A Salute to the ABA!

Over the weekend, it dawned on me that all four of the basketball teams from the American Basketball Association back in 1976 were in the NBA’s first round playoffs this year.

The ABA’s Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, and the San Antonio Spurs all made it into the 2019 NBA playoffs.

This marks just the sixth season (out of 42 seasons since the NBA/ABA merger) that all four of the ABA’s surviving teams have made it into the NBA playoffs in the same year (1994, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2013). 

San Antonio has made it into the NBA playoffs for a record 22 straight seasons (winning five NBA championships during that time).  None of the other three ABA teams have won an NBA championship yet.

So, with the ABA quartet into the first round of the NBA playoffs, my ancient basketball brain took an enjoyable nostalgia trip back into the 1970’s to look at the always fun and suspenseful drama on the nine-year history of the ABA.

In the late 1960’s, it became clear that football’s American Football League was going to “make it” and join the established National Football League. 

The next great sports idea was to do it again – this time with a competing basketball league!

At the time the American Basketball Association was born in 1967, there were only ten NBA teams (there are now 30!). 

The ABA and began play in eleven cities.  Below is a list of the original teams and nicknames:

Indiana (Indianapolis) Pacers (as in the pace car at the Indy 500)

New York/New Jersey Americans (later changed nickname to “Nets”)

Denver Rockets (later changed nickname to “Nuggets”)

Dallas Chapparals (moved to San Antonio six years later and became the Spurs)

Kentucky (Louisville) Colonels (yes, as in “KFC”)

Houston Mavericks

Minnesota (Minneapolis) Muskies (a freshwater fish in northern states)

New Orleans Buccaneers

Oakland Oaks

Pittsburgh Pipers

Anaheim Amigos

Only the top four teams above ended- up coming into the NBA nine years later in 1976.  However, only the Indiana Pacers and the Kentucky Colonels stayed in the same city for all nine years of the ABA’s existence and never changed nicknames. 

The Denver Rockets officially changed their nickname in 1974 to “Nuggets” after the NBA moved the San Diego Rockets to Houston (a city which had failed miserably in the ABA).  By 1974, Denver was hopeful that their ABA team would be accepted into the NBA. Even if the league folded, the city felt comfortable that it would likely receive an NBA expansion team soon thereafter.

The Houston Mavericks’ ABA franchise was moved twice.  After two seasons in Houston playing to sparse crowds, the team moved to North Carolina and became the Carolina Cougars as it played home games in the cities of Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem. 

Five years later, the team was moved again to St. Louis and became “The Spirits of St. Louis” for two seasons before the league was dissolved.  The team played to crowds in St. Louis of less than 1,000 per home game.

The owners in St. Louis had been left out of the NBA/ABA merger, but they demanded to receive a percentage “cut” of the future television revenues associated with the ABA franchises in perpetuity.   In the merger year of 1976, the NBA and ABA television revenues were relatively insignificant (a few million dollars per season). 

However, by the year 2012, reports claimed that the owners of the defunct St. Louis ABA franchise had received an estimated $255 million in television revenues since the league’s 1976 merger with the NBA.  In the past few years, the NBA negotiated a buy-out and renegotiated to award the ABA’s St. Louis owners over $500 million in cash and a much smaller future TV royalty percentage.

Meanwhile, other ABA franchises simply wandered from city to city and ultimately folded.

The Minnesota Muskies became the Miami Floridians after just one year in 1968.  Like the team in Carolina, the “Floridians” then traveled around the state with Miami, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, and West Palm Beach hosting “home” games for four years until the team folded in 1972.

The New Orleans Buccaneers swashbuckled their way to the first ABA championship back in 1968.  By 1970, the team moved to Memphis (nicknames ranged from Pros, Sounds, and TAM’s (Tennessee-Arkansas-Mississippi – GENIUS, eh?). 

In 1975, the team moved to Baltimore and renamed the “Hustlers”.  After public protests prior to their first game, the team changed names to “Claws”.  They folded during the Preseason in Baltimore in 1975! 

The Oakland Oaks survived for two seasons before moving to Washington (Capitals) in 1969.  After only one season, the team relocated to Virginia and, like Carolina and Miami, traveled from city to city (Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond, and Roanoke) for their home games for the next six seasons before the team folded just one month prior to the ABA/NBA deal in 1976.

The Pittsburgh Pipers played one year in the Steel City and then, despite solid attendance (by ABA standards, that is), moved to Minneapolis for its second season.  Lack of attendance in Minnesota in 1968 forced the team to move back to Pittsburgh in 1969. 

The team came back to Pittsburgh but the fans weren’t happy that the Pipers “played them” (pun intended).  So, management opted for a “Name the Team” contest. 

