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(updated September 20, 2017)

ABA Team Histories & Fan Memories

Kentucky Colonels - Shots from the SidelinesToday's NBA fans are used to the idea that the Indiana Pacers are a stable, successful franchise. We see the Pacers in the NBA Playoffs most every year, and they play at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse - one of the best NBA arenas around. But in the world that was 1967, it was far from clear that Indianapolis wanted, or would even support, another professional basketball team.
In his new book Reborn - The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis, Mark Montieth takes you back to the start of the ABA, and the very beginnings of the Pacers franchise. For their first two seasons of 1967-68 and 1968-69, the Pacers had a lot going for them. They had a solid ownership group with (mostly) reliable financial backing. They had an aggressive, confident general manager in Mike Storen, a former Marine. They signed players like Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis, and Bob Netolicky, who would become bedrock players for the Pacers for years to come. Bob "Slick" Leonard eventually succeeded Larry Staverman as head coach, and propelled the Pacers to the 1969 ABA Finals against the powerful Oakland Oaks. Although the Pacers lost to the Oaks in five hard-fought games, they were positioned for solid, long-term success.
But the team faced some significant built-in difficulties. The Pacers' initial venue, the Fairgrounds Coliseum, was dark and dingy. Fans, players and the press endured squalid and primitive conditions. For example, the visiting locker room was on a second upstairs level with only one shower head, and the press room was a hastily remodeled restroom. The Pacers leased the Coliseum from the State Fair Board, which was indifferent if not hostile to the new ABA franchise. The Board failed to make agreed-upon improvements to the Coliseum, and often refused to make the Coliseum available to the team on key game dates. As a result, the Pacerswere forced to play a number of games, including several 1969 ABA playoff contests, in high school gyms. Free or discounted tickets were distributed to local organizations and groups, in order to "paper" the team's attendance and reputation. On the road, things were even more chaotic as the team had to contend with fights, freezing cold venues, slippery floors, delayed airline flights, and incompetent referees.
As a 12-year-old youngster, Mark attended several Pacers games at the Coliseum during their inaugural season of 1967-68. Starting in the early 1990's, he began to interview former Pacers players, coaches, owners, and front office personnel about the team's formation and initial two seasons. And in recent years, he has logged countless hours poring over newspaper microfilm, web pages, internal team documents, and ABA photo archives, to confirm the details of those seasons. It is fair to say that Reborn is the most thoroughly-researched ABA book in existence, serving as a detailed, day-to-day journal of the early Pacers (and really the early ABA as a whole). It is over 400 pages, with over 50 rare photos - highly recommended for any Pacers or ABA fan. The book is currently available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. In addition, Mark has book signings scheduled at Bookmamas in Indianapolis on October 7, 2017 (2:00pm), and at Barnes & Noble in Carmel on October 14, 2017 (1:00pm). Original Pacer Jerry Harkness will attend the October 14 signing, and you can e-mail Mark with any questions you have about the signings or the book in general.

If you can identify any of the pro basketball players and coaches pictured above and to the left (click on them to see if you're right), then you remember the "red, white and blue" league: the defunct American Basketball Association.

The ABA existed from 1967 to 1976 -- for nine full seasons. During that time, the ABA fought a bitter war with the established National Basketball Association (the NBA) for players, fans, and media attention. In June 1976, the two rival pro leagues finally made peace. Four of the strongest ABA teams (the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs) joined the NBA and survived. The other remaining ABA teams (the Kentucky Colonels, the Spirits of St. Louis, and the Virginia Squires) vanished, along with the ABA itself.

However, the ABA is still vividly remembered by its loyal fans. The ABA was the "outlaw" league with the psychedelic red, white and blue basketball, outlandish promotions, and huge afros. It was the "lively" league that adopted the three-point shot -- the exciting "home run" of basketball -- as its own.

The ABA was the "frontier" league that successfully brought (or returned) modern professional basketball to hoops-crazy cities like Indianapolis, San Antonio, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Charlotte/Greensboro, Louisville, Norfolk, and Denver. ABA franchises succeeded and even thrived in these locations.

The ABA was also the league without any business sense. The ABA placed unstable franchises in cities like Pittsburgh, Memphis, Miami, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Houston, Baltimore and Anaheim. For various reasons, these teams struggled to survive. Eventually they disappeared or relocated, leaving their few fans with some strange and indelible memories.

During the course of its existence, the ABA featured dazzling above-the-rim players like Julius ("Dr. J") Erving, Connie Hawkins, George ("Ice") Gervin, David Thompson, George McGinnis, Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, Roger Brown and Dan (the "Horse") Issel. Each of these electric stars first played professional basketball in the ABA -- with young legs and few limitations. The "frontier spirit" of the ABA also led to a group of memorable characters. The ABA had a coach named "Slick" and players named "Whopper," "Fatty" and "Goo." And, who could ever forget Marvin "Bad News" Barnes, "Mr. Excitement" Wendell Ladner, Warren Jabali, and Babe "Magnolia Mouth" McCarthy? But all of these brilliant ABA artists went on stage in front of notoriously small crowds. Most ABA teams had serious attendance problems and almost no national or local television coverage.

As a result, the colorful history of the ABA is almost entirely word-of-mouth. The purpose of this web site is to preserve this history, and provide a much needed space for ABA fans to share their favorite memories. This web page is actually a "collaborative" work--all of the photos, uniforms, and memories on this page have been contributed by various ABA fans across the country. If you would like to help in any way, please click here to find out more.

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Larry BrownWillie WiseDan Issel"Pogo Joe" CaldwellDarnell HillmanArtis GilmoreJulius "Dr. J" ErvingBilly KnightDavid ThompsonJulius "Dr. J" Erving