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Austin, ABA play blame game as Snowbears quit playoffs

Published: Tuesday, March 15 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

It's over for the Snowbears — and, boy, is the end ugly.

The Utah Snowbears' playoff run — and likely the franchise itself — came to an abrupt and angry end Sunday night.

Owned by former NBA player Ike Austin, the Snowbears issued a statement Sunday night, formally withdrawing from the ABA playoffs.

"I have no choice but to cancel the rest of our 2004-05 Snowbears season. This is a sad, regrettable day that all of us wish could have been avoided." Austin said. "I have decided that having the team play the remaining games under current ABA situations and circumstances would not be in the players' best interest or my own."

Both sides are pointing to each other as the cause of Utah's sudden departure from the ABA.

ABA co-founder and chairman Joe Newman calls Utah's move "irrational and borders on complete nonsense."

Money and the league's inability to conform to its own standards and rules was cited by the Snowbears. "We were the only team that actually followed league command," said Derrick Pearson, Utah's media relations director. "We played when they told us to, and we did everything they asked."

Newman doesn't see it quite the same way.

"Ike Austin has been totally uncooperative and inflexible in a number of ways and has been guided only by self-interest," Newman said in his release.

Strong words from both sides were plentiful Monday in a number of releases from both sides.

"I don't want to butt heads in this thing. If you look at our motives, we were 27-1 and vying for the ABA title, just ask yourselves 'Why?' " Pearson said Monday afternoon.

This is where both sides agree.

The championship tournament, much like the NCAA tournament, was heading into its "Final Four." The Snowbears, the highest remaining seed in the tourney, was scheduled to host the semifinals and finals, according to the league format.

Maryland and Bellevue, who hadn't played its quarterfinal yet, agreed to fly to Salt Lake and wrap up its quarterfinal and begin the final games "a day late" according to Newman.

This is where they disagree.

Utah claims that the league asked the Snowbears at the last minute to foot the bill — including airfare and hotel — for Maryland and Bellevue.

Newman refutes the claim, citing Maryland and Bellevue's deep financial backing as proof that Utah would not have been burdened.

"That is absolutely, unequivocally total nonsense," Newman said.

Austin also claims that the league itself is indebted to him for officiating he paid for when visiting Los Angeles.

Newman acknowledges the debt but claims that Austin was absent for a advertisement that reportedly cost the ABA nearly all of the sum that Austin is demanding.

"My figure shows that we owe Ike something like $90. To disrupt the ABA playoffs for that kind of money is absolutely dumb," Newman said. "No one has asked anything from Ike. I am repulsed by the lack of cooperation we have received."

The Snowbears claim that the uncertainty surrounding the ABA and its teams frustrated the team to its very end.

"Whether or not teams will show up, what's going on, all these things happen in the ABA. When putting together a schedule, it would be nice to know at least a day in advance," Pearson said.

Newman offered his own explanation of events, saying that Utah's sudden departure may show that the team "might be hiding something." Newman claims the ABA has lived up to their promises, Ike has not.

"I think Ike showed no regard for his sponsors and most of all for his fans. His was nothing more than a cheap shot — and he should be ashamed of himself," Newman said in his release. "The decision was similar to his decision not to participate in the ABA All-Star game. No good reason."

Newman goes on to say that Utah was deficient in promoting their franchise and the ABA.

"The fact that he drew only 100 to 200 fans to his games with the outstanding team he had and the affordable prices he offered is also shameful."

The Snowbears deny the claim that Newman made on its attendance record.

"Games against Los Angeles and Long Beach drew over 1,500 fans, but no league officials were there so they would have no way of knowing," Pearson countered.

Both sides are claiming that a return is likely, just on their own terms.

"Utah is a great place. Salt Lake City is a great city. We'd love to bring the ABA back, just not under the current owners," Newman said.

"The Snowbears will be back. We're just going to sit down and watch for a little while," Pearson replied at the end of his conference.

The ABA will continue its playoff with the winner of Bellevue vs. Maryland playing the winner of Arkansas vs. Mississippi playing for the title.


E-mail: acole@desnews.com

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