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June 05, 1997|ARA NAJARIAN

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: "Long Shots: The Life and Times of the American Basketball Assn.," a sports documentary on HBO.

When: Monday at 10 p.m.

The only real problem with HBO's "Long Shots" is that you want more. If that's a compliment, so be it.

HBO's 59-minute documentary on the ABA might well have been better as a two-hour, even a three-hour, show, but the time we have with the ABA is terrific.

Even the predictable--Dr. J swooping through the key, Connie Hawkins with a finger-roll--are as fun 20 years later as they are inspiring.

The footage that HBO has resuscitated looks to have been the result of an exhaustive search, and it is well worth the wait. There are interviews with important upstarts such as George Mikan, the league's first commissioner, and surprises include talks with Pat Boone (owner of the inaugural champion Oakland Oaks).

Of course, there is the Doctor. Julius Erving almost single-handedly forced the merger with the NBA. Fans may remember that when Dr. J joined the NBA, his 76er teams sold out every game home and away--such was his legend.

The show does not glaze over the fact that the league was in financial trouble and had attendance problems, but it does skip that the ABA was forced to merge before the 1976-77 season because two of its teams--the Denver Nuggets and the New York Nets--broke ranks and applied for individual admission to the NBA. Before that, the ABA had been trying to force a merger that included all of the teams and their players.

But all of the top players joined the older league and nearly all of the rules and promotions (such as the dunk contest) were adopted.

As Erving said Wednesday, "The ABA is alive and well in the NBA."

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