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Here's a 'no' vote for NBA in Tampa Bay

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© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2001

Looking at me now, you might not guess I played high school basketball. Deadly one-hander. About 44 years and 44 pounds ago.

I so adored the sport, it was common, alone on neighborhood playground concrete, to shoot a thousand times an afternoon, then again the next day, fantasizing about being Jerry West or Oscar Robertson.

Hoops have always been potent in my life. Writing from 30 Final Fours. Olympics, even before Dream Teams. Even now, driving up the middle in search of retirement, the college game can fire me. That said, with NBA murmurs moderately afloat, I am not for bringing the pros to Tampa Bay.

My tallest reason is neighborhood economics. We have major-league franchises in baseball, hockey and football, offering 130 home games a year, with too many expensive tickets, meaning it's a total feast T-Bay seems to struggle to afford.

NBA salaries are nonsensical, like baseball's, for which owners are to blame, not athletes. Team proprietors making money is anything but an NFL-style lock.

Whatever -- if it's the arena-hungry Magic hinting a shift from Orlando to the Ice Palace, using us as leverage like baseball did for so long, or maybe the Grizzlies considering Tampa as a replacement for disinterested Vancouver -- if the NBA comes knocking at our door, I say don't answer.


If, about now, your NBA-loving neck is smoking with anger, shocked at such a hometown kiss-off of a league featuring the physical wonders of Carter, Iverson, O'Neal, Mourning, Bryant, Garnett and all the rest, please take a heavy breath, considering the total pro sports picture from Tampa Bay perspective.

Perhaps you would eagerly swap hockey or baseball for the NBA, but for now that is not an option. Maybe you would leap to buy $75 tickets for the Griz, Magic or whatever, but shouldn't the local masses measure full potential impact?

I have wondered, and even doubted, about our public pockets being deep enough to successfully perpetuate the Bucs and Lightning and Devil Rays.

Can they all make it?

Could we sensibly add a fourth? I don't think so. Of course, I am the fellow who has been labeled a nabob of nay for not cheering central Florida's stab at the 2012 Olympics.

Trying to be honest and candid, that's the best advice I can muster. My absolute opinion is that for the place where I have lived 27 years, it is a venture too costly, too massive, too disruptive and too overwhelming.

Hordes will disagree.

Back to the NBA ...

Risk factors appear to be escalating. Since the Chicago departure of Michael Jordan, a pro basketball slide has been obvious. TV ratings sinking. Public chatter diminishing except in certain pockets.

Though there are terrific human beings in the NBA theater, like Robinson and Armstrong and Ward and Malone, too many NBA jocks exude images with high turnoff readings. I mean, where $75 tickets are becoming the norm.

The Magic appears to be the NBA's most embraceable bunch, with the coaching passions of Doc Rivers and a flurry of talents prone to playing hard, behaving well and enhancing regional magnetism during a period of leaguewide decline.

All the NBA philosophical and personality downers aside, I probably would be lobbying for a Tampa Bay team if we weren't already so overstocked with franchises. In case some misjudge, this isn't quite Detroit, Philly, Dallas or Boston.

It will be a large accomplishment if by 2005 the Bolts and Rays are more victorious and generating enough income to turn profits. If in the meantime we add the NBA to Tampa Bay's mix, might it not heighten the possibilities of multiple franchise flunkings?

Hey, my Dunkenstein pals, this isn't just about artistic bounce passes, heroic sky hooks, three-point grenades and earthquaking slams. Only one Tampa Bay franchise, the Bucs, has become a thundering success, with enough drawing power to handle ticket prices that seep into three digits while having constant sellouts, with 10,000 on a patron waiting list.

More impatiently by the hour we await full D-Rays and Lightning exams. When performances might swing from losing to winning. To see how Tampa Bay constituents react. Can there be another Bucs story, prompting constant public conversation about coaches and athletes, plus an extraordinary demand for seats?

If the Bolts become contenders and still don't stack the Ice Palace with customers, if the Rays challenge for playoffs and Tropicana Field still has 20,000 empties, departure of a franchise or two becomes more of a threat. I would loathe that. Three-pronged success is Tampa Bay's challenge.

If the NBA is your No. 1 deal, that is understandable. But upon current review, trying to measure the total Tampa Bay professional sports act, I see it as unsound, for now, to covet the Grizzlies, Magic or any pro basketball property.

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