The American Basketball Association: remembering the six best things about a true original

The ABA was an innovator that changed the face of modern basketball.

Some of the league’s new ideas survived and made their way into the game we see played today. Here are our six favorite ABA things, in no particular order.

1: The three-point shot. The ABA didn’t invent it – the idea had been around for some time, and Abe Saperstein’s ABL was the first league to implement it back in 1961 – but they knew a great idea when they saw it and were the league responsible for popularizing the rule that has utterly transformed the game over the past 40 years.

2: Three-to-make-two. When a team was in the bonus, fouled players got three free throw attempts, if needed, to make two baskets. This rule didn’t survive, but I bet Dwight Howard wishes it had. In fact, bringing it back might be a way of helping The League deal with its persistent Hack-a-Shaq problem. UPDATED: I have been informed that this was an old NBA rule that predated the ABA. So scratch item #2, and I guess it’s now the five best things about the ABA. Apologies.

3: Oh, those uniforms.

4: The red, white and blue ball. It made jump shots a hypnotizing thing of beauty.

5: Dr. J and Skywalker. Had he not had injuries and drug issues David Thompson would be remembered as one of the greatest players in history. Julius Erving is one of the greatest players in history.


6: The Slam Dunk Contest. Yep, the ABA invented that, too. And it was a lot better than the current NBA version because the top stars – players like Thompson and Dr. J., participated. DT gets started at about the 3:20 mark and he’s followed by Erving. That thing that happens at 5:25? No, Michael Jordan didn’t invent it.

Enjoy the NBA Playoffs, and as you do, remember – much of the modern game’s character, to say nothing of its style, owes to an upstart league from the 1960s. And there would be no better tribute to that legacy than a final featuring two of the four ABA teams that merged into the NBA: San Antonio and Indiana.




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