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ABA-NBA merger

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Title: ABA-NBA merger  
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Subject: Basketball, National Basketball Association, Indianapolis, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Washington Caps
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ABA-NBA merger

The ABA–NBA merger was the merger of the American Basketball Association with the National Basketball Association, which after multiple attempts over several years finally occurred in 1976.

Origins of ABA-NBA competition

In 1967, there were only ten teams in the NBA and the league was resistant to expanding. Expansion teams were charged very high prices ($1.5 million in a time before any significant NBA television contract; over $8 million in 2007 dollars). As a result, businessmen in several cities decided to establish an alternative professional basketball league to compete with the NBA, with an eye toward an eventual merger with the NBA.[1][2] The competition between the ABA and NBA included often-brutal fights to sign the best players.[3][4] The ABA also made a bold move by signing the NBA's best officials (referees) to officiate ABA games.[5]

Early attempts at merger

From the very beginning, the ABA hoped to force a merger with the NBA, thus repeating the American Football League's successful effort to force a merger with the National Football League. According to The NBA Encyclopedia, the ABA's main selling point was that a potential owner could get an ABA team for half of what it cost to get an NBA expansion team at the time. ABA officials told prospective owners that if they held out until the merger, their investment would more than double.

In June 1970, only three years after the ABA began play, the NBA owners voted 13-4 to work toward a merger with the ABA.[6][7] Seattle SuperSonics owner Sam Schulman, a member of the ABA–NBA merger committee in 1970, was so ardently eager to merge the leagues that he publicly announced that if the NBA did not accept the merger agreement worked out with the ABA, he would move the SuperSonics from the NBA to the ABA. Schulman also threatened to move his soon-to-be ABA team to Los Angeles to compete directly with the Lakers.[8] The owners of the Dallas Chaparrals (now the NBA's San Antonio Spurs) were so confident of the impending merger that they suggested that the ABA hold off on scheduling and playing a regular season schedule for the 1971-72 season.[9] After the 1970-71 season Basketball Weekly wrote "The American basketball public is clamoring for a merger. So are the NBA and ABA owners, the two commissioners, and every college coach. The war is over. The Armistice will be signed soon."[10][11] The two leagues continued merger discussions and plans through the early and mid-1970s.[12]

The Oscar Robertson lawsuit

The early attempts at merging the ABA and NBA were delayed for years by litigation known as the Oscar Robertson suit, styled Robertson v. National Basketball Association, 556 F.2d 682 (2d Cir. 1977). After the NBA owners voted in 1970 to merge with the ABA, the NBA Players Association filed a lawsuit in April 1970 to prevent the merger on antitrust grounds.[13][14] The existence of the ABA resulted in increased salaries for players in both leagues as the ABA and NBA competed with each other to sign players.[3][15] The Robertson suit was finally settled on February 3, 1976, but for the entirety of its pendency it presented an insurmountable obstacle to the desired merger of the two leagues.[16]

Congressional action to allow the merger

In 1972, Congress came close to enacting legislation to enable a merger despite the Oscar Robertson suit. In September 1972 a merger bill was reported favorably out of a United States Senate committee. But the bill was put together to please the owners and ended up not pleasing the Senators or the players. The bill subsequently died without coming to a floor vote. When Congress reconvened in 1973 another merger bill was presented to the Senate, but did not advance.[17][18][19] As a result of the legislation's failure the ABA installed a new commissioner, Mike Storen, with part of his focus being the eventual merger of the two leagues as equals. Alex Hannum, who coached in both the NBA and ABA, said at the time of Storen, "The most important problem he has is still the merger with the NBA. And I believe his approach is just right for us. Storen wants to build our league to be the strongest. Then he can negotiate with the NBA as an equal."[20] Sports Illustrated noted at the time that "the tactics Storen says the ABA will employ sound a good deal more like those used by AFL Commissioner Al Davis in the last days of the football war than a plan for peaceful coexistence. The ABA has reinstituted its $300 million antitrust suit against the NBA. It also may move some franchises into better TV markets, an ill-advised maneuver that will mean going against established NBA teams on their home turf. And for the first time since 1970 the ABA will go after established NBA players. 'We will have exploratory contract talks with lots of their men,' Storen says. 'Whether we'll sign none, six or 10 of them will depend on how things work out. But you can be sure of one thing: we'll do this in a serious, orderly way.'"[20] As a result of the merger legislation not being enacted and the Oscar Robertson suit continuing, the two leagues did not merge until 1976, after the Oscar Robertson suit had finally been settled.[14]

