Costas Joining Former Players for ABA Reunion

Bob Costas is a sports broadcasting legend, having done just about everything there is to do behind a microphone, and at the highest levels. He's never enjoyed a job more, however, than his first one out of college as the play-by-play voice of the American Basketball Association's Spirits of St. Louis in the mid-1970s.

"Everything's a new experience," he recalled. "You don't care how much money you're making and you're having the time of your life."

That's why Costas is coming to Indianapolis this weekend to emcee the banquet for the ABA 50th Reunion at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 7. He'll accept no payment for his services, contributing to the labor-of-love motif of the weekend. He'll also perfectly represent the spirit of the ABA. Not the Spirits, the spirit. Because most of the participants would agree, they didn't make much money — by today's standards — but they had the time of their lives.

The weekend's events include a private reception for the players on Friday, a sports card and memorabilia show at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday from 9-3 p.m., and then a banquet at The Fieldhouse on Saturday evening. Costas will interview some of them in a roundtable discussion and relive memories of the ABA, which lasted nine years beginning with the 1967-68 season.

"Costas is stoked," Dr. John Abrams, a member of the reunion's executive committee said.

"(The event organizer) wanted us to have Bob up there for 20 minutes with the players. Costas says, 'I want an hour. Maybe an hour and a half.' I guarantee you, it will be the most entertaining thing of the evening."

For the fans, anyway. For the former players, simply renewing acquaintances figures to be the highlight. More than 100 have RSVP'd, including Naismith Hall of Famers Rick Barry, Louie Dampier, George Gervin, Artis Gilmore, Julius Erving, Dan Issel, and George McGinnis. Several former Pacers also will attend, including Don Buse, Wayne Chapman, Steve Chubin, Oliver Darden, John Fairchild, Mike Flynn, Donnie Freeman, Steve Green, Jerry Harkness, Earle Higgins, Darnell Hillman, Billy Keller, Billy Knight, Ron Kozlicki, Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, Bill Newton, Wayne Pack, Ron Perry, Mike Price, Dave Robisch, and Tom Thacker,

Former Pacers coaches Slick Leonard and Larry Brown also are expected to be on hand, as will former trainer David Craig.

Another former Pacers star, Mel Daniels, left a lasting imprint on the reunion before he passed away in 2015. A group in Louisville had begun talking of organizing a reunion about five years ago. Tarter met them through his work with Dropping Dimes and was asked if the organization wanted to work with them. Tarter took the idea to Daniels, the starting center on the Pacers' three ABA championship teams and was quickly rebuffed.

"If there's going to be a reunion, it's going to be in Indianapolis," Daniels responded.

And that was that.

"Mel is the reason everything shifted over to Indianapolis," Tarter says.

Mel Daniels

Pictured: Before he passed away, late Pacers legend and Hall of Famer Mel Daniels made sure that the upcoming ABA reunion would take place in Indianapolis. (Credit: Pacers Sports & Entertainment)

The reunion is a labor of love for Costas and the reunion organizers. Costas isn't taking a speaking fee. The executive committee members have donated countless hours of their time, and in some cases, money.

The reunion committee's executive director is Donn Detzler, a retired consultant and longtime Pacers fan who has memories of attending "a zillion" games at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. Abrams, whose father was the Pacers' first ophthalmologist, was a ballboy as a child. Local attorney Scott Tarter also was a rabid fan who once waited in line for an hour at Washington Square Mall to get an autograph from Darnell Hillman. Film maker Ted Green is not an Indianapolis native, but produced documentaries on Leonard and former Pacers star Roger Brown.

They have been assisted by local event organizer Maribeth Smith.

The reunion has been a full-time job for Detzler the past few weeks, as he deals with most of the details.

"The fun thing is talking to the players," Detzler said. "Every day a few call and want to know something. I'm still like a kid in the candy store when these guys call. These guys are all so humble and just good guys. They're willing to talk about their background and happy about what they did and they're excited about this event. It's a feel-good sort of thing."

Profits from the event will go to the Dropping Dimes Foundation, an Indianapolis charity formed to aid former ABA players. The reunion organizers, however, emphasize their primary motive is to put on a reunion, not a fundraiser. An "ask" for donations will be made and a few items will be auctioned off, but the fundamental goal is to bring the former ABA players and others associated with the league together to renew acquaintances.

Probably for the last time, in fact. Many of the former ABA players are in their seventies now, and their numbers are dwindling at a quickening pace. Costas ran off a list of several ABA stars who have passed away in the past few years.

"It's inevitable, but it still hits you hard," he said.

Besides, 50 is a common anniversary number for reunions. What could possibly come next?

"You're not going to do a 53rd reunion," Costas said.

1960s Reunion

Pictured: Members of the ABA Pacers teams from the 1960s are honored during halftime on the 1960s Decade Game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Nov. 12, 2016. (Credit: Frank McGrath)

Most of the income from the event will come from the sale of tables to corporations, at $2,500 or $5,000. The NBA purchased a table and will have representatives on hand. The league also has made video footage and still photos available to the organizers. The Pacers have purchased three tables.

Some former ABA team owners also have sought to contribute. Dan Silna, one of the owners of the St. Louis franchise, volunteered to pay for the cost of the rings that will be given to each former player. Red McCombs, who once owned the San Antonio Spurs, cannot attend but donated $10,000.

"He's not asking for anything in return," Tarter says. "He just wanted to be a part of it."

Individual tickets for the banquet, priced at $350, are no longer on sale, although some could become available if there are cancellations. Information regarding tickets can be found at https://droppingdimes.org/aba_50th/. Registration for the banquet will begin at 6:30 p.m. About 65 tables have been sold.

The players also will be available at a sports card and memorabilia show at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $10, with children 14 and under admitted for free. The directors for that event are Al Hunter and Netolicky.

A ring presentation will begin at 11 a.m. The presenters include Major Joe Hogsett, Senator Joe Donnelly, Congresswoman Susan Brooks and other dignitaries.

An autograph signing will begin at 12:30. An application has been submitted to Guinness World Records for it to be recognized as the largest-ever mass autograph signing, and a representative will be on hand to verify.

Visitors must purchase a pennant for $149.75 or a basketball for $229.75 to obtain player autographs, with all proceeds beyond expenses going to Dropping Dimes.

The foundation has helped several former ABA players since its formation a few years ago.

One had his house ransacked while he was staying with his wife in the hospital. The vandals turned on all the water faucets, destroying much of the home. A contractor was found to rebuild the house and put them in a hotel while the work was completed.

Another player needed cremation expenses for his daughter, who died unexpectedly.

Another had serious dental problems that was not covered by Medicaid, and received donated orthotics, services and travel expenses for three flights to Indianapolis.

Others have received donations of food and clothing.

While the charity is not the reason for the reunion, organizers hope proceeds from the weekend activities will help address various needs.

"It's a group of ABA fans trying to pull off the coolest post-ABA event in history," Tarter says.

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Mark Montieth's book, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," covers the formation and early seasons of the franchise. It is available at retail outlets throughout Indiana and online at sources such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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