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NBA Plans to Launch Women’s League in 1997

April 25, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Deciding that women ought to have a basketball league of their own, the NBA Board of Governors voted to launch one by the summer of 1997.

There are a number of details still to work out, but commissioner David Stern promised answers by July 1, including television arrangements, the number of teams and the cities in which they will operate.

``It’s all tentative,″ Stern said Wednesday. ``It’s a working model, subject to lots of changes.″

The one thing the commissioner promised is that the venture would succeed. ``We don’t enjoy failing,″ he said. ``We’ve raised the stakes and we’ll make it happen. That’s the way we are. It’s time and we’re going to do it.″

Women’s basketball first became a topic of conversation in the NBA about 15 years ago when Larry O’Brien was commissioner. Interest intensified as the NCAA women’s tournament and the U.S. national team gained increased visibility and attention.

``There have been inquiries and pressure both external and internal,″ Stern said, smiling at Val Ackerman, the NBA’s vice president of business affairs, who captained the University of Virginia’s women’s team when Ralph Sampson was the center of attraction on the men’s team. ``We’ve been working hard on this for the last 2 1/2 months.″

Ackerman said the league expects to have eight teams playing a 25-30 game schedule over 10 weeks from mid-June to mid-August. Teams will be placed in cities that already have NBA franchises.

``We are excited about the prospects of using the assets of the NBA and its teams to give life to a concept which is ready to bloom,″ the commissioner said.

Stern sees no clash with the American Basketball League, a women’s circuit which plans to play in the winter.

``I don’t think it will be a conflict,″ the commissioner said. ``Players can pursue whatever opportunities they wish in the offseason, whether in Europe or in other pro leagues.

``Summertime is best for success from our perspective. We think the summer gives access to the best talent in the world. Play in other leagues would be allowed and encouraged. Like they say in the ad: `It’s about time.′ We are excited about the concept.″

In Europe, Ackerman said, good players earn from $1,500 a momnth to as much as $200,000 to $300,000 per year. ``The average is about $70,000 and the best players get six figures,″ she said.

The Women’s NBA would operate as a single enterprise. Players would sign contracts with the league and be dispersed to teams on the basis of territorial-competitive considerations as well as through a draft. Stern emphasized that all of this was tentative. ``Today was just to get board approval,″ he said.

``We will be working in places around the calendar to make sure this succeeds. Our best assets are our cities, our buildings and our staffs and they will be made available. We will hopefully show the world’s best women in the world’s best arenas. I can’t imagine better circumstances.″

In other business Wednesday, the league approved sale of the Philadelphia 76ers from Harold Katz to Comcast, a cable television company, and decided three tiebreakers for the college draft. Minnesota won a tiebreaker with Dallas for one extra chance in 1,000 to move up in the lottery. Detroit won its tiebreaker with Atlanta for the No. 18 and 19 positions and Cleveland won its tiebreaker with New York for the No. 20 and 21 positions.

The board also approved a rules change that would assess a technical foul and take away possession of the ball from any team calling a timeout beyond its limit.

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