Basketball: Bullets on point of imploding

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The Independent Online

The Basketball League will have to act today to address the deteriorating relations between Birmingham Bullets' owner, Craig Bown, and his players, which is casting a shadow over the club's appearance in Sunday's National Cup Final against Chester Jets.

Bullets released the American Ben Walker to save cash on Friday and Jon O'Connell will go after the final because Bown fined him $2,000 (£1,400) for missing a game to play in the European Championships for Ireland. The coach, Lance Randall, could not rule out players – "rattled and disgruntled, to put it positively" – going on strike.

"Anything's possible at this stage," Randall said. "We are trying to move forward but it's been tossed around as an idea." Brant Bailey and Antonio Garcia are also in dispute with Bown, who has been unavailable for comment, and all the players confronted the owner courtside after their win over Milton Keynes Lions on 29 December after he failed to attend a pre-game meeting.

But it is Bown's fine of O'Connell that threatens Bullets' hard-earned place in the second round of the North European Basketball League and his ownership of the club.

The international governing body (Fiba) rule that all players must be released for national team duty and unless O'Connell's fine is revoked they will certainly fine Bullets. If Bown refuses to pay, Fiba could remove his licence and bar Bullets from the Fiba-affiliated NEBL.

O'Connell says he will quit after next weekend but will still pursue action against Bullets over the fine. He said: "I hope the fans understand. This is one of the worst professional experiences in my life."

Bullets beat Derby Storm 85-77 on Saturday night for their third straight championship win, but lost 97-83 last night at London Towers, where John White scored 16 fourth quarter points after Bullets had trailed just 65-63 at the end of the third.

* Michael Jordan made history on Friday when he became only the fourth NBA player to score 30,000 points. Jordan reached the milestone as Washington Wizards beat his old team, Chicago Bulls, 89-83. He began the game on 29,985 points and completed the 15 points that he needed on the second of two free throws with 5:28 left before the break.

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