The merger of the American Basketball Association (ABA) with the National Basketball Association (NBA), after multiple attempts over several years, occurred in 1976. The NBA and ABA had entered merger talks as early as 1970, but an antitrust suit filed by the head of the NBA players union, Robertson v. National Basketball Ass'n, blocked the merger until 1976.
As part of the merger agreement, the NBA agreed to accept four of the remaining six ABA teams: the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs. The remaining two ABA teams, the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis, folded, with their players entering a dispersal draft.
From the very beginning, the ABA hoped to force a merger with the NBA, thus repeating the American Football League (AFL)'s successful effort to force a merger with the National Football League (NFL). According to The NBA Encyclopedia, ABA officials told prospective owners that they could get an ABA team for half of what it cost to get an NBA expansion team at the time. The upstart league's officials confidently predicted that if and when a merger occurred, any surviving owners would see their investment more than double.
In June 1970, only three years after the ABA began play, the NBA owners voted 13-4 to work toward a merger with the ABA.Seattle SuperSonics owner Sam Schulman, a member of the ABA-NBA merger committee in 1970, was so ardently eager to merge the leagues that he publicly announced that if the NBA did not accept the merger agreement worked out with the ABA, he would move the SuperSonics from the NBA to the ABA. Schulman also threatened to move his soon-to-be ABA team to Los Angeles to compete directly with the Lakers. The owners of the Dallas Chaparrals (now the NBA's San Antonio Spurs) were so confident of the impending merger that they suggested that the ABA hold off on scheduling and playing a regular season schedule for the 1971-72 season. After the 1970-71 season Basketball Weekly wrote "The American basketball public is clamoring for a merger. So are the NBA and ABA owners, the two commissioners, and every college coach. The war is over. The Armistice will be signed soon". The two leagues continued merger discussions and plans through the early and mid-1970s.
The early attempts at merging the ABA and NBA were delayed for years by litigation known as the Oscar Robertson suit, styled Robertson v. National Basketball Association, 556 F.2d 682 (2d Cir. 1977). After the NBA owners voted in 1970 to merge with the ABA, the NBA Players Association filed a lawsuit in April 1970 to prevent the merger on antitrust grounds. The existence of the ABA resulted in increased salaries for players in both leagues as the ABA and NBA competed with each other to sign players. The Robertson suit was finally settled on February 3, 1976, but for the entirety of its pendency it presented an insurmountable obstacle to the desired merger of the two leagues.
In 1972, Congress came close to enacting legislation to enable a merger despite the Oscar Robertson suit. In September 1972, a merger bill was reported favorably out of a U.S. Senate committee, but the bill was put together to please the owners, and ended up not pleasing the Senators or the players. The bill subsequently died without coming to a floor vote. When Congress reconvened in 1973, another merger bill was presented to the Senate, but did not advance. As a result of the legislation's failure the ABA installed a new commissioner, Mike Storen, with part of his focus being the eventual merger of the two leagues as equals. Alex Hannum, who coached in both the NBA and ABA, said at the time of Storen, "The most important problem he has is still the merger with the NBA. And I believe his approach is just right for us. Storen wants to build our league to be the strongest. Then he can negotiate with the NBA as an equal".Sports Illustrated noted at the time that "the tactics Storen says the ABA will employ sound a good deal more like those used by AFL Commissioner Al Davis in the last days of the football war than a plan for peaceful coexistence. The ABA has reinstituted its $300 million antitrust suit against the NBA. It also may move some franchises into better TV markets, an ill-advised maneuver that will mean going against established NBA teams on their home turf. And for the first time since 1970 the ABA will go after established NBA players. 'We will have exploratory contract talks with lots of their men,' Storen says. 'Whether we'll sign none, six or 10 of them will depend on how things work out. But you can be sure of one thing: we'll do this in a serious, orderly way'". As a result of the merger legislation not being enacted and the Oscar Robertson suit continuing, the two leagues did not merge until 1976, after the Oscar Robertson suit had finally been settled.
