An NBA official said the league won't abandon Atlanta center Chris Washburn, but the Hawks don't expect him to return after being banned from the league for his third drug infraction.

As a three-time violator, Washburn was banned for life, the sixth player to be banished under the drug rule. Washburn does have the right to appeal for reinstatement in two years, but in the meantime his contract is terminated at a cost to him of at least $1.6 million.Although Washburn technically remains the property of the Hawks, team president Stan Kasten said Thursday: "That's small consolation for what's happened to Chris. Frankly, we're not counting on having him back."

The league gave no details in its statement released Thursday except to call it Washburn's "third violation."

The center-forward was suspended without pay by the NBA on Sept. 26, 1988, after a substance-abuse relapse and was returned to the league's rehabilitation center at Van Nuys, Calif. He did not play last season.

Gary Bettman, counsel for the NBA, said at the time that Washburn had received a "second strike" under the league's substance-abuse program, but he would not reveal what Washburn had done.

Washburn became the sixth player banned for life since the NBA drug policy was approved five years ago. The others were John Drew of the Hawks and Utah Jazz, Micheal Ray Richardson of the New Jersey Nets, Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins of the Houston Rockets, and Duane Washington of the New Jersey Nets.

Bettman said Washburn's problem was complying with requirements of rehabilitation.

"We've offered him the opportunity to come back into treatment. His agent, William McCandless, has been advised that the ban has been imposed. If Chris wants treatment, the league will provide it. We will not abandon him," Bettman said.

Washburn coach at North Carolina State, Jim Valvano, said he was surprised and disappointed by the news.

"I'm also very, very concerned with Chris, himself. I'm hoping he gets the help he needs," Valvano said. "He certainly seemed to be getting himself together when I saw him."

Washburn apparently has been away from or has moved out of his home in north Atlanta. His doctors and counselors declined to comment on his case.

Kasten informed league officials a month ago that Washburn was in an Atlanta treatment facility.

Washburn apparently had been released because Kasten said he had a strange meeting with Washburn outside his CNN Center office recently.

"He was on his way to see his girlfriend who works in a bank. He was very friendly, asked me how I was. I said, `Chris, never mind me, how are you?' He said he was doing great. He said: `I'll be back next season, Stan. I'll be ready.' Of course, that was slightly ridiculous."

Kasten has said he did not know if Washburn relapsed into abuse.