Supergames I & II: The 1971 and 1972 NBA-ABA All-Star GamesA slightly different version of this article was originally published in the October 2004 issue of Basketball Digest.
The Forgotten Dream Teams
The 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” is considered to be the best basketball team ever assembled; ten of its twelve members are on the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list.
In 1971 and 1972, two ABA All-Star teams comprised mostly of unheralded players nearly beat NBA All-Star teams whose rosters contained some of basketball’s most legendary figures—nine of the ten NBA participants in the 1971 NBA-ABA All-Star Game are on the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list.
The 1992 "Dream Team" is perhaps the most famous basketball squad ever.
Most accounts of basketball history do not mention the NBA-ABA Supergames and very little footage exists of them. This is the story of the two Supergames and the great players who participated in them.
Supergame I: May 28, 1971, Houston Astrodome
NBA and ABA players organized the first Supergame as a fund raiser for the Whitney Young Foundation, an organization that helped prepare underprivileged students for college. The Foundation received the net gate receipts, while the television proceeds were divided between the participating players and each league’s Players Association pension funds. The members of the respective Players Associations selected 11 man rosters from the previous season’s All-Star teams. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was supposed to play for the NBA, but he got married the day before the game and his roster spot was not filled. Boston Celtics’ legend Bill Russell coached the NBA and Larry Brown helmed the ABA.
Mel Daniels, who won two ABA MVPs and three ABA titles as an Indiana Pacer, recalls that the ABA players looked forward to the game: “We weren’t intimidated by the (NBA) guys. We figured that they did everything that we would do in the locker room in terms of putting on your shoes and your uniform and playing basketball. The climate was that the ABA guys were not as good as the NBA basketball players, so we had a few things on our minds that we had to prove to society, to the basketball world in general, that we were as good as the NBA, if not better.”
The game used NBA rules in the first half (24 second shot clock, no three point shot) and ABA rules in the second half (30 second shot clock, three point shot). Walt Frazier came off the bench to make seven of his eight field goal attempts in the first half and the NBA led 66-64 after Elvin Hayes’ first half buzzer beater. The game went back and forth until the NBA took a 108-98 lead in the fourth quarter. Barry and Charlie Scott rallied the ABA to within a point with 47 seconds left, but Oscar Robertson drained two free throws to put the NBA up 123-120 with 32 seconds left. Frazier closed out the scoring with two more free throws at the 11 second mark. Frazier finished with a game-high 26 points and won a car as the game MVP.
Even after such a strong showing the ABA players still had to fight an uphill battle to receive recognition. Daniels still recalls one slight: “One thing that I remember is that I blocked Elvin Hayes’ shot and the next day in the newspaper it came out that Hayes had blocked my shot.”
Both referees were from the NBA, which makes one statistic from the 1971 game stand out. In the fourth quarter the NBA All-Stars attempted 31 free throws, which would have been an NBA single game regular season record at that time. Despite shooting six for 23 from the field in the final stanza (the ABA went 10-20) the older league outscored the ABA 34-31. The NBA had a bigger, more inside oriented team, but through the first three quarters the NBA’s free throw attempted edge was only 39-32. Moreover, the fourth quarter parade to the free throw line was led not by the NBA’s big men but by guards Oscar Robertson (eight FTA) and Earl Monroe (six FTA) and swingman John Havlicek (all seven of his FTA).
Clearly, the NBA-ABA All-Star Game was much more fiercely contested and much more closely officiated than contemporary All-Star Games are. For example, in the 2004 NBA All-Star Game both teams combined for 32 free throw attempts in the entire game. Daniels says, “This was a serious business. Not only was that game a very serious endeavor, when we started playing exhibition games (against the NBA), those weren’t exhibition games per se. They were played with all the energy and verve of a regular season game.”
Supergame II: May 25, 1972, Nassau Coliseum
The NBA threatened to fine and/or suspend any NBA player who participated in Supergame II, but this did not stop the NBA Players Association from assembling another powerhouse team: seven Hall of Famers, six of whom are on the Top 50 List. Hall of Famer and Top 50 player Jerry West was unable to play because his kids were sick and his spot was filled by his Los Angeles Lakers’ teammate, fellow Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich. Paul Silas replaced injured Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere. The 1972 ABA team featured three Hall of Famers—Barry, Erving and Dan Issel. Before the game Larry Fleischer, NBA Players’ Association counsel, said the two teams were “the finest collection of basketball talent ever assembled on one floor.” Elgin Baylor coached the NBA and Wilt Chamberlain was the team captain; Al Bianchi and Daniels filled those roles for the ABA.
Erving was not fazed by the prospect of competing against the NBA: “For me, coming off my rookie season, I was kind of feeling my oats and feeling like I could play against anybody, anywhere, at any time. I had played in and around New York in the pro summer leagues, so I had a lot of confidence in my ability.”