Interleague competition in anticipation of merger

In the summer before the 1971-72 season the ABA and NBA met in an interleague All Star Game. The NBA won a close game, 125-120.[21][22] In that same preseason, ABA and NBA teams began playing exhibition games against each other.[6][23] The first such exhibition was played on September 21, 1971 with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks barely defeating the Dallas Chaparrals, 106-103.[23] Gradually, the ABA began to prove itself superior, going 15-10 against the NBA in 1973, 16-7 in 1974, and 31-17 in 1975. Overall, the ABA won more of these interleague games than the NBA did, and in every matchup of reigning champions from the two leagues, the ABA champion won, including in the final pre-merger season when the Kentucky Colonels defeated the Golden State Warriors.[24] Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan said of the ABA-NBA exhibition games: "When those exhibition games began, the view in the NBA was, 'Now we'll show those guys.' But then you know what happened - the ABA teams won nearly as often as the NBA did .... Those NBA-ABA games were intense."[25] Longtime NBA coach Larry Brown said of the ABA vs. NBA games, "When some exhibition games were arranged in the 1970s to make some money and we (the ABA) beat them, the NBA said they weren't up for the games. Come on. When I coached Carolina, we played the Knicks after they won a championship. I looked at their guys shooting around and I looked at my guys and I didn't want my players to take off their warm-ups because they looked so scrawny next to the Knicks - and we went out and beat New York. We also played the Celtics a couple of times and beat them. (Celtics coach) Tommy Heinsohn would say that we were playing to win and they weren't, but I'd check the box score and see that Tommy played his regulars 35 to 40 minutes, so what does that tell you?"[26]

Interest in ABA vs. NBA play extended beyond the two leagues' management. In 1976, CBS sought to establish a postseason playoff between the ABA and NBA, and to win the rights to broadcast those games.[27]

ABA's final season

Denver Nuggets and New York Nets attempt to depart

Before the 1975-76 season, the Denver Nuggets and New York Nets applied to join the NBA. The owners of the Nets and Nuggets had approached John Y. Brown, Jr. in an attempt to get his Kentucky Colonels to join their attempted leap to the NBA, but Brown refused, saying he was staying loyal to the ABA.[28] Ultimately, the Nets and Nuggets were forced to play a lame-duck season in the ABA by court order.

The Nuggets' and Nets' attempted move to the NBA created a great deal of ill will within the ABA, and brought attention to the emerging financial weakness of some of the league's lesser teams.[29][30]

Baltimore Claws, San Diego Sails and Utah Stars collapse

Meanwhile, the ABA saw three of its teams disappear before the end of 1975. The Memphis Sounds moved to Baltimore as the Claws, but were folded after only three preseason games after failing to post a performance bond with the league.[29][31][32] On November 12, 1975—three weeks into the season—the San Diego Sails folded. The Sails had been plagued by wretched attendance, and their owner had learned the team would most likely be excluded from any upcoming ABA–NBA merger because Los Angeles Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke didn't want competition in Southern California for either his team or their television coverage on the cable television system he owned. The Sails' players were put into a special dispersal draft.[29][33][34] [35] Shortly afterward, the Utah Stars, once one of the league's longstanding and successful teams, folded as well on December 2, 1975 as a result of not making payroll. Bill Daniels, the Stars' owner, was out of money due to his unsuccessful campaign to become Governor of Colorado and difficulties with other business ventures. (Daniels eventually paid back all Stars season ticket holders in full plus 8% interest). There had been talks between the Stars and the Spirits of St. Louis about the two teams merging, but the Stars folded before it could happen. Most of the Stars players, including Moses Malone, were sold to the Spirits of St. Louis.[29][36][37][38] With the ABA cut down to seven teams, the league abandoned divisional play.

