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NBA Contracts Rocket Past $100 Million

July 16, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Forget the Dream Team. There’s a bigger competition among America’s basketball stars.

The Dream Salaries.

First, Michael Jordan re-signed with the Chicago Bulls on Friday for $25 million-$30 million over a single season. Then Juwan Howard and the Miami Heat agreed Saturday to a seven-year contract said to be worth $98 million.

Just two days later, the Heat are on the verge of re-signing Alonzo Mourning to a seven-year deal worth about $112 million, and the Atlanta Hawks signed center Dikembe Mutombo to a seven-year deal for about $70 million.

And there was talk Monday between Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic of a deal that dwarfs Shaq himself _ $125 million over seven seasons.

``I don’t have any problem with NBA salaries,″ said Stan Kasten, the president of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and baseball’s Atlanta Braves. ``It means revenue in the league is good.″

Lee Majors, the $6 million man, wouldn’t even make the top 20 when it comes to NBA contracts. Hakeem Olajuwon’s $55 million, five-year contract with Houston, announced Monday, was dwarfed by the deals of Howard and Mourning.

Even second-tier stars are getting big bucks: Guard Allen Houston will get $56 million over seven years under the agreement announced Sunday by the New York Knicks.

``I’m firing my mother. She’s off the Barkley payroll. She had me too soon,″ said 33-year-old Charles Barkley, who made $4.7 million last season with the Phoenix Suns but isn’t a free agent.

New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe has the highest NFL contract, $42 million over seven years. The top baseball contract in total dollars is Barry Bonds’ $43.75 million, six-year deal with the San Francisco Giants. Mario Lemieux, the highest paid hockey player, will wind up getting about $49 million over seven years from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

``There’s no question that the NBA pot has gone up as the league has prospered,″ said agent Tom Reich, who represents baseball and hockey players, including Lemieux. ``The growth in NBA revenue has been astronomical. Other sports don’t have that largess to split up among so few players.″

Boxers, golfers and tennis players have topped $10 million in annual earnings before, some getting a large part of their income from endorsements. But team sports stars have never before seen nine-figure packages.

``That is what a good economic system that allows the league to function at maximum efficiency yields,″ said Kasten, who has pushed for baseball to adopt a salary-cap system similar to the NBA’s.

``In basketball, there’s a connection between salaries and revenue,″ he said. ``For every dollar that goes to player salaries, it means more than a dollar is coming in. What’s happening makes perfect sense.″

Some veterans, though, are upset with the money the young stars are getting.

``You’ve got a lot of players that probably haven’t got to the playoffs yet or the second round that are making $10 million-plus,″ said guard Reggie Miller, a free agent who has led the Dream Team in scoring. ``That I don’t agree with.″

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