This article's lead section may be too short to adequately summarize the key points. Please consider expanding the lead to provide an accessible overview of all important aspects of the article. (March 2017)
American Basketball Association (ABA)
Logo of the ABA
Ceased1976 (merger)
No. of teams11
CountryUnited States
New York Nets (2nd title)
Most titlesIndiana Pacers (3 titles)

The American Basketball Association (ABA) was a men's professional basketball major league from 1967 to 1976. The ABA merged into the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1976, resulting in four ABA teams joining the NBA and the introduction of the NBA 3-point shot in 1979.

League history

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (April 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
George McGinnis (Indiana Pacers) attempting a shot against the Kentucky Colonels, 1972–73

The ABA was conceived at a time stretching from 1960 through the mid-1970s when numerous upstart leagues were challenging, with varying degrees of success, the established major professional sports leagues in the United States. Basketball was seen as particularly vulnerable to a challenge; its major league, the National Basketball Association, was the youngest of the Big Four major leagues, having only played 21 seasons to that point, and was still fending off contemporary challenging leagues (it had been less than five years since the American Basketball League (ABL) shut down). According to one of the owners of the Indiana Pacers, its goal was to force a merger with the more established league. Potential investors were told that they could get an ABA team for half of what it cost to get an NBA expansion team at the time. When the merger occurred, ABA officials said their investment would more than double.[1]

The ABA distinguished itself from its older counterpart with a more wide-open, flashy style of offensive play, as well as differences in rules — a 30-second shot clock (as opposed to the NBA's 24-second clock, though the ABA did switch to the 24 second shot clock for the 1975–76 season) and use of a three-point field goal arc, pioneered in the earlier ABL.[2] Also, the ABA used a colorful red, white and blue ball, instead of the NBA's traditional orange ball. The ABA also had several "regional" franchises, such as the Virginia Squires and Carolina Cougars, that played "home" games in several cities.[3]

In the 1973–74 season, the ABA also adopted the no-disqualification foul rule: instead of fouling out after six infractions, when a player is charged with his seventh or succeeding fouls, the opposing team retains possession and the offended team attempts any free throw.[4]

The ABA also went after four of the best referees in the NBA: Earl Strom, John Vanak, Norm Drucker and Joe Gushue, getting them to "jump" leagues by offering them far more in money and benefits. In Earl Strom's memoir Calling the Shots, Strom conveys both the heady sense of being courted by a rival league with money to burn — and also the depression that set in the next year when he began refereeing in the ABA, with less prominent players performing in inadequate arenas, in front of very small crowds. Nevertheless, the emergence of the ABA boosted the salaries of referees just as it did the salaries of players.

However ABA Teams like Nets, Colonels, Pacers, Spurs, Nuggets and Stars, especially in latest seasons, registered higher attendance on average than most of NBA teams at that time (excluding Lakers, Knicks, Celtics, SuperSonics and Bucks).[5]

The freewheeling style of the ABA eventually caught on with fans, but the lack of a national television contract and protracted financial losses would spell doom for the ABA as an independent circuit. In 1976, its last year of existence, the ABA pioneered the now-popular slam dunk contest at its all-star game in Denver.[6]

Doug Moe of the Carolina Cougars, 1969–70

The league succeeded in forcing a merger with the NBA in the 1976 offseason. Four ABA teams were absorbed into the older league: the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs. As part of the merger agreement, the four teams were not permitted to participate in the 1976 NBA draft. The merger was particularly hard on the Nets; the New York Knicks were firmly established in their arena, Madison Square Garden, and would not permit the Nets to share dates there. For drawing audience away from the Knicks, the Nets were forced to pay $4.3M to the Knicks organization. The Nets offered league superstar Julius Erving instead but the Knicks declined. The Nets had to settle for an arena in Piscataway, New Jersey and, to meet expenses, were forced to sell the contract of Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Two other clubs, the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis, were disbanded upon the merger, with each getting a buyout: the Colonels received a one-time buyout that owner John Y. Brown, Jr. used to purchase the NBA's Buffalo Braves, while the Spirits owners negotiated a cut of the other ABA teams' television revenues in perpetuity. This deal netted the ownership group of the Spirits over $300M over nearly four decades due to a large increase in television revenues. In 2014, the NBA and the Spirits ownership agreed to phase out future payments in exchange for a one-time payment of $500M, making the total value for the deal over $800M.[7] The seventh remaining team, the Virginia Squires, received nothing, as they had ceased operations shortly before the merger. The players from the Colonels, Spirits, and Squires were made available to NBA teams through a dispersal draft; the four teams absorbed by the NBA were allowed to choose players from this draft.[citation needed]

One of the more significant long-term contributions of the ABA to professional basketball was to tap into markets in the southeast that had been collegiate basketball hotbeds (including North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky). The NBA was focused on the urban areas of the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast. At the time, it showed no interest in placing a team south of Washington, D.C, other than the Atlanta metropolitan area where the NBA's Hawks franchise relocated from St. Louis in 1968.


