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November 19, 2013

LINDLEY: Long-ago agreement remains a thorn in NBA's side

If you want to mark yourself as a graying old-timer, bring up the American Basketball Association — the professional league that featured large Afros, slam dunk contests, 3-point baskets and a red, white and blue basketball.

Oh, yes, it also had a great collection of players — perhaps the best on the globe — who brought athleticism, skill and excitement to a game that had become somewhat stodgy in the more established National Basketball Association.

Oh, those ABA days. Who could forget the amazing plays by Julius Erving, Connie Hawkins and the “Ice Man,” George Gervin? There was Rick Barry, Artis Gilmore and Dan Issel, plus the high-flying David Thompson and so many, many others.

And, of course, there was the unforgettable Marvin “Bad News” Barnes who played for the Spirits of St. Louis. He once refused to board an 8 p.m. flight out of Louisville that arrived in St. Louis at 7:56 p.m., claiming he wasn’t “gettin’ on no time machine.” He didn’t buy into an explanation about time zones, according to numerous media outlets. Nor did he get on the plane.

The ABA was a blend of hucksterism and great entertainment. It launched in 1967 and survived until 1976. This bold experiment ended when four ABA teams were absorbed into the NBA. Those left out of the mini-merger were relegated to scrapbook clippings and barroom debates. Despite the ABA’s fate, its fans never lost their love for their teams.

That seemed to be the end of the league’s colorful history until a quirky story made its way back into the press recently. Some 37 years ago, the owners of the Spirits of St. Louis engineered a deal for one-seventh of the television revenue awarded the four ABA teams that joined the NBA in exchange for agreeing to fold their franchise.

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