Overseeing all of Soviet sport is the Ministry of Sports and Physical Culture, a branch of the government with thousands of employees. "If it sweats or wears Adidas, the ministry has a hand in it," says Bob Wussler, a Turner Broadcasting System executive who often travels to Moscow to negotiate deals for Turner. Below the ministry are the subsidiaries Goskomsport and Sovintersport. Technically, the former is responsible for sports and sports marketing within the U.S.S.R., and the latter handles those matters outside the country. But in practice, American teams must deal with both organizations, and neither has a shortage of officials to deal with. "You go from one person to another, and you're never sure you're making headway," says Bucky Buckwalter, Portland's vice-president of basketball operations.
Negotiating with Moscow is only the first of the bureaucratic hassles for the NBA teams. In Lithuania there's also a local sports ministry and a basketball federation, each with a full complement of paper movers, pencil pushers and decision makers.
A final factor damming up the negotiations—as of Sunday, the three Soviet athletes were unsigned—is internal Soviet wrangling over which agency gets what percentage of the players' contract money. (It's estimated that the Soviets have been offered $200,000 for Fetisov, $300,000 to $350,000 for Marchulenis and $800,000 to $1 million for Sabonis.) The Hawks, for example, understand that their contract would be not with Marchulenis but with Sovintersport, which would in turn divvy up the pie as it sees fit. "That's their business," says Wussler, "but obviously we want certain guarantees: that the player receives enough money to get a home, a car, enough to eat, English lessons, those kind of things." These matters have come up in discussions with the Soviets.
And they will come up again Oct. 23, when Wussler and Turner travel to Moscow for a week of business meetings, Marchulenis being "at the top of the agenda," according to Wussler. "In the Soviet Union there's never a shortage of people to say no. What we need is someone to step in and say yes."
Marchulenis was thinking the same thing. "Everyone is afraid to accept responsibility," he said last week from his home in Vilnius. "I hope someone does. I want to go to Atlanta. And I want to go soon."