Pro league in works for 17-24-year-olds Feeder for NBA seen

local stock sale today

December 08, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

For Bethesda-based lawyer Bruce Stern, it was a vision that formed nearly 15 years ago when he was an undergraduate at UCLA -- forming a professional basketball league consisting of mostly young, just out of high school players.

"I thought about it for some time, but I just sat on it," said Stern, who specializes in business litigation and general corporate work. "But right now, I think the time is right."

Thus is the origin of the National Rookie League, a six-team league scheduled to begin play next June that will give high school athletes the opportunity to turn professional instead of going to college. Today, as much as $875,000 in stock will be offered for the Baltimore Blaze, one of four teams the league bills as "community owned."

The league is hoping to become a minor league for the NBA, although the age limit will be 17 to 24 and nobody will be allowed to play in the league more than four years. The NRL also will offer educational programs, with the partnership of a major university expected to be announced this week.

Proposed basketball leagues geared toward young players are nothing new. The Collegiate Professional Basketball League, aimed at college-age players, announced last week that it had picked up a $1.2 million sponsorship from Lycos Inc.

The Teen-age Professional Basketball League, aimed at high school youngsters, has been in discussion for years. The same is true for the International Basketball League, a Pittsburgh-based operation.

But the proposed leagues have been all talk. Stern, president and founder of the NRL, who is no relation to NBA commissioner David Stern, is confident that today's stock sale is the first step toward making the league a reality next year.

Stern said the league already has a television contract with Access Television, a network that is driven by music video programming.

"We'll be able to get into 25 million homes nationwide," Stern said. "Had we attempted this league five years ago, we would have been blasted by the media. But public perception has changed.

"The NBA opened the door to this when they drafted Kevin Garnett out of high school," Stern added. "The fact that the NCAA has raised its admissions standards creates a talent pool and opens up a lot of doors for us."

When the league begins, each team will play 30 games. All six clubs will be on the East Coast, which will cut down on travel

costs (all travel will be by bus).

Former Maryland and Dunbar coach Bob Wade, the curriculum specialist for Baltimore City Public Schools, declined an offer to coach the Baltimore team, but will act as the chairman of the Blaze.

"I think it's really going to benefit those young people who don't take advantage of opportunities presented to themselves," Wade said. "It's going to help high school kids looking to capture their dream right now."

That said, Wade said he is not an advocate of high school-age youths forsaking educations for professional basketball careers.

"It's not enticing kids not to go to school -- that's the key, because I would not be involved if that was what this was all about," Wade said. "For those who want to perfect their skills and catch the eyes of NBA scouts, that's what this is all about."

Other teams are the Washington Justice (coached by ex-NBA guard Michael Adams); Gotham City (N.Y.) Knights; Philadelphia Force; Boston Storm and Hampton Roads (Va.) Thunder.

The stock offerings for Baltimore and Washington begin today, with the future of the teams dependent on a minimum of $500,000 raised. Stock will be sold for the Philadelphia and Boston teams next month. The teams in New York and Hampton Roads will be owned by private groups.

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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