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Special Event

All Stars Too Soon: The NBA Age Dilemma

Aired February 11, 2001 - 1:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks for joining us on this NBA All-Star weekend. Tonight, the 50th All-Star game is being played at the MCI Center here in Washington, and that's given us a chance to step back and take a closer look at the state of the NBA today. We've assembled an outstanding panel and an impressive audience, players, coaches, league officials, agents, perhaps most important, the fans.

One issue we'll be exploring: the impact of increasingly younger players in the NBA. What is that doing to the game?

I want to also introduce another panelist. We've added Spencer Haywood.

Because of you, in part, this discussion is being held -- a Supreme Court decision back in 1972. But we're going to get to that shortly.

David Stern, what is happening to this game because of all these young players that are in there? Are they mature enough to be part of the NBA?

DAVID STERN, NBA COMMISSIONER: Well, they are physically mature enough to be part of the NBA, and they are great young players. But as you frame the issue, the question is whether a couple of years more of seasoning would increase their maturity, their skills, their collegiate programs and ultimately what it could do for sending messages to kids who are practicing their skills who should think about getting an education rather than coming right to NBA.

BLITZER: And even during these past few days, you've been holding talks with NCAA officials and others designed to do precisely that, to encourage these young kids to go to college, play in college rather than jump to the NBA right away.

STERN: That is correct.

BLITZER: What is the status of those talks right now?

STERN: I would say that they're ongoing. It's something that we and our players' association have to agree upon to make it happen, and it's one of a number of subjects that we're working together with our players' association on.

BLITZER: You want these players to get $20,000-a-year loans, in effect, to help them survive even though they get their scholarships to pay for their tuition and room and board?

STERN: Actually we would be prepared under the right circumstances to turn loans into grants, so that the sort of hypocrisy of a program where a scholarship is given to a young man but then he can't afford to buy a pizza after a game or a trip home to visit an ailing relative is an NCA violation. We've got to do away with that.

BLITZER: All right, Billy Hunter, you're the president of the players' association. Do you think this is a good idea what the commissioner is suggesting?

BILLY HUNTER, PRESIDENT, NBA PLAYER ASSOCIATION: I think philosophically he and I clearly differ. His position is antithetical to the position that I support and promote. I feel it's an issue of choice, and I don't think that any kid who can demonstrate the physical ability and talent and the wherewithal to come and perform the NBA that he should be barred from doing it.

I'm not suggesting that, as an African-American, we need a lot more basketball players in our community. There's no question we could use a lot more doctors, lawyers, teachers, et cetera. But by the same token, if one is striving to be best that he can be, and if the NBA represents the pinnacle of professional basketball in this country and in this world, I don't see any reason why we should be barring young players who have demonstrated that ability from coming into the league.

BLITZER: Michael Jordan, you're the president of the Wizards basketball operations. Where do you stand on this controversial issue, with no easy answers obviously to any of these questions?

MICHAEL JORDAN, FORMER NBA ALL-STAR: I think it's going to have to be a compromise without a doubt. I think truly some of the kids who are making the choice to come to the pros are not truly ready physically, to some degree, and definitely not mentally because of some of the choices that they're going to have to make on this level.

I'm totally in support of freedom of choice. I don't think we should really just take that without having some consideration, some understanding for who's going to benefit from that in the overall picture of the game and creativity of the game. I think there definitely has to be some compromising on both sides.

BLITZER: Let's bring in a player who is obviously one of the first who played. Darius Miles, you've gone right from high school into the NBA. This has been an adjustment for you.

Let me get my microphone over here so we can hear what you have to say.

All right, Darius. Tell us what this has meant for you, to go right from high school into the Los Angeles Clippers?

DARIUS MILES, BASKETBALL PLAYER: It's a big deal for me. I think players when they come straight out of high school, if NBA teams will pick them -- as long as the NBA teams are picking players to come straight out of high school, they're going to steady go. When they stop picking them, that is when we stop going.

But I think players bring these players in to -- these teams bring these players in, and they know what they are getting into before they get it. This is like a million dollar thing, so they know if this player do this, he do this off the court, he do this on the court.

Like, when I came out, I went here, I took tests, mental tests. They wanted to see if I was crazy or not or doing this or doing that, if I was doing anything wrong, because they wanted to know if I go out on the street, if I be in jail or if I be on Sports Center or all these channels doing something wrong.

These teams know what they're getting into before they get into it. I don't see nothing wrong with it, but that's up to them.

BLITZER: All right. Darius, stand by.

I want to bring in Spencer Haywood because he, in many respects, achieved what a lot of these young players are achieving today.

