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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Last Night of the ABA

"The Last Night of the ABA" premiered Wednesday night on NBA TV and will be re-aired later this week. If you are old enough to remember the league that featured the red, white and blue ball, do yourself a favor and indulge in some nostalgia by watching the show; if you are too young to remember the ABA, do yourself a favor and make sure that you catch a glimpse of the league that featured the talents of Dr. J, the Iceman, the A-Train and many other great players. It is very special to see the ABA highlights and to hear the players and coaches talk about how much the league still means to them 30 years later.

"The Last Night of the ABA" refers to game six of the 1976 ABA Finals, when Julius Erving's New York Nets--coached by Kevin Loughery--defeated the David Thompson/Dan Issel/Bobby Jones Denver Nuggets--coached by Larry Brown--for the last ABA championship, but the half hour show actually covers a lot more ground than just that game. The viewer learns about Larry Brown, Doug Moe, Julius Erving and Wendell Ladner and gets a glimpse of the heart and spirit that made the ABA so great.

Larry Brown was one of the great playmaking guards in the league before winning the Coach of the Year Award three times in four years. The story of his "odd couple" relationship with Doug Moe is amusing but also touching because of the deep, underlying bond that they share.

I have something in common with Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, Ben Wallace--and millions of other people: Julius Erving was my favorite basketball player as a kid (and still is today). Seeing footage of the young Dr. J doing his "high wire act," as his first pro coach Al Bianchi calls it, is a true basketball fan's version of winning the lottery. At one point, Erving, whose eloquence could make him the poet laureate of the ABA, says, "That was the time when I had the most fun playing basketball. Between age 21 and age 26, I genuinely was empowered with this ability to do anything that I wanted to do on a basketball court and anything that I had ever dreamed of doing."

Ladner's rise from Necaise Crossing to pro basketball is inspiring and his tragic death in a plane crash still brings tears to the eyes of his brother three decades later. Ladner embodied the free-spiritedness of the time in general and the ABA in particular.

I have had the great fortune to interview many of the ABA's legends; you can click on the links to the right of this post and read their stories. If you want a visual reminder of what made the ABA special--or you want to see it for the first time--find out when "The Last Night of the ABA" is being shown in your area and make sure that you watch it. Better yet, tape it or TIVO it; you will want to watch it again.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:51 AM



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