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Fans cry 'foul' in NBA standoff

basketball
RELATED VIDEO
CNN's Gary Tuchman reports on the growing disquiet among the fans
Windows Media 28K 56K

November 20, 1998
Web posted at: 7:06 p.m. EST (0006 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The NBA has been MIA for the first month and a half of the scheduled pro basketball season. And among the fans -- whether it's children shooting hoops on the playground or Wall Street traders participating in leagues in gymnasiums -- there is a longing to see the Big Boys back on the court.

"I think it's a shame we can't watch these great superstars play," said one amateur hoopster. A young fan on a neighborhood court had even stronger feelings. "It makes me mad because I really like the NBA."

Players and owners Friday held their first full negotiating session in more than three weeks to try to end the NBA lockout, but NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said, "I don't have any reason to be optimistic here."

Comments like that win no applause from fans. They are especially scornful of players' complaints that they are underpaid.

"We feel that we are fighting for our lives and our livelihoods," said Patrick Ewing, star center of the New York Nicks.

Fans, who help pay the players' multimillion-dollar salaries, have trouble working up compassion for either side in this labor dispute. It's been described as millionaires bickering with billionaires.

"I blame the players because they shouldn't ask for so much money, because I think they make a lot of money anyway," said one fan. But plenty of other fans slam the owners along with the players for all their squabbling and no playing.

"People are constantly telling children, 'You're acting childish, you have to grow up' -- and meanwhile, you have these grown men who are acting like children. These are the people who really have to grow up," said one critic who's calling a technical foul on the players on both benches in this battle over big bucks.

The money involved is no chump change. The players' union and the league are arguing over how to divide up $2 billion in basketball-related revenues. The players received about 57 percent last year, and they want 60 percent this year. The league is offering a 50-50 split.

But one youngster says something even bigger is involved. "They have too big of an ego."

Despite all the tough words from players, owners and fans, some say the NBA can recover from this better than other professional sports leagues.

"I think really that if they can get back to playing games by the Super Bowl, which is when an awful lot of people turn and look at basketball for the first time, if they can do that, I don't think there will be any damage whatsoever," said Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated.

An agreement will have to be reached in the next week or so in order for the players to be back on the courts before Christmas.

CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman contributed to this report

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