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Agent: NBA Owners Have Advantage

December 24, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ When millionaires get into a bankroll battle with billionaires, the millionaires lose.

That’s the view of longtime player agent Norman Blass, who believes the National Basketball Players Association is at a permanent economic disadvantage in its lockout battle with NBA owners.

For starters, seven owners _ Portland’s Paul Allen, Miami’s Micky Arison, Orlando’s Richard DeVos, Minnesota’s Glen Taylor, Atlanta’s Ted Turner, Indiana’s Melvin Simon, and Charles Dolan, whose Cablevision network runs the New York Knicks _ are on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. And that doesn’t include Ross Perot Jr. of Dallas, whose father is on the list.

There are no NBA players listed.

``There are some agents who believe the owners will capitulate,″ Blass said Thursday after the league set Jan. 7 as a deadline for canceling the season. ``Guys like DeVos with Amway, (Gordon) Gund, who owns half of Cleveland, Arison with Carnival Lines, Cablevision ... this is a drop in the bucket to them.″

Not so to the players.

``The players have lost half a year’s salary,″ said Blass, who represents Mookie Blaylock, Keith Askins and Derrick McKey and whose former clients include Walt Frazier, Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens and Dick Barnett. ``They’ll never make that back. So what value is it to them to continue this? What they are doing to basketball is not helping.

``I asked for a closed vote. If the union votes to refuse the last offer, I’m satisfied. How can (union boss) Billy Hunter say this deal is no good for the players? Shouldn’t the players decide that?″

Blass said the union is trying to avoid taking a hit and he understands that. But there is a point of diminishing returns in this showdown which could lead to the first cancellation of an entire pro sports season.

``They’re embarrassed that they have to give back some of what they accomplished,″ Blass said. ``But if you’re earning $12 million and you have to give back $1 million, isn’t that better than giving back the whole $12 million?

``The players are losing on a daily basis. They’re talking to the Mournings and the Ewings. They’re not talking to the $275,000 players.″

Blass took little solace in the news that commissioner David Stern and Hunter had interrupted their Christmas vacations to talk in Los Angeles Wednesday with no progress reported. Day-by-day, the biological clock is taking time off the careers of idle players, Blass said.

``Gus Williams once sat out a year in Seattle in a contract dispute,″ he said. ``He was never the same. I can’t understand the players’ position.″

The bottom line, Blass said, in that the billionaires can simply outlast the millionaires.

``It becomes brinkmanship and the owners have more weapons than the players,″ he said. ``They’ll stay until they get what they want. The owners will compromise to a degree. But unless they’re able to make a deal on their terms, there will be no season. How will Billy Hunter explain that?″

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