SI Vault
Edited by Douglas S. Looney
July 18, 1977
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July 18, 1977


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The dispute that erupted last week between the New York Knicks and the New York Nets over where the Nets will play next season is potentially more important than a simple local squabble. Even during the ABA championship seasons, when Julius Erving was in full flight, Roy Boe's Nets didn't draw well at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. So Boe wants to move across the Hudson River to the New Jersey Meadowlands, where Sonny Werblin & Co. would be happy to build a 20,000-seat arena for him. The Knicks say no, citing an agreement on territorial rights that, they claim, bars the Nets from making such a move.

Last week NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien had the two sides in to his office for an hour of fruitless discussion, during which they both declined his suggestion that the conflict be arbitrated. Then the Nets went off to court and filed a two-part action.

First, they said, the agreement with the Knicks does not prevent them from moving to New Jersey. The wording of the agreement is complicated enough so that a court might have to interpret it. O'Brien and the NBA could, if need be, tolerate that. That is hard enough for them to swallow.

What left them aghast, and what has shaken owners and commissioners in every pro sport, was the second part of the Nets' action, which asserted broadly that the whole idea of enforcing territorial rights was unconstitutional. This, according to O'Brien, is an attack on the core of professional sports. "Without territorial rights," he said, "a league cannot survive." Moreover, given the tenor of recent decisions on matters involving the special position of professional sports, there is nothing the NBA relishes less than having an issue of this magnitude bobbing around in the courts.

O'Brien's style is to resolve disputes through patient and quiet negotiation, as he did when the legality of the college draft was challenged by Oscar Robertson. He now must summon those considerable talents again—and not only on his own behalf.


An odd couple walking arm in arm these days is ABC Sports and fight promoter Don King. The two strolled earlier this year: King lined up the fighters and arranged the U.S. Boxing Championships: ABC picked up the tab and put the bouts on the home screen. Soon, however, there were reports of boxers' records being phonied, kickbacks and other misdeeds. ABC suspended the tournament in April, promised a thorough investigation and looked darkly in King's direction.

A report on the network's investigation is supposed to be ready next month. In the meantime, ABC is back with King in the promotion and telecast of the Nov. 5 bout in Las Vegas between Ken Norton and Jimmy Young. ( King, who has contracts with both boxers, sold the television rights to their fight to ABC.) On the surface, this smacks of going partners in a new business with a guy you suspect of running around with your wife.

Jim Spence, ABC vice-president in charge of sports planning, says, "We discussed at length whether we should do this with King. We do hold him responsible for some of the previous problems, but he is not accused of any personal wrongdoing. The main thing is Norton-Young is an outstanding fight and we're in the business of presenting outstanding fights."

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