LeBron James is playing in a throwback game from a different era.
The National Basketball Association’s big weekend party is in Los Angeles. Commissioner Adam Silver will tell people that the NBA is doing great and maybe Seattle will eventually get back into the league. The gala celebration will include an All Star Game which seems to be an afterthought. The NBA All-Star Weekend really should be called the American Basketball Association All-Star Weekend. The ABA invented the show in Denver in 1976 because Denver Nuggets ownership needed something more than basketball to sell tickets. There was a pre-game concert with Charlie Rich and Glen Campbell but it was the halftime slam dunk contest which showcased top ABA talent that turned a sports exhibition into an event. An event that the NBA would embrace. It could be argued that the NBA stole everything but the ABA’s red, white and blue basketball and a three-point play when the league took in four ABA teams in June, 1976 for a reported $3.2 million each. The NBA held no grudges against ABA personnel but tellingly never did recognize ABA records although Brooklyn, Denver, Indiana and San Antonio do celebrate their individual roots and the league has made some money by selling ABA throwback shirts.
The ABA-NBA marriage had been six years in the making. In 1972 and 1973 Congress took up legislation that would have allowed an NBA-ABA merger but the effort failed. The NBA brought in a former Kennedy White House staffer Lawrence O’Brien, the ultimate Washington insider, as Commissioner with the hope of getting merger legislation passed. He failed. On June 17, 1976, the two leagues either merged or the NBA expanded. There was no needed for Congressional approval. The NBA got stars, nine of the NBA’s top 20 scorers in the 1976-77 season came from the ABA. Much of the NBA of today was created by a league that was a failure.
The NBA borrowed the ABA’s best ideas.