The winning entry was the Pittsburgh Pioneers.   A local college already had the Pioneer moniker and threatened to sue!  Thus, the team became known at the Pittsburgh Condors for three seasons before the team folded in 1972 (four years before the NBA/ABA merger).

The original Anaheim Amigos became the Los Angeles Stars in 1968 after just one season.  After two lackluster years in the big city, the Stars relocated to Salt Lake City and became the Utah Stars.  

The Utah Stars drew great crowds (8,500 per game), but the owner apparently wasn’t very good at managing the team’s expenses. The team folded in 1975 after the owner missed the team’s payroll.   

Eventually, Utah’s fans were rewarded and Salt Lake City eventually received an NBA team in 1979 when the New Orleans Jazz NBA franchise owner relocated his team there (and, oddly enough, didn’t change the team’s nickname).  The Utah Jazz still play in today’s NBA.

The American Basketball Association brought the red, white, and blue basketball (which I still love), the three-point shot (which the NBA finally adopted in 1969), and added a significant increase of player talent such as future Hall-of-Famers Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Moses Malone, Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore, and my personal favorite, sharpshooting guard, Louie Dampier

The ABA’s teams and talented players gave the NBA some much needed energy and innovation at a time when professional basketball was struggling to find its niche.

SwampSwami salutes and will forever treasure his memories of the ABA! 

Go, Spurs, Go! They sure are!

Since 1997, the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs have been winners.  For twenty one consecutive seasons, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA playoffs in the difficult Western Conference and, in five of those seasons, won the NBA championship.

The names are legendary.  David “The Admiral” Robinson, Tim “The Big Fundamental” Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Coach Gregg Popovich have formed the foundation of a franchise which has embraced the team concept of basketball in a city which loves them back even more.

As San Antonio’s fans chanted, “Go, Spurs, Go”, the team changed play in the star-dominated NBA by implementing a deft combination of skilled passing, unselfish team play, and smothering and hustling defense.

Age eventually caught up with Robinson and Duncan as these two NBA greats have retired.  Point guard Tony Parker is now 36 years old but has 17 years in the league.  Running mate Manu Ginobili is now 40 years old and has been teetering on retirement for the past few seasons.

A new generation of Spurs stars began to emerge after soft-spoken forward Kawhi Leonard was taken with the 15th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft out of San Diego State.  Known in college for his hustle, defense, and coachability, Leonard wasn’t an offensive star for the Aztecs as he averaged a pedestrian 15 points per game in his sophomore campaign prior to entering the NBA draft.

Under the guiding hand of Coach Pop and the support of San Antonio’s team of future NBA Hall-of-Famers, Kawhi Leonard blossomed into a two-time NBA All-Star who averages over 20 points per game while also being named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year twice as well.  After winning his lone NBA championship ring alongside Tim Duncan in 2014, the Spurs success torch looked to be safely passed into the hands of Kawhi Leonard.

In 2015, the Spurs added Portland Trailblazer star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in an effort to give Leonard the closest thing to a Tim Duncan clone in the NBA.  The Spurs remained competitive, but the Golden State Warriors zoomed right past San Antonio as the wheels started coming off the bus in the Alamo City.

Kawhi Leonard severely injured his ankle in the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors in 2017 as the Spurs bowed out.  This past season, Leonard sustained another injury to his right leg and missed most of the 2017-2018 season.

As doctors cleared Leonard to play in early 2018, Spurs’ teammates such as Tony Parker chided Kawhi Leonard for his hesitancy to rejoin the team for the stretch run.  He never took the court again as the Spurs management and Leonard seemed to quietly indicate that a bruised ego may have been more a factor than his leg.

Last weekend, Spurs legend Tony Parker broke the collective hearts of Spurs Nation by accepting an offer from the Charlotte Hornets to move on after 17 seasons with the team.  Teammate Manu Ginobili could announce his retirement at any time, too.

Kawhi Leonard remains under contract with the Spurs for another season, but the rumors have been flying that Leonard’s petulant star act could find him traded to another team soon if the price is right.

More rumors are floating that even LaMarcus Aldridge, who came to San Antonio with the goal of winning another championship with Leonard and the legendary Spurs veterans, might be on the trading block, too.

It is looking more likely that the San Antonio Spurs are preparing to quickly morph from 21 seasons as professional sports’ model of perpetual success into a rebuilding franchise intent on starting tossing nearly everyone overboard and starting over again.

Go, Spurs, Go!  Watch closely.  It looks like they already are.

 

And here’s to you, Mr. Robinson!

