1967 American Basketball Association debuts

On October 13, 1967, the Anaheim Amigos lose to the Oakland Oaks, 134-129, in the inaugural game of the American Basketball Association. In its first season, the ABA included 11 teams: the Pittsburgh Pipers, Minnesota Muskies, Indiana Pacers, Kentucky Colonels and New Jersey Americans played in the Eastern Division, and the New Orleans Buccaneers, Dallas Chaparrals, Denver Rockets, Houston Mavericks, Anaheim Amigos and Oakland Oaks played in the Western. Until it folded in 1976, the league offered players and fans a freewheeling alternative to the stodgy NBA. “It was a looser atmosphere,” one fan remembered. “We could do a lot of things [the NBA] won’t let us do”; these days, basketball games are “supposed to be family entertainment.”

The ABA was a much flashier league than the NBA. In place of the traditional orange basketball it used a garish red, white and blue ball that, Celtics coach Red Auerbach frequently said, belonged on the nose of a circus seal. Its cheerleaders wore bikinis. Many of its players grew outlandishly large Afros. Trash-talking and fights on the court were the norm. And the league had its own rules: It had a 30-second shot clock instead of the NBA’s 24-second timer, and it introduced the three-point shot, which the NBA scorned at first but then adopted. Its players had nicknames like Bad News, Jelly, Magnolia Mouth and Mr. Excitement; two of its coaches were affectionately known as Slick and Babe. ABA teams played playground basketball: showy and pure, with lots of running. (By contrast, one player recalled, “the NBA was kind of like a half-court game. The only team that ran was the Boston Celtics.”)

As the ABA was practically insolvent by the end of that season, it made the decision to merge with the NBA. Four ABA teams remained intact: the Americans (who later became the New Jersey Nets), the Spurs, the Nuggets and the Pacers. The others disintegrated, their players absorbed into other teams as free agents.

In 2003, for the first time, two ABA teams competed in the NBA finals. The Spurs defeated the Nets in six games.