Virginia Squires struggle

Another ABA team, the Virginia Squires, struggled mightily in its final two years. Blessed with remarkable talent in previous years, the Squires had sold fan favorites such as Julius Erving, Rick Barry, George Gervin, Warren Armstrong, Billy Paultz and Swen Nater because of constant financial problems.[39][40][41] In the 1974-75 season, the once-successful Squires posted a league's-worst record of 15-69.[39] In the 1975-76 season the Squires tied their own record, posting the identical league's-worst won-loss record. Moreover, due to dwindling attendance, the Squires were fighting just to survive until the end of the season. On several occasions, the Squires barely made payroll.[42]

By the end of the 1975-76 season, the Squires were completely out of financial resources. Although it had been apparent even before then that they would not be part of any merger, they were folded by the league on May 11, 1976 after failing to pay a $75,000 league assessment.[43]

The Final Six

After the Squires folded, the Kentucky Colonels, led by Artis Gilmore, defeated the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 1976 ABA Playoffs. The Colonels, in turn, lost a seven-game semifinal series to the Denver Nuggets, led by Dan Issel and David Thompson. The Nuggets, in turn, lost the ABA Finals to the New York Nets with Julius Erving, who had defeated George Gervin and the San Antonio Spurs to get there. The Spirits of St. Louis and their star Moses Malone had survived the regular season but missed the playoffs. All six teams were still standing as the ABA and NBA, with the Oscar Robertson suit settled, commenced their final merger negotiations.[44][45] The merger was finally consummated on June 17, 1976, at the NBA league meetings in the Cape Cod Room at Dunfey's Hyannis Resort in Hyannis, Massachusetts.[46]

Kentucky Colonels

The Colonels were one of the strongest franchises throughout the history of the ABA. In addition, the Kentucky Colonels-Indiana Pacers rivalry was the league's fiercest, and in all of professional basketball (NBA included), the Colonels ranked sixth in attendance.[47] In spite of that history, the Colonels' final games came in the 1976 ABA Playoffs as the defending champions bested the Pacers to advance to the semifinals before bowing out to the Nuggets in a tight seven game series.[48] John Y. Brown, Jr., the owner of the Colonels, preceded the 1975-76 season by selling star center Dan Issel for $500,000 to the Baltimore Claws. However, when the money never arrived, Brown sent Issel to the Nuggets. Shortly afterward, he sent defensive standout Teddy McClain to the New York Nets for $150,000. Those transactions, especially the sale of former University of Kentucky star Issel, turned off many of the Colonels' fans.[49] Though it was clear to everyone that the Colonels had the talent and the fan support to join the NBA for the 1976-77 season, in the face of various obstacles, Brown had other plans.[50] The NBA's Chicago Bulls desperately wanted Colonels star Artis Gilmore, whose NBA rights the Bulls owned, so the Bulls fought hard to keep the Colonels out of the merger.[51][52]

During the merger negotiations in June 1976, the NBA made it clear that it would accept only four ABA teams, not five. The Nuggets and Nets, clearly the ABA's two strongest teams, were obvious choices. The Spurs had posted impressive attendance numbers since moving from Dallas, and were thus a very attractive choice. With the Bulls letting it be known they would object to the Colonels being part of any merger, the Pacers were the next most viable choice.[52][53] Brown saw the writing on the wall and decided that it was better to fold the Colonels for cash, instead of continuing to fight.[52][53]

On June 17, 1976, Brown reached a financial agreement with the remaining teams in the ABA and folded the Colonels for $3 million.[52][54] In addition to the $3 million that Brown received for agreeing to fold the Colonels and stay out of the ABA–NBA merger, he also sold Gilmore's rights to the Bulls for $1.1 million.

