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Stars Shine in ABA Debut Before 5,347

Pro basketball: They deliver with 126-122 victory, but the entertainment value is still a question mark.

December 27, 2000|ERIC STEPHENS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was opening night for the Los Angeles Stars, but more important, Tuesday was the showcase for ABA 2000, a league that promised there would be an entertaining alternative to an NBA that has seen its share of low-scoring games that have turned off fans and television viewers.

The Stars and their opponent, the San Diego WildFire, delivered on the scoring. As far as being entertaining, it is still a work in progress.

Before an appreciative but not always impressed crowd of 5,347 at the Forum, the Stars prevailed, 126-122, behind 28 points from Kevin Freeman.

The inaugural game did provide an exciting finish as Freeman, a 6-foot-7 forward from Connecticut, made two free throws with 5.9 seconds left after the WildFire's Geno Carlisle missed a shot that could have tied the score.

Toby Bailey added 23 points for the Stars. Carlisle and Mario Bennett led San Diego with 30 points each.

Paul Westhead was brought in by the Stars to produce a run-and-gun style similar to his days as coach at Loyola Marymount. He said his team needs more time to adapt to his preferred hyperkinetic style.

"I like the final score," Westhead said. "I liked the pace of the game at times. We'll even play at a faster pace. But I think our players were a little tired."

Bailey said the high number of fouls in the game didn't lend to a smooth, high-paced flow of action. But he thought there was enough that warranted people being interested in the product.

"I saw a lot of guys doing uncharacteristic things out there," said Bailey, who played in 46 games last season with the Phoenix Suns. "As the season goes along, I'm sure we'll be more relaxed. We all wanted to win first but I know deep inside, we wanted to put a show on for [the fans]."

To attract fans, the ABA went with rosters loaded with former NBA players and one-time college stars with local ties.

The Stars' roster has former UCLA stars in Bailey and Ed O'Bannon. Another former Bruin, JaRon Rush, is on injured reserve and was in street clothes.

San Diego has Bennett, a one-time Laker, and former Clipper center Stanley Roberts. Even the recognizable names couldn't stop some fans from bolting after the third quarter.

The key question is whether the fans keep showing up for the next 27 home games. Westhead hopes they were impressed.

"I'd be curious to see what the reaction is," he said. "I sensed that the fans were into the game."

It took a while for both teams to warm up. There was plenty of hustle, though it looked as if the teams were trying too hard to impress.

But there were things that looked decidedly NBA-like. Bad outside shooting. Missed layups. Sloppy passes.

But the scoreboard operator certainly had to work. It was exactly what the Stars and the ABA wanted.

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