May 13, 1976: In the last American Basketball Association game ever played, Julius Erving scores 31 points to help the New York Nets overcome a 22-point third quarter deficit and beat the Denver Nuggets, 112-106, to win the final ABA title. It also marked the retirement of the league’s signature red-white-and-blue basketball. The next season the Nets, Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers would merge into the NBA.
The ABA was created in 1967, not surprisingly, to compete with the NBA, which was the youngest of North America’s major sports leagues and was a shadow of its current self. The ABA introduced the three-point shot, derided at the time as a gimmick but now one of the most important elements of the sport.
The ABA debuted in 1967-68 with 11 teams. The league was popular but never took root with casual fans due to the lack of a national TV contract. Over the years, many franchises moved, and many folded. Salt Lake City had a team, the Utah Stars, but they shut down early in the 1975-76 season. Then there were only seven teams remaining in what would be the final season. The Virginia Squires ceased operations later in the campaign, and the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis disbanded at the time of the merger with the NBA.
The Pacers are the only ABA team remaining in their original 1967 form. The Spurs began as the Dallas Chaparrals, the Nuggets were first known as the Denver Larks, and the Nets were originally known as the New York Americans. Other then Erving, the biggest stars to play in the ABA included George Gervin, Artis Gilmore, Spencer Haywood and Moses Malone (who played his first season with Utah).
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)