Forty-eight years ago this past Tuesday, the American Basketball Association made its debut. Many remember it as the league that played with the red, white and blue basketball. They played in Denver’s Municipal Auditorium Arena and I was a ball boy for the Denver Rockets Basketball Team. Additionally, I was tasked with the job of igniting a pyrotechnic rocket that traversed a metal line up to the top of the auditorium ceiling every time a Denver Rocket converted a 3-point shot. And I had to be there for all 41 home games and playoff games. What a great job!
The league only lasted for nine seasons before merging and effectively being dissolved by the NBA.
In honor of the anniversary, here are the top 10 players who I think dominated the ABA.
- Louie Dampier – Kentucky Colonels – 1967-1976
Louie Dampier was one of the few players who played in the ABA for all nine seasons of its existence.
He also played three seasons in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs after the 1976 merger.
Dampier averaged 18.9 points 3.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game in his career. He was a seven-time All-Star and won an ABA championship with the Kentucky Colonels in 1975.
- Mel Daniels – Minnesota Muskies, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Sounds – 1967-1975
Mel Daniels was a 6-foot-9 center who played eight years in the ABA before playing a season with the New York Nets in the NBA.
Daniels won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1967-68. He also won the league MVP twice and made seven All-Star appearances.
He averaged 18.7 points and 15.1 rebounds per game, and is the all-time leader for rebounding. He won three ABA championships with the Indiana Pacers.
- Rick Barry – Oakland Oaks, Washington Caps, New York Nets – 1968-1972
Rick Barry is the only player to lead the NCAA, the ABA and the NBA in scoring in a single season.
He averaged 30.5 points per game in his career, which is the highest career points average for a player in any professional league.
He was an All-Star in all four years he played in the ABA. Barry was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987.
- George Gervin – Virginia Squires, San Antonio Spurs – 1972-1976
George Ervin was known as the “Iceman” and he was a three-time ABA All-Star shooting guard.
He averaged 21.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in his career.
Gervin, known for his finger roll, played with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA after the merger.
- Connie Hawkins – Pittsburgh/Minnesota Pipers – 1967-1969
Connie Hawkins was the 1968 MVP and he won a championship in the same year.
Hawkins was originally not allowed to play in the NBA after allegedly being a part of a point-shaving scandal in the 1960s.
Eventually, Hawkins filed a lawsuit against the NBA and won, which allowed him to play in the league after the 1968-69 ABA season. Hawkins averaged 28.2 points and 12.6 rebounds per game in his career.
- Artis Gilmore – Kentucky Colonels – 1971-1976
Artis Gilmore was a talented center who spent all five years of his ABA career with the Kentucky Colonels.
The 7-foot-2 Gilmore averaged 22.3 points and 17.3 rebounds per game. Gilmore led the Colonels to the 1975 ABA championship and was a five-time All-Star.
Gilmore was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
- Moses Malone – Utah Stars, Spirits of St. Louis – 1974-1976
At 6-foot-10, Moses Malone only played two seasons in the NBA before having a successful NBA career.
The center averaged 17.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. Malone was a three-time NBA MVP and won an NBA championship in 1983 with the Philadelphia 76ers.
He recently passed away last month. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.
- Billy Cunningham – Carolina Cougars – 1972-1974
Billy Cunningham was the 1973 ABA MVP after starting his career in the NBA with the 76ers.
He also led the league in steals the same year.
After two years with the Cougars, the lefty returned to the NBA, but had his career cut short due to a career-ending injury.
Cunningham was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986. He averaged 23.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
- Spencer Haywood – Denver Rockets – 1969-1970
Spencer Haywood had astronomical numbers in his one season in the ABA.
He averaged 30 points and 19.5 rebounds in his rookie season. Haywood won the much-deserved Rookie of the Year that season, and made the jump to the NBA in the following season.
- Julius “Dr. J” Erving – Virginia Squires, New York Nets – 1971-1976
Julius Erving averaged an absurd 28.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game.
Erving showcased high-flying dunks and flashy layups, and for that, he will be most remembered.
Basketball fans know all too well the image of Erving dunking from the foul line in the 1976 Dunk Contest. He made 11 ABA All-Star appearances and won two ABA championships.
He also went on to win an NBA championship in 1983 with the 76ers.