John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The American Basketball Association

The American Basketball Association was in some ways more about what it means to be an American than it was about basketball. It had nothing to do with Associations. That was just an unfortunate name borrowed by copying the NBA’s final initial. But it had everything to do with thinking the unthinkable. And then trying the impossible. Just because we can. And not caring what others said or did.

Thanks to David Vance and my mother for forwarding this video clip to me just now.

Put it this way. This is an HBO special for “dreamers.” Make that “Dreamers” with a capital “D.”

Not for the keepers of the status quo ante….or defenders of the way things have always been done. And certainly not for those threatened by those who dare to ask, “Is there a better way?” –and greet such impudence with sneers and nervous laughter.

It’s not for any of them. (Watch Red Auerbach late in the show try to dismiss the ABA as a curious asterisk in basketball history and failed misadventure propped up briefly due only to the presence of Dr J….As another well-quoted dreamer would say, “The lady doth protest too much.”)

jyb_musingsAnd yet….and yet….

No professional sports experiment I can think of is a greater reflection of the entrepreneurial mind and (more important) entrepreneurial spirit than the creation of the American Basketball Association. It is –was–a uniquely American experiment. If there had been a movie about the ABA it would have been a mirror image of Tucker: The Man and His Dream. But there wasn’t. But there is this archived HBO special.

And because history is written by the victors, in the lofty chambers of those who retell basketball history from on high, the ABA was merely something of a curious asterisk to the NBA.

But for those of us who lived closer to it and had no vested interest in rewriting basketball history and, yes, were ourselves cast under the spell of the ABA dreamers, well….we know better. We not only dreamed but saw and believed and eventually knew. We learned as a matter of course as an ABA fan that the impossible was possible. And even for a few moments could be sublime. And that has never left us.

And although we still have no vested interest in rewriting basketball history, we know that no other basketball innovation changed the game more (and for the better) than did a little dream that germinated in a few small cities like Louisville, KY nearly 50 years ago.

We won’t ever get the respect we deserve. History doesn’t work like that. But we have something even better. The memories of some of the greatest basketball ever played on our planet–and played with creative abandon because, as Bob Costas said, “We had nothing to lose.” And today we can take quiet pride in seeing the stodgy long shadow of tradition of the NBA has been replaced by the sunlight of what we know was someone else’s impossible dream. And we saw it first. And proudly cheered it along.

Long Shots (improved) from Arie in t Veld on Vimeo.


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