The Washington Justice, the area's newest minor league basketball team, has a coach (former Washington Bullets guard Michael Adams) and a place to play (the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro). The only thing left for the Justice -- one of six teams in the National Rookie League, scheduled to begin play in June 2000 -- is to sign players.

According to league president Bruce Stern, a Washington-based attorney, that will not happen until each team has funding in place.

Getting funding "is the big challenge for us and it is the big challenge for anyone starting a sports league," Stern said yesterday. "It's a major hurdle we have to clear."

Stern said the league is seeking corporate sponsors and also hopes funding will come from the public sale of stock. He said the league is on about a six-month timetable.

"January 1 is our absolute drop-dead date," Stern said. "If we don't have all our teams funded by then, we won't launch this league. . . . I think we have about a 75 percent chance."

The NRL hopes to establish itself as a minor league to the NBA and as an alternative to playing college basketball. It is expected to have a 30-game summer schedule and a total compensation package for players worth $20,000 to $25,000, Stern said. Players will be between the ages of 17 and 24 and can play in the league for a maximum of four seasons. Other teams are scheduled to be in Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Hampton, Va.

Stern said the league is seeking private ownership of its teams in Boston and New York. The other four teams will build equity through the sale of publicly traded stock.

Until the funding is in place, teams are working out handshake agreements without formal contracts. Justice President John Dodge said the 5,000-seat Show Place Arena is reserving dates for his team's home games and that a basic agreement has been reached with Adams.

The Justice, which has reached an agreement to have Reebok as its official provider of apparel and shoes, is the only team in the league to agree to terms with a coach.

"One thing I can say about this group is if we don't have enough money to put the league together for two years, it won't fly," said Mike McLeese, the league's director of basketball operations. "We won't do it on a shoestring."