American Basketball Association

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American Basketball Association (ABA)
American Basketball Association (shield).gif
Logo ABA
Sport Basketball
Founded 1967
Ceased 1976
No. of teams 11
Country United States of America
New York Nets (2nd title)
Most titles Indiana Pacers (3 titles)

The original American Basketball Association (ABA) was a men's professional basketball league, from 1967 to 1976. The ABA ceased to exist with the American Basketball Association–National Basketball Association merger in 1976, leading several teams to join the National Basketball Association and the introduction of the 3-point shot in the NBA.

League history

The ABA was conceived at a time stretching from 1960 through the mid-1970s when numerous upstart leagues were challenging, with varying degrees of success, the established major professional sports leagues in the United States. Basketball was seen as particularly vulnerable to a challenge; its major league, the National Basketball Association, was the youngest of the Big Four major leagues, having only played 21 seasons to that point, and was still fending off contemporary challenging leagues (it had been less than five years since the American Basketball League (ABL) shut down). According to one of the owners of the Indiana Pacers, its goal was to force a merger with the more established league. Potential investors were told that they could get an ABA team for half of what it cost to get an NBA expansion team at the time. When the merger occurred, ABA officials said their investment would more than double.[1]

The ABA distinguished itself from its older counterpart with a more wide-open, flashy style of offensive play, as well as differences in rules—a 30-second shot clock (as opposed to the NBA's 24-second clock, though the ABA did switch to the 24 second shot clock for the 1975–76 season) and use of a three-point field goal arc, pioneered in the earlier ABL. Also, the ABA used a colorful red, white and blue ball, instead of the NBA's traditional orange ball. The ABA also had several "regional" franchises, such as the Virginia Squires and Carolina Cougars, that played "home" games in several cities.

The ABA also went after four of the best referees in the NBA: Earl Strom, John Vanak, Norm Drucker and Joe Gushue, getting them to "jump" leagues by offering them far more in money and benefits. In Earl Strom's memoir Calling the Shots, Strom conveys both the heady sense of being courted by a rival league with money to burn—and also the depression that set in the next year when he began refereeing in the ABA, with less prominent players performing in inadequate arenas, in front of very small crowds. Nevertheless, the emergence of the ABA boosted the salaries of referees just as it did the salaries of players.

The freewheeling style of the ABA eventually caught on with fans, but the lack of a national television contract and protracted financial losses would spell doom for the ABA as an independent circuit. In 1976, its last year of existence, the ABA pioneered the now-popular slam dunk contest at its all-star game in Denver.

The league succeeded in forcing a merger with the NBA in the 1976 offseason. Four ABA teams were absorbed into the older league: the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs. Two other clubs, the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis, were disbanded upon the merger, with each getting a buyout: the Colonels received a one-time buyout that owner John Y. Brown, Jr. used to purchase the NBA's Buffalo Braves, while the Spirits owners negotiated a cut of the other ABA teams' television revenues in perpetuity. This deal netted the ownership group of the Spirits over $300M through nearly four decades due to a large increase in television revenues. In 2014, the NBA and the Spirits ownership agreed to phase out future payments in exchange for a one-time payment of $500M, making the total value for the deal over $800M.[2] The seventh remaining team, the Virginia Squires, received nothing, as they had ceased operations shortly before the merger.

One of the more significant long-term contributions of the ABA to professional basketball was to tap into markets in the southeast that had been collegiate basketball hotbeds (including North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky). The NBA was focused on the urban areas of the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast. At the time, it showed no interest in placing a team south of Washington, D.C, other than the Atlanta metropolitan area where the NBA's Hawks franchise is established.


NBA great George Mikan was the first commissioner of the ABA, where he introduced both the 3-point line and the league's trademark red, white and blue basketball.[4] Mikan resigned in 1969. Dave DeBusschere, one of the stars of the New York Knicks championship teams, moved from his job as Vice President and GM of the ABA's New York Nets in 1975 to become the last commissioner of the ABA and facilitate the ABA–NBA merger in 1976.[5]


Of the original 11 teams, only the Kentucky Colonels and Indiana Pacers remained for all nine seasons without relocating, changing team names, or folding. However, the Denver Larks/Rockets/Nuggets, a team that had been assigned to Kansas City, Missouri, moved to Denver without playing a game in Kansas City due to the lack of a suitable arena. In addition to the four surviving ABA teams, seven current NBA markets have ABA heritage: Utah, Dallas, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, Memphis, and Charlotte all had an ABA team before the NBA arrived. The Louisville, Kentucky-Indiana market, former home of the ABA Kentucky Colonels, is considered a top contender for the next NBA expansion or relocation, and in fact the then Vancouver Grizzlies had Louisville as one of its four "finalists" for a new home before choosing Memphis in 2001. The Colonels led the ABA in attendance five of the ABA's nine seasons, with regular sellouts of 16,600+ fans at Louisville's Freedom Hall, since replaced by the 22,000-seat KFC Yum! Center.[6]