In the summer before the 1971-72 season the ABA and NBA met in an interleague All Star Game. The NBA won a close game, 125-120. In that same preseason, ABA and NBA teams began playing exhibition games against each other. The first such exhibition was played on September 21, 1971, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks defeating the Dallas Chaparrals, 106-103. The ABA was 15-10 against the NBA in 1973, 16-7 in 1974, and 31-17 in 1975. Overall, the ABA won more of these interleague games than the NBA did, and in every matchup of reigning champions from the two leagues, the ABA champion won, including in the final pre-merger season when the Kentucky Colonels defeated the Golden State Warriors.Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan said of the ABA-NBA exhibition games: "When those exhibition games began, the view in the NBA was, 'Now we'll show those guys.' But then you know what happened--the ABA teams won nearly as often as the NBA did .... Those NBA-ABA games were intense". Longtime NBA coach Larry Brown said of the ABA vs. NBA games, "When some exhibition games were arranged in the 1970s to make some money and we (the ABA) beat them, the NBA said they weren't up for the games. Come on. When I coached Carolina, we played the Knicks after they won a championship. I looked at their guys shooting around and I looked at my guys and I didn't want my players to take off their warm-ups because they looked so scrawny next to the Knicks--and we went out and beat New York. We also played the Celtics a couple of times and beat them. (Celtics coach) Tommy Heinsohn would say that he wasn't playing to win, but I'd check the box score and see that Tommy played his regulars 35 to 40 minutes, so what does that tell you?"
Interest in ABA vs. NBA play extended beyond the two leagues' management. In 1976, CBS sought to establish a postseason playoff between the ABA and NBA, and to win the rights to broadcast those games.
Before the 1975-76 season, the Denver Nuggets and New York Nets applied to join the NBA. The owners of the Nets and Nuggets had approached John Y. Brown, Jr. in an attempt to get his Kentucky Colonels to join their attempted leap to the NBA, but Brown refused, saying he was staying loyal to the ABA. Ultimately, the Nets and Nuggets were forced to play a lame-duck season in the ABA by court order. The Nuggets' and Nets' attempted move to the NBA created a great deal of ill will within the ABA, and brought attention to the emerging financial weakness of some of the league's lesser teams.
Meanwhile, the ABA saw three of its teams (Memphis, San Diego, and Utah) disappear before the end of 1975, with a fourth team (Virginia) limping through the season before folding in spring of 1976. The Memphis Sounds moved to Baltimore as the Claws, but folded after only three preseason games after failing to post a performance bond with the league.
On November 12, 1975--three weeks into the season--the San Diego Sails folded. The Sails had been plagued by wretched attendance, and their owner had learned the team would most likely be excluded from any upcoming ABA-NBA merger because Los Angeles Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke did not want competition in Southern California for either his team or their television coverage on the cable television system he owned. The Sails' players were put into a special dispersal draft.
Shortly afterward, the Utah Stars, once one of the league's longstanding and successful teams, folded as well on December 2, 1975, as a result of not making payroll. Bill Daniels, the Stars' owner, was out of money due to his unsuccessful campaign to become Governor of Colorado and difficulties with other business ventures (Daniels eventually paid back all Stars season ticket holders in full plus 8% interest). There had been talks between the Stars and the Spirits of St. Louis about the two teams merging, but the Stars folded before it could happen. Most of the Stars players, including Moses Malone, were sold to the Spirits of St. Louis. With the ABA cut down to seven teams, the league abandoned divisional play.
Another ABA team, the Virginia Squires, struggled considerably in its final two years. The Squires had sold fan favorites such as Julius Erving, Rick Barry, George Gervin, Warren Armstrong, Billy Paultz and Swen Nater because of constant financial problems. In the 1974-75 season, the once-successful Squires posted a league's-worst record of 15-69. In the 1975-76 season the Squires tied their own record, posting the identical league's-worst won-loss record. Moreover, due to dwindling attendance, the Squires were fighting just to survive until the end of the season. On several occasions, the Squires barely made payroll. By the end of the 1975-76 season, the Squires were at the end of their tether. They were folded by the league on May 11, 1976, after failing to pay a $75,000 league assessment. However, there was virtually no chance of them being included in the merger