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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Two ABA Themed Articles in July 29 Sports Collectors Digest

I contributed two ABA themed articles to the July 29 issue of Sports Collectors Digest; one focuses on Larry Miller's ABA single game scoring record and the other is my first person account of the ABA Reunion, which was held during NBA All-Star Weekend in Denver. The articles are not available online, so I cannot provide a link to them. However, I would like to share some background information to supplement what appears in the stories--sort of a literary version of a director's cut, providing bonus material if you have already read the articles and encouraging you to track down a copy of the issue if you haven't already done so.

Miller, a 6-4 guard for the Carolina Cougars, scored 67 points in a 139-125 victory versus the Memphis Pros on March 18, 1972. He accomplished this by shooting 25-39 from the field and 17-23 from the free throw line. He missed his only three point attempt and contributed eight rebounds and four assists. Miller not only set an ABA record with this performance, but he broke Jerry West's record for most points in a pro game by a guard. To this day only David Thompson (73), Michael Jordan (69) and Pete Maravich (68) have surpassed Miller's mark for guards.

The aftermath of the 67 point game is at least as dramatic as the game itself. Miller recalls, “I lived in a house by a lake (near Greensboro) at that time. The night I broke the record was a Saturday night. Two days later my house burned down. The night before that (teammate) Wendell (Ladner) was at my house for dinner. It was just an amazing series of events. (At first) We thought that (the fire had been caused) because his wife was smoking. We had a sand ashtray that everyone put their cigarettes in.” The blaze was actually started by a lightning strike. “It started where the TV was plugged in and it burned out from there. It was about four o’clock in the morning. I had to run across the lake in my underwear to my nearest neighbor. I had a big gash in my left hand, my shooting hand. I lost two dogs under the bed and all the belongings in the house. I didn’t even have a uniform. We had a game in New York that night against the Nets in Long Island. We were in the running for the playoffs. The insurance man got a uniform and got it cleaned. I went to the hospital. They sewed up my left hand with 11 stitches. We found me some clothes. The team went up to New York. I caught a later plane in the afternoon and took a limo to the arena. I played that night with 11 stitches in my shooting hand…and we won the game.”

Miller adds, “I still have scars from it. It goes from about that first line on the ring finger to the tip. It was a strange story. If that had happened today it would be all over the news.”

The ABA Reunion article is accompanied by two photos that I took, one of George "Iceman" Gervin autographing ABA basketballs and the other of Julius "Dr. J" Erving autographing some items for fan Branio Buckner, who has an interesting story to tell. Buckner and some of his friends attended the first NBA Slam Dunk Contest, held in Denver in 1984: “We were sitting in the stands and maybe about an hour before the Dunk Contest started we were trying to figure out some props or what we could do to be seen or something. I thought about some cardboard boxes, so I went to the box office and asked if they had any empty boxes. They said, ‘Yeah,’ so we got them and ripped them apart. Then we asked if they had a marker and they said, ‘Yes,’ so we got a marker and wrote zero to ten on the cards. We went back to our seats and started testing the crowd. Every time somebody dunked we raised up a ‘5’ or if they deserved a ‘10’ we’d give them a ‘10.’ Dr. J got a ‘10,’ so we gave him a ‘10’ and the crowd just went crazy. So we just kept going that day. Then the Rocky Mountain News approached me and asked me some questions. Also, Sports Illustrated took some pictures and they put me on the videotape. I’m on the (dunk contest) videotape that year.”

Although Buckner received a lot of media attention for his impromptu contest judging, he had never met Erving prior to the ABA Reunion. Buckner explains how he finally got to share a moment with Erving after waiting more than 20 years: “I got introduced to Fatty Taylor. I knew that he was a former ABA player and I was working with him to help promote and sell tickets for the ABA Reunion Party and he said that he would make sure to introduce me to Dr. J and let him see the cards and pictures that I saved for 20 years.” Erving graciously autographed Buckner's handmade signs, a copy of the 1984 Sports Illustrated issue containing a story about Buckner and several other items.

Erving is Buckner's all-time favorite player. Among active players he likes Earl Boykins and Carmelo Anthony. The night before Buckner met Erving he got his picture taken with Magic Johnson during one of the many All-Star events that were held in downtown Denver. Buckner says, “Now I have pictures of the two players I idolized.”

posted by David Friedman @ 3:04 AM

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