History of the American Basketball Association

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It isn’t easy to imagine the landscape of sports entertainment without basketball. Undoubtedly, the sport is one of the most revered, most anticipated ball games on the face of the planet. From its humble history and invention by a college instructor, the game had now become the global athletic sensation that millions of fans patronize.

As a huge fan of Basketball, the National Basketball Association (NBA) may have been a common word in your vocabulary. After all, it’s the biggest thing in the world of basketball. But, have you heard about American Basketball Association? Does ABA ring a bell?

A RIVAL TO NBA

The American Basketball Association was a professional basketball league (just like the NBA) founded in 1967. Interestingly, ABA was initially formed to rival the then already well-established NBA. But, the main objective of the younger league was to force a merger between it and the more established institution, which is the NBA. The NBA Encyclopedia mentions that the ABA was adamant in pursuing the merger, convincing potential owners that they could own an ABA team for only half of what the team initially cost to get an NBA expansion. The league also promised surviving owners of the prospect that their investment doubles, should the merger push. It finally happened in 1976.

A LEAGUE ON ITS OWN

referee dressed in black and white stripes holding an orange Spalding basketball

Being a professional basketball league of its own, ABA has distinguished itself with more wide-open and straightforward offensive gameplay. ABA also had differences in the rules, such as using a 30-second shot clock and the three-point field goal arc. The shot clock’s at 24 seconds in its older counterpart, and ABA later switched to the same rule during the 1975-76 season. 

Another unique thing about ABA is its use of a red, white and blue colors ball which is slightly flashier than NBA’s standard orange basketball. The ABA had several regional franchises, like the Virginia Squires and Carolina Cougars. 

However, the league was undoubtedly understaffed and less popular. Earl Strom, a then NBA professional basketball referee who jumped to ABA, recounts his memoir ‘Calling the Shots’ the disheartening conditions he witnessed in the following years after his transfer from the NBA. Despite ABA’s more generous offer, the man details how depressing it was to referee in inadequate arenas where players head to the game in front of a minimal crowd. ABA can only see the protracted financial losses and inevitable doom with its current state as an independent unit. Before its dissolution in 1976, the league pioneered the slam dunk contest, a now popular addition to the basketball game.

THE ANTICIPATED MERGER

a basketball team in white jerseys sitting on the bench

With the American public, ABA, and NBA owners and commissioners clamoring for the merger, the armistice was forged, and the two professional basketball leagues merged. It resulted in the absorption of four teams into the NBA, namely Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets, and San Antonio Spurs. However, two other teams collapsed and disbanded due to the merger: Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis. The Virginia Squires, on the other hand, missed the opportunities that the union might have offered, having folded only weeks before the settlement.

One important thing that came upon the merger was the ABA’s introduction of the three-point shot system to the NBA in 1979 – a system introduced to ABA by its first commissioner, George Mikan. The three-point shot, a field goal or basket shot made from beyond the three-point arc surrounding the basket, was an essential addition to sports rules and had drastically improved the gameplay since then.

 In addition, ABA introduced NBA to the Spencer Haywood Hardship Rule, which later became the modern NBA’s draft eligibility system. The said rule allows for eligibility of high school graduates and college attendees to make it for the NBA Draft even before graduating in college.

THE ABA COMMISSIONERS

Through the nine seasons of the league’s existence, these commissioners took the reins as ABA’s chief executives.

George Mikan (1967–1969)

James Gardner (1969 as an interim)

Jack Dolph (1969–1972)

Bob Carlson (1972–1973)

Mike Storen (1973–1974)

Tedd Munchak (1974–1975)

Dave DeBusschere (1975–1976) 

THE TEAMS IN ABA

For all nine seasons, the Kentucky Colonels and Indiana Pacers remained in the league without changing their names, relocating, or folding; them out of the original 11 teams comprising the ABA. Here are the others. 

Anaheim Amigos 

Baltimore Claws 

Baltimore Hustlers 

Carolina Cougars 

Dallas Chaparrals 

Denver Larks 

Denver Nuggets

Denver Rockets 

The Floridians 

Houston Mavericks 

Indiana Pacers

Kansas City 

Kentucky Colonels 

Los Angeles Stars 

Louisiana Buccaneers 

Memphis Pros 

Memphis Sounds 

Memphis Tams 

Miami Floridians 

Minnesota Muskies 

Minnesota Pipers 

New Jersey Americans 

New York Nets 

New Orleans Buccaneers 

Oakland Americans 

Oakland Oaks 

Pittsburgh Condors

Pittsburgh Pioneers

Pittsburgh Pipers 

San Antonio Gunslingers 

San Antonio Spurs 

San Diego Conquistadors 

San Diego Sails 

Spirits of St. Louis 

Texas Chaparrals 

Utah Rockies 

Utah Stars 

Virginia Squires 

Washington Caps 

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