MEMORIES OF JOHN GELDERMANN: "The HBO Special on the ABA brought back some good memories of my childhood, when I went several times to see the New York Nets at Commack Arena (circa 1969). I remember that once my dad got front row seats for me and my friends. There were large gaps in the 'plywood aisles' between sections. In those gaps, ice was clearly visible. There was a large band of uncovered ice between our seats (folding chairs) and the court. ABA Ball Night at Commack was a riot (almost literally). All the kids got full-size replica ABA balls, but they gave them out on the way into the arena. At half time -- you guessed it -- tons of kids stormed the court to take shots at the hoops. Most had to be physically removed or chased off by the ushers and security guards."
MEMORIES OF JEFF MELTZER: "As a former resident of Long Island, I grew up watching many a Net game. First, they played at the ice cold Commack Arena (home of the more popular LI Ducks, led by player/coach John Brophy). After that the games were moved to the boiler room called the 'Island Garden' on Hempstead Turnpike. All bleacher seating and a heck of a loud arena. Great games, or at least they were for kids in their formative years like I was in the early 70's. Levern Tart, Billy Melchionni, and Rick Barry were the main Nets players that I remember. It seemed the whole crowd was made up of cub scouts and little leaguers at that time."
In the Nets' breakthrough season of 1969-70, Bill Melchionni (#25, above left) brought some stability to the guard position.
6'8" Sonny Dove (#11, above middle), who had played with the Detroit Pistons the year before, was a pleasant surprise and averaged 14.4 ppg.
Walt Simon (#4, above right) was one of only two players left on the team from the infamous New Jersey Americans days (Levern Tart was the other). Simon had another consistent season, averaging 14.3 ppg.
(Photos Copyright © John Oznick and used with permission)
MEMORIES OF HARVEY LIPSKY: "I attended my first pro basketball game in 1968 when Rick Barry and the Oakland Oaks came to play the Nets at the Long Island Arena in Commack. It was the game where Barry suffered a severe knee injury. Somehow he got tied up with a reserve forward, Ken Wilburn, and went down. He was taken off the court with the stunned crowd just watching. The crowd was the Nets' biggest of the year: 3,814 on December 27, 1968. The game was the 3rd in a 4-game home stand. They had previously drawn 976 against Indiana on the 22nd, and 249 against Denver on Christmas Day. Following the Oakland game, they drew 516 to see Kentucky. Fairly soon after the Oakland game Wilburn was cut and I never heard of him again. Somehow I talked my father into taking me to another game on March 23rd against the Miami Floridians. We were among the 525 announced fans. The Floridians won 123-109. My best memory of that game is that we had 2nd or 3rd row seats -- the 1st row seats in front of us had puddles of water under them. The water was from the ice for the Long Island Ducks hockey team. Years later I lived close to Commack & went to the Flea Market that occupied the Long Island Arena. At least it wasn't torn down (through the mid 80's) like the Island Garden, where there is now a strip mall.
Players would come and go constantly in the early ABA. The old saying "you can't tell the players without a scorecard" (or more appropriately for basketball, a program) was not even applicable in the ABA. For one thing, it seemed that whenever an NBA team would release one of its players, the guy would show up in the ABA. This was especially true of high draft choices who would be given a new lease on their basketball lives in the ABA. The late Sonny Dove was an example of a #1 pick who ended up in the ABA after being waived out of the NBA. Rosters were constantly changing and if you bought a game program, you would be wise to bring a pencil or pen since there were always players on the court who were not in the program. I remember at the Island Garden I would always see a new player and have to wait until the players were announced before I could find out who he was. Most of the time it was a guy fresh from being cut in the NBA, or a guy who had played college ball and was tall enough to interest an ABA team. The Nets' first two seasons on Long Island produced quite a revolving door of player movement. In the 1968-69 season the Nets had 23 players suit up for games. The 1969-70 season (their first in Nassau County) wasn't much better for player stability, as 19 different players suited up including Bob Bundy and Ron Taylor. Bundy never got in a game before he was released. Taylor, on the other hand, was one of my all time favorites. He was like a lot of players in the ABA at that time, he was 7-1 and his claim to fame was that he had helped beat UCLA and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in his college days at USC. That was enough to get him on an ABA roster. "Lurch" had one major problem, he was the clumsiest player I have ever seen on a basketball court. He tried like heck and was always hustling -- but balls would be bouncing everywhere when he got into games. He did improve later in the year once he got more familiar with the team and had a few good games, but by the following season he was gone. I think he played part of the next season with another ABA team, possibly the Condors.
