Oscar Robertson, Ralph Sampson and Bernie Bickerstaff were delighted to join. Even Cal Ripken bought into the idea.
The new International Basketball League has been successful in attracting the money and services of several notable sports figures. Gaining the support of the American public might be more difficult, yet IBL officials are confident their low-budget minor league is destined to flourish.
"Our mission is to have a league that will provide people with affordable and entertaining basketball, and we fully expect to be successful in that mission," said league president Thaxter Trafton, former president of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.
The eight-team IBL opens its inaugural 64-game season Friday night, when referees toss up the league's signature black basketball in Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Las Vegas. New Mexico, Richmond, Va., San Diego and Trenton, N.J. open on the road.
The IBL has no intention of competing with the NBA. Its goal is to horn in on the Continental Basketball Association, which for years has been the NBA's informal minor league.
"Our long-range goal is to expand internationally and to eventually become a great minor league system affiliated with the NBA," Trafton said. "We would love to provide them with the talent they want, not just with players but with referees, general managers, coaches and even trainers."
That is not, however, a goal of the NBA, at least in the short-term.
"We wish the IBL very well for their season," Russ Granik, NBA deputy commissioner, said. "Our plan this year, however, is to continue our relationship with the CBA,"
The IBL will use a 30-second clock and the international 3-point line, which is more than three feet closer to the basket than its NBA equivalent. In addition, zone defenses will be permitted.
The IBL is the brainchild of Arthur Cipriani, who became co-director of National Gas Clearing House in 1985 and made millions after the Federal Regulatory Commission ruled in favor of open competition in power-related industries. Cipriani retired in 1994 at 38, and in 1996 he began startup operations for the IBL.
Ripken, the Baltimore Orioles' third baseman, is a partial owner of the Baltimore BayRunners.
"It's a strong message, someone like him making that move," George Blaney, the league's vice president for basketball operations, said. "The fact that he's willing to attach his name to it, as well as his energy, tells you that he sees this as a good thing."
Robertson, a Hall of Famer who starred with the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA, is a minority owner of the Cincinnati Stuff.
"I think this team and league will succeed, and I want to help it," Robertson said.
Bickerstaff, who was a general manager and coach in the NBA, is the coach, GM and part-owner of the St. Louis Swarm. Herb Brown, who once coached the Detroit Pistons is serving the same roles with Baltimore.
Sampson, who starred at Virginia before joining the NBA, is executive vice president and general manager of the Richmond Rhythm, which is coached by former Charlotte Hornets coach Allan Bristow.
Each IBL team will operate on a salary cap of $522,000.
That enables the league to sell tickets in the $12 range. Blaney, a former college coach at Holy Cross and Seton Hall, said teams must average about 4,000 fans per game to break even.
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