NBA great George Mikan was the first commissioner of the ABA, where he introduced both the 3-point line and the league's trademark red, white, and blue basketball.[9] Mikan resigned in 1969. Dave DeBusschere, one of the stars of the New York Knicks championship teams, moved from his job as vice president and GM of the ABA's New York Nets in 1975 to become the last commissioner of the ABA and facilitate the ABA–NBA merger in 1976.[10]

Spencer Haywood Hardship Rule

One of the primary contributions of the ABA to modern NBA was the introduction of the Spencer Haywood Hardship Rule, which would later become the framework for the current NBA draft eligibility system that allows players to declare for the NBA after being one year removed from their high school graduation.[11] The origin of the Hardship Rule was a result of the NBA prohibiting players from joining the league until they had completed their four years of college eligibility.[12]

In 1969, Spencer Haywood left the University of Detroit as a sophomore and signed with the Denver Rockets.[13] The ABA believed that in extenuating circumstances, such as a financial situation or familial needs, players should be able to leave for professional leagues early.[12] While the NBA and NCAA initially contested the rule, after the courts ruled in favor of Haywood playing in the ABA, the NBA followed suit and relaxed the four year rule to allow players to enter the league if they qualified as a hardship on the basis of “financial condition…family, [or] academic record.”[14] Haywood paved the way for other players to enter the ABA before they had completed their collegiate careers such as George McGinnis and Julius Erving. Today, the "one-and-done" rule in the NBA can be traced back to the ABA's decision to allow players to leave college early and pursue a professional career before they had completed their collegiate careers.[15]

Slam Dunk Contest

Julius Erving performing a slam dunk against the Spirits of St. Louis, 1974

The ABA pioneered the advent of the now popular NBA slam dunk contest at the final ABA All-Star Game in 1976.[16] The game was held in Denver, and the owners of the ABA teams wanted to ensure that the event would be entertaining for the sellout crowd of 15,021 people.[12][16] The ABA and NBA had begun to discuss a possible merger,[17] and the ABA owners wanted to establish the viability and success of their league.[12] The Dunk Contest operated as a means of unique halftime entertainment that displayed the style and excitement that the ABA players brought to the game. The dunk contest was held at halftime of the All-Star game and the contestants were Artis Gilmore, George Gervin, David Thompson, Larry Kenon, and Julius Erving.[16] The winner of the contest received $1,000 and a stereo system.[12] Julius Erving went on to win the competition by completing the now famous free throw line dunk. The Slam Dunk Contest would make its way to the NBA in 1976–77 as a season-long competition for that season only, and on a permanent basis as a standalone event as part of the NBA All-Star Weekend in 1984.


Of the original 11 teams, only the Kentucky Colonels and Indiana Pacers remained for all nine seasons without relocating, changing team names, or folding. However, the Denver Larks/Rockets/Nuggets, a team that had been planned for Kansas City, Missouri, moved to Denver without playing a game in Kansas City due to the lack of a suitable arena. In addition to the four surviving ABA teams, eight current NBA markets have ABA heritage: Utah, Dallas, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, Memphis, Minnesota, and Charlotte all had an ABA team before their current NBA teams.[18]

Overview of American Basketball Association teams
Franchise Cities/Names Years Fate
Anaheim Amigos
Los Angeles Stars

Utah Stars
Anaheim Amigos 1967–1968 Folded, 1975
NBA relocated New Orleans Jazz to Utah as Utah Jazz in 1979.
Los Angeles Stars 1968–1970
Utah Stars 1970–1976
Dallas Chaparrals
Texas Chaparrals

