Less than two years after broadcaster Marv Albert pleaded guilty in an Arlington courtroom to a misdemeanor assault charge and was fired by NBC, the network rehired him yesterday to do play-by-play on NBA games next season. Albert signed a multiyear deal that will include assignments in pro basketball, Olympic boxing and ice hockey.

"This is a very happy day at NBC Sports," said Dick Ebersol, president of the unit, who acted to bring Albert back when he learned Fox Sports was trying to sign him to broadcast football next fall. "He's been a great friend and he's a great talent. I made it clear from the beginning that I always wanted him to return. We wanted him to come home."

NBC terminated Albert's contract in September 1997 after hearing sexually explicit testimony in a trial that drew national attention. A former girlfriend accused Albert of throwing her onto a bed, biting her on the back and forcing her to perform oral sex in an Arlington hotel room in February 1997.

Albert pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault in an agreement with prosecutors. He was given one year probation and ordered to undergo court-monitored counseling.

In a telephone conference call with reporters yesterday, Albert said he he did not consider his latest job with NBC as any sort of "redemption. . . . It's hard for me to make a judgment on the word redemption. It's better to look ahead rather than look back. . . . Everything has gone in the right direction the last 1 1/2 years."

Commonwealth Attorney Richard Trodden, who prosecuted the case in Arlington, said yesterday that Albert successfully completed his therapy and probation "and the judge dismissed the case at the end of a year.

"I really don't care one way or the other [about NBC hiring back Albert]. He's done his time and that's between him and NBC."

Albert began rebuilding his career when the Madison Square Garden network, which also had fired him as the voice of the Knicks, rehired him a year ago as the anchor for "MSG Sports Desk" and half of the Knicks' games. Last March, Turner Sports signed him to a long-term contract to do NBA coverage on its TNT cable network.

Albert is generally recognized as a versatile and talented sports broadcaster. He made his reputation as the play-by-play voice of the Knicks and N.Y. Rangers as well as on WNBC in New York. He joined NBC in 1977 and handled a variety of assignments in addition to a full plate of local broadcasts.

Ebersol said he had read several weeks ago that Albert and his representatives were in discussions with Fox about joining that network as an NFL play-by-play announcer. He said he began having informal discussions with Albert about returning "because I realized that it could be another three or four years before he'd be available again."

Albert will continue to work for both MSG and Turner under terms of his agreement with NBC. Ebersol said he will fall in behind the two lead NBA teams of Bob Costas and Doug Collins and No. 2 team of Tom Hammonds, Steve Jones and Bill Walton, with a partner to be named later.

NBC is going to increased regionalization of its weekend NBA coverage, and Ebersol said at least four strong announcing teams are now necessary. NBC will air at least 55 games next season, including 34 over 14 regular season weekends.

"We did what we felt we had to do, and Marv's done what he's had to do," Ebersol said, adding that the network did no research among advertisers and fans to gauge reaction to Albert's return, as Turner Sports had done prior to hiring him.

"Marv's been back on with two competitors and we all share the same advertiser pool and the same fans," Ebersol said. "It is not an issue."

CAPTION: ALBERT