ESPN.com - GEN - ABA 2000 plays the name game

 Sunday, August 20
ABA 2000 plays the name game
 
 By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

With the next pick in the ABA 2000 draft, the Chicago Skyliners select ... Dennis Rodman.

Dennis Rodman
Rebel Dennis Rodman has a spot in the upstart league ... if he wants it.
The who? Selected whom? In the what?

On Tuesday night, 10 teams bunkered down in their respective war rooms in different locations around the country and chose players for the newest professional basketball league, ABA 2000.

Yes, Rodman was taken by the Chicago team. And -- believe it or not -- Tim Hardaway was as well. But somehow, Joe Newman, co-founder of the new league, argues the picks were not stunts to give the upstart league some publicity.

"These are not PR picks," Newman said. "The teams that chose those players were obviously comfortable with the prospects that they could play and would not have wasted picks if they didn't think there was a chance to sign them."

The draft was 12 rounds, with the first six rounds reserved for rookies and first-year players. Teams could draft veterans in the final six rounds.

Almost all the names from Tuesday's draft are familiar.

Guards were the favorites early on, as Eddie House of Arizona State was the top pick, followed by Ohio State's Scoonie Penn. JaRon Rush was drafted fifth overall by his hometown Kansas City Knights, and Auburn's Chris Porter slipped in yet another draft -- this time to the third round. Gonzaga's heroes, Matt Santangelo and Richie Frahm, were both taken, and so were former Michigan stars Jimmy King and Maceo Baston. But only the Los Angeles Stars were able to draft teammates, with their territorial picks of Ed O'Bannon and Tyus Edney, who won the 1995 NCAA championship together at UCLA.

Surprisingly, A.C. Green, 35, who recently was waived by the Los Angeles Lakers, was selected by the L.A. team and Dominique Wilkins, who was first drafted by the Utah Jazz 18 years ago, also was impossible to pass up.

"One of our board members is a mutual acquaintance of Dominique's, and we've been talking to him for close to three months about the possibility of coming to play for us," said Al Howell, President of the Anaheim Roadrunners, the team that drafted Wilkins. "We know the money is not going to be enough, but he might come back since he feels he has one or two more years in him -- to prove he can play."

Kansas City general manager Tom Cheatham might have provided the draft's biggest laugh when he followed his sixth-round pick of 5-foot-10 Shaheen Holloway with a 12th-round selection of 7-9 Michael Ri from North Korea. "With Shaheen and Michael, we could have shortest and tallest player in the league, with almost two feet difference in height," Cheatham noted.

ABA 2000 hopes to play a 60-game schedule that would begin in late December. It would play in 10 cities, including Anaheim, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Long Island, Los Angeles, Memphis and Tampa Bay. The league plans some inventive rules, including a "shirted" player that cannot foul out, a "3-D" defensive scoring that gives an extra point to a team that converts off a turnover and a 30-second shot clock.

The league also plans on using and selling Wilson red, white and blue basketballs, in order to cash in on its old namesake. And it is exactly that goal that might actually stop the league from ever getting off the ground -- if the NBA has its way.

The NBA filed a lawsuit last December against the ABA 2000 for trademark infringement, specifically in regards to the words "ABA" and "American Basketball Association." Founders of ABA 2000 owned the trademark until 1995, when it was deemed dead because of lack of use. With the NBA now holding the trademark for both terms, the league has previously sent two cease-and-desist letters to ABA 2000. But ABA 2000 believes the NBA has not used the trademark enough to warrant exclusivity of the name.

"The name is just a good name. It has a great history to it and a great acceptance, so we think it is important to us," said Gerald Williams, CEO of ABA 2000. "That is why we are willing to defend this."

With a trial date set for late September in New York, all ABA 2000 owners have agreed to split the legal fees to fight the NBA.

An NBA spokesman refused to comment on the pending litigation.

The outcome of the case is expected to hinge on the NBA's use of the ABA trademark. If the NBA used the name enough, then ABA 2000 might not have a good case, but if the NBA only intended to use the trademark and did not, it could lose its rights to the name.

Kyle Brant, an Indianapolis trademark attorney who once represented the ABA 2000 founders, said the case is pretty straightforward. "The outcome in this case is very dependent on the plaintiff's (NBA) ability to show that the usage of the ABA marks is more than a token usage. If they cannot, they have a very weak case." In the meantime, ABA 2000 owners are optimistic they will prevail, and they're working hard to set the upcoming agenda.

Most ABA 2000 teams are planning to hold their first camps in mid-September. But the key date will be Nov. 1, when NBA rosters are cut down, and 60 players have to decide where they want to play.

There could be plenty of choices for the players cut from NBA teams. By the time the tipoff rolls around for ABA 2000 in December, the Continental Basketball Association and the International Basketball League will have already been in full swing (both starting in mid-November).

But Newman says that competition will inspire the best in the new league.

"Ask McDonald's whether Wendy's and Hardee's and Burger King (are) a problem," Newman said. "This is free enterprise. It's based on competition, and we welcome it and look forward to it. We think its healthy, not unhealthy."

With a roster limit of 10 players and salary cap of $900,000, odds are that most ABA 2000 players would make more than a CBA or International Basketball League player. But even with an average salary hovering around $60,000, ABA 2000 will still be far off the NBA minimum of $316,969.

As far as getting the fans to show up, ABA 2000 and the IBL are the only leagues in major cities, but unlike the IBL, which plays in cities without NBA franchises, ABA 2000 will be playing in four NBA cities. The key to survival might be the difference in ticket prices -- the average ticket price for ABA 2000 teams will be about $20.

Which is a tad less than a front row seat at Madison Square Garden.

Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com.