Gathered in another gambling town and desperate for publicity, locked-out NBA players tried to boost prospects for their exhibition game by billing it as a "gift to the fans."
But this gift, in person or on TV, comes with a price.
"The Game on Showtime," featuring 16 current or former All-Stars, will tip off at 9 p.m. EST on Saturday at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The telecast is available only to cable customers who pay a premium to receive Showtime.
About 8,000 tickets have been sold or given away for the 12,500-seat arena, according to game director Curtis Polk, although a ticket agent was quoted in Friday's edition of The Press of Atlantic City as saying only 574 tickets, priced at $25, $50, $100, $200, $300 and $500, had been sold through his agency as of Thursday morning.
Promoters historically have been wary of scheduling events in this city between Thanksgiving and Christmas -- traditionally the slowest time of the year.
Interest also has been kept down because of the non-participation of Michael Jordan.
"We have no expectations that Michael will attend," Polk said.
| Alonzo Mourning and fellow All-Stars are putting the lockout aside -- temporarily -- and focusing on Saturday's exhibition at Atlantic City. (AP) |
"We're going to have a little surprise on the White team coach," Polk said.
For some of the players, this weekend will be the first time they've seen each other since more than 200 of them gathered in Las Vegas in late October for a union meeting.
Some have criticized the players for using two gambling towns for their meetings.
Polk explained that Atlantic City was chosen because it is close to Philadelphia, site of the now-canceled NBA All-Star game, and because it is within 200 miles of several major cities.
Snce their caucus in Las Vegas, when an 82-game season remained a possibility, the first 2½ months of the season have been wiped out by the owner-imposed lockout that threatens to cancel the entire season. Players have lost more than $400 million in salaries.
Commissioner David Stern said he spoke with union director Billy Hunter by telephone Thursday but that no new negotiations are scheduled.
"This weekend, we're trying to get off the lockout topic and focus on this game," said Mourning, who refused to answer questions concerning the details of the work stoppage. "At this time of year our body clocks tell us we should be playing basketball. There should be some intensity out there because we're anious to get going."
Proceeds from the game will be donated to charities in the Atlantic City and Philadelphia areas. Organizers backed off an earlier plan to share some of the proceeds with "needy" basketball players.
"It was met with tremendous criticism and the players admitted they made a mistake. We all admit we made a mistake," agent David Falk said. "I think they league at some point should also admit that they made a mistake in depriving the fans of basketball simply so they could make more profits."
Tim Hardaway said he expects a positive reaction from fans who have gone almost six months without seeing professional basketball.
"Hopefully, the fans will come out and give us a standing ovation. People are starving to see us play basketball, so I hope they are going to welcome us back," Hardaway said.
A spokeswoman for TicketMaster refused to release any updated ticket sales figures Friday. Polk said some of the tickets that had been purchased in blocks had been given to children from the Philadelphia public schools system.
A spokeswoman for Caesar's Palace, which is co-sponsoring the game and providing rooms for the players, said the casino had given some of its tickets to local schoolchildren.
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