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Philadelphia Daily News from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania • Page 116
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Philadelphia Daily News from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania • Page 116

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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SIXERS VS. LAKERS Free love at city pep rally Sixers great still a star to some fV -v Mayor Street, joined -J A by 76ers mascot Hip 4" Tjr- ,1 r- Mop, announces a 'f --r, 1 city proclamation for k-;" -fJfF rii V' "Sixers Beat Lakers Xt i Week" during a pep rallatLPVeParkin 1 G.W. MILLER IllDaily News By JIM NOLAN nolanj a phillyneics.i.'oiii "You're looking good, World came an attaboy from a postman who walked over for a handshake. "Best jumper in the world, man!" shouted another well-wisher. "Can I get a hug? Can I get some love!" begged another female fan.

Free, 47, solidly built at 6-3, then signed a S0 bill for a young fan in the crowd. "You know now this 10's going to be worth a hundred," he said, flashing a grin. Free spent his first three pro seasons with the Sixers, 1975 to 1978, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1977. He was part of the showboating, high-octane offense that included Julius Erving and George McGinnis. The native of Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Brownsville section whose first name was Lloyd got the name "World" on the playgrounds for his ability to throw down 360-degree slam dunks.

He made his mark in the pros with the long-range jumper, which he propelled with powerful legs that gave him an ungodly, 44-inch vertical leap. dwindling fan base. The Sixers ran free basketball clinics in city neighborhoods and, in the first couple of years of the new ownership, almost had to beg groups to hold the events. This year, Free did 40 clinics for more than 10,000 kids and could have done 40 more. "They didn't let me go away," said a grateful Free, referring to Croce and Sixers senior- vice president and public relations mastermind Dave Coskey.

"They allowed me to have a second career, a second life in basketball. "The people remember what you did. But the beauty part is the little kids you see, who weren't even born when you were playing, saying 'World World Maybe that's the reason why the team had Free fly in from Los Angeles just to attend yesterday's noontime rally, then fly back (first class, of course) in the afternoon in time for last night's game. Free didn't seem to mind a bit. Especially when one fan who remembered him said what every old athlete loves to hear: "World, man, you can still shoot.

You could go out there now." World B. smiled. Right there, in Love Park, he knew the best things in life were free. These days, people eveiywhere just want to be Free. As in Work) B.

Free. His official title is community relations representative for the Ttjei-s, but just about anywhere in town the flashy, former guard shows up to press the tlesh, a few enthusiastic fans want to expand the "relations" pan of his job. "Don't sign there, sign here," one female fan told Free at yesterday's Sixers pep rally in Love Park, pointing to a rally towel she had strategically placed over her bosom. "This is the backboard, if you know what I mean," she added. "I never used the backboard," the dapper Free demured with a smile, signing his name on a less provocative part of the towel before sending the happy fan on her way.

Thirteen years after leaving the NBA, the guy still knows how to score. And now that the Sixers are hot, evemhing is right with the World. Stern likes By RICH HOFMANN hofmanra LOS ANGELES Because even the NBA commissioner "doesn't tell Michael what to do," David Stern said yesterday he hadn't offered any advice either way to Michael Jordan on the subject of his potential comeback. So Stern is waiting, like the rest of us, for Jordan to conclude his private workouts and decide. Rest assured, though, Stern is hoping.

"I don't know, Michael knows," Stern said, kibitzing with a knot of reporters after his annual news conference at the NBA Finals. "But you know what? Here's my opinion. I think he's on a cer Mike, but knows future After moving on to San Diego, Golden State and Cleveland, Free, who legally changed his first name in 1982, returned to Philly for 20 games in the 1986-87 season before finishing his career with Houston in 1987-88. Like many former players, Free disappeared from the spotlight after his playing days. He rejoined the organization under then-coach John Lucas in 1994 as a strength and conditioning coach, but when Pat Croee took over as president of the disheartened and debilitated franchise five years ago, he tapped Free to greet fans at games and play the point in his public relations assault on a they go." Again, though: Jordan's return will make it easier.

"It's positive," Stern said. "It's all about the drama of basketball He's made it clear that he wouldn't be coming back as the savior, that if he comes back, he'll come back because he loves the game. There's no downside that I can see." These NBA Finals, though, are about the next generation in the persons of Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. This is the easiest of easy story lines. During a ques-tion-and-answer session that touched on franchise relocation and rules changes, and the trial involving pro athletes (including NBA players), an Atlanta strip also lies with club and organized crime, Stern quickly latched on to the Allen-Kobe talk.

"Obviously, each of them has led their teams not single-handedly, but each of them has literally matured before the eyes of our sports-loving nation," Stern said. "Spdrts is the original reality-based programming. The reality is that Kobe and Shaq O'Neal decided that they wanted to be on the island together. Allen decided he just wanted to be on the island. And what we saw wasn't a soap opera, but really just real-life maturation and development.

"Here they are," Stern said. "Shaq and Kobe on the one side, Allen and Dikembe Mutombo and a cast of others on the other. new stars We've seen them work at it. We've seen some of their growth, some of their heartache. That's why sports is so special." Oh, one more thing.

On the subject of conspiracy theories, and the $85,000 in fines levied on the Milwaukee Bucks, coach George Karl and star player Ray Allen for their suggestion that there was a conspiracy to get the Sixers into the NBA Finals, Stern recounted the long history of other teams in other times that erroneously thought the same thing. Of Allen, Stern said: "I accept his apology. He didn't mean it. He's a good kid." "But George should know better," Stern added. "He's more my age." tain course.

If he thinks he can do it, he'll do it if he's satisfied that he's Michael." That Jordan would offer a jolt of interest to the NBA is unquestioned. That it's getting harder and harder to measure the popularity of this sport, or any major sport, is undeniable. With network ratings dropping for pretty much everybody, the easy barometers are gone. Stern said, though, he can make the argument his league is as popular as ever it's just that you need to measure such things as Web site visits and video-game sales and "SportsCenter" ratings and such stuff. Stern said, "We're planning to catch potential fans everyplace.

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