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NBA Moves to Eliminate ‘Uglyball’ : Pro basketball: Three-point line to be shortened and physical play targeted in proposals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Having watched a star coach, Pat Riley, complete a personal journey from Showtime to Uglyball, NBA officials have at last been persuaded to address the threat to free-wheeling offensive basketball before the fast break becomes extinct.

Meeting in Chicago, the league’s competition committee Tuesday recommended shortening the three-point line to bring defenses from under the basket, plus several rules changes designed to deal with physical play and fighting.

“Scoring in this league has gone down for something like 10 straight years,” said Rod Thorn, NBA vice president for operations. “Teams are not taking as many shots. They’re holding the ball more. . . .

“If you have a sport, you like to have some action. You don’t want it to become a grappling match.”

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Scoring has actually been dropping for 25 years, since the high-water 1968-69 season when teams averaged 122 points. Scoring held steady around the 109 mark in the ‘70s but slipped almost every season in the ‘80s.

The trend was little remarked on during the star-studded ‘80s but with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan retired, it showed its face with a vengeance. Last season, scoring plummeted four points, from 105 to 101. The NBA finals drew the league’s lowest TV rating in four years, or before Jordan made his first appearance. The Houston Rockets and New York Knicks set several finals scoring lows and their play was nicknamed “Uglyball.”

Commissioner David Stern fended off critics last spring but gave up his spirited defense when the final TV numbers came in.

The competition committee recommendations, expected to be adopted by the board of governors, would shorten the three-point line from its present 23 feet 9 inches at the top of the circle to 22 feet all around.

Players fouled while shooting a three-pointer would get three free throws. Defenders would not be able to hand-check until the offensive player gets below the foul line. Fines for technical fouls would be increased and taunting would be monitored more closely.

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Eager to get on with their lives on a court rather than in one, Orlando Magic officials say they will offer free agent Horace Grant a new contract, rather than try to persuade a judge that the one he has now is acceptable under NBA rules.

"(The judge) has already said that the league has a good case here,” said John Gabriel, Orlando’s vice president of basketball operations.

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U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise, who approved the league-rejected contracts of A.C. Green, Toni Kukoc and Chris Dudley, had asked for more information on Grant’s case.

With the start of camp three weeks off, the Magic will instead change Grant’s one-year-and-out contract to a two-year deal for about $2.125 million per season. The league has approved such contracts and Grant’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, says Grant will sign it.


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