Tell us your background, Spencer, and why you feel so strongly that these young kids should be allowed to play in the NBA without any college experience whatsoever.

SPENCER HAYWOOD, BASKETBALL PLAYER: Well, let me clear it up. When I came in to the NBA -- and I fought this ruling all the way to the Supreme Court -- I had participated in USA Olympics in '68, I was the 1968 outstanding college player of the year and I was over 20 when I fought this case and won it.

And so I have some doubts about what I saw yesterday, because I saw the rookie game, and I was not really happy with what I have seen with a lot of the young players.

BLITZER: Because they didn't have skills that you thought...

HAYWOOD: The skill levels were not there, the maturity was not there. The body structure hadn't matured yet.

But I am for freedom of choice. I think that you cannot say to a young athlete or a young basketball player, no, you are can't come in, but yet you can say to Martina Hingis, yes, you can, and to Pete Sampras, yes, you can, to Wayne Gretzky, yes, you can.

So there is going to have to be a compromise, and I think the compromise between the commissioner, and Mr. Billy Hunter should arrive at some good conclusion that will solve this issue, because it is an issue, and it is a problem.

BLITZER: All right. We have a question, up here.

Go ahead with your question or your comment.

QUESTION: Yes, my comment is...

BLITZER: Tell us who you are first.

QUESTION: I'm Darrell Mackey (ph). I'm the head coach of West Potomac High School, and here are two of my players.

My comment is that young men have an opportunity to make money if they earn a college education. I think the owners should consider some type of monetary incentive for the players to seek higher education in their community. There is incentives for goals, for assists and steals, but with monetary incentives to seek higher education, I think that could also help young men. Because I honestly feel that there is a maturity level of a high school or a teenager, and when you are coming into a league with all the monetary surroundings and the pressures from community, I think college is an asset to anyone, higher education, whether you get it the first year or whether you get it five years down the road.

And then my other comment is similar to Mr. Spencer. There has been people in baseball, soccer -- they just drafted a kid that was 16 years old, and you don't hear nothing.

BLITZER: All right, that's a good point.

Let me ask Coach Thompson, who for many years was the coach at Georgetown University, the basketball team, the Hoyas. What about the points this coach is making? Are those fair arguments?

JOHN THOMPSON, FORMER COACH, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOYAS: Well, I don't know whether they are fair. I think that's his belief. You know, I feel, in relation to the position, that you should not have freedom of choice. I think, if you are going to give freedom of choice, you've got to give a 12-year-old kid the freedom of choice to get a driver's license at 12. He's physically able to do it and maybe physically able to operate the automobile, but we put a limit of being 16 or 18 or whatever the criteria.

I don't think criteria should ever be just because a person is physically able to do something. I think emotionally, psychologically, and whether that person is able to function properly to his benefit and to the benefit of society is far more significant than his physical capability of doing things.

BLITZER: Well, let's Billy Hunter respond to that point.

HUNTER: Well, my position, again, is that there are two things going on here. I think what we do is we tend to lose sight of the ball. You've got to watch the ball very closely. The issue is economics, and nobody talks about economics. The colleges make millions of dollars, billions of dollars, from players coming to college, participating in sport, and then ultimately coming to the NBA or not making it. Up until 1995, and it's ironic that we happen to be here today, it is the 30th year of the month in which the Haywood rule was rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court. And the reality is that, until 1995, there were handful of players who came into the league. But in '95, with the advent of the rookie salary cap, et cetera, players began to come out, realizing that if they had to spend another three years in apprenticeship in the NBA, they would just as soon come out now then serve it so they have an opportunity to make the big money. And that is what we are talking about, it's economics.

BLITZER: The WNBA does have age requirement. Where's Val?

You have a 20 year requirement to play in the Women's National Basketball Association. Should the men be following the women's lead in this front?

VALERIE ACKERMAN, PRESIDENT OF THE WNBA: Well, I can tell you it is not just 20, it is 22. It is 22, and we have had that since the very beginning when we launched in '97. And I can tell you that then and now we really did think it was not only in best interests of the league but the players for the WNBA to be a post-collegiate experience.

I think everyone in our league has benefited from it. We have a league which is able to access players who are not only physically capable but they are mature, in terms of their ability to adjust to the rigors of professional sports. We have players who benefit from the collegiate experience and the richness of that. And in fact, we have a 95 percent graduation rate among players, because they have had opportunity go to college and get their degrees. And also for us, it's enabled the women's college game to stay very vibrant, and that's critical to us as league. We need a strong college game in order for women's pro basketball to be successful. And by having players there for four years, they get the benefit of that as well.

