HED: NBA says no to exhibition games with Croatians
By Marty Russell
The National Basketball Association has nixed a Tupelo group’s plans to stage an exhibition game between NBA players and the Croatian Olympic team, but organizers are now attempting to put together an all-star team that could include the likes of Mississippi State’s Erick Dampier and former MSU player DontaŽ Jones.
The Tupelo Official Host Organization, a group of business people and community and government representatives formed to lure an Olympic team to the area to train for the Summer Olympics, learned Tuesday that plans for NBA players to compete against the Croatian basketball team did not meet the approval of the basketball league.
“They did not want to have any NBA players playing against another country’s national team this year,” said Bobby King, chairman of the host organization. “It’s nothing against us. It’s just a policy decision.”
In a letter to the group, Rod Thorn, an NBA senior vice president, said no exhibition games could be played under a collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association without the approval of both groups.
“Please be advised that the NBA has decided not to sanction your proposed game or any similar games this summer between national teams and ‘All-Star’ teams comprised of NBA players,” Thorn wrote.
The committee had hoped to stage exhibition games between NBA players and the Croatian Olympic team, which is expected to include NBA players Tony Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls and Dino Radja of the Boston Celtics.
Now, King said, he is working with a promoter in Memphis who has set up NBA exhibition games in the past to establish a “Mississippi All-Star Team.”
“It won’t be NBA players, but it could be players who could be drafted by the NBA but haven’t signed yet or some European players,” King said, mentioning specifically Jones and Dampier, who took MSU to the NCAA Final Four this year and are expected to be drafted by the NBA.
“We’ll build a good team,” he said. “We’ll play at least two ball games and there’s a possibility of maybe a third game.”
The Croatians, who are expected to arrive in Tupelo July 6 and spend about 10 days training and getting acclimated to the weather in the Southeast before going on to the Olympics in Atlanta, already have set up one exhibition game on their own.
King said Croatia has signed a deal to play Germany in a water polo exhibition during the training period in Northeast Mississippi and Slovania, a small nation adjacent to Croatia, plans to send its swim team to Tupelo for training during the same period as the Croatians.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Croatian shooting team will be in Tupelo April 24-27 to inspect facilities for that sport.
King said actual schedules of what will take place when while the Croatians are in the area should be nailed down after the host group’s May meeting. The deadline for each nation to report its team rosters to Olympic officials is May 15 and after that, King said, he will know who is coming and what their training schedules and needs will be.
Croatia chose Tupelo for its training site after a visit by the Balkan nation’s top Olympic officials in October 1994. The only other Mississippi city hosting a team is Hattiesburg, where the small African nation of Malawi will send its 24 athletes. The Croatian contingent is expected number more than 200.