Help Wanted: Need Big Name, Hoop Dream, Experience Optional


Wall Street Journal, 1997



Help Wanted: Need Big Name, Hoop Dream, Experience Optional
By Ericka BlountWall Street Journal (Eastern Edition). New York, N.Y.:Dec 10, 1997.  p. B1 


Recruiting season is under way for the United States Basketball League, and scouts may be scouring recording studios as well as hard courts for players.

In an effort to boost sagging attendance, the little-known summer league, which began in 1985, has created a "celebrity rule." It leaves one slot open on each roster for a celebrity who isn't necessarily able to, say, slam dunk.

Several teams have already made use of the rule. Last season, R. Kelly, an R&B singer/songwriter, played reserve guard for the USBL's Atlantic City Seagulls, and Mike McCary of the singing group Boyz II Men played shooting guard for the Philadelphia Power. A game in which they played against each other was a sellout, owners say.

Professional athletes in other sports have filled some celebrity spots. Last year, Roy Jones Jr., a world light heavyweight boxing champion, played for the Jacksonville Barracudas and averaged 7.5 points per game.

Arthur Agee, star of the documentary "Hoop Dreams," played for the Long Island Surf. Now a free agent, he has thus far not followed USBL alumni John Starks, Tim Legler and Anthony Mason, all of whom went on to play in the NBA.

Not surprisingly, some USBL players resent the idea of celebrities taking up their court time. But team owners defend it. Ken Gross, owner of the Atlantic City Seagulls, says that while the dream of players "is to play professional basketball, ours is to fill the stadium." "The reality is that a lot of these fledgling leagues are in trouble financially and they do what it takes to make the celebrity happy," says agent Keith Kreiter.

Team owners insist that some of their celebrities do have talent, even though R. Kelly admits, "I was just out there to have a good time." Mr. Kelly had four assists for the season and averaged 1.2 points per game. Not quite all-star numbers, but Mr. Gross says the NBA's Toronto Raptors were rumored to be interested in him.

"I didn't know he was trying out, but if he is interested, I would certainly like to talk to him," says Toronto Raptors spokesman Matt Akler.

Some league officials admit that even though celebrities help to fill seats, they aren't great fans of the rule. Says Ed Krinsky, director of operations for the USBL: "I don't want [the league] to turn into a circus."