At long last, the 2017-2018 National Basketball Association season has ended.  The Golden State Warriors are the NBA champs (again) after beating the Cleveland LeBrons (again).  James Harden of the Houston Rockets won the MVP (overdue), while Philly’s Ben Simmons won the “I’m not quite a” Rookie of the Year award over a quite deserving REAL rookie from Utah named Donovan Mitchell.

Last week, the NBA held their annual player draft and, to no one’s surprise, the first round was dominated by the selection of a series of young men who attended (allegedly) their college/university for the mandated minimum of one season.  These “one-and-done” players have been the source of many SwampSwami lamentations in this blog over the past year as I believe most of the young hoopsters selected are a big risk and could use a few more years to mature before going pro.

I came across a very interesting article in which one of the NBA’s greatest fifty players was asked his feelings about these young bucks entering the NBA at the tender age of 19.

David Robinson played for 14 seasons in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.  He won two NBA championships, a league MVP trophy, Rookie-of-the-Year in 1989 and played in ten NBA All-Star games during his time in the Association.  For his NBA playing career, Robinson managed to earn $116 million in salaries, while his current worth is estimated to be a very healthy $200 million.

He didn’t enter the NBA until he was 24 years old.

The reason?  David Robinson came out of high school and committed to attending the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  As his NCAA basketball eligibility ended, the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (who drafted him in the first round) had to wait another two more years while “The Admiral” fulfilled a service commitment with the US Navy.

Robinson, who graduated college in four years with a major in mathematics, was able to work a deal with the Navy to serve only the first two years of his service commitment.  As a result of his height (he had grown from 6’6″ to 7’1″ during his time at the Naval Academy), Lieutenant David Robinson was now too tall to serve his country in a traditional capacity aboard most naval vessels.

So what does David Robinson think about the chances of the ten “one-and-done” players selected in the first 14 picks of last week’s 2018 NBA draft?

“Scary, you wouldn’t have liked a one-and-done David Robinson,” Robinson says. “I was still growing. I gained 60 pounds my first two years in college. I was still a toothpick and I hadn’t even learned what my body could do. It’s nice letting a guy mature physically and emotionally because coming into the league, that’s the big jump. It’s the emotion, the intellect of the game and I needed that time.”

In 1989, David Robinson, at the age of 24, played his first game with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.  He averaged over 24 points and 12 rebounds per game in his first season and was the unanimous pick for the NBA Rookie-of-the-Year.  Thirteen years later, the Spurs’ legend retired from the game and still lives in the San Antonio area.

Robinson is speaking from personal experience when discussing the risks which NBA teams are taking by selecting such young talent early in the first round of the draft.

“I like the mature guys. I don’t understand the argument that a guy’s a little older … he’s two or three years older, or he’s a senior in college, so he’s maybe not as valuable. I don’t understand that thought process.”

Bravo!  More young basketball players and NBA talent scouts should listen to this very wise NBA Hall-of-Famer.

Here’s to you, David Robinson!

 

 

 

 

 

NBA – Tim Duncan rebounds again after financial fraud case

A well-respected financial investment company uses the slogan, “Talk to Chuck!”.  After a lengthy court battle with his former financial advisor named Charles Banks, I don’t think that 41-year old NBA legend Tim Duncan will be talking to his ex-advisor named “Chuck” anytime soon.

On Wednesday, a San Antonio federal court sentenced Charles Banks, Duncan’s former financial advisor, to four years in prison and to pay restitution of $7.5 million to Duncan after he pleaded guilty to wire fraud.  Over the course of his time working with Banks, Tim Duncan invested $21.4 million with him and has only $7 million remaining to show for it.

At a Tuesday court hearing, Duncan read a statement to the judge which revealed the same type of determined personality which he displayed during his 19-year NBA career (all with the San Antonio Spurs) which will carry him into basketball’s Hall-of-Fame.  In the statement, Duncan said he prided himself on being not being the stereotypical dumb athlete that can easily be taken advantage of.  He admitted later that he was fine with the sentence handed down for his former financial advisor.

To put this story in better context, Tim Duncan remains a rarity in the NBA.  He actually played basketball for all four years in college and graduated with a degree in Psychology from Wake Forest University prior to becoming the NBA’s #1 overall draft pick in 1997.  Some 20 years later, the 6’11” forward remains the last college graduate to be picked first in the annual NBA player selection draft.  When Duncan was a college junior, he was asked why he chose to stay for his final year in college.  Duncan replied, “I’m having fun in college…the money will be there.”

And it sure was!  Duncan’s on-court earnings over his 19-year NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs were estimated at $224 million.

