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NBA BIGGER THAN SUPERSTARS, OLD VETS SAY

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Big names and big bucks won't be enough to keep fans from abandoning the NBA if a labor dispute is not settled quickly, a group of former West Virginia University standouts agreed.

"If we don't learn from what happened to baseball, I think it could happen to us," said Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice president of operations.Thorn was joined by Jerry West, "Hot" Rod Hundley and Ron "Fritz" Williams at a news conference and dinner Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center.

The men debated the labor conflict and remembered their years playing basketball for WVU during the Mountaineers' golden era in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the dispute, players refused to vote on a new collective bargaining agreement in June and were locked out July 1. A revised version was tentatively approved by union and league officials earlier this month, but a group of players says the new deal remains inadequate.

Those players, led by Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, want to decertify their own union and let the courts rule on the lockout. Votes on the decertification proposal will be Aug. 30 and Sept. 7.

West, the Los Angeles Lakers' general manager and president, said he believes the actions of the big-name players would not prove detrimental.

"I think the league is bigger than the stars. There are going to be younger stars around. There will be another Jordan," he said. "I think what's happened is that there's so much money involved. We hope cooler heads, saner heads will prevail."

Hundley, who has been an NBA broadcaster for 25 years, said he believes 70 to 80 percent of the players oppose decertification.

"The leaders of these teams need to stand up and say, `Hey guys, what are we doing here?' These guys need to step forward because I need job," he said.

Thorn said he did not want the problem to tarnish the league's image. "We're doing very well in the NBA, which is really poised to take off. To have something of this type to linger on I think would really hurt us," he said.

West, 57, of Cabin Creek, led the Mountaineers to three straight NCAA tournament berths from 1958 to 1960. He was co-captain of the 1960 Olympic team, which beat the Soviet Union for the gold medal in Rome. He is considered by many to be the greatest player ever to come out of West Virginia.

He credited Hundley, the "Clown Prince of Basketball," for influencing him to play for WVU.

Hundley, 60, voice of the Utah Jazz, won the NBA's Distinguished Broadcaster Award in 1994.

At WVU, Hundley averaged 35 points per game in his freshman season, including 62 points in one contest. He averaged 24.5 points per game over three seasons and scored 2,180 career points, second to West's 2,309 points.