Auerbach: Dr. J Propped Up the ABA by Himself

June 3, 1997

The American Basketball Association, a maverick enterprise symbolized by the red-white-and-blue basketball and the 3-point shot, provided exciting, fast-paced entertainment from its inception in 1967 until it was absorbed by the NBA in 1976.

Home Box Office will take a look back at the league with "Long Shots: The Life and Times of the American Basketball Association" Monday at 10 p.m.

The ABA began with 11 teams playing mostly in small arenas. Four teams - Denver, Indianapolis, the New York Nets, and San Antonio - paid $ 3.2 million to join the NBA in 1976. That so-called merger marked the demise of the ABA.

In the HBO program, Celtics vice chairman of the board/legend Red Auerbach said, "We didn't pay much attention to the ABA. We thought it was a bunch of guys trying to become pests. They weren't playing in big cities. They didn't have enough credible ballplayers. It was sort of minor league with a couple of players, and so it was a question of how long they would continue to lose money before they folded the tent."

Said Julius Erving, who left the University of Massachusetts after his junior season to join the ABA's Virginia Squires, "Once I got to Virginia, it was almost like having the chains taken off. No zones. You could dunk the ball. I was a young free spirit during that time, so I figured I could run all day. Jump with the best of 'em. And I literally said, 'The chains have been taken off. Now let me see if I can handle this.' "

Steve Jones, a former ABA star and current NBC analyst, could tell that Erving was destined for stardom. "He was just inventing stuff on the way to the basket," Jones said. "I don't think he knew. We didn't know. I know his teammates didn't know. All the Virginia Squires knew was that this guy's a whole lot better than whoever was at the University of Massachusetts."

Auerbach added, "If they didn't have Julius Erving, that league would've folded like that. He kept that league up, in my opinion, all by himself."

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