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NBA jump shot

EASTWARD ho! With pro basketball already well-stocked with West Coast franchises, the National Basketball Association decided to explore three new markets and ``retake'' an old one when it announced expansion plans last week. Beginning with the 1988-89 season, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Miami will join 23 franchises, with Orlando, Florida, and Minneapolis to follow in '89-90. Minneapolis actually was the original home of the Lakers, a nickname that made more sense there than in Los Angeles.

This expansion strategy, which until the last minute was going to include just one of the Florida cities, is a reflection of the NBA's new prosperity. Not that long ago the league was struggling financially, at least in places, but it's been on the move throughout the '80s.

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Some believe that the simultaneous arrival in 1979 of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, two major gate attractions, spelled the beginning of this new era, in which a steady stream of fresh stars, increased TV coverage, and better management and marketing have thrust the NBA front and center.

During the just-ended regular season, attendance topped the 12 million mark for the first time in the league's 41-year history. The progress has been steady, too, with the league's attendance record broken each of the past four years.

Basketball is sometimes called the city game; its courts are often right in town. The game is well attended by folks of all races and incomes, and includes large numbers of minorities on its rosters - and to an extent, even in its front offices.

It is an indication that major league sports, when they reach out to all Americans irrespective of color or class - can build public support.

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