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NBA dives into summer with first lockout

The NBA, enveloped in labor turmoil of the type that canceled long stretches of games in baseball and hockey, decided Friday to lock out its players at 12:01 a.m. today.

With the league unable to reach a new labor deal with its players, commissioner David Stern said the NBA was taking a painful but necessary step. If the stoppage carries into the season, it will be the first time labor trouble has affected the schedule.

"It's a shame that the success we and our players have enjoyed as a result of working together is now in jeopardy," Stern said in a statement Friday afternoon.

Donald Royal, the Orlando Magic's representative to the NBA Players Association, called the owners' decision "disheartening."

On June 21, the league and the union announced a tentative agreement on a six-year contract to replace the one that expired in June 1994. It called for added revenues that would be shared with players, a rise in the salary cap from $15-million to $23-million, a luxury tax intended to tighten the cap, and a rookie cap.

"The owners had all agreed to the agreement," Royal said, "but when we backed out, I guess they felt they had to take this stance."

Opposition by Michael Jordan and other big-name players divided the union and scuttled a ratification vote. They asked the National Labor Relations Board to decertify the union, and a hearing is set for Wednesday in New York.

"If we had decertified, they could not have locked us out," Royal said. "But if they decide to decertify now, the league could sue the players. I don't think that's an option any longer."

"The deal reached last week was the product of 18 months of hard-fought good-faith bargaining," said NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik, a member of the negotiating team. "If that deal is no longer acceptable to the players, then we are prepared to keep negotiating."

Simon Gourdine, the union's executive director, said he thinks an agreement is possible. No talks were scheduled, however.

"We all realize next season's at risk, and we have to try to make a deal," Granik said.

The league and players had been operating under a no-strike, no-lockout agreement reached Oct. 27. That deal, already extended when the playoffs ended, expired at midnight Friday.

"We believe this will force the players to come together," Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer representing the dissident players, said of the lockout. "We expect everyone will now realize there is no collective bargaining in this sport anymore and the courts will be the proper place to resolve this."

The lockout prohibits teams from negotiating or signing contracts with free agents and the rookies selected in Wednesday's draft. No summer leagues or tryouts will be conducted, and players will not be permitted to work out at team facilities. They normally are paid year-round but will not be during the lockout.

Because the NBA has been operating under the old rules while negotiations on a new agreement were going, teams had until today to extend qualifying offers to their restricted free agents.

The Magic's only restricted free agent is starting small forward Dennis Scott, who earned $3.2-million last season. A qualifying offer would have pushed Scott's salary to about $4-million, and Orlando seeks a lower salary.

Around the league

Rodman case: The U.S. District Court jury in Atlanta ruled against Lisa Beth Judd, a former Hawks cheerleader who alleged that Spurs forward Dennis Rodman gave her herpes. Judd sought $1.83-million. Jurors deliberated less than four hours after four days of testimony. Afterward, Rodman signed autographs for them and joked about giving his hair a new dye job.

Bulls-Lakers: Chicago sent reserve power forward Corie Blount (3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game this season) to Los Angeles for future considerations. "We've made it one of our top priorities to improve our front line during the off-season," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "Corie's acquisition will certainly help in that department, and we're very happy to have him on our team." Blount was a first-round draft choice two years ago, but The Bulls drafted Alabama's Jason Caffey on Wednesday.

Heat-Knicks: A day after New York filed tampering charges, Miami asked it for permission to speak to Pat Riley, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported. Knicks general manager Ernie Grunfeld said his team would not grant permission "at this time. We're exploring all options, and we will get back to them." Riley resigned June 15 with one year left on his contract.

_ Staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this story.

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