List of ABA championships

Year Western Division champion Games Eastern Division champion Playoffs MVP
1967–68 New Orleans Buccaneers 3–4 Pittsburgh Pipers Connie Hawkins C, Pittsburgh
1968–69 Oakland Oaks 4–1 Indiana Pacers Warren Jabali G, Oakland
1969–70 Los Angeles Stars 2–4 Indiana Pacers Roger Brown F/G, Indiana
1970–71 Utah Stars 4–3 Kentucky Colonels Zelmo Beaty C, Utah
1971–72 Indiana Pacers 4–2 New York Nets Freddie Lewis G, Indiana
1972–73 Indiana Pacers 4–3 Kentucky Colonels George McGinnis F/C, Indiana
1973–74 Utah Stars 1–4 New York Nets Julius Erving F, New York
1974–75 Indiana Pacers 1–4 Kentucky Colonels Artis Gilmore C, Kentucky

With the ABA cut down to seven teams by the middle of its final season, the league abandoned divisional play.

Year Winner Games Runners-up Playoffs MVP
1975–76 New York Nets 4–2 Denver Nuggets Julius Erving F, New York

Prominent players

For more information, see ABA All-Time Team.[7]

Season leaders

* Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Scoring leaders

Season Player Team(s) Games
Points PPG
Hawkins, ConnieConnie Hawkins* Pittsburgh Pipers 70 1875 26.8
Barry, RickRick Barry* Oakland Oaks 35 1190 34.0
Haywood, SpencerSpencer Haywood* Denver Rockets 84 2519 30.0
Issel, DanDan Issel* Kentucky Colonels 83 2480 29.9
Scott, CharlieCharlie Scott* Virginia Squires 73 2524 34.6
Erving, JuliusJulius Erving* Virginia Squires 71 2268 31.9
Julius Erving* (2) New York Nets 84 2299 27.4
McGinnis, GeorgeGeorge McGinnis* Indiana Pacers 79 2353 29.8
Julius Erving* (3) New York Nets 84 2462 29.3

Rebounding leaders

Season Player Team(s) Game
Daniels, MelMel Daniels* Minnesota Muskies 78 502 711 1213 15.6
Mel Daniels* (2) Indiana Pacers 76 383 873 1256 16.5
Spencer Haywood* Denver Rockets 84 533 1104 1637 19.5
Mel Daniels* (3) Indiana Pacers 82 394 1081 1475 18.0
Gilmore, ArtisArtis Gilmore* Kentucky Colonels 84 421 1070 1491 17.8
Artis Gilmore* (2) Kentucky Colonels 84 449 1027 1476 17.6
Artis Gilmore* (3) Kentucky Colonels 84 478 1060 1538 18.3
Nater, SwenSwen Nater San Antonio Spurs 78 369 910 1279 16.4
Artis Gilmore* (4) Kentucky Colonels 84 402 901 1303 15.5

Assists leaders

Season Player Team(s) Games
Assists APG
Brown, LarryLarry Brown* New Orleans Buccaneers 78 506 6.5
Larry Brown* (2) Oakland Oaks 77 544 7.1
Larry Brown* (3) Washington Caps 82 580 7.1
Melchionni, BillBill Melchionni New York Nets 81 672 8.3
Bill Melchionni (2) New York Nets 80 669 8.4
Bill Melchionni (3) New York Nets 61 453 7.4
Smith, AlAl Smith Denver Rockets 76 619 8.1
Calvin, MackMack Calvin Denver Nuggets 74 570 7.7
Buse, DonDon Buse Indiana Pacers 84 689 8.2

Steals leaders

Season Player Team(s) Games
Steals SPG
McClain, TedTed McClain Denver Rockets 84 250 2.98
Taylor, BrianBrian Taylor New York Nets 79 221 2.80
Don Buse Indiana Pacers 84 346 4.12

Blocks leaders

Season Player Team(s) Games
Blocks BPG
Jones, CaldwellCaldwell Jones San Diego Conquistadors 79 316 4.00
Caldwell Jones (2) San Diego Conquistadors 76 246 3.24
Paultz, BillyBilly Paultz San Antonio Spurs 83 253 3.05



In 1999, a new league calling itself the ABA 2000 was established. The new league uses a similar red, white and blue basketball as the old ABA, but unlike the original ABA, it does not feature players of similar caliber to the NBA, nor does it play games in major arenas or on television as the original ABA did.

See also


  1. ^ The Official NBA Basketball Encyclopedia. Villard Books. 1994. p. 180. ISBN 0-679-43293-0. 
  2. ^ Burke, Monte. "The NBA Finally Puts An End To The Greatest Sports Deal Of All Time". Forbes. Retrieved 2016-12-11. 
  3. ^ Sports Encyclopedia
  4. ^ "ESPN Classic: Mikan was first pro to dominate the post". Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  5. ^ "Dave DeBusschere Bio". Archived from the original on 11 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-09. 
  6. ^ Official ABA Guides, 1967–1976.
  7. ^ ABA All-Time Team Page (as selected at 30 year ABA anniversary event)

External links

  • Remember the ABA
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