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NBA to go live on Net

The NBA is expected to announce that it will broadcast its games on ESPNET SportsZone, marking the first time a major sports franchise has decided play all its games on the Net.

The National Basketball Association will broadcast all games live on the Internet, another indication that the Net is coming of age as an entertainment medium.

The NBA, which is expected to make the announcement by next week, will broadcast the games via RealAudio on ESPNET SportsZone, the NBA's Internet broadcast partner. The deal marks the first time a major sports franchise has decided play all its games on the Net.

The broadcasts will make the games accessible to people who could not normally watch or listen to the games, such as fans living abroad.

The inner-workings of the NBA's deal to broadcast live games on the Internet remain hazy, however. An NBA spokeswoman would not comment about how the deal is being structured until it becomes official. A spokesman for Starwave, which created and maintains the NBA and ESPNET SportsZone site, did say that the NBA will be using local radio broadcasts on RealAudio.

The NBA, the exclusive licenser of all NBA footage, has closely guarded its rights on the Internet. Earlier this year, it sued America Online (AOL) and its contractor, Stats Incorporated, for broadcasting live scores of the games on AOL's private network.

The NBA contended that AOL was essentially stealing the scores by broadcasting games without paying franchise fees, as radio and television networks do.

But both AOL and Stats maintain that scores are facts and therefore unprotected by copyright laws.

That case has been put on hold while the NBA litigates another similar case. The NBA recently sued Motorola which also had contracted with Stats to provide live scores on a pager network. A New York federal judge ruled against Motorola. The company has since appealed the ruling.