I never appreciated the ABA as much as I should have when it was in existence. Too busy seeing the shoddier aspects and not paying enough attention to some of the deeper thought that went into some of the things they did. Yeah, big hair, dunks, 3pt shot and RW&B ball. I'm thinking more about the way they used the entire court for offense. Doug Moe. At the time, the NBA was dominated by big players and I didn't mind that. But, I don't remember the NBA working the game quite as much as it seems the ABA did. The other aspect was that the ABA I thought more resembled the playground game which made it more relatable. The ABA had personality, too. There were some really great stories in that league - I suspect there were just as many interesting stories in the NBA, but the NBA was uptight in comparison. The team names beat the heck out of the NBA's and the uniforms were crazy. And they had players that they were unafraid to showcase. There was the Doc, of course. (Jim) McDaniels, Maurice Lucas, Marvin Barnes Louis Dampier. Early Moses, the best of Dan Issel, David Thompson playing free, Warren Jabali. Sometimes I think that Pete Maravich was the ABA packaged into one guy. Today's NBA schemes up a lot like the ABA except that ... and this is with all due respect to talented, skilled, and hard-working marketing departments around the league.....it just lacks the charm of the ABA. I guess the NBA's fate is to never be the upstart league which comes with it's share of romanticism. But the ABA was never as laminated as the NBA seems to be. My misfortune to never have been to an ABA game live. One could say they should resurrect game tapes and put them on some streaming channel. I dunno about that one...that was then, this is now. It might offer an interesting comparison/contrast exercise tho.
We tend to romanticize when we get nostalgic. When you associate events or goods with your youth, you tend to overvalue them. Like when we watch old TV shows or movies and can't figure how we even saw what was going on. Even my stamp collection doesn't really seem like so much fun anymore. OK, it didn't then, either, but there was only so much to do while we had candle wax. The ABA was in some respects a Ponzi scheme with big contacts and bonuses which were frauds and games played in arenas with crowd sizes about the same as the G-league. I recall going to games in Commack, Long Island wearing full winter gear because there was no heat in the old airport hangar they were using. But what the ABA did is drag the NBA kicking, screaming and suing into its modern era. Though the NBA had some of its greatest stars ever in the 60s with Wilt, Oscar, Elgin, Russell, Cousy, and West, it had evolved into a relatively stagnant, conservative game perhaps exemplified by New York's favorite team ever, the 70-73 Knicks.
They won a pair of titles and could have had a third with singular players like Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. Not only because of the emphasis on centers and post-play in that era, the Knicks in what was the inspiration for Phil Jackson adjusting the triangle offense for the 90s Bulls played a selfless brand of team ball. But very ground-based with precise execution. The ABA then brought the inner city to the big cities. It represented the south with its look and style and the flair of a culture mostly ignored. It spoke to the fans both literally and visually. It helped take the restraints of the corporate conservatism—kicking and screaming, as it were—off the NBA to clear the stage for Magic and Bird and their passing and the Lakers/Celtics revival and onto Michael and the Bulls, to LeBron's and Kobe's theatrics and the game that's played today with the shooting and dunking and challenging and fashion individualism. The NBA owes a great debt to that league more than the usual few pages of history. Perhaps the appropriate celebration takes place next February when the All-Star game comes to one of the greatest and original ABA cities, Indianapolis, home of the Big O and the dynasty Pacers of Roger Brown, George McGinnis, and Mel Daniels. Yeah, Rick Mount, too.