BLITZER: This discussion is just beginning. It is going to get a little bit more intense. We have to take a quick break.

When we return, we will continue our discussion about the role of age in today's NBA. Our special NBA town meeting will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to this special NBA town meeting. We're discussing issues facing the league as it prepares to showcase its stars later tonight here in Washington.

And if you'd like to participate online, join us on our CNN town meeting chat at cnn.com, cnn.com/all-stars.

One of those All-Stars, Tim Duncan, a great player. You spent four years at Wake Forest before moving to the NBA. With hindsight, was that a mistake, those four years that you could have been making millions and millions of dollars? You're making it now, but you could have been enjoying four additional years of your limited capability over the number of years to make a lot more money. Was it a mistake?

TIM DUNCAN, PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER: Well, not for me. I feel college is a great time for people to mature mentally and physically, and I thought without those four years of college I wouldn't be the player I am today. A lot of these kids come out, they come out early, and that's their dream, that's what they've been working their whole life for, and you can't fault them for that. You've got to give them that choice. But college is a great time to mature on and off the court, and it's a great environment to do it too.

BLITZER: Let's bring in an agent, basketball agent Curtis Polk. Among others, you represent Michael Jordan, a few other players of that caliber, I take it. You have strong views on this issue, don't you?

CURTIS POLK, BASKETBALL AGENT: Well, my views are -- at the top of the show, you used the word "encourage," which I think is the important word for today. I would ask both the commissioner and Billy Hunter, the union has the ability to counsel kids that are looking to forego college and join the NBA at an early age. And the league has 29 general managers, and their job is whether they pick these kids or not. And I think that if the team general managers and the union went strongly to the kids to let them know who could make it and who couldn't, then that would control a lot of this.

I think clearly there are some kids like a Kobe Bryant, a Kevin Garnett who have flourished in the league after joining it after high school. And I'd like to ask both of them: Barring a set rule where they can't join to a certain age, what steps are being taken to properly counsel the kids that wouldn't be able to be successful in the league?

BLITZER: You want me to ask that to David Stern?

David Stern, what steps are being taken?

STERN: We have a committee of general managers that answers questions about where players will get drafted. And a very large number of players disregard that advice, forgo their education, get drafted, or don't get drafted and then they can't even go back to school or they can't make it in the league, and basically their lives are ruined.

BLITZER: Michael Jordan, you're an owner now. You're not a player anymore. So you could shape a lot of these young kids' decisions whether to go to college or go right into the NBA.

JORDAN: You could, and in all honestly, you have to take that into consideration. And if that kid is mature enough to play on this level, what is his process, what is the time frame. Sometimes big guys take a little bit longer than more agile, versatile guys.

So I mean, it's definitely a consideration that we have to go through. It would make it a lot easier if we have some considerations coming from the players' association as well as certain standards that are set out by the NBA.

But if it's clear cut with no guidelines, then we have to take an approach of, you know, this guy, either he's going to be able to come to the Washington Wizards or he's going to go to the Los Angeles Lakers. And that's just -- you know, either you would make the choice for yourself or you let someone else make the choice. The kid is going to be chosen if he's qualified to get on this level.

BLITZER: All right, let's get a comment from one of our participants up here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, I'm Charles Scott. I played 10 years in the NBA. I went to the University of North Carolina.

And my biggest problem with this is that, if I send my kid to college, I'm making the university and the coaching staff responsible for his maturation. But if goes into the NBA, even though he's making money, who's taking care of that surrogate family part for him? Because he's still a kid; he's still a minor. He has just got more money than other minors, but he's still a minor.

And I think that discipline is being missed because we've given them money, but we have no surrogate family. Whereas in college, I expect the coaching staff and I expect the university to educate my kid, to socially blend him in, but also to discipline him. I think those are the things that are missing when you send him to the NBA.

I don't say he shouldn't go to the NBA, but I think that the NBA and the players' association have to deal with that problem.

BLITZER: Let me ask Darius Miles. Darius, how old are you? You're only 19 years old. Is anyone doing for you now at the Los Angeles Clippers, where Charles Scott recommends counseling you, giving you advice, helping you deal with these enormous problems you are presumably facing right now?

DARIUS MILES, BASKETBALL PLAYER: No, it's not like that. It is just, when you decide to go to the NBA, you got to turn from a boy to a man very quickly. I got a mom behind me, she's big behind me. She disciplines me well. I brought her down here with me. She tells me the right things from wrong things, and, you know, I'm going to have to learn from my mistakes.

BLITZER: All right.

