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THE NBA IN WNY? AIR BALL!

As far as I'm concerned, you can file dreams of luring an NBA team to Buffalo under Be Careful What You Wish For.

Not that Buffalo has much of a shot of landing the relocating Vancouver Grizzlies. Even if it did, the last thing this town needs is another subsidy-sucking pro sports franchise.

Strip away the padding, and studies show sports teams don't do much for the local economy. As the Sabres have shown, 40 or so home dates don't come close to reviving a hurting downtown. Pro sports franchises are heavy furniture for taxpayers, with communities paying ransoms for new or improved stadiums and arenas.

In case anyone needs reminding, the state and county laid out a $123 million taxpayer package to lock the Bills in for just six years. One of the reasons we're throwing 130 million tax dollars into the planned Adelphia complex is to prop up the Sabres' future.

You can make an argument for shelling out to keep what you have. It's tough to lose a franchise after bonds of fan loyalty and civic pride are cemented. But bringing a pro team in cold, to a small-market town barely hanging on to what it has, borders on civic suicide.

These days, the best athletic bargain is major-college sports -- which, unfortunately, we don't have. You get the entertainment and the community pride without getting stuck with the check.

There are millions who think otherwise, but the entertainment value of watching cars race around ovals (or figure eights) for hours escapes me. But the thing that really perplexes me about auto racing is the casualty count. It's the only sport that kills its superstars.

Dale Earnhardt dying on the track at the Daytona 500 -- in front of 200,000 people and a national television audience -- was the latest in a history of tragedies. No other sport would tolerate that kind of carnage, must less survive it.

Imagine going to the Super Bowl and seeing Trent Dilfer killed. Or taking your kids to the NBA championship and watching Shaquille O'Neal die in competition. With incredibly rare exceptions, the worst that happens -- even in contact sports -- is somebody blows out a knee or gets knocked silly. He's patched up and, a few months later, sent back out. Auto racing sends its stars to the morgue. Where's the sanity in that?

Congratulations to 17-year-old Chris
Sasiadek for thwarting efforts by Orchard Park officials to overturn the First Amendment. The high school senior, unlike the rest of the town's populace, didn't stand idly by while officials assaulted constitutional protections of free speech. He took on the town ordinance banning the political lawn sign, an entity as American as the bikini and the SUV.

One town official, unfortunately, hasn't grasped the concept. Councilman John Mills, who apparently puts more stock in aesthetics than in democracy, thinks the signs are an eyesore.

"(Sasiadek) may have a different attitude," Mills told The News, "when he's a homeowner in the community."

If not, we can lock him up for crimes against conformity.

Marvin Lewis gets an F for reportedly saying he didn't want the Bills coaching job because he'd have to send his kids to Buffalo schools.

First, most of the Bills players and coaches live in-season in the school-safe suburbs, not the city. If that's not good enough, two words: private school. It's where many local corporate executives -- and coaches -- send their kids.

As far as excuses go, blaming Buffalo schools for a reluctance to relocate is the sporting equivalent of "The dog ate my homework." Gregg Williams looks better every day.

The curious thing isn't that Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, about whom many are lukewarm, has nonetheless raised $1 million for his re-election campaign. And it's not the fact that it's basically a chill fund, to dissuade any potential challengers. No, the real question is what those who've anted up think they might get in return.

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