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Basketball history: The ABA-NBA merger (1976)

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Goodbye ABA! 4 teams accepted in NBA merger

Goodbye red, white and blue ball. So long three-point field goal.

The American Basketball Association is no more.

The 9-year-old league became instant trivia Thursday when four ABA terms merged into the National Basketball Association following 3-1/2 days of long and complicated talks between officials of the two leagues. In the end, it was NBA Commissioner Lawrence F O’Brien, veteran political wheeler-dealer, who reopened broken-down talks very early Thursday and smoothed out an agreement acceptable to both sides.

Under the plan agreed to around 10 am, the San Antonio, Denver, Indiana and New York Nets franchises will be added to the NBA as expansion teams at an entry fee of $3.2 million cash per club.

Players from the Utah, St Louis and Kentucky franchises, which were bought out by the remaining ABA owners for an estimated $3 million each, will be put into a dispersal draft along with players from previously folded ABA clubs. All 22 NBA teams — including the four newest members — will select the players in reverse order according to their winning percentage last season.

Specifically, the Chicago Bulls will choose first when the draft takes place sometime in the next week or so. The Bulls probably will take Kentucky center Artis Gilmore, whom they originally drafted in 1969.

Under the merger plan, rosters of ABA teams have been frozen retroactive to May 1, 1976. Any player on the NEts, Nuggets, Spurs or Pacers who also were drafted by NBA clubs will stay with their present teams.

Players in the dispersal draft pool who were selected by NBA teams in previous years become free agents and any club that picks them must also pick up the remainder of their present ABA contracts.

The ABA owners have agreed to pay up in full the contracts of all players not selected in the dispersal draft.

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The last-minute appearance of the dispersal draft plan caused Seattle owner Sam Schulman to cast the lone dissenting vote among the 18-member NBA Board of Governors.

“I voted against the merger as a protest against the dispersal draft plan but I am in favor of the merger itself because it is good for basketball,” said Schulman.

A great day for sports

O’Brien, who engineered John F Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1960 and served as US postmaster general, was exuberant but exhausted after the fruitful all-night session. “It’s a great day for sports and one of the 10 most memorable events in my life,” O’Brien said.

Before the “great day” took place, there were three hellish days of meetings involving O’Brien and his advisory committee of four NBA owners, along with ABA Commissioner Dave DeBusschere and the chief officers of the four ABA clubs involved.

DeBusschere, who probably will be awarded a job in the NBA hierarchy for his part in the negotiations, obtained a guarantee that one ABA team would be added to each existing division in the NBA. The alignments, to be decided solely by the 18 original NBA clubs, should be announced in the next week so schedule-maker Eddie Gottlieb can begin the task of figuring out a slate of games.

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The merger most likely ended the likelihood of two suits against the NBA. ABA Player’s Association lawyer Prentiss Yancey, who flew up late Wednesday from Atlanta to participate in the all-night bargaining, said inclusion of the dispersal draft eliminated a chance of a suit by his group against the NBA.

Trade violation case dismissed

In another suit to have been heard today in a New York federal court, the ABA had charged the NBA with restraint of trade in violation of antitrust laws. Judge Robert L Carter, who had suggested the two leagues talk before the case was to be brought to trial, was expected to dismiss it.

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One of the last things to be ironed out before completion of the merger was the indemnity owed the New York Knicks by the New York Nets for infringement on the Knicks’ territorial rights to operate in the New York area. The amount of the indemnity was not disclosed, but it was believed the total would approach $6 million — close to the figure the Islanders paid the Rangers upon entering the National Hockey League, and the amount the Jets gave the Giants in joining the National Football League.

“There never was any discussion of the Nets moving out of Uniondale, New York,” said Michael Burke, Knicks president and a member of the NBA advisory board.

Burke also revealed the ABA had admitted losing a total of $40 million since beginning play in 1967.

“With them losing that much money, we had to decide how much of a millstone we would want to carry,” said Burke in explaining the NBA’s position in merging just four of the six ABA teams.

Other points relative to the merger called for the ABA to relinquish television revenues for the next four years, voting rights to gate-sharing for the next two seasons and voting rights to the divisional realignment for the next season.

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