So, Coach Thompson, you heard that nobody is really helping him at the Los Angeles Clippers deal with some of these problems.

THOMPSON: But I mean, if the Los Angeles Lakers are qualified to help him, or the Clippers or whoever it is in the NBA. These people are in business of basketball. What Charlie referred to is an educational process.

And I'm certainly for anybody making money, but in the same token you can't get a person who has expertise alone in basketball and expect them to then start teaching him the kind of things that Mr. Scott was talking about. That is not the function of the league. You hear people theoretically talking about those things.

You had a young man in Dallas that went through a tremendous emotional problem. The very first thing I heard people say was they were going to get a former player to talk to him. That is ridiculous. A former player is not capable of talking to somebody who has that kind of a problem. You need to get a professional person who is capable of dealing with that.

BLITZER: Let's take another comment. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, hi, my name Craig Bernstein (ph). And I just want to say, this is America. I mean, it is the land of the free. If these kids have God-given talent to be able to play professional basketball, they certainly ought to be able to do it.

But let me say Mr. Thompson, I don't agree with you. I think that if the league is bringing these young people into play basketball, then I think it is incumbent upon the league and players' association to really give them all backup that they need as far as, as Mr. Scott said, family support, in all different types of professional help, in support to become a successful member of society. And I think it is incumbent upon the NBA to do that.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

SCOTT: On behalf of the NBA and the union, let me say that we have the most extensive employee assistance program probably in all of professional sports. From the moment the rookies come in, to regular visits by staff to weekly phone calls to everybody, to counseling, to attempting them to helping them to get their degrees and preparing them for post-NBA life.

BLITZER: You heard Darius Miles say nobody is counseling him.

SCOTT: Well, I don't know what the answer there is. Because of course I have spoken to his particular agent as well, and I think that he is being assisted.

But let me say, there are limits every place. This is about line-drawing. Right now, we have an age limit in NBA which happens to be 18. On the basis of what I just heard this gentleman say, if a player is competent to play at 16, why should we limit him at 18? But the reality is we are responsible for drawing lines. And the question before us today is 18 the right line, is 19 or is 20? I'm with Coach Thompson.

BLITZER: Let's hear from a high school...

QUESTION: Can I respond?

BLITZER: You certainly may.

QUESTION: I want to respond to both to Mr. Scott and to Coach Thompson. Let me say in the case of Leon Smith that I was grossly involved in, everyone knew that Leon had psychological problems growing up in Chicago. This was this kid's situation -- it was an aberration, a severe aberration. He lived in at least six or seven foster homes. So you are right. He was drafted, he was brought to Dallas and was just left for the most part to go on his own. And the union stepped up and the league stepped up to try to provide whatever support we can for Leon.

In the case of the young men who generally come out -- and Charlie says what do you do if you send your kid to college or he comes to pros, I would assume that if you spend enough time with your children when they are young, you don't wait until 18 or 19 or 20 to try to help direct them.

HUNTER: My mother always taught me that you straighten a tree when it is young, and I also believe that the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.

We are taught now by psychologists and statistics and others that by the time a child is three or four years of age, his mind is pretty much formed.

I have watched Darius Miles, and he is extremely disciplined, a very nice young man, and a rather mature young man for his age, and so I don't anticipate seeing him having any problems.

BLITZER: All right. Coach Thompson is itching to get in. We'll get to you. We've got a high school coach who's dying to say something as well.

We have a lot more to talk about, including this question: Are today's NBA players good role models? Should they even be expected to be role models? Our panel and audience will weigh in on those questions and much more when our NBA town meeting continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of Washington, D.C. Just a few hours from now, the NBA's 50th annual All-Star game gets under way. And on this all-star Sunday, we're taking a looking at some of the key issues facing the NBA.

Coach Thompson, you were anxious to say something in response to what Billy Hunter was saying about the freedom some of these players should have and the requirements of the teams to make sure 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds can do what they're expected to do, that they're mature enough to do it.

THOMPSON: Well, you know, I've had an opportunity to travel throughout the NBA the last two years. I have met some of the finest people that I've encountered in basketball, I'm not questioning that. Some of the young men that are playing in the NBA are some of the finest men that I have encountered.

But what I'm saying is that the NBA is not equipped to go in the education business. Inter-collegiate athletics is not equipped to go in it, regardless of whether the parent has done what she could do. I don't know any parents that can prepare a young man for life in the NBA.

BLITZER: All right, we have a high school coach, Chavez, tell us who you are and what your views are.

CHAVEZ MABRY, HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL COACH: I'm the head basketball coach at T.C. Williams, remember the Titans and...

