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BBC gets on the ball with NBA opener deal

Channel plans to carry event live, plus offer interviews

NEW YORK — The BBC has climbed aboard the Michael Jordan comeback express.

The National Basketball Assn. has signed a deal that will deliver a small army of BBC staffers to Madison Square Garden for the opening game of the NBA season between the New York Knicks and the Jordan-led Washington Wizards on Oct. 30.

Heidi Ueberroth, executive VP of global media properties and marketing partnerships for the NBA, said that BBC 1 plans to carry the event live, including extensive pregame and postgame interviews with players and courtside celebrities.

It’s the first time the BBC has ever carried NBA programming. One source said the BBC is negotiating with the NBA for a full package of regular-season and playoff games in 2001-’02. The live BBC feed of the Oct. 30 game is for night owls only because it’ll run between 12:30 a.m. and 3 a.m., London time.

The return of Jordan helped to energize the BBC into opening talks with the NBA, but Ueberroth said a number of other stars in the league are beginning to chalk up worldwide recognition, such as Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

Industry sources said that the NBA’s various deals with media outlets representing 210 countries are funneling more than $100 million a year into the league’s coffers.

The NBA often has more than one television partner in individual countries, said Scott Levy, VP of international television for the league. It has three discrete deals in France, with Canal Plus, Pathe Sports and France 2. NBA programming appears in Italy on RAI and Tele Plus. NHK is the league’s outlet in Japan, and it’s negotiating a renewal of its contract in Germany with DSF.

NBA.com TV, the league’s 24-hour digital network, ran full time in Turkey last year, and Greece and Israel will also carry it this year.

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