According to the terms of the ABA–NBA merger the Kentucky Colonels players were placed into a dispersal draft (along with the players from the Spirits of St. Louis). The Chicago Bulls took Gilmore for $1.1 million. The Portland Trail Blazers took Maurice Lucas for $300,000, the Buffalo Braves took Bird Averitt for $125,000, the Indiana Pacers took Wil Jones for $50,000, the New York Nets took Jan van Breda Kolff for $60,000, and the San Antonio Spurs took Louie Dampier for $20,000. With the funds he received from the agreement with the other ABA teams and Colonels players sold in the dispersal draft, Brown promptly turned around and bought the NBA's Buffalo Braves for $1.5 million, and parlayed the Braves into ownership of the Boston Celtics. [54][55]

Spirits of St. Louis

Brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna had made a fortune as pioneers in the manufacture of polyester, and they wanted to own an NBA team. After an attempt to purchase the Detroit Pistons fell short, the Silnas purchased the ABA's Carolina Cougars franchise with the expectation of moving it into the NBA with the impending merger of the two leagues. The Silna brothers moved the Cougars to St. Louis, Missouri because it was then the largest city in the United States without a professional basketball team, and they thought this would make their team more likely to join the NBA. In 1974, the Cougars, roster and all, were overhauled and became the ABA's Spirits of St. Louis from 1974 through 1976.[56] The 1974–75 Spirits had upset the reigning ABA champion New York Nets in the 1975 Eastern Division Finals before losing to the eventual champion Kentucky Colonels, but in the 1975–76 season the Spirits' play was uneven and their attendance waned.[57][58]

The 1975–76 season had not turned out so well in terms of either attendance or wins on the court.[57][59] In May 1976, due to attendance problems in St. Louis, the Spirits announced that they were going to move to Salt Lake City, Utah to play as the Utah Rockies when a lease agreement for the Salt Palace was arranged.[57] This followed an attempted merger of the Spirits and the Utah Stars franchise during the 1975–76 season, a merger that, had it occurred, contemplated the team leaving St. Louis for Utah.[57][60] But the Stars folded before the merger could occur and instead, the Spirits bought the rights to some of the Stars' best players, including Moses Malone.[57][60] In an effort to be included in the ABA–NBA merger, the Spirits' owners, the Silna brothers, proposed selling the Spirits to a Utah group, buying the Kentucky Colonels franchise, and moving the Colonels to Buffalo to replace the Buffalo Braves, who were then planning to move to the Miami region. (The Buffalo franchise would eventually move to Southern California, first as the San Diego Clippers before moving north to Los Angeles; Salt Lake City and Miami eventually gained NBA franchises, Salt Lake City through the move of New Orleans a few years later, and Miami via expansion in 1988.) [61] The Spirits were not included in the merger, but the Silna brothers nonetheless managed to turn the merger, for them, into one of the greatest deals in the history of professional sports:[62][63][64][65]

In June 1976, the remaining ABA owners agreed, in return for the Spirits folding, to pay the St. Louis owners $2.2 million in cash up front in addition to a 1/7 share of the four remaining teams' television revenues in perpetuity.[52][57][64] As the NBA's popularity exploded in the 1980s and 1990s, the league's television rights were sold to CBS and then NBC, and additional deals were struck with the TNT and TBS cable networks; league television revenue soared into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Silnas continue to receive checks from the NBA on a yearly basis, representing a 4/7 share of the television money that would normally go to any NBA franchise, or about two percent of the entire league's TV deal.[57][64][66]

Thanks to their deal during the ABA–NBA merger, the Silnas received millions of dollars through the 1980s, and at least $4.4 million per year through the 1990s.[66] From 1999 through 2002 the deal netted the Spirits' owners at least $12.53 million per year; from 2003–2006 their take was at least $15.6 million per year.[62][64] The two Silna brothers each get 45% of that television revenue per year and their attorney during the merger negotiations, Donald Schupak, receives 10%.[62] They credit their terrific deal to careful planning: the Silnas had expected the Spirits and Colonels to enter the NBA but for the ailing Virginia Squires to be left out, and the Silnas thought up the television revenue deal as a way to treat the Squires' owners fairly if the Squires did not join the NBA with the other ABA teams.[62] As of 2012, the Silna brothers have received over $255 million in NBA television revenue.[67] despite the fact that the Spirits never played an NBA game. It is unknown, should St. Louis regain an NBA franchise (as was considered in the 1990's and early 2000's), what would happen to the settlement.