BLITZER: That's in Virginia where we are right now.

MABRY: Exactly. And I brought two players with me. If you looked at The Washington Post yesterday, Jason Ingraham, 6'4" guard, he scored 27 points, helped us win the district the other night.

And this fellow here, he's a 6'8" sophomore. His name is Darion Towns, he broke the state record that was held by the gentleman over there, Alonzo Mourning. He blocked 16 blocks in one game.

There's no doubt about it. All the time, you know, people who are not aware really the business, who's looking at this big payday and that's what it's all about once again. It's a residual effect that we have to deal with where kids start hearing, man, you can go pro if you keep this up and you lift weights, you can go pro just like this other guy. Because they're looking at a payday for them. Which I know that it comes down to a maturity thing as you look at Michael Jordan, how articulate he is. I don't think that just started with him doing two years of high school and then he turned pro.

BLITZER: Let me hear from your two players, briefly, how they feel about this notion of going.

(LAUGHTER)

MABRY: Camera shy, you see? Camera shy.

BLITZER: He's only a sophomore in high school, and he's a tall guy already.

But how do you feel about this whole issue, this whole debate? Should you be -- you don't want to say anything?

DARION TOWNS, HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYER: No.

BLITZER: He's shy. When he's in the NBA, he won't be that shy.

MABRY: But that's what I'm talking about. You know, getting in front of the camera is all part of maturing, and I think that comes in effect when you get to college and you are around mentors and you're taking those classes that help you -- you know public speaking, help you to get more aware who you are and not afraid of what words you should say, not to be embarrassed and all of those things.

BLITZER: We have a high school player up here who wants to say something, go ahead.

CHRIS WALKER, HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYER: How you doing? My name is Chris Walker, and I got a teammate here, Kevin Green. But I'm just saying I'm a senior, and I'm about 6'8". I believe that if I got a contract slapped right in front of me, I'd take it. A million-dollar contract, I think any player would take it.

But I believe that as a maturity, from a player's standpoint, I'm not mature enough to play in the NBA. I'm 17 years old, I'm not even not even allowed to buy cigarettes, you know. I can't do anything that a grown man can do yet.

I'm 17 years old, and I believe I couldn't play with Alonzo Mourning or Tim Duncan or anything. But I believe that if I did get a contract slapped in front of me, let's say, do you want to make however million-dollars a year, I would take it.

BLITZER: What about that Michael Jordan? What do you think?

JORDAN: Well, I understand that. I think that's definitely the issue. I think if we could have some type of guidelines not giving that kid the choice and let him take a more reasonable choice in terms of going to college, I think I can address exactly what the coach was talking about in terms of speaking in these environments. You know coming out of high school, this is a tough -- it's tough to stand in front of people and talk. And without me going through college my first three years, where Coach Smith advised us to take speaking classes -- I'm pretty sure Charlie Smith understood that -- that it prepares you for some of the advantages and some of the disadvantages of what you have to deal with in front of the public.

BLITZER: Spencer, we're going to get to you in a second.

I want to bring in Alonzo Mourning, one of the role models of the NBA. Should these players be role models? You're an excellent role model, you've done wonderful things over these years, but is that a requirement?

ALONZO MOURNING, PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER: Unfortunately, I think that a lot of us are placed in role model positions, and we're in a position where we can control a lot of situations because we have a huge impact on our young people.

Some of our young people, they care to hear what we have to say before they even hear their parents. So that's forcing us to kind of live our lives under a microscope and be perfect, and people fail to realize that we we're human beings just like everybody else. So we're going to make mistakes.

But at the same time, I don't want to be forcing anyone to be a role model, because you're forcing someone pretty much to be perfect. I want to pretty much live my life to where I inspire kids to want to do well and continue to teach them to don't lose perspective that you're going to make mistakes in your life, but at the same time, as long as you have a good heart, a good soul, and you're promoting and doing the right things, then that's pretty much the only thing that matters.

And kind of alluding to what Michael was saying, I'm all for that. I think the two, three, four years in college is a way for you to prepare yourself not just in the classroom but just picking up life experiences. Knowing how to address yourself, knowing how to greet people, things of that nature. Those things are so extremely important, and you really can't, like Coach Thompson said, you really can't teach that on an NBA level. You understand what I'm saying? You have to go through some type of transition before you even get there to be prepared to understand the everyday valuable and tangible things and ways of life.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to continue this.

Alonzo, we're going to talk to you a little bit more later.

We've got a lot more to talk about. When we come back, we're going to talk not only about the image, the role models, what all of the other issues facing the NBA.

