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Stern talks about Vegas, pension pay

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LAS VEGAS — David Stern proudly discussed a new pension plan for former NBA players and spoke hopefully about the futures of teams in struggling markets.

As for those gambling questions, the commissioner seems pretty sick of them.

Stern was occasionally testy during his annual All-Star news conference Saturday, perhaps fed up with having to discuss, defend and explain the league's stance on betting during his week in Las Vegas.

Joined by union executive director Billy Hunter, Stern opened his remarks by announcing the joint plan, which gives players who retired before 1965 a 50 percent increase in their pension benefits. Players with three and four years in the league are now eligible, instead of the previous five-year requirement.

"It's the first time the union is actually contributing, so it's a partnership in terms of paying this pension," Hunter said.

The plan, retroactive to July 1, 2005, allows for a lump sum catch-up payment of $20,000 for the players who played three or four years.

But once Hunter was gone, it didn't take long for Stern's mood to change.

Stern cut off the first questioner, who implied that the NBA's concerns about putting a team in Las Vegas had to do with the potential for a point-shaving scandal.

"If you've been around long enough, you know that what you described has nothing to do with anything I've been saying for the last three years or every day this week in Las Vegas," Stern said. "I'm not worried about games being fixed."

Later, Stern was asked about his plans to talk to TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who has openly discussed his wins and losses in betting. Stern became agitated when told that other players bet lots of money, as well.

"The fact of the matter is that we have young men that go to Atlantic City, go to Las Vegas, bet," Stern said. "There's nothing against it. We don't have any rules about it. And the idea that they're somehow sinning, how nice it must be to legislate morals for the world. That's not what's happening."

Stern has faced questions all week about the NBA's future in Las Vegas, where the natural speculation is that if a team came here it would be the Sacramento Kings, because their owners, the Maloofs, also own the Palms casino.

But Stern reiterated that the Maloofs want to keep the Kings in Sacramento, where Stern is helping to find ways to come up with funding for a new arena.

"We're trying very hard to take a team that has succeeded wonderfully in Sacramento, continues to succeed, and find a way to continue that marriage in a building that is better than the one they are in," Stern said.

But Stern said he wouldn't be taking an active role in Seattle, where the SuperSonics are looking for a new building. He left that up to new owner Clay Bennett, who recently proposed a plan for the south Seattle suburb of Renton that seems unlikely to be approved.

"They've spent enormous sums of money and time and the like to come up with a plan, a funding plan," Stern said. "They've laid it out. They've got a site selected, etc. And it will either happen or it won't. We've been around this track a long time and it hope it happens because Seattle has been a very good city for the NBA."

Next year's All-Star weekend goes to New Orleans, where the Hornets will play full-time again after spending most of the last two seasons in Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina. That's part of the NBA's commitment to making the team successful in the city. And while Stern seems concerned with the lack of help the city is getting from its civic leaders, he vowed the league will do what it can to help.

"I think we can probably make it work and we're very optimistic about that," Stern said. "But it doesn't make me feel good when I go down there and see the inaction for the people in New Orleans. But we're not going to be part of the problem, we're going to be part of the solution."