February 4, 2012

ABA, founded 45 years ago, left imprint on NBA

Old league might be gone, but it provided spark to game that today's basketball fans hold so dear.

Ask the Dallas Mavericks' elder statesman what he knows about the American Basketball Association and he'll provide the basics.

"It was about scoring," Jason Kidd, 38, said. "The ball was used to spice up the game in a sense by going red, white and blue, and the 3-pointer meant more points. There weren't any teams scoring just 80 points a game. If they scored 80, they got kicked out of the league."

Not quite, but forgive Kidd if his memory on why teams folded is a little fuzzy. The ABA doesn't naturally register in the memory banks of today's NBA players. It's a simple matter of mathematics.

None of the league's current players was born when the ABA came into the existence in 1967, and only a select few were alive when the renegade league merged with the NBA a decade later.

Even as the NBA's fourth-oldest player, Kidd isn't old enough to remember watching an actual ABA game. But many of his playing peers appreciate the legacy left by the ABA. The 3-point shot and All-Star weekend are among the ABA's lasting contributions to the NBA.

The ABA's open-court style introduced a playground element that the stodgy, by comparison, NBA initially tried to ignore. Sure, the upstart circuit often played before tiny crowds in dingy arenas with franchises that changed addresses like David Thompson changed his knee-high socks.

But at its essence, the ABA's brand of ball couldn't simply be tossed aside. To dismiss the ABA would be to turn your back on Julius Erving, George Gervin, Moses Malone, Rick Barry, Larry Brown, Hubie Brown and Artis Gilmore.

"You know about the players, the way they played, the ball," San Antonio Spurs forward Richard Jefferson said. "There were so many great teams that came over."

This season marks both the 45th anniversary of the ABA's founding and 35th year since four franchises -- Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and Spurs -- joined the NBA. These milestones are being recognized by the time-honored NBA tradition of selling jerseys.

Throughout the month of February, nine teams -- Charlotte Bobcats, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets and San Antonio -- will wear commemorative ABA uniforms and host special in-arena events.

The uniforms, made in conjunction with adidas, feature designs from the teams' pasts or as originally worn by the former ABA franchises in that geographic region. The lineup: Charlotte (Carolina Cougars), Los Angeles (Los Angeles Stars), Memphis (Memphis Tams), Miami (Miami Floridians), Minnesota (Minnesota Muskies), New Jersey (New York Nets) and San Antonio (Texas Chaparrals).

The NBA and adidas worked diligently to make the throwback uniforms as true to the originals as possible. Though the fabrics and construction are made to modern standards, the designs are nearly 100 percent accurate, according to the league.

Though the trained eye might spot some small additions.

"With respect to logos, certain teams back in this era did not have logos on their shorts, and we believe that the addition of a team's logo to the short completes the story of the uniform," said Christopher Arena, NBA vice president for apparel, sporting goods and basketball partnerships.

Because the ABA lasted 10 years, deciding on which year to use for the respective teams also proved to be a process.

"Each season we work with adidas to analyze relevant years, anniversaries and accomplishments to determine how best to represent historic moments in NBA history and, subsequently, how to bring them to life on court," Arena said. "For this season, with it being the 45th anniversary of the ABA, we felt it was a good way to celebrate that league's entire story.

"We made sure to feature the four core ABA teams and the others were selected based on unique designs, names, logos, etc. We then worked with each NBA team to determine which specific year to honor and whether to use the home or road iterations."

Jefferson didn't have a clue who the Texas Chaparrals were. (That franchise originated in Dallas before relocating to San Antonio in 1973 and being renamed the Spurs.) He did say the level of play in the ABA shouldn't be discounted where compared to its former rival.

"The ABA was a league, and it was no different than the AFL and NFL joining," Jefferson said. "It wasn't like there were two separate entities. You had superstars in the NBA and superstars in the ABA, like George Gervin and Dr. J. Just because they adopted the NBA name doesn't make it disappear. It was two equally talented leagues joining."

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