The terms of the ABA–NBA merger included the Spirits of St. Louis players being put into a special dispersal draft along with the Kentucky Colonels players. Marvin Barnes went to the Detroit Pistons for $500,000, Moses Malone went to the Portland Trail Blazers for $300,000, Ron Boone went to the Kansas City Kings for $250,000, Randy Denton went to the New York Knicks for $50,000 and Mike Barr went to the Kansas City Kings for $15,000.[55][61]

The folding of the Spirits dissolved a very talented basketball team, one that likely would have competed successfully in the NBA. Twelve players from the final two Spirits of St. Louis rosters (1974–76) played in the NBA during the 1976–77 season and beyond: Maurice Lucas, Ron Boone, Marvin Barnes, Caldwell Jones, Lonnie Shelton, Steve Green, Gus Gerard, Moses Malone, Don Adams, Don Chaney, M. L. Carr and Freddie Lewis.[68]

Merger terms for the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs

The NBA imposed the following terms on the four ABA refugees:

  • The new teams' arrival was treated as an expansion, not a merger. The four remaining ABA teams had to pay a $3.2 million expansion fee to the NBA by September 15, 1976.
  • The New York Nets were to pay an additional $4.8 million directly to their in-town rival, the New York Knicks, as compensation for "invading" the New York area.
  • The four ABA teams would receive no television money at all during their first three seasons in the NBA (1976–1979), and were to pay one seventh of their annual television revenues after that to the owners of the defunct Spirits of St. Louis in perpetuity.[62]
  • The four ABA teams would receive no votes related to the distribution of gate receipts or the alignment of NBA divisions for two years.
  • The remaining players from the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis would be made available to NBA teams through a dispersal draft, with superstars such as Artis Gilmore and Moses Malone going to teams other than the four ABA teams.[69]

The indemnities and other penalties were as draconian as the penalties that the AFL teams faced as a consequence of the AFL–NFL merger in 1970.[70][71]

In addition, the NBA would not recognize ABA records.

The Nets offered their superstar forward Julius Erving to the Knicks in return for waiving the $4.8 million territorial penalty fee, but the Knicks declined the offer.[72] Instead, Erving was sold to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million. In effect, the Nets traded their franchise player for a berth in the NBA.

Immediate results of the ABA–NBA merger

In the first NBA All Star Game after the merger, 10 of the 24 NBA All Stars were former ABA players.[73]

In the first post-merger season's NBA Finals between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Philadelphia 76ers, five of the ten starting players were former ABA players.[73] (Those five starters from the ABA were Julius Erving, Caldwell Jones, George McGinnis, Dave Twardzik and Maurice Lucas).[73]

Of the 84 players in the ABA at the time of the merger, 63 played in the NBA during the 1976–77 season.[73] In that first post-merger season, four of the NBA's top ten scorers had come over from the ABA (Billy Knight, David Thompson, Dan Issel and George Gervin).[73]

Don Buse, who joined the NBA with the Pacers, led the NBA in both steals and assists during that first post-merger season.[73] The Spirits of St. Louis' Moses Malone finished third in rebounding; the Kentucky Colonels' Artis Gilmore was fourth. Gilmore and his former Colonels teammate Caldwell Jones were both among the top five in the NBA in blocked shots.[73]

Tom Nissalke left the ABA to coach the NBA's Houston Rockets in the first post-merger season and won the Midwest Division; Nissalke was named NBA Coach of the Year.[73] Former Kentucky Colonels coach Hubie Brown took over the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, and the four former ABA teams kept their coaches as they entered the NBA.[73]

Denver Nuggets

In 1974, Denver changed its name from the Denver Rockets to the Denver Nuggets in anticipation of the ABA–NBA merger, because the NBA already had a team called the Houston Rockets.[74]

