The people who bring you "NBA Inside Stuff" like to think their 30-minute show has the look and feel of MTV by way of "Entertainment Tonight," with a healthy dose of Magic, Michael and Mr. Robinson to keep viewers coming back every Saturday afternoon, just after the weekly cartoons.

Instead, what they've got would more appropriately be called "NBA Inside Fluff," a glitzy, garish and more than occasionally gooey 30-minute piece of cotton candy that is nothing less than a blatant promotion for the NBA, courtesy of NBC, the network that is the new home for professional basketball this season.

Casual viewers tuning in might just assume that "Inside Stuff" is actually the pregame show for an NBA game. Hosts Ahmad Rashad and Julie Moran mix highlights of the previous week's activities, Friday night scores, and monster dunks with cream puff features on NBA players.

But wait, no game follows at all. As it turns out, this stand-alone show is produced by NBA Entertainment, the league's television and video production arm. It's the first time a pro league has been handed 30 minutes of network air to do with as it pleases, with 85-90 percent of NBC's affiliates signing on for the first year.

The network's sports division does its own pregame show for game telecasts, something CBS never bothered with in all the years it had the NBA rights. NBC airs a traditional, almost totally news-oriented show, including a real "insiders" segment with former Washington Bullets general manager Bob Ferry and USA Today columnist Peter Vecsey providing the usual mix of rumor and reporting that has become so prevalent these days at all the networks.

On "NBA Inside Stuff," there is nary a disparaging word.

"We're not trying to hide anything or mislead anyone," said Don Sperling, the show's executive producer, an NBA employee. "We're in business to promote the league and basketball, and who could ask for anything better than doing it on the network. Networks historically have promoted their shows, and this follows right along with that.

"If you do a good, solid show, what's wrong with putting on good quality television? . . . We won't ignore a big story, but we won't dwell on it. Negative stories are what the news is all about. We won't dwell on it because it's repetition of something that everyone else has done to death. We won't go out of our way to do investigative reporting. We're doing entertainment. That's our focus."

NBA Entertainment also has an agreement with NBC and TNT, which does NBA games on cable, to provide about 50 features a year for pregame or halftime use. NFL Films has been doing that for years -- ABC's halftime highlights on "Monday Night Football," for example. Yet in this case, the show itself and the league-produced features are an unsettling development, and perhaps the start of an unsettling trend.

As advertising continues to be a difficult sell for network sports divisions, all of which are tightening belts in a tough economy, is it possible the 50 NBA-produced features in 1990 will translate eventually into league-produced and financed pregame, halftime and postgame shows over the next decade, saving the networks big money in production and talent costs in the long run?

"I really don't see this as a trend," said Victor Frank, an NBC sports producer in charge of the network's real pregame "NBA Showtime." "As long as we cover sports the way we have been, I don't see that happening. At NBC, we are in the journalism business. If I was asked to gloss over the truth, I wouldn't do it. The key is, do we exercise editorial control on our show, and the answer is positively yes.

"If they {NBA Entertainment} send us over a piece that does not cover the story honestly, I'll know it, and I guarantee you I won't use it. . . . The problem I see is that they may be a little bit overextended because they have so many features to do, and that might make them grind it out at too high a rate. If you're asking is it a concern, I can't answer that yet, it's too early in the season. But we'll know when something is not right."

Watching tapes of three previous shows as well as last Saturday's "NBA Inside Stuff," something did not quite sit right with this viewer. Maybe it was Moran playing one-on-one in a gag-me cutesy feature on Muggsy Bogues. Maybe it was Rashad's conversation with Clippers rookie Bo Kimble as they strolled an ocean beach in a fading sunset. "One piece of advice I'd give you, being the big old dude that I am, is to have fun," said Rashad, who is all of 41.

Maybe it was all those features on the humble beginnings of stars like Chris Mullin, Isiah Thomas and Sam Bowie, each emphasizing how hard the players had worked at their games as teenagers, some to the detriment of their schoolwork. But look how it paid off: big-money contracts, mansions on the beach, pools in the backyard. In reality, it's the stuff of false hopes and broken dreams for the vast majority of young players, 99.9 percent of whom will never see the inside of an NBA locker room.

It got worse. During one show, Rick Mahorn was featured on his wedding day. As he dressed for the ceremony, Mahorn revealed, "The adrenaline's pumping now, I'm starting to sweat." Later, in the church just before it began, "I'm two steps from the exit sign and 15 steps from the podium. I guess I'll go the long route." Finally, as Mahorn and his bride knelt in prayer, the camera zoomed in on the soles of his shoes, where the big bad boy of the Philadelphia 76ers had painted "Why me?"

That's entertainment, courtesy of the NBA on NBC.