San Antonio Spurs
Dallas Chaparrals 1967–1970 Joined the NBA, 1976, as San Antonio Spurs
NBA added a franchise in Dallas (Mavericks) in 1980.
Texas Chaparrals 1970–1971
Dallas Chaparrals 1971–1973
San Antonio Spurs 1973–1976
Houston Mavericks
Carolina Cougars
Spirits of St. Louis
Houston Mavericks 1967–1969 Folded, 1976 (NBA buyout)
NBA relocated San Diego Rockets to Houston as Houston Rockets in 1971.
NBA added a franchise in Charlotte (Hornets) in 1988.
Carolina Cougars 1969–1974
Spirits of St. Louis 1974–1976
Indiana Pacers Indiana Pacers 1967–1976 Joined NBA, 1976, as Indiana Pacers
Kansas City
Denver Larks /Rockets /Nuggets
Kansas City (unnamed) 1967 Joined the NBA, 1976, as Denver Nuggets
Denver Larks 1967
Denver Rockets 1967–1974
Denver Nuggets 1974–1976
Kentucky Colonels Kentucky Colonels 1967–1976 Folded, 1976 (NBA buyout)
Minnesota Muskies
Miami Floridians
Minnesota Muskies 1967–1968 Folded, 1972
NBA added a franchise in Miami (Heat) in 1988.
NBA added a franchise in Minnesota (Timberwolves) in 1989.
Miami Floridians 1968–1970
Floridians 1970–1972
New Orleans /Louisiana Buccaneers
Memphis Pros /Tams /Sounds
Baltimore Hustlers /Claws
New Orleans Buccaneers 1967–1970 Folded, 1975
NBA relocated Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans as New Orleans Hornets (now New Orleans Pelicans) in 2002.
NBA relocated Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis as Memphis Grizzlies in 2001.
Louisiana Buccaneers 1970
Memphis Pros 1970–1972
Memphis Tams 1972–1974
Memphis Sounds 1974–1975
Baltimore Hustlers 1975
Baltimore Claws 1975
New York/New Jersey Americans
New York Nets
New York Americans 1967 Joined NBA, 1976, with name changes to reflect move to New Jersey (1977) and currently Brooklyn Nets (2012).
New Jersey Americans 1967–1968
New York Nets 1968–1976
Oakland Americans/Oaks
Washington Capitals
Virginia Squires
Oakland Americans 1967 Folded, 1976 (prior to merger)
NBA relocated San Francisco Warriors to Oakland as Golden State Warriors in 1971.
NBA relocated Baltimore Bullets to Washington as Capital Bullets (now Washington Wizards) in 1973.
Oakland Oaks 1967–1969
Washington Capitals 1969–1970
Virginia Squires 1970–1976
Pittsburgh Pipers /Pioneers /Condors
Minnesota Pipers
Pittsburgh Pipers 1967–1968 Folded, 1972
NBA added a franchise in Minnesota (Timberwolves) in 1989.
Minnesota Pipers 1968–1969
Pittsburgh Pipers 1969–1970
Pittsburgh Pioneers 1970
Pittsburgh Condors 1970–1972
San Diego Conquistadors /Sails San Diego Conquistadors 1972–1975 Folded, 1975
NBA operated in San Diego from 1967 to 1971 with the San Diego Rockets (now the Houston Rockets) and from 1978 to 1984 with the San Diego Clippers (now the Los Angeles Clippers).
San Diego Sails 1975


List of ABA championships

Main article: List of ABA champions

Overview of American Basketball Association champions
Year Western Division finalist Games Eastern Division finalist Playoffs MVP
1967–68 New Orleans Buccaneers 3–4 Pittsburgh Pipers Connie Hawkins C, Pittsburgh
1968–69 Oakland Oaks 4–1 Indiana Pacers Warren Jabali G, Oakland
1969–70 Los Angeles Stars 2–4 Indiana Pacers Roger Brown F/G, Indiana
1970–71 Utah Stars 4–3 Kentucky Colonels Zelmo Beaty C, Utah
1971–72 Indiana Pacers 4–2 New York Nets Freddie Lewis G, Indiana
1972–73 Indiana Pacers 4–3 Kentucky Colonels George McGinnis F/C, Indiana
1973–74 Utah Stars 1–4 New York Nets Julius Erving F, New York
1974–75 Indiana Pacers 1–4 Kentucky Colonels Artis Gilmore C, Kentucky

With the ABA cut down to seven teams by the middle of its final season, the league abandoned divisional play.

ABA final season champions
Year Winner Games Runners-up Playoffs MVP
1975–76 New York Nets 4–2 Denver Nuggets Julius Erving F, New York

Prominent players

See also: ABA All-Time Team

Prominent coaches

Season leaders

* Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Scoring leaders

Hall of Famer Rick Barry played for the ABA's Oakland Oaks
Season Player Team(s) Games
Points Points
per game
Connie Hawkins* Pittsburgh Pipers 70 1875 26.8
Rick Barry* Oakland Oaks 35 1190 34.0
Spencer Haywood* Denver Rockets 84 2519 30.0
Dan Issel* Kentucky Colonels 83 2480 29.9
Charlie Scott* Virginia Squires 73 2524 34.6
Julius Erving* Virginia Squires 71 2268 31.9
Julius Erving* (2) New York Nets 84 2299 27.4
George McGinnis* Indiana Pacers 79 2353 29.8
Julius Erving* (3) New York Nets 84 2462 29.3

