Now it’s Salley, boss of the ABA

John Salley, the wisecracking former NBA center, the TV host, the guy who wore goofy oversize glasses in “Bad Boys,” wanted to talk business.

Basketball business. He’s the new commissioner of the new American Basketball Assn. Seriously. No punch line.

“As soon as you get a job, you should be looking toward your next job,” Salley said. “Being a performer and being someone who’s in charge of performers are two different lives.”

It’s too bad more ballplayers don’t adopt that attitude and realize the one thing better than signing a $48-million contract is having the means to sign the checks on a $48-million contract.


One of America’s basic premises is own or be owned. Salley first realized that when he went to Georgia Tech.

“If you’re in school and the basketball program is bringing in $40 million, then your scholarship is not even 1%,” Salley said. “People say, ‘Well, they’re getting this and they’re getting that.’ Kids are not graduating. So really, they’re only bringing them up to raise the money.”

For fiscal year 2007, the athletic budget for the University of Michigan, for example, projected revenue of $76 million for a $7.2-million profit. Financial aid to students was projected at $13.7 million; athletic department salaries and benefits were projected at $24.4 million. You see where the dollars go.

While the Heat paid Shaquille O’Neal nearly $28 million in his first season in Miami, the valuation of the team increased 30%, to $362 million, according to Forbes.


The real money isn’t on the court, it’s sitting in the luxury suites.

So how to make money in the new American Basketball Assn., a far-flung league with more than 50 franchises spread from Brooklyn to Beijing with little resemblance to the free-spending, high-flying forerunner of the 1970s?

Salley thinks he will be able to compete with the NBA’s Developmental League because he says he doesn’t believe the NBA’s heart is in it, that it would rather import ready-made European players than spend money to develop them on their own. He also thinks his product will be part of the solution of what ails hoops in this country: the lack of fundamentals.

“What they’re doing is stifling the development,” Salley said. “The AAU’s not teaching them that. They’re watching And1, dribble-dribble-dribble, shakey-shakey-shakey, go left. There’s no jump shot, there’s no backboard shots. Dwyane Wade shot a backboard shot in the playoffs and they were going crazy that he used the backboard. That shouldn’t be something you brag about.”


At a news conference last week to announce the hiring of Don Casey as the coach of the new entry the Hollywood Fame, Casey said he was excited to teach the zone defenses the league allows.

The problem is, not a lot of people buy tickets to watch zone defense. That’s where Salley comes in. He has a better sense of what sells. At the news conference he kept hyping the Fame’s dance team, which was in place long before the playing roster had been finalized.

“The girl in the middle danced with the [Washington] Wizards,” Salley pointed out. “She danced [on tour] with Beyonce.”

It also helps that after the news conference Salley grabbed a microphone and went to work on a piece for his show, FSN’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period.”


What the league lacks in familiar player names (the Fame roster currently lists Nick Sheppard from Pepperdine and Billy Knight from UCLA), it makes up for with owners.

Allen Iverson’s mom, Ann, has a team in Virginia called the Ballerz. Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff has a team in Vermont called the Frost Heaves (sounds like something you’d get from drinking too many Slurpees). The Fame includes Nick Lachey, Brady Anderson, Stacy Keibler and A.J. DiScala among its owners.

Salley also brings basketball sense from his 11 seasons in the NBA, which included championships with the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and the Lakers.

“There’s an entrepreneur spirit in him,” Casey said. “He has become a good businessman as well as the personality that we know. Another reason I came, there’s a basketball guy at the top and a proud guy. He doesn’t want this to look bad.”


Of course, when I think of former Detroit Pistons running leagues I think of Isiah Thomas, who took the Continental Basketball Assn. from a $10-million investment to bankruptcy in less than two years.

“I think he got set up,” said Salley, although that doesn’t fit most accounts of the debacle.

Salley wants to keep American talent from fleeing to Europe by boosting salaries from the NBA D-League level (about $35,000) to the $60,000 range. He thinks they can provide additional incentives such as housing, which would have the added bonus as a real estate investment for the owners. But first he has a tip for the dance team posing for a photo.

“Smile, ladies,” Salley said. “You never know where this picture’s going to show up.”



J.A. Adande can be reached at To read more by Adande, go to