There's some other hot button issues as well, including this one: life after Michael. Can the NBA bounce back from losing number 23? Ratings are down, attendance is down. We'll talk about that and much more when our NBA town meeting returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our NBA town meeting: Pro basketball isn't drawing the television viewers that it did during the Michael Jordan era. The ratings tell the story. During the 1999-2000 season, the NBA's network TV ratings dropped by 20 percent, and so far during the 2000- 2001 season, ratings have dropped an additional 17 percent.

Spencer Haywood, is there a problem that the NBA has here, why viewers apparently after Michael Jordan are not watching as much as they used to watch?

HAYWOOD: Well, no, it is going -- the NBA has had the '60s when we had growing pains, we had the '70s through growing pains, and then the '80s was very good, and the '90s was very good. But I got a solution for that problem. I think if all 29 owners would put in some money for Michael Jordan, I think he would come back.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

HAYWOOD: I think he would come back, and, Commissioner, you can address that issue, Tim Duncan, you guys.

BLITZER: Michael Jordan, you single-handedly could turn those ratings, the attendance records, you could turn it around if you just changed your mind. You have done it before.

JORDAN: You know, in all honesty, a lot of people want to attribute that to Michael Jordan during the era that he played. I think a lot was the effort and the way we played, to some degree. And it took the -- you know, I was in the league for a long period of time when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and those guys were winning. Mature guys, they were playing a style of basketball that the fans really enjoyed.

And then, when I got to the point where my team was mature to some degree and we started playing that type of basketball, I think that was something that the fans loved. And I think it is some of that has dropped off over the last couple of years.

QUESTIOIN: Would you come back if the -- each owner, each 29 owners, would throw in some money, would you come back?

JORDAN: You know that it is not permissible.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: We've got a negotiation going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to negotiate, go talk to David.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, there is a possibility there.

BLITZER: We'll bring David Falk (ph) in in a moment.

But, David Stern, some people have suggested -- and you know this -- that the reason fans are being turned off to the game is because some of these young players are not necessarily role models that they want their own kids to emulate.

STERN: Well, Wolf, you asked for a short answer, but I can't give you a short one. All I can tell you is that in 1979 or '80, the NBA was a relatively small business, and now it is a very large business and a very successful one. Your attendance numbers are wrong, your ratings numbers are wrong, but far be it for me to spend time correcting CNN on the air.

The reality is that the game tonight is going to show -- be shown in 206 countries around the world. Hundreds of millions of people are going to tune in via nba.com, and our young players are growing up.

It's better to be mature than it is to be growing, but that's life, and what the NBA does is reflect life. We are proud to reflect life, we are proud to focus people on issues the way we are today. And this is very much a prism that helps the world look at itself.

So we think things are actually pretty good, although I wouldn't turn Michael down if, at the right price, he was interested in discussing it.

BLITZER: All right. Charles Scott, you are anxious to say something about that.

SCOTT: Well, I think one of the problems is that when Darius says he has a problem, then Commissioner Stern says he doesn't have a problem. The kid says he has a problem, he says no one is helping him, and David said, yes, you are being helped. Well, somewhere along the line the communications are lost.

I mean, because I'm saying, if you are going to tell this kid after he says he -- no one is helping him, you say, well, yes, you are being helped, then somewhere along the line communications are lost. And I don't think that we're really getting the right answer.

STERN: I don't think he said he had a problem.

Darius, do you have a problem?

SCOTT: No one is helping him.

DARIUS: No, I don't have no problems.

SCOTT: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

SCOTT: That is a good way to answer, David.

BLITZER: It's good to be commissioner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One great thing that is taking place that I have seen, and with the Dallas Mavericks, is they have players like Orlando Blackman, Kiki Vanderway (ph) and a number of other players who are sitting behind the bench and mentoring and working with those players. And I have seen the Dallas Mavericks grow from just a mediocre team to a team to be contended with. So, I think that with the older players coming and getting involved, I think that we can make a difference.

BLITZER: All right, we are going take another quick break. We have a lot more to talk about. The conversation is heating up a little bit.

When we return, the price of admission. Are ticket prices and players' salaries keeping more and more fans way from the games? We'll tackle that issue and a lot more when our NBA town meeting continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our NBA town meeting. A key concern of the NBA fans these days: rising ticket prices. Nationwide, the average NBA ticket costs $51.02. A ticket to L.A. Lakers game costs even more, on average $87.69. And the average ticket to a New York Knicks game costs still more, $91.15. Is the NBA hurting itself by pricing fans out of the game? Let's get two comments from two fans. Go ahead with your comments.