In their first NBA season, the Nuggets – a team that had never won an ABA championship – finished with the league's second-best record, 50–32, and won the Midwest Division.[74] In their second NBA season, the Nuggets repeated as Midwest Division champions, and in their third season the Nuggets missed a third consecutive division title by a single game. Although the financial and draft penalties caused the team to slip a little bit after coach Larry Brown's departure, the Nuggets would remain an NBA power throughout the 1980s.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs, who could never get past the first round of the ABA playoffs before the merger, won NBA division titles in five of their first six NBA seasons.[75] This was in spite of the financial and draft penalties imposed on the team. The Spurs then went through a period of decline in the late 1980s, but rebounded in the 1990s, and in 1999 became the first former ABA team to win an NBA championship. They have since won three more NBA titles, in 2003, 2005 and 2007. In 2003, the NBA Finals matched two former ABA teams, the Spurs and the New Jersey Nets.[76]

Indiana Pacers

After years of being the ABA's strongest team on the floor and in attendance, the merger caught the Pacers at an awkward moment financially. Indeed, they were in worse financial shape than the Kentucky Colonels, who did not join the NBA. The team had started unloading their stars during the last ABA season. After their first NBA season, the Pacers resorted to broadcasting a successful telethon in order to survive financially into their second NBA season.[77] In part thanks to the telethon, the Pacers' average attendance jumped from 7,615 during the 1976–77 season, their first in the NBA, to 10,982 during the 1977–78 season.[77]

The Pacers finished their inaugural NBA season with a record of 36–46. Pacers Billy Knight and Don Buse represented Indiana in the NBA All-Star Game. However, this was one of the few bright spots of the Pacers' first 13 years in the NBA. During this time, they had only three non-losing seasons and only two playoff appearances. Finally overcoming the draft and financial penalties imposed in the merger, the Pacers won NBA Central division championships in 1995, 1999, 2000, 2004, and 2013. They reached the NBA Finals in 2000, and reached the Eastern Conference finals the previous two years and again in 2013.

New York Nets

The Nets, severely handicapped by the financial penalties placed upon the team, sold Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers. Nate Archibald, the one bright spot left on the roster, broke his foot and the Nets finished their first NBA season at 22–60, the worst record in the league. After that first NBA season, the Nets moved to New Jersey and had a few more weak seasons there before finally improving in the early 1980s as they overcame the financial penalties imposed during the merger. By 1984, the Nets were making the NBA playoffs and by 2002 the Nets finally made the NBA Finals, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. They made it to the NBA Finals again in 2003, this time losing to the San Antonio Spurs, another former ABA team. In 2012, the Nets moved to Brooklyn.

Nets' owner Roy Boe said of the merger, "The merger agreement killed the Nets as an NBA franchise. ...The merger agreement got us into the NBA, but it forced me to destroy the team by selling Erving to pay the bill."[78]

ABA Dispersal Draft, 1976

The rosters of the Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis were put into a special dispersal draft in 1976.

= All-Star
= Hall of Fame

Round One

Pick Player Nationality NBA Team ABA Team Purchase Price
1 Artis Gilmore (C)  United States Chicago Bulls Kentucky Colonels $1,100,000
2 Maurice Lucas (PF)  United States Portland Trail Blazers (from Atlanta) Spirits of St. Louis $300,000
3 Ron Boone (PG)  United States Kansas City Kings Spirits of St. Louis $250,000
4 Marvin Barnes (C)  United States Detroit Pistons Spirits of St. Louis $500,000
5 Moses Malone (C)  United States Portland Trail Blazers Spirits of St. Louis $350,000
6 Randy Denton (PG)  United States New York Knicks Spirits of St. Louis $50,000
7 William Averitt (PG)  United States Buffalo Braves (from Milwaukee) Kentucky Colonels $125,000
8 Wil Jones (PF)  United States Indiana Pacers Kentucky Colonels $50,000
9 Ron Thomas (SF)  United States Houston Rockets Kentucky Colonels $15,000
10 Louie Dampier (PG)  United States San Antonio Spurs Kentucky Colonels $20,000
11 Jan van Breda Kolff (SF)  United States New York Nets Kentucky Colonels $60,000

ABA contributions to NBA play

3-point field goal

The three-point field goal was used in the ABA; the NBA originally disparaged it, but eventually adopted it.[79]

