They call it the forgotten league. Some call it the reason the NBA became so great in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, it's sad how little appreciation the now-defunct American Basketball Association, or ABA, receives from basketball fans both old and young.
Let's not forget that this is the league that gave us basketball legends like Julius Erving (pictured) and Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Also, without the ABA, we might never have experienced the three-point shot or some of the electrifying offensive play we see in the game today.
Some of the greatest players to ever play the game got their start in the ABA, and some never left that organization. That being said, let's honor the eight greatest and often flashiest players who ever played in this league.
The story of Spencer Haywood is an interesting one. He attempted to join the NBA after just two years of college, but was forbidden from doing so due to NBA rules at the time which prohibited a player from turning pro until his class graduated. Thus, Haywood joined the ABA's Denver Rockets.
The 6'8" forward made the most of his lone ABA season, leading the league in scoring (30 PPG) and rebounding (19.5 RPG) and won the league's MVP award before departing for the Seattle SuperSonics, which generated more controversy. The NBA looked to disallow the contract, but Haywood and the team's owner filed an antitrust suit against the league, Haywood v. National Basketball Association. The league eventually agreed to a settlement and Haywood became a star in Seattle.
Yet, that isn't to say that Haywood was not without some infamous moments. His most notable incident occurred during the 1980 NBA Finals when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers. Head coach Paul Westhead suspended Haywood and the talented forward ended up hiring a Detroit mobster to kill the Lakers' coach. The hit was eventually called off, but it still makes Haywood one of the biggest ABA personalities.
Nicknamed "Iceman," George Gervin was to basketball what Mariano Rivera is to baseball. No matter how much pressure was on or how anxious the situation seemed, the man kept his cool and retired as one of the game's most clutch scorers.
His ABA tenure began with the Virginia Squires in 1972. At his tryout for them, he supposedly went 22-of-25 from beyond the arc and was immediately offered a contract. He spent a season-and-a-half with the Squires before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs. When the ABA and NBA merged, he remained with the Spurs and is best known for his playing days there.
Gervin also became known for his trademark move, the finger roll. Thanks to him and his electrifying play, the NBA became, well, more fun.
Artis Gilmore could be an ABA legend solely on his size. At 7'2" and 240 pounds, he was one of the most dominating centers of his generation. His professional career began with the ABA's Kentucky Colonels, with whom he spent five years.
Looking at the man's ABA stats, I'm simply blown away. Over four years, he averaged 21.7 points, 17.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocks. His first three years in the league, he led the ABA in rebounding.
On top of that, Gilmore was so good that in his rookie season he won both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. He spent time with the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics following the merger, but was never the electrifying and dominant center he was in the ABA.
Still, there is no denying that in the days of the ABA, Gilmore was easily the best big man around.
The story of John Brisker is definitely one for the archives. He spent three years in the ABA playing for the Pittsburgh Pipers/Condors and I believe it was his teammate, Charlie Williams, who said it best.
"He was an excellent player," said Williams. "But say something wrong to the guy and you had this feeling he would reach into his bag, take out his gun, and shoot you."
The team used Brisker's volatile personality to promote him as an enforcer, as he got into fights on the court often. In one instance, he was ejected two minutes into a game after elbowing Denver Rockets' player Art Becker hard. Brisker charged Becker on the court three more times over the course of the game, despite being ejected, before police got involved.
In 1978, however, Brisker went on a trip to Uganda and was never heard from again. Some say he became a mercenary, while others say he was executed by a firing squad after Idi Amin was removed from power. In 1985, he was declared legally dead.
Before he was scoring and rebounding his way towards becoming an NBA legend and Hall of Famer, Moses Malone actually spent two years in the ABA. He abandoned a scholarship to the University of Maryland to join the pros and in the process became the first player to ever skip college and go right to the pros.
In two seasons, one with the Utah Stars and another with the Spirits of St. Louis, Malone averaged 17.2 points and 12.9 rebounds. Following the merger, he became a star with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers.
His ABA tenure may have been short, but you have to admit. The man was a god among men when he played there.
He only spent two seasons in the ABA, playing for the Spirits of St. Louis, but Marvin "Bad News" Barnes was one of the league's most talented players. In his brief ABA career, Barnes averaged 24 points and 13.2 rebounds. Those rebounding numbers are pretty sick considering how Barnes was just 6'8".
Yet, after the merger, Barnes had a hard time. His nickname "Bad News" was due to the multitude of problems he had off the court. Barnes had a drug problem that essentially forced him out of the NBA and he ended up homeless on the streets of San Diego in the early 1980s.
He has overcome all of his problems and now gives anti-drug talks to children in his hometown of South Providence, Rhode Island. While it is a shame that his NBA career went nowhere, we will always have memories of Bad News Barnes' ABA days.
Come on. You really thought I'd do an ABA slideshow and not honor Dr. J? The man was an absolute beast in the league for five seasons, spending two with the Virginia Squires and three with the New York Nets. Of those five, he led the league in scoring three times.
Each of his three years with the Nets, Erving was the ABA MVP and he won two league championships in 1974 and 1976. He was also a dynamic rebounder, averaging 12.1 boards per game for his ABA career.
Yet, what Erving was best known for during his ABA days was his electrifying dunking. He popularized the now-famous tomahawk dunk and took that talent with him to the NBA, where he was a star for the Philadelphia 76ers.
He may be best known for his time in the City of Brotherly Love, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Erving had a load of fans in the Big Apple during his ABA days.
I didn't include a picture of Rick Barry in an ABA uniform for two reasons. First, I couldn't find one of him, so you have my sincerest apologies. Second, Barry's ABA career is interesting in that he first spent two years in the NBA before joining the Oakland Oaks due to a pay dispute with the then-San Francisco Warriors.
Barry then spent five years in the ABA with the Oaks, Washington Capitols and the New York Nets. While in that league, he played in four All-Star Games before returning to the NBA after the merger.
Yet, Barry is an interesting ABA personality because while Erving was known for his dunks, Barry was known for his free throws. Instead of shooting them conventionally, Barry shot them underhanded. Most would consider this to be ineffective, but Barry actually led the league (both ABA and NBA) in free throw percentage seven times.
Love him or hate him, the man was a legend. His time in the ABA only helped his NBA legend status to grow.