With the NBA being one of the most popular and successfully run leagues in the world, we often forget that only a few short decades ago, there was major turmoil in the sport of basketball and a huge shake up took place that change the course of the game forever. Of course, I am talking about the merger between the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association. I’ll touch on not only the merger itself, but also some of the implications of the merger, why it happened and more.
Prior to the 1970s, both the NBA and the ABA existed on their own and independent of one another. However, it was always in the back of the ABA’s mind to merge with the NBA and reap the benefits, similar to what the AFL did with the NFL. In fact, one of the tactics used by ABA officials was to tell prospective owners that an ABA franchise could be had at about half the cost of an NBA franchise, but once the merger occurred, they would see their investment double or more. The first try at a merger took place in 1970 (only three years after the first year of the ABA) and was actually approved by NBA owners. However, it took years and years of lawsuits and litigation before the merger actually happened. Once all the dust had settled, the ABA and NBA merged officially in 1976.
This couldn’t have come at a better time for the ABA as four separate teams collapsed between 1975-1976. Of the six teams that were left in the ABA, 4 of them went on to join the NBA (Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs) while the other two folded and the players entered a dispersal draft (Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis). Some terms of the merger gave these ABA teams little control in the league and also required them to pay some fees for their birth into the NBA as well. In a shocking move, the Nets actually wanted to sell their franchise player (Julius Erving) to the Knicks in order to waive the $4.8 Million fee they owed. The Knicks declined, but the Nets ended up selling Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 Million. So, in a sense, the Nets basically traded away their franchise player for a spot in the NBA.
The effects of the merger were immediate as many different players went on to prove they belonged in the NBA. The 1976 All Star game was actually made up of almost half ABA players, almost half of the leading scorers that year were from the ABA and more. Some of the historic and legendary players that got their start in the ABA include: Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Nate Archibald, Artis Gilmore, George Gervin, David Thompson and many more. In addition to receiving these players, the NBA also took some rules from the ABA that you likely know and love. Some of these contributions that the NBA adopted from the ABA include: The 3 Point Line, The Slam Dunk Contest, the ability to draft underclassmen, press defense and a faster play.
As you could see, the NBA would be a vastly different game today if it weren’t for this merger all the way back in 1976.