BASKETBALL ASSN. TAKES TO COURT TO DECIDE DOLLARS

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Leading National Basketball Association players and the marketers who hire them will be freer to pursue long-restricted business opportunities if the NBA loses a one-on-one in Los Angeles Superior Court today.

The case might determine whether the sort of corporate-sponsored events common in such sports as golf and tennis could include unofficial basketball matches featuring NBA stars. At issue: May NBA players participate in non-NBA-sanctioned exhibition games and tournaments?

What brought the question to a head was a series of basketball exhibitions to be held later this month in Japan and televised across the country. The NBA collective bargaining agreement, which ran out in June, bars players from taking part in non-sanctioned exhibitions. A federal court ruled last month that both sides must abide by the contract until it is renegotiated.

While the agreement may have saved the NBA from financial ruin a decade ago, players now believe it unfairly restricts their income-earning ability.

Japan's three exhibition games were being organized by JEC International, a Tokyo-based event management company, said Ernie Getto, a Los Angeles attorney representing JEC.

The games were to be held in the same arena where the Portland Trailblazers and Los Angeles Clippers will meet for two games in November to open the NBA's 1994-95 regular season.

In the JEC case, the NBA has cited labor and team contracts that prohibit player participation. But the NBA is also concerned with how JEC is promoting the events.

Nike is planning to hold a series of exhibition games at the same stadium during its "Hoop Heroes Tour" three weeks after the JEC event. An NBA spokesman said the league won't seek to stop Nike, as it didn't try to stop similar past Nike tours. He said the league was confident fans could distinguish between a Nike and an NBA event.

Phoenix Suns star Charles Barkley had planned a similar Japanese exhibition for next month, pitting a team of NBA players led by him against a team led by Larry Johnson. Hakuhodo, Tokyo, was to sponsor the games in part and had agreed to use Mr. Barkley in client advertising. But Mr. Barkley's agent, Marc Perman, an attorney at New York talent agency J. Michael Bloom & Associates, said legal threats from the NBA as well as the JEC action prompted him to cancel the deal in late July.

"Charles Barkley lost a seven-figure fortune on this deal," said Mr. Perman."...What troubles the NBA is that somebody else is making the money and not them."

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