NBA Commissioner David Stern said Washington would be awarded the all-star game in the near future, strengthening speculation that the 2001 contest will be held at MCI Center. However, he declined to officially name any city as host.

"It's definitely coming to Washington sometime," Stern said on the final day of league meetings today. "There's been speculation that it will go to Washington and then Philadelphia but I can't confirm or deny anything right now."

Philadelphia lost out on the all-star game last season after the NBA canceled the three-day weekend because of the labor standoff between players and ownership that shortened the season to 50 games. The league has guaranteed that Philadelphia will be awarded the game soon.

The 2000 All-Star Game will be held in mid-February in Oakland.

Abe Pollin, majority owner of the Washington Wizards and MCI Center, has said he expects Washington to be awarded the 2001 game.

Grizzlies Staying?

The pending sale of the Vancouver Grizzlies to Missouri-based billionaire Bill Laurie has fostered widespread belief among several league officials and many fans here that the new owner will move the team to St. Louis. Laurie has been noncommittal about keeping the team in Vancouver.

Stern declined to speculate about a move but emphasized that franchise relocation in the NBA has been rare; the Kansas City Kings' move to Sacramento in 1985 was the last time a team changed cities. Three-fourths of the league's Board of Governors must approve a move.

Stern would not say whether he planned to try and persuade league owners to support a move of one of Canada's two NBA teams, however he encouraged Grizzlies fans and employees to bolster their efforts to keep the franchise successful this season.

"It's important for the fans of Vancouver to support their team," Stern said. "I encourage the employees of the Grizzlies to go out there and hustle like they've never hustled before."

Should fan support diminish because of the perception that the team is leaving, further weakening the already unstable financial base of the team, the Board of Governors may have little choice but to approve a move. If the fan base remains near 16,000 and the team begins to improve, it could be enough for league officials to deny a move, Stern acknowledged.

Laurie recently purchased the St. Louis Blues hockey team and Kiel Center, the Blues' home arena. He attempted to purchase the Denver Nuggets and the NHL's Colorado Avalanche this summer, but was outbid. . . .

There have been no developments in the NBA's quest to establish some form of minimum age for NBA players, Granik said. Earlier this year, Stern said the NBA, its players' union and the NCAA discussed measures to stem the tide of players leaving college before their senior seasons or jumping to the pros straight from high school. Stern suggested a minimum age of 20.

"At this point it's kind of been put on the back burner," Granik said. "We've had some conversations with the NCAA that we thought might help the situation a little bit but those really haven't evolved at all." . . .

Whether it is the CBA, IBL or another minor basketball league, Stern and NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said a farm system for NBA teams appears imminent.

"Sometime in the not too distant future we hope to have some situation, maybe not quite like the baseball model, where we have some sort of participation of a minor league," Granik said. "I think we do see ourselves heading there. That's going to require some participation from the players association and they've indicated a willingness to have some sort of dialogue."

Former Detroit Pistons star Isiah Thomas, whose purchase of the CBA has yet to be finalized, said once his purchase of the league is finalized, he plans on increasing the number of teams in the nine-team CBA and turning it into a farm system for the NBA.