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NBA Accord Adds to League's Appeal

Basketball: The Summer Pro League, in its second season at the Pyramid, begins today.

July 06, 1996|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — With labor harmony returning--albeit only by threat of another lockout--NBA faces are smiling again.

After all, there's important work to be done. Big-name players have millions to make and the Dream Team has opponents to humiliate. But NBA executives and players aren't the only ones feeling good.

So are the operators and promoters of the Summer Pro League at Long Beach State, whose idea of a best-case scenario didn't involve repeating the problems created by last season's mandated work stoppage. That was no fun.

NBA players can do wonders for your prestige, and they don't hurt the gate either. Well, they're back again.

"We think we're going to have a great league," said Gino Kwok, president of the league. "We've always enjoyed great support from the NBA in the past and we're really looking forward to this year."

The league, in its second season at the Pyramid, begins today and ends July 28. Four games are scheduled daily, featuring entries from NBA teams.

Last year, most NBA players stayed away because of the lockout, which shut down all NBA operations. Without insurance coverage, players weren't willing to risk injury. They could have purchased their own insurance, but overwhelmingly took the other option.

"Not having the NBA players obviously made a difference," said Kirk Watanabe, director of operations for the league. "The possibility of [another] lockout definitely concerned us because we went through the effects of being a third party injured last season.

"But we felt good about last season. And what happened benefited several players to some extent."

With much of the NBA staying away, slots needed filling. Agents sponsored teams to showcase players they represented or hoped to, which helped some players receive contracts from teams in Europe and the CBA, Watanabe said.

"We still had [basketball] people out there watching the games," Watanabe said. "I'm not saying that having all the NBA players there wouldn't have been great, but we had a good season."

The league benefited from being the only show in town, or anywhere for that matter. It is among three during the summer, including those based in New York and Utah. All three are sanctioned by the NBA. But the other leagues are run by the NBA. When the NBA shut down, so did its sideshows.

"We're a private organization, so we were the only summer league going on," Watanabe said. "We had the eyes of the basketball world on us. It was a tiny silver lining, but it was a silver lining."

It wasn't exactly the sunny payoff Long Beach officials expected either. They went after the league, formerly based at UC Irvine's Bren Center, in an attempt to enhance the campus and community excitement surrounding the Pyramid's inaugural season.

Playing host to the world's best basketball players was a good way to start, they figured.

Uh, not so fast.

"We were all disappointed at what happened last year," said interim 49er Athletic Director Bill Shumard, who helped negotiate a new three-year deal with the league.

"We want to see them be successful. Through no fault of ours or theirs, they couldn't provide players because of the lockout. We're all excited about starting anew this year."

The competition should be good, anyway. Veteran players vying for roster spots will battle rookie free agents looking for their first jobs. Even superstars occasionally drop by.

Also, the leagues provide young players under contract a chance to develop and expand their skills. Every day with a ball helps.

"Teams will tell you that the summer leagues are incredibly valuable to what they do," said Chris Brienza, NBA director of media relations. "The teams want to see players play whenever they can, and the leagues are the best place to have them play because they're playing under real NBA conditions."

And the biggest role of the summer leagues?

"They're especially important as far as finding that diamond in the rough," Brienza said. "This is where you find them."

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