The NBA is filled with young men who have significantly less formal education than Duncan, and most of them have little or no experience regarding managing their long-term personal finances.  The NBA has become a league of young millionaires.  Would you believe that there were 415 (correct) NBA players who made $1 million or more during the past season?  The chances to perpetrate financial fraud by shady opportunists such as Tim Duncan’s ex-advisor, Charles Banks, is increasingly high.  The same thing goes for multi-million dollar players in major league baseball, football, and hockey leagues.

Tim Duncan remains one of my favorite NBA players.  He was always a courteous interview and a rare sports star who didn’t seek the limelight.  He was nicknamed “The Big Fundamental” by his peers for his repetitively precise shooting, rebounding, and shot blocking skills. Duncan won five NBA championship rings by blending into the Spurs’ team philosophy and trusting his coaches and teammates.  Based on his personal nature, it isn’t a surprise that Duncan may have given his trust once he built a relationship with his former financial advisor.

Though investment fraudster Charles Banks may have gotten away with a rare “steal”, The Big Fundamental rebounded and ultimately prevailed to help put this shyster where he belongs – in jail.

 

 

 

NBA Draft preview – Does it pay to “tank”?

Tonight, the NBA’s annual player draft will be held in the city which boasts two of the worst teams in the league, New York City.  Home of basketball’s woeful Brooklyn Nets and putrid New York Knicks, America’s largest city shares the hopes of several other NBA cities that their teams will improve next season by making one the early picks during the first round of the draft.

In general, the worse your team’s record, the earlier you get to choose a new player in the next draft.  These teams hold hopes that one of these valuable early picks will blossom into the next LeBron James, Stephen Curry, or Tim Duncan.

Some franchises have gone all-in on the idea of “tanking” for one or more seasons to draft one of the best players in the following year’s NBA draft.  By purposefully finishing at or near the bottom of the standings in one or more seasons, they promise their ticket-paying fans that the franchise can quickly rebuild a championship-caliber (or, at the least, competitive) team by adding these so-called “can’t-miss” early draft picks.

For example, the Philadelphia 76ers, after making a deal this week with Boston, will select the first player in tonight’s draft.  Philly has acknowledged that they have employing a purposeful tanking policy for the past four years and begged their fans to remain patient while this rebuild is underway.

The Sixers have certainly delivered on their promise to lose basketball games in record numbers.  In the past four seasons, Philadelphia has finished 14th, 14th, 15th, and 14th again this season in the 15-team NBA Eastern Conference.  With those early picks in the following drafts, the 76ers have added Joel Embiid (Kansas), Jahlil Okafor (Duke), Ben Simmons (LSU), and tonight’s #1 overall choice (likely to be Markelle Fultz of the University of Washington).

The ever-loyal and boisterous Philly fans are, for now, buying into the hope/hype as season ticket sales for the coming year have spiked even before their new version of the Fantastic Four laces up their sneakers for next season.

But, does this strategy actually work?  Let’s take a look at the last four NBA champions and see how they did it:

  1. Golden State Warriors (2017 and 2015 champs) – Finished 13th in NBA West in 2011 and emerged as champions in 2015.  Though Golden State improved itself through the draft, they never picked higher than #11 during this period (Klay Thompson) while another starter (Draymond Green) was picked in the second round.  No tanks!
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers (2016 champs) – After LeBron James departed to take his talents to Miami in 2010, the Cavs finished 15th in the NBA Eastern Conference in 2011, and 13th in both 2012 and 2013.  In the 2011 draft, they truly scored big with the #1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving from Duke, and #4 overall, Tristan Thompson from Texas.  Their subsequent early picks of Dion Waiters (Syracuse) and Anthony Bennett (UNLV) were, for the most part, busts.  Overall, Cleveland may have benefited from “tanking”, at least judging by the success of their 2011 NBA draft picks.
  3. San Antonio Spurs – (2014, 2007, 2005, 2003, and 1999 champs) – OK, you could say that 1997 Spurs, who finished 13th in the NBA West, “tanked” to grab a first round legend, Tim Duncan, in the 1997 draft.  But only one bad year in the past 20 seasons shouldn’t qualify as a “tanking” strategy.
  4. Miami Heat (2013 and 2012 champions) – No tanking here.  Miami bought their two recent championships by adding established NBA stars Chris Bosh (from Toronto) and LeBron James (Cleveland) to their existing team led by 2003 draft pick, Dwayne Wade.

In summary, only time will tell if Philadelphia’s “tanking” strategy will result in success.  A more reliable winning formula seems to be having solid ownership, management, and coaching in place to draft and develop players to fit into the team’s system.  Basketball remains very much a team sport.  Having a team filled with all of the huge egos of #1 draft picks doesn’t often equate to successful team play and championships.