Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Defending the ABA

This week, it was reported that Kobe moved past Shaq into 5th place on the all-time NBA scoring list. Wrong. Kobe moved past Shaq into 7th place on the all-time scoring list, not 5th.

The NBA still does not officially recognize statistics from the ABA. I don’t understand why. When you look at a list of the top passers in NFL history, you see the pre-merger AFL numbers for Joe Namath and Len Dawson and George Blanda included in their career total. There is no AFL asterisk. There are not two separate lists, one saying “NFL Only Yardage” and one saying “NFL-AFL Combined Yardage.” That’s as it should be.

Granted, I’m an ABA apologist, but I think this is an easy argument for anyone to understand. The ABA was not a minor league. The ABA was, in many ways, miles ahead of the NBA. The style of play, the coaching, the promotions, the dunking--in the 60’s and 70’s the ABA was what the NBA became in the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, it took the NBA-ABA merger (or absorption, as some say) to jump start a boring and somewhat dying NBA.

Superb, Hall of Fame players like Julius Erving, Moses Malone, George Gervin, Dan Issel, Rick Barry, and others are constantly having their great careers either downgraded or altogether ignored by the NBA and it’s followers. The ABA points scored by Dr. J came against a solid level of competition in a professional league that eventually was absorbed by the NBA--there is no reason his 11,662 points as a Virginia Squire and New York Net should not count in the eyes of the NBA. Dr. J’s numbers dipped when he came into the NBA, but it was not because of the better competition--instead it had to do with his aging knees and the dynamics of his new Sixers team.

When the two leagues merged, the ABA leftovers immediately made their presence felt. The Nuggets and Spurs were perennial playoff teams. The first post-merger All-NBA team (’76-’77) featured four ABA players (David Thompson, Gervin, Erving and George McGinnis) on the first and second teams. The next year, 3 of the 5 on the first team were from the ABA (Erving, Gervin, Thompson).

There is no doubt in my mind that the last dominant ABA team, the ’74-’76 New York Nets (who won two titles in three years), would have given the mid-70’s NBA Champion Warriors and Celtics a run for their money, or would have flat-out beaten them in a seven game series. The Nets featured Erving, John Williamson, the at-times brilliant Brian Taylor, Rich Jones, and the original Dunking Dutchman Swen Nater. They were more athletic than either the Celtics or Warriors, and, they were coached just as well (if not better) by Kevin Loughery than Boston or Golden State were by Tom Heinsohn and Al Attles.

Kobe Bryant is 7th, not 5th on the all-time scoring list. The NBA chooses to ignore the ABA point totals of Dr. J and Moses Malone, both of whom scored more points in their careers than Kobe has. Dirk is 26th on the all-time scoring list, not 21st. Dirk is behind Erving, Malone, Issel, Gervin and Artis Gilmore, not ahead of them. Gilmore’s 7,169 ABA rebounds should not be ignored (as he had to work for those against sometimes more athletic and all-out meaner front lines than he would have faced in the NBA). Gilmore should be recognized as the 5th leading rebounder of all-time--instead, the NBA ranks Gilmore 42nd. What a crime.

In November of 2010, Tim Duncan was celebrated as the Spurs all-time leading scorer, passing George Gervin with his 20,709th point. In fact, Duncan still hasn’t caught Gervin, whose own ABA-rooted organization doesn’t even acknowledge the ABA numbers put up by the Iceman. Ridiculous.

It’s time somebody stepped up and made the case for the ABA greats. I’m happy to carry the torch. Sorry Kobe, you’re 7th--you’ve still got about 1,500 more points to score before you pass Julius Erving into 5th place on the all-time scoring list.


  1. Love the ABA, one of the best sports books ever "Loose Balls" by Terry Pluto is a great look at the ABA, highly reccomend it for any basketball fan

  2. Amen brotha. I'll never forget sitting in my dentist's office the summer of '76 when the SI came out with Dr J in his Nets uniform leaning on Dave Cowens after the merger.
    The 1976 ABA all-star game had the first ever slam dunk contest. Featuring Doc J, David 'Skywalker' Thompson, and the Junes very own George 'Iceman' Gervin, it is widely regarded as the best slam dunk contest ever and ushered in the spectacular dunk to the NBA.
    The first post merger finals in 1977 (Sixers - Blazers) had 5 of the 10 starters from the ABA (Doc J, Caldwell Jones, Dave Twardzik, George McGinnis (he of the shot put free throw), and Mo Lucas).
    Even though the Sixers lost in 6 games after winning the first 2, Dr J averaged 30.3 PPG for the series.
    I think the mid-70s Nets could compete in the NBA today.

  3. You are so right Junior. I'm sure when the leagues merged the NBA's player association probably only okayed the deal if ABA players stats did not follow through.

    The NBA doesn't really respect its history. The NBA has always promoted its individual players over its teams.

    It was the addition of ABA teams that changed the NBA forever, in fact, todays NBA is really the old ABA style with a different name.

    As a teacher I always get a laugh when kids tell me how Kobe is the greatest ever, how Lebron has changed the world and how Blake Griffin invented the dunk, etc... To them, Will Ferrell is the ABA.

    Because the NBA wants to pretend the ABA never happened, they are without a clue and that's a shame.

  4. Thanks for the reminder. It would be one thing if the ABA were a minor league like the USFL with only a few star players crossing over. But some of the original ABA teams are STILL in the NBA! And Gilmore was awesome.