QUESTION: It seems to me that if you take a family of four at those ticket prices, it becomes completely unaffordable. A lot of the kids who are looking up to these players as role models absolutely cannot afford go to a game, they can maybe watch on TV but that is it.

BLITZER: All right, what about over here?

QUESTION: My name is David Stable. Until last year, I was a Washington Wizards season ticket holder. I wouldn't mind paying the $85 a ticket, but the fan experience for me didn't seem to be what it was. And I was going to ask the commissioner in the panel, whether the league wanted me back as a fan and fans like me, and if so what they plan to do about that.

BLITZER: David Stern.

STERN: We want you back. But I first I would ask whether he's complaining about the performance on the court, which I can't control. That is Michael Jordan's job.

(LAUGHTER)

But in terms of the fan experience, we want you back, and we would like to bring you back. But just as there is no such thing as an average news host -- there's no such thing as an average ticket price. You don't buy an average ticket price. And the reality is that there are 500 tickets in each of our buildings at $10 apiece, and every one of those teams has promotions that allow families to come in for $79 with a hot dog and a Big Mac, et cetera, et cetera.

So it is true, though, that at the season ticket level, it's a big price, and if we're not satisfying you, we have to find a way to make you want to come back and to make that entertainment experience worthy your time.

BLITZER: David Faulk, you are a big time basketball agent. You represent Michael Jordan, among a lot of other players, excellent players. A lot of people think these big ticket prices are the result of huge salaries these are guys are getting as a result and that you are part of the problem in dealing with these kinds of salaries.

(LAUGHTER)

FAULK: That's true.

STERN: I think clearly in this discussion there are pervasive social issues about players coming out early, but when you talk about ticket prices and families going to games and declining television revenues, you emphasize the point they are in entertainment industry, just like Turner.

And I think the issue to be confronted with players coming out is, David and Billy are the stewards of our business. If we don't better control, you know, the name value of the players coming into the league, then future Darius Miles down road wouldn't have a chance to earn the kind of salaries if the ratings continue to get soft.

And so I think this is an issue of controlling a business. And when John explains like driving a car -- I'm in a business, I'm a lawyer, I couldn't go into the legal profession without a license. There's got to be reasonable regulations that will protect and control the future growth of the game.

BLITZER: Let me ask Billy Hunter to respond to that because he has strong views.

HUNTER: Well, you know I think I have said it. We currently have in place a rule that says if a kid has to at least graduated -- or rather his class, had to have graduated from high school. But we keep focusing on those young players coming out of high school.

I think that the area that the league is concerned about are those players who leave college the first or second year. Because we talk about high school players, we've got probably six of most marketable guys currently in this league, at least three of most marketable guys are guys who came directly from high school: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Barnett, Tracey McGrady.

Michael Jordan, I think, signed Darius Miles to a contract for Michael's apparel company. And I think Michael indicated himself, a year or two ago, that if Darius was available, he would draft him. And I think they were projecting that Darius was going to be the first pick in the first round. So I think there is some inconsistency in what is we are saying.

And I'm not saying everybody should come. But I'm saying if a kid demonstrates the ability, you know, if the league and the teams spend a lot of money investigating his performance, talking to prospective agents and other folk, and they elect to draft him, then it is his choice -- either come or go to school. Or he can be like an Isaiah Thomas who went back to school or like some of the guys like Chris Webber left went back and got a degree.

BLITZER: I want to bring Bob Lanier, one of my idols, Bob Lanier from Bennett High School in Buffalo, New York. A lot of people used to remember, when you played the game, they said that the level of play in the NBA was a lot better when you were there than it is right now. What do you say?

LANIER: I think it was just a little bit different, different because, we, like Tim Duncan, went through this experience of going to school for four years, and I don't think that you can substitute.

I disagree with Billy in a sense, that if a kid is physically ready doesn't mean the rigors and the challenges of this on a mental side, that you are prepared for it.

Michael talked about articulation a little bit earlier, and then Val Ackerman talked about the whole idea of just the physical and mental preparation that college life gives you to be able go into the pros, and it helps our college system, the NCAA, and it helps our game presentation as well.

All of these things are interrelated, and I think both sides, the NBA and the players' association, have to come to some kind of grips, and say, "We are going to do what's best for the game of basketball."

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue this discussion, Bob Lanier. I guess you went after Bennett High School to Saint Bonaventure, then played basketball in the NBA for a few years.

