Dr. J, Ice recall ABA's fun times
By MARTIN FENNELLY/Tampa Tribune Columnist
ORLANDO - The red, white and blue ball was spinning, spellbinding, on a single finger - George Gervin's. He smiled. His friend clutched another ball. It looked like a psychedelic pea in the large, sure hands of Julius Erving.
They stood at midcourt at the Orlando Arena on Tuesday night, before the Orlando Magic played the San Antonio Spurs in an exhibition game. There they marked the 30th birthday of a dear friend, of a place where every game was an exhibition.
On October 13, 1967, the Oakland Oaks defeated the Anaheim Amigos 132-129 before 4,828 fans. The Oaks put up 70 points in the first half. Anaheim's Les Selvage drilled four three-pointers. And the American Basketball Association was born.
The ABA lasted just nine seasons before being devoured by the NBA, but it never died, not to the men who owned it, players like Gervinand Erving. Erving is the Magic's executive vice president. He now prefers the initials J.W. (Julius Winfield) on his door and desk. Gervin works for the Spurs in community relations.
When they met Tuesday morning, it was to hit little white balls for 18 holes. George Gervin's handicap is 6. The Iceman Golfeth.Capturing a fun past
But when they rolled out the red, white and blue, the ball the Magic and Spurs used in the first half Tuesday, J.W. and George were TheDoctor and The Iceman again, laughing, maybe even lying. A quarter century ago, before Doc won titles with the Nets and Ice played for the Spurs, the two played for the Virginia Squires.
``George's rookie year, he comes in at midseason. About 6-7, 6-7 1/2, weighing about 135 pounds dripping wet,'' Doc said. ``He goes out there and he's got this little shot, just lays it on his arm. Looks like a globe on his hand, because he's so skinny. It was like he was holding the universe. The ball would just float so pretty.
``And I said, `Welcome aboard.' ''
It was a short, wild ride. You probably never saw the ABA unless you bought a ticket, and not many did. The ABA was the rebel league. It had the mystery ball, the weird trey. It was empty seats, bad arenas, bad everything except for basketball. Its players hung before anybody thought to call it hang time. It was the league of bikini- clad ballgirls and slam-dunk contests and Afros that rose like A-bomb clouds. The ABA was fun.
``I see the stadiums now as being a three-ring circus,'' Doc said. He thought about the Magic's first exhibition game in Houston. ``It was almost as if the game was secondary to the whole show. The mascots. Dancers. Music. Fireworks. All the things they do to excite a crowd. George and I had the experience in the ABA where we truly were the show.''Going through so much Gervin is sure that players today don't know anything about the ABA.
``I don't want to say today's players are spoiled ....''
Ice looked around.
`'But they're getting there!''
Ice burst out laughing.
After Tuesday's game, the Magic's Penny Hardaway was was asked if he would have enjoyed the ABA.
``I don't think so,'' Hardaway said. ``The travel. The things they had to go through, those locker rooms. They had to go through so much.''
So very much.
Doc and Ice were talking about the ABA reunion held in August in Indianapolis. The alums decided that Darnell Hillman played with the best Afro.
``Darnell walked to the front of the room with a Denzel Washington strut,'' Doc said. ``Of course, he has a corporate haircut now.''
There were tears in Indy, too. For men long gone and for the league of their own, where they truly were the show. It was like it was when Ice shot. They were holding the universe.
The globe was red, white and blue.
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