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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



At Thursday, June 15, 2006 8:48:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Ahhhaahhhhhhhhh, David I was going to comment on this to you this morning, but you beat me to it. I loved it. I had to bring out the book Loose Balls again. The ABA was the best. Doc, Hubie, Larry, Ice, Vecsey, Costas, Snapper, Hannah Storm (well her father but you get what I mean), and so many people who are prevalent today are from that lovely league.

Doc was the only player who had three personalities to or legends: Rucker, ABA and NBA. Connie had it too, but not the levels that Doc had.

I dont remember ABA Doc but my father (god bless him) had me in front of the tv for the ABA all-star game in 76 days after I was born. He always told me that ABA Doc was so unbelievable that you cant describe it. I remember when Doc played for the 6ers in the early 80s. Doc was everyones hero.

Doc was also Jordans favorite player. I loved when Jordan came into the league he always consulted with Doc. Like in the 85 dunk contest when he was talking to Doc about whatever it was. I remember in 87 when I met him and my hand was lost. And when he walked off the court against the Bucks in his last game in the playoffs in 87 and my dad and I cried like babies. Thats how much Doc meant.

In Loose Balls, the players of the ABA were talking about all of the girls Ladner had. He definitely was a character, like Rodman before Rodman.

The Moe/Brown segment was beautiful. Two New York guys who were brothers. The best parts to me were the last shot of them walking out of the Knicks tunnel and Moe and Brown talking as Nuggets assistant and Knicks coach and Moe saying I have a job (when he was Brown's assistant in Denver)not doing anything so lets have some fun.

I read many of your ABA interviews, and I know you have the book Loose Balls. Your inteviews are very appreciated; its just unfortunate how many kids and adults have no idea what the ABA was.

I also watched something I never watch, Quite Frankly. They were talking about white players being compared to white players and black players being compared to black players. Sonny Hill was on there saying some interesting things.

He said that Larry Bird played like Oscar Robertson, not Jerry West. I thought about it and was like thats very true. Both cerebral, both played great ground games, both from Indiana. Then Hill said Oscar was the smartest player ever but all people talk about is the triple-double. Interesting thoughts I thought from Sonny Hill.

At Thursday, June 15, 2006 3:11:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

I need to correct something: It was when Moe went to be Brown's assistant in Carolina that he said he didnt want to do anything so lets have fun. He knew he would have a job forever with Larry.


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