How the ABA Lives on Today

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In 1967, the American Basketball Association, or ABA, was formed to go against the National Basketball Association, or NBA. The ABA fought for popularity against the more established league. The two both played basketball, but the similarities ended right about there. The NBA was a less entertaining game than it is today, as players rarely dunked and showboating was at a minimum. However, when the ABA came around with its red, white, and blue ball and its three point line, it took some fans from the older NBA. The NBA was still the dominant league, but they now had some competition. Right away, the leagues were fighting for players and even referees. Some players, even when drafted by the National Basketball Association, chose to join the ABA. The ABA challenged the NBA by offering the referees a lot more money and better benefits. This resulted in the NBA giving their referees the same to keep them on board.

The ABA had a style and a flair to it that the NBA did not; this was a result of the personalities of the players and even the people running the league. The afros of players such as Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore, and Darnell Hillman perfectly represented the freewheeling style of the league. The ABA paved the way for future high-flying players such as Michael Jordan. The first slam dunk contest took place at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star game. The NBA also stole this from the ABA, implementing it during the 1984 All-Star weekend. In the 1974 ABA Draft, the Utah Stars selected Moses Malone, who became the first high-schooler to skip college and go directly to the pros. Malone and Spencer Haywood, who in 1969 became the first player to play professionally before his college class graduated, paved the way for prep-to-pro stars and eventually one-and-done players. This is another example of the footprint that the American Basketball Association left on the NBA. Despite the entertainment that this league provided, they had financial troubles and could not secure a national TV deal.

In 1976, the American Basketball Association merged with the NBA, and the NBA absorbed four teams: the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and New York (now Brooklyn) Nets. Two of the final six ABA teams folded, the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis. As a result of the Spirits folding, their owners, the Silna brothers, and the owners of the four teams joining the NBA agreed to a deal in which Ozzie and Daniel Silna would receive 1/7 of each of the four teams’ television revenue, or 4/7 total, in perpetuity. This is often recognized as the greatest business deal in sports history, and for good reason; the Silna brothers made about 300 million dollars from this deal, and the NBA bought them out in 2014 for a whopping total of $500 million. Since the merger, all four teams have been title contenders at some point or another, and the Spurs have won five championships. The ABA affected the NBA with the three point line and the uptempo, high-flying pace, but also with the many great players that came into the league after playing in the NBA, such as George Gervin, Rick Barry, Erving, and Gilmore. Although it has been forty years since the last time that red, white, and blue ball was in the hands of Mack Calvin, Louie Dampier, or Marvin Barnes, one can see the reflection of the old American Basketball Association in every dunk.



Alan Goldsher, FanDuel