In the 1970-71 season the Nets played most of their home games at the Island Garden, which had a seating capacity around 5,500 to 6,000. The only exceptions were two games at Madison Square Garden (December 9th vs. Indiana and March 17th vs. Kentucky) and a game at the Hofstra University Physical Fitness Center on February 13th against Memphis. When the Nets made the playoffs in 1971, the Island Garden had some bad news for them -- the arena was booked. The Nets would not be able to play any playoff games on their home court. The Nets ended up scheduling their first two home playoff games against the Virginia Squires at the Hofstra Physical Fitness Center (Games 3 & 4 of the series). And they scheduled the 6th game at the Felt Forum -- a small arena next to Madison Square Garden which was used mostly for non-title boxing matches. I attended both games at Hofstra. The building was much smaller than the Island Garden. Game 1 on April 6th drew 3,504 fans as the Nets, down 0-2 at the time, won the game. The next day a sellout crowd of 4,134 saw the Nets tie the series with a 130-127 victory. Bill Melchionni poured in 35 points, while Rick Barry was only the 4th best scorer for the Nets that day, with only 14 points. One of the surprising sights at these games was a group of Squires fans from Virginia. They had actually traveled up to watch their team. I remember a funny scene where a Nets fan was shouting derogatory comments towards the Squires fans. One of the Virginia women turned to him and, with her thick southern accent, told him: "Drop dead." After those two games at Hofstra, the Nets lost the final two games of the series, including the final game at the Felt Forum on April 10th before 3,016 fans."
MEMORIES OF J. VECE: "One of my fondest and strangest memories of the ABA came around 1970 in a game between the New York Nets (with Rick Barry, Billy Paultz, & Bill Melchionni) and the Virginia Squires (Charlie Scott, Doug Moe, & Larry Brown). The game took place on Long Island at an arena known as the Island Garden, capacity probably around 8000 (portable seats no less). The circus was also going on at the arena and for the game a cloth partition separated the animals in their cages from the basketball court. The fans had to literally walk past the cages to get to their seats. Occasionally you could hear a lion or tiger roar during the game. I also remember a wild altercation that took place in the game between former Detroit Piston Ray Scott and several Net players. To make the evening complete I purchased an ABA Basketball for $ 5. However, the ball did not improve my game."
MEMORIES OF FRANK DAVIS: "The very first ABA game I went to was at the beautiful Island Garden on Hempstead Turnpike in Hempstead, NY. The year was 1970 and it was ABA Ball Night. I was 13, and I begged my dad that day to take me to the game. When we got there, the smell of elephants was still in the air as the circus had just left. I don't remember a lot about the game other than the coach was York Larese and some of the players were Levern Tart, Walt Simon, Les Hunter and the big man Ron "Lurch" Taylor. Don't remember who they played or who won. All I remember is bugging my dad as we were driving home to find a gas station with an air pump, so that we could inflate the ABA basketball. I took one dribble and it almost went across Hempstead Turnpike because I didn't realize that they were made of rubber. It took a while to break it in, but I was the envy of the whole neighborhood because I had an ABA ball."
MEMORIES OF JOHN KINGSTON: "In the spring of 1972, several of my friends and I went over to the Island Garden to see the Nets. One of our parents dropped us off and then drove away. We walked up to buy tickets and found out that the game was a sellout. So with lots of time to kill, we walked around the outside of the building. There was a series of emergency fire doors on the east side of the building, each with a letter on it spelling out the words 'Island Garden.' The 'I' door happened to be open -- not a security guard or cop in sight. I don't mean it was unlocked. I mean it was wide open, with a concessionaire bringing some food into the arena. So in we went. The concessionaire saw us and only said something to the effect of: 'Welcome.' Two weeks later, the Nets had their final game at the Garden. Like dopes, we went again without tickets. The only difference was that this time, the transporting parent stuck around. After being turned away at the box office (the game was sold out again), we hopped back into the car. We cleverly drove around the side of the building to see if the door was open. It wasn't. We began to drive away. At that moment, one of us turned around, and saw that, unbelievably, the door had popped open. "Stop the car...stop the car!!" So we all piled out, and in we went -- again. We couldn't believe it. We christened ourselves the 'I in Island Sneakers Club,' with lifetime members (attendance at both games), founding members (first game only, no second game), and some other classification for the second-game-only guys. Fast forward four and a half years later. I received a postcard from a club member, following the sale of Erving: 'Dear Mr. Kingston....Please accept my resignation from the I in Island Sneakers Club. I renounce all future obligations. P.S. See you in Philadelphia.'"