But, we soldier on in these times. Let’s think of some different topics. Purdue? Covered that yesterday. Colts playoffs? Did that earlier this week, too. Pacers? I have the last game recorded, but haven’t watched it yet. Can’t say I’ve paid any attention to the Celtics, so I really feel out of my depth to forecast that game. But, I did say when I started this blog that it wouldn’t necessarily be about what’s going on right at the moment. Or, if I didn’t outright say it, I sure thought it. I assured myself there would be enough historical things to write about to sustain me writing something more or less every week day.
Here’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, and it even relates to one of my hometown teams. I really don’t care for how the ABA is still totally discounted and shamed by the NBA to this day. I mean, can your average fan even name the four teams that came over from the ABA?* And, yet, the NBA owes a huge debt to the ABA for a number of reasons. Not the least of which has to do with the NBA today much more resembles an 70’s ABA game than a 70’s (or prior) NBA game.
*That would be the Pacers, Nuggets, Nets, and Spurs. And, no, I didn’t have to look that up.
It’s been written about here and other places, but the conditions of the merger of the leagues was pretty draconian. It set the incoming ABA teams back years, especially the Pacers, who had their own financial issues. And, as I alluded to either, the NBA pretty much took all the memories and mentions of the ABA and threw them into a deep, dark well to starve to death.
Treated like this for all ABA brought to the NBA, not to mention all the great players that came over in the merger. I’m talking about the three point line, the slam dunk competition,* the up-and-down play, etc. Add to that the ABA had a winning record in exhibition games between the two leagues (79-76), and there is some real history here that the NBA is just flat out ignoring.
*Sure, the dunk contest is watered down now, but you don’t have to think too hard to remember the 80’s and 90’s contests that are so ingrained in basketball lore now.
And, well, that hurts. If you just paid attention to NBA media, you might get the idea that Reggie Miller was the first star the Pacers ever had. When’s the last time you heard about Roger Brown, George McGinnis, Mel Daniels, or Rick Mount? In a professional setting, anyway. It’s like it never happened. That, I think, is a big reason why the Pacers have had a hard time keeping a consistent fan base. When a huge swath the basketball watching population knows nothing about the ABA, or only knows about it from stories like myself, it’s hard to relate to that history and tradition. The same kind of history and tradition that keeps teams like the Celtics or Lakers going when they are down.
And, you know, the Pacers really had that sort of history in the ABA. They were the juggernauts. The ABA played for nine seasons, and the Pacers won the league three times, and appeared in the finals two other times. That means they won a full third of the ABA titles, and appeared in over half of the finals held. It’s hard to argue with stats like those.
That was one reason I was pretty shocked to see the NBA seem to acknowledge the ABA with gusto last year with all the throwback jerseys. And I have to say, the Pacer ones looked even nicer than I thought they would. I wouldn’t mind seeing those trotted back out full time. It was made even more shocking by how the NBA seemed awfully uncomfortable the Pacers’ own ABA tributes just a few years ago. They fought for the okay to play a preseason game back at the fairgrounds, wore some (different) throwback jerseys, had Slick Leonard coach the first quarter, had all the old legends back in the building. It was all set up to be a big lovefest for the Pacers history. The only missing was the most iconic thing about the ABA. That ball. The Pacers wanted it, the fans wanted it. David Stern wanted no part of it. Just another kick in the gut for Pacer fans.
Now, if you walk around Bankers Life Fieldhouse,* the evidence is still there. The ABA championship banners still hang, the ABA retired numbers hang right up there beside Reggie’s. There are displays all around the concourse talking about the history. Which is great. One of the best days I spent was at a job fair at the arena. It was nice to get my resume to people, but even bigger was getting a chance to walk around to all the exhibits, more or less by myself, and just take it all in. I would highly recommend it if you ever get the chance.
*I’m really trying to get used to the new name. I would “still call it Conseco,” but there’s really no point in clinging to a bankrupt company’s name, is there?
Still, as great as that is, it only gets the message out to people in the arena who take the time to really soak it in. And that, I would imagine, is a very small amount of people, and an even smaller amount of younger folks. No, if you want to get that sort of story out, you need media help. And these days, for better or (mostly) worse, that means ESPN. And, well, EPSN isn’t terribly interested in that history, and they are going to be even more loathe to piss off the NBA, even if it would help the league. And as long as Stern is around, well, I just don’t see it happening. Maybe that will change when Silver takes the reins. We can only hope, because the stories and history is just too rich to ignore like this.
And damn it, I want those three championships legitimized by the NBA.