Rebounding leaders

Season Player Team(s) Games
per game
Mel Daniels* Minnesota Muskies 78 502 711 1213 15.6
Mel Daniels* (2) Indiana Pacers 76 383 873 1256 16.5
Spencer Haywood* Denver Rockets 84 533 1104 1637 19.5
Mel Daniels* (3) Indiana Pacers 82 394 1081 1475 18.0
Artis Gilmore* Kentucky Colonels 84 421 1070 1491 17.8
Artis Gilmore* (2) Kentucky Colonels 84 449 1027 1476 17.6
Artis Gilmore* (3) Kentucky Colonels 84 478 1060 1538 18.3
Swen Nater San Antonio Spurs 78 369 910 1279 16.4
Artis Gilmore* (4) Kentucky Colonels 84 402 901 1303 15.5

Assists leaders

Season Player Team(s) Games
Assists Assists
per game
Larry Brown* New Orleans Buccaneers 78 506 6.5
Larry Brown* (2) Oakland Oaks 77 544 7.1
Larry Brown* (3) Washington Caps 82 580 7.1
Bill Melchionni New York Nets 81 672 8.3
Bill Melchionni (2) New York Nets 80 669 8.4
Bill Melchionni (3) New York Nets 61 453 7.4
Al Smith Denver Rockets 76 619 8.1
Mack Calvin Denver Nuggets 74 570 7.7
Don Buse Indiana Pacers 84 689 8.2

Steals leaders

Season Player Team(s) Games
Steals Steals
per game
Fatty Taylor Virginia Squires 78 210 2.69
Ted McClain Denver Rockets 84 250 2.98
Brian Taylor New York Nets 79 221 2.80
Don Buse Indiana Pacers 84 346 4.12

Blocks leaders

Season Player Team(s) Games
Blocks Blocks
per game
Artis Gilmore Kentucky Colonels 84 422 5.02
Artis Gilmore (2) Kentucky Colonels 84 259 3.08
Caldwell Jones San Diego Conquistadors 79 316 4.00
Caldwell Jones (2) San Diego Conquistadors 76 246 3.24
Billy Paultz San Antonio Spurs 83 253 3.05

Awards and broadcasters

Connie Hawkins of the Pittsburgh Pipers won the 1967–68 ABA MVP award

Main articles: List of American Basketball Association awards and honors and List of American Basketball Association broadcasters


In 1999, a new league calling itself the ABA 2000 was established. The new league uses a similar red, white and blue basketball as the old ABA, but unlike the original ABA, it does not feature players of similar caliber to the NBA, nor does it play games in major arenas or on television as the original ABA did.

See also


  1. ^ The Official NBA Basketball Encyclopedia. Villard Books. 1994. p. 180. ISBN 0-679-43293-0.
  2. ^ The History of the 3-Pointer, USA Basketball, Ryan Wood, June 15, 2011.
  3. ^ "Atlanta WildCats - Pro Basketball, Aba Teams, Basketball". Atlanta WildCats ABA Pro Men's Basketball Team. Retrieved 2021-10-19.
  4. ^ Goldaper, Sam (14 October 1973). "A.B.A.: New Chief, New Nets, New Rule". The New York Times. Retrieved 2024-03-07.
  5. ^ "NBA/ABA Home Attendance Totals". March 7, 2024. Retrieved 2024-03-07.
  6. ^ Pluto, Terry (2007-11-06). Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-4061-8.
  7. ^ Burke, Monte. "The NBA Finally Puts An End To The Greatest Sports Deal Of All Time". Forbes. Retrieved 2016-12-11.
  8. ^ Sports Encyclopedia
  9. ^ "ESPN Classic: Mikan was first pro to dominate the post". Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  10. ^ "Dave DeBusschere Bio". Archived from the original on 11 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
  11. ^ "NBA Draft Rules". Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  12. ^ a b c d e Pluto, Terry (2007). Loose balls : the short, wildlife of the American Basketball Association (1st ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. ISBN 978-1416540618. OCLC 153578380.
  13. ^ "Spencer Haywood: Denver's greatest forgotten star". The Denver Post. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  14. ^ Larry Schwartz (November 19, 2003). "NBA modifies "four-year rule" for hardship". ESPN Classic. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  15. ^ Rhoden, William C. (2016-06-29). "Early Entry? One and Done? Thank Spencer Haywood for the Privilege". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  16. ^ a b c "The One That Started It All". Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  17. ^ "The ABA is long gone, but it remains the soul of the NBA". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  18. ^ Official ABA Guides, 1967–1976.