Angelo Drossos, owner of the San Antonio Spurs: "When the leagues merged, the NBA moguls didn't want the 3-point shot. Red Auerbach hated it and said the Celtics would never go along with it. He had everybody up in arms against the play. Of course, a few years later Red drafted Larry Bird and suddenly he was all for it. And suddenly one of the bigger attractions at the All-Star Game is the 3-point shootout."[80]

Slam Dunk Contest

The ABA originated the idea of the slam dunk contest at the 1976 ABA All Star Game; the NBA subsequently adopted it.[81][82][83] The slam dunk contest has ever since been a major part of the NBA's All Star Weekend (with the exception of 1998 and 1999).[84][85]

Pressing and trapping defenses

Pressing and trapping defenses, not used in the slower-tempo NBA, were common in the ABA, and after the merger began to play a larger role in the NBA.[86]

Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers star: "When the Knicks were pressing and shooting 3-pointers and all of that under Rick Pitino, people acted as if that was something new. Hey, half the teams in the ABA played like that."[87]

Hubie Brown, former head coach of the Kentucky Colonels, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies: "We (the ABA) were ahead of the NBA in so many different ways. We had the 3-point play. The NBA said it was a gimmick; now it's one of the most exciting parts of the pro game . . . . About everything we did in the ABA they do now in the NBA except they didn't take our red, white and blue ball."[86]

Faster pace of play

The ABA had a far faster pace than the NBA, and this carried over into the NBA after the merger; today's NBA game is largely derived from the ABA.[88][89] Longtime Denver Nuggets head coach and ABA alum Doug Moe, who also coached the Philadelphia 76ers, has commented, "The NBA now plays our (the ABA's) kind of basketball."[90]

Drafting of underclassmen

Prior to the ABA, the NBA did not allow college underclassmen to enter the league. In 1969 the ABA's Denver Rockets signed Spencer Haywood, a sophomore star at the University of Detroit who had played on the 1968 United States Olympic basketball team. The NCAA sued, but Haywood and the ABA prevailed. Julius Erving and George Gervin also joined the ABA's Virginia Squires as underclassmen, as did Jim Chones going from Marquette University to the New York Nets, George McGinnis from Indiana University to the Indiana Pacers and Ralph Simpson from Michigan State to the Denver Rockets. Moses Malone joined the ABA's Utah Stars straight out of high school.[91] Eventually after the merger the NBA followed suit and the drafting of college underclassmen became common in that league[92] and high school players were also selected in subsequent NBA drafts.[93]


  • Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Julius Erving: "In my mind, the NBA has just become a bigger version of the ABA. They play the style of game that we did. They sell their stars like we did. The only difference is that they have more resources and can do it on a much grander scale than we in the ABA ever could."[89]
  • Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Moe: "One of the biggest disappointments in my life was going into the NBA after the merger. The NBA was a rinky-dink league - listen, I'm very serious about this. The league was run like garbage. There was no camaraderie; a lot of the NBA guys were aloof and thought they were too good to practice or play hard. The NBA All-Star Games were nothing - guys didn't even want to play in them and the fans could [sic] care less about the games. It wasn't until the 1980s, when David Stern became commissioner, that the NBA figured out what the hell they were doing, and what they did was a lot of stuff we had in the ABA - from the 3-point shot to All-Star weekend to the show biz stuff. Now the NBA is like the old ABA. Guys play hard, they show their enthusiasm and there is a closeness in the league. Hell, the ABA might have lost the battle, but we won the war. The NBA now plays our kind of basketball."[90]
  • Sportswriter Bob Ryan: "When writers such as Jim O'Brien and Peter Vescey wrote that the two leagues were very close, that some ABA teams were among the top five of all pro basketball teams, I thought they had no objectivity and that they were too close to the teams they were writing about to really understand pro basketball. Then came the merger, and Denver and San Antonio won division titles. What could I say? Guys like Jim O'Brien were right."[94]

See also



  • Pluto, Terry, Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association (Simon & Schuster, 1990), ISBN 978-1-4165-4061-8
  • , October 25, 1976
  • , January 1976

External links

  • Dan Pattison article on failure of 3 ABA franchises during the league's final season
  • , CNBC, June 28, 2007
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