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Lakers' pride

IT was the second consecutive battle of the coasts. But this time the result was different: This year the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics for the professional basketball championship, instead of the other way round. Roundball at its most intense, this series was. When it was over, Los Angeles had overcome two obstacles: the idea that the Lakers couldn't beat the Celtics when it counted most, and that the longtime Laker star center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, could no longer play at championship level. At 38 the game's oldest player, Kareem emerged victorious over both the calendar and his opponents. For most games his shots were unstoppable, and he was deservedly named the series' most valuable player.

The series was shorter than it might have been, six games instead of seven. But the season, like those of other sports, was longer than it might have been: nine months from training camp to championship.

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Time was when sports seasons ticked along in a beat as regular as metronomes. It was baseball in spring and summer, football in fall, hockey and basketball in winter. Now they are perilously close to year-round. Baseball begins and ends in fear of snow, hockey is played when ice is mushy, and football when fields are icy. And basketball starts almost unnoticed during football's season and finishes two months into baseball's year.

Up to a point, sports fans have enjoyed the lengthening seasons, though they now may be reaching a saturation of interest. But what really drives this stretching out is money. Players and owners both want more, and the more games, the more revenue.

The biggest potential source of money for any sports club is television. In a large market like New York, TV contracts for sports franchises are extremely lucrative. Because of its revenue, a television contract is a necessity for professional clubs on the major-league level.

No one really wants, or expects, a return to the old days of shorter and tidier sports schedules. But overexposure of sports, especially through television, may be dimming the interest of viewers, and ultimately of fans.

Anyway, games ought to be decided on the basis of skill, not influenced by the vagaries of icy football fields or by heat-and-humidity in basketball or hockey arenas. Enough is enough: Let the expansion stop. A little quiet retrenchment might even be in order.

While all this is being thought about, no one should neglect the Lakers. Theirs was a convincing victory. They now deserve to be called the best basketball team in the land.

At least for a year.

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