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The NBA has ordered teams to return all fan letters to their senders because of its labor dispute, giving new meaning to the word "rejection."

Sean Warsch wrote to Harold Miner in February, complimenting his dunking and asking the former Miami Heat guard to autograph an enclosed basketball card.The Cooper City, Fla., sixth-grader didn't get his autograph. But he did get his request back, along with a letter signed by a Heat public relations intern.

"While this (labor) dispute is ongoing," the letter read, "the Miami Heat is not able to forward mail to any of our players, and we are therefore returning your letter to you. We regret any inconvenience this action may cause."

"I thought it was, like, sort of stupid," Sean told the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale for today's editions.

For the league, it's a legal thing. After the lockout, teams were told to stop handling all matters relating to players, NBA spokesman Jan Hubbard said.

"Teams were told to send all mail back, because you can't distinguish between fan mail and what could be a player's personal business unless you open the letters."

The Orlando Magic has returned about 1,000 fan letters intended for Shaquille O'Neal, according to team spokesman Rick Oleshak. In Chicago, the Bulls have returned "hundreds" of letters intended for Michael Jordan, team spokesman Tim Hallam said.

The situation raises the specter of the type of fan backlash that continues to plague baseball months after its strike ended.

"There are some aspects that aren't particularly pleasant of a lockout situation, but that's what we're in. You can't have a half lockout. You have to have a full lockout," Hubbard said.

The NBA has also forbidden team officials to attend players' charity events, such as All-Star center David Robinson's golf tournament in San Antonio. And a scheduled appearance by forward Glen Rice had to be dropped from Heat assistant Tony Fiorentino's basketball camp at a local community college last week.

"Most fans at Heat games swap their loyalty, because they rooted for a team somewhere else," said Sean's father, Barry Warsch. "But Sean is growing up with the Heat - he's the type of person they should want to be directing things to so he is always a fan."

Sean said he still admires Miner, who has been traded to Cleveland and couldn't be reached by the newspaper for comment.

"I still like basketball," he added.

But he also said: "Right now I really really like the Dolphins because everybody says they're going to the Super Bowl. I can't wait for football."