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BUFFALO JOINS NEW PRO BASKETBALL LEAGUE

The red, white and blue basketball is back. And it's coming to Buffalo.

The ABA 2000, a revitalized version of the American Basketball Association, has awarded an inaugural franchise to Buffalo, it was announced Monday. The new organization is headed by Mark Hamister, owner of Buffalo Sports Enterprises and the Buffalo Destroyers of Arena Football League.

"Yes, we are bringing back the red, white and blue ball and we're going to encourage full-court play," ABA 2000 President Gerald L. Williams said at a press conference held held at the BSE offices on Delaware Avenue. "The league will make every effort to support (Hamister) and assist him to make this just a great franchise here in Buffalo."

Teams will play a 60-game schedule -- 30 games home and away -- that will run from November 2000 to April 2001.

Preliminary plans for the league were announced in October 1999, with teams in Long Island; Chicago; Kansas City; Jacksonville, Tampa Bay; Las Vegas; Anaheim, Calif., and San Jose, Calif. Detroit and Buffalo were added at a league meeting last week.

The team hopes to play in Marine Midland Arena, although no agreement is in place. "We expect to proceed very quickly with discussions and negotiations of a lease at that facility," Hamister said.

"We believe everything will come to fruition over the next month or so so that we can start the sale of tickets, sponsorships and other opportunities," said Hamister, who didn't reveal the exact price he paid for the franchise but said "my commitment is barely over the seven-figure range."

Hamister said the league announced Buffalo's winning bid sooner than expected, so a press conference was held even though the team hasn't officially found a home court. "Ordinarily we would not have made the announcement until we had negotiated a transaction with the building," said Hamister, whose Destroyers play in Marine Midland Arena.

Mayor Anthony Masiello said he didn't think the ABA team would have trouble coming to an agreement to play at the arena.

"Obviously we'd love to see this work out well," said Masiello. "We think there is significant compatibility with a basketball team in that arena with the Sabres and the other sports events. We just think more is more. The more activities you have in that building the more activity you have downtown and the more revenue you generate. I don't believe this is going to be an obstacle in any way to find a way to accommodate the new basketball entry."

"This is only adds to the prestige of Buffalo being a great sports town," said Masiello, a former Canisius College standout who reminded the media that he was a third-round draft pick of the ABA's Indiana Pacers in 1969.

The original ABA, famous for its tri-color ball and stars such as Julius Erving and Rick Barry, was founded in 1967 and lasted until 1976, when it merged with the NBA. The founder of ABA 2000 is Richard Tinkham, who was one of the co-founders of the original ABA. But this version of the ABA isn't set on competing with the NBA; nor does it intend to be like the Continental Basketball Association, a minor league to the NBA.

"It's going to be a major league that will be an alternative to the NBA," said Williams. "If you look at tape of (the original) ABA play, there's a tremendous difference between basketball then and basketball now. We're going to try to get back to the older style, a lot of shooting, high scoring and more excitement, and most importantly to get fans back into the game."

The league hopes to liven things up with some interesting rules. A "3-D Rule" will give teams an extra point if they score after forcing a turnover in the backcourt, players will not foul out and flagrant fouls will warrant ejections via a "red card" as in soccer.

Hamister said the average ticket price will be less than $20.

Determining a team name, colors and uniforms are on hold until Hamister takes care of his first tasks: hiring a general manager and a coach and negotiating a lease. He hopes to accomplish those in the "next 30-45 days."

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