We are going to take another break. Up next, the final minutes of our NBA town meeting. When we come back, we will talk about the future. I will ask our panel: if they could make one change to the NBA right now, what would that change be? Our NBA town meeting will continue in just a moment. As the NBA prepares to hold its all-star game later today here in Washington, we are taking a look at a live picture of MCI Center. We have been talking about the challenges facing pro basketball with some of the legends of the game and perhaps some of the future legends as well. So if they could make one change to the NBA, then what would that be? That is our question.

Before we get to the panel, I want to ask Shamique Holtzclaw (ph), what change she would make. You are a star for the Washington Mystics in the WNBA.

HOLTZCLAW: If I could make one change about the NBA, it would probably be ticket sales. Because I remember growing up in New York City, you know, my grandmother always couldn't afford to go watch the Knicks play. I probably went to one game and also probably the tattoos.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Tim Duncan, do you have tattoos?

DUNCAN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We are not going to ask where, but tell us what change you would make if you could make one change.

DUNCAN: To tell the truth, I enjoy the NBA and what it is today. I know we have talked about having Michael back and everything else. There's only one Michael Jordan but there are 20 or 30 guys out there that are very marketable, they are very great players that make this league a very competitive league, and fun to watch on a lot more nights than just Michael Jordan nights.

BLITZER: What about that Billy Hunter? What change would you make?

HUNTER: I would probably spend a lot more time marketing many of the good things that our players do. For example, I know Alonzo and I have talked about this kidney foundation thing he is setting up for research. We got P.J. Brown and Grant Newton who set up foundation for bone marrows. Chris Webber has done great things in Detroit. Steve Smith just gave another $1 million to Michigan State University. And I think those things need be put out there.

STERN: I'd actually make the change we are talking about here, because I think in one swoop, we could help restore the college game, we could help the NBA game, and most importantly, we could send a message that there is something more important than playing in NBA and that is growing into life.

BLITZER: Michael.

JORDON: Being a former player, I guess I can speak in terms of the game. I would just like to see more dedication from players to the game of basketball. That was there before any of us was around, you know, back even when Spencer played.

I think you feel like you got to have some dedication to the game of basketball. And I think that is what the fans see. Every night, if they see a dedication to game of basketball, they are going to pay the price, they are going to have admiration for these players.

BLITZER: Coach Thompson.

THOMPSON: I probably would agree with Commissioner Stern. I'm concerned about advocating leaving school as it influences kids who are not able to be in the NBA, because just as the players are role models the league has served as role model, too.

We always talk about the guy who comes in who is capable, but the perception, particularly in the black and poor community, is that the league has educated people and kids tend to aspire to be what are they.

BLITZER: Spencer.

HAYWOOD: I would like to see more fundamentals being taught with the younger players, with the current players. Tim Duncan is great example of just solid fundamentals. I see that.

And I think the press should be a little bit lighter on some of the players like Alan Iverson and some of the others. These are good quality people.

And I also want to say to my good friend here, Alonzo Mourning, good luck.

BLITZER: We'll all say good luck to Alonzo. We're going to get to Alonzo in a second.

Where is Bill Willoughby? You made a move right from high school, right to the NBA. Was it a mistake to avoid college, looking back knowing what you know right now?

WILLOUGHBY: No, I don't think it was a mistake. A lot of players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, they had a lot more success than me. But I know you can't play basketball your whole life, so I went back to school and I got my degree.

I have talked to Darius and I have encouraged him to start school and finish his degree, and to let kids know that basketball and academics, they go hand in hand. You know, when you go to school, basketball is an extracurricular activity. So I'd like to tell the NBA to have all the players to finish school, you know and that would be good.

BLITZER: OK, we will give last word to Alonzo Mourning. He deserves the last word. What one change, Alonzo, would you make if you could make one change right now?

MOURNING: I'm going to support Commissioner Stern, as well as Coach Thompson, and pretty much allude to fact that we need to try to find a solution to the problem that we have with our young people coming to the league this unprepared.

And physically, yes, they might be prepared. Some of them. Some of them, it takes three, four years, statistics have shown. But we need the players' association as well as the NBA to come together, to find a solution and prepare our young people for the NBA's level of play as well as the atmosphere.

BLITZER: All right. Alonzo Mourning, thank you.

Of course, all of us hope Alonzo will be back on the court sooner rather than later. If we had our way, it would be tomorrow you would be back. Maybe even tonight we would see you on the court. We hope you have speedy recovery.

That's all the time we have for this special NBA town meeting. I would like to thank our distinguished panel, our audience for participating today.

And for those of you who missed the first hour Late Edition earlier with Secretary of State Colin Powell, we will replay that at 7 p.m. Eastern tonight.

And I'll be back tomorrow night 8 p.m. Eastern on Wolf Blitzer Reports.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Newseum.

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