The only existing tape of the 1972 game consists of 90 minutes of black and white footage from the TVS national broadcast. There are technical problems throughout the recording, mainly with the audio. Don Criqui handled the play by play, while Hot Rod Hundley and Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan provided color commentary. The ABA ball was used in the first half and the NBA ball was used in the second. The ABA’s three point shot was only in effect in the second half.
Supergame II showcased a defensive intensity that differed completely from the way All-Star Games are generally played: in the first quarter alone Donnie Freeman drew a charge on Archie Clark and the ABA nearly forced a shot clock violation before a foul call bailed out the NBA.
Erving entered the game late in the first quarter with the ABA leading 22-14 and he provided an immediate spark, scoring from the left block after a pass from Gilmore. Later he displayed his open court skills, dribbling between his legs without breaking stride, driving hard to the basket and making a double-clutching shot in traffic.
He seemed to be in two places at once when he stopped a 4-on-2 fast break by the NBA. Erving picked up Robertson at the free throw line, forcing Robertson to dish to Clark on the left baseline for what seemed to be a wide open jump shot. Instead, Erving took a big step to meet Clark, swatted the shot out of midair, recovered the ball in the corner, took a couple dribbles upcourt and whipped an outlet to Daniels, who passed to George Thompson for a layup plus the foul. Thompson’s free throw put the ABA up 47-30 with 7:35 left in the first half.
By the third quarter the NBA closed the score to 60-59 and Criqui noted, “Julius Erving led the ABA to a breakaway in the second quarter—they went up by 19—but he’s been on the bench throughout the later part of the second quarter and has not played here in the third quarter.” With about two minutes left in the third quarter and the NBA leading 81-78, Erving returned to the game. Erving closed the third quarter with a fantastic drive against Hawkins from the right wing, dribbling between his legs, than spinning and going between his legs again. Once Erving got clear of Hawkins he elevated over Bob Lanier and made a bank shot.
Sadly, the fourth quarter footage is missing and presumed to be destroyed. The game closed in dramatic fashion. Barry hit a three pointer with 13 seconds left to cut the NBA lead to one. The ABA fouled Clark, who made the first and missed the second attempt. A wild scramble for the rebound ensued. Barry emerged with the ball and launched a desperation three pointer. His game winning attempt fell short and the NBA won 106-104. Lanier scored 15 points and was selected game MVP.
The Mind Boggling Dr. J Dunk
Silas will never forget a particular fourth quarter play from the 1972 game: “The one defining moment was, I had the ball and Doc stole the ball from me and went down and slammed this thing harder than I had ever seen anybody slam the ball in my life.” Prior to the game Silas knew little about Erving: “Zelmo Beaty, who I had played with in St. Louis and Atlanta, had jumped leagues and when I saw him he was telling me about Doc—that he wasn’t a good shooter but he just went by everybody. He just took up the slack, penetrated around and dunked on everybody. And I’m wondering how that happened. How could it happen? He developed a consistent shot, but it took time for him to do that. He was special.”
Daniels had seen some great dunks before, including one by Hawkins over Daniels’ Minnesota Muskies’ teammate Sam Smith in the 1968 ABA playoffs, but nothing quite like Erving’s flight in the 1972 Supergame: “He leapt from behind the free throw line, hung in the air for two or three seconds it seemed and dunked it. It was an absolutely amazing dunk and you had to see it to really appreciate it. Telling you about it does not do it the justice it deserves.”
Erving recalls, “I stole the ball and got Oscar Robertson and Archie Clark caught back on defense and Archie went for the steal, which made me pick the ball up. I was around the top of the key, coming in transition…I took a step and a half and went airborne from somewhere around the foul line, just inside the foul line. I noticed Oscar Robertson was there and just looking at me like, ‘What does this kid think he is going to do?’ He figured that I was going to come out of the air before I made it to the basket, but I got all the way to the basket and I dunked the ball and the ball bounced up into his hands and there was a certain expression on his face at the time—as well as Archie’s—almost like it was a moment. And I just ran back downcourt, but later on a lot of people talked about that play.”
In many ways Erving’s dunk symbolizes the ABA and the Supergames in one spectacular athletic flourish—it was amazing and yet no footage of it exists. Fortunately, Erving’s free throw line dunk to win the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk contest was captured for posterity.
SUPERGAME I and II Boxscores:
When this article appeared in Basketball Digest, two sidebar pieces accompanied it. Here are links to 20 Second Timeout posts that reprint those two articles, plus a followup item relating to the Pistol Pete Maravich book by Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill:
The ABA's Unsung Heroes
Dr. J and Pistol Pete on the Same Team
"Pete Maravich: The Authorized Biography of Pistol Pete" is Now Available in Paperback
Basketball Digest did not publish my author acknowledgements, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Arthur Hundhausen of RememberTheABA.com and John Grasso for providing box scores and background information about both games and Paul Silas, Mel Daniels, Bob “Slick” Leonard, Julius Erving and Rick Barry for contributing their personal recollections.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:54 PM