after nearly three years of retirement, he is playing Julius Erving in a one-on-one pay-per-view basketball game Friday.

"We see it is as a good business opportunity," Abdul-Jabbar said matter-of-factly. "The one-on-one part of the game hasn't been brought to the public in the right way. We feel that it's exciting and interesting."

Viewers must pay $19.95 to see what is being dubbed "The Clash of the Legends." Abdul-Jabbar and Dr. J will play four five-minute quarters of half-court one-on-one, refereed by former NBA official Earl Strom.

The event, at the Mark G. Etess Arena at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, will also include three preliminary games featuring Rick Barry, Connie Hawkins, Nate Archibald and George Gervin. The telecast is expected to last two hours.

Fifty cents from each pay-per-view sale will be donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research and to the Magic Johnson Foundation.

The event has drawn fire from the media, which, among other things, have questioned the 44-year old Abdul-Jabbar's effectiveness.

But the NBA's all-time leading scorer said he is "a lot better off physically, mentally and emotionally" than he was during the 1988-89 season, his last with the Lakers.

"Personally, there's a whole lot less bothering me," he said.

"My last year I had a lot to deal with. (Every time they honored me) was a very emotional event. Just the physical burnout that accumulates after playing 19 years (was another problem). I was writing a book about all of this and that was another demand on my time. I was torn in a lot of directions. I also got injured. That combination of things made it a very tough year."

To prepare for his matchup with Erving, Abdul-Jabbar has been practicing against his successor at center for the Lakers, Vlade Divac.

"I've seen (Kareem) practice three or four days and he looks a lot stronger and physically better than his last year here," said his former teammate Byron Scott. "I don't know if he's going to go out there and embarrass himself. ...

"He's been working and running and lifting for a while and been doing it twice a day, so I think he's taking it real seriously and hopefully he'll have a good showing."

According to Dave Wooley, the event's Philadelphia-based promoter, Erving, 42, is participating in "Challenge of the Legends" for the fans.

"Every time Julius goes somewhere, people would love to see him one more time," Wooley said. "He's promised his fans the same vintage Dr. J and then some, the same dazzling moves on a half-court basis.

"Clash of the Legends" was conceived about two years ago, Wooley said. He sees it as a spiritual descendant of the spirited one-on-one games played between neighborhood legends in his native Harlem.

Wooley said he plans for the event to become an annual occurrence, likening it to golf's Skins Game. He said he did not know how many people would be needed to tune in to meet its break-even point.

"We're not evaluating the event strictly on a monetary basis," said Wooley, president of the DJ Group, a Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment investment firm of which Erving is a principal. "There's a lot that goes into the mix whether something is successful. It's not just strictly on the bottom line."

But Rick Kulis, president of Event Entertainment, a national distributor of pay-per-view event programming, doubts it will find a niche.

"I don't find it attractive at all from a pay-per-view standpoint," Kulis said. "There's no doubt that Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the best players of their time, but you have to underscore of their time.

"In any pay-per-view event, you need a reason to watch it, like the Judds doing their final act or a major championship fight. But to just put on a show that has no real payoff is like seeing a movie without a conclusion. What is the real payoff for the consumer?

Kulis has been down this road before. In 1990, his firm handled the distribution for "The One-on-One Collegiate Challenge," which featured the top players who had just completed their college eligibility in a series of one-on-one basketball games.

That, too, was supposed to be an annual event, but those plans were ended after fewer than 50,000 people decided to pay the $12.95 to see it.

Kulis is concerned that "Clash of the Legends" could have a negative impact on the entire pay-per-view industry.

"It's my desire to see events that are on pay-per-view that are high in customer satisfaction and have high buy rates," he said. "Every time an event doesn't sell well people become reticent about pay-per-view. Pay-per-view started with events of the highest echelon, but more and more the medium is getting abused with smaller and smaller events. I don't want it to become the dumping ground for events that are not attractive to conventional TV."

"Clash of the Legends" airs Friday at 6 p.m, with a replay at 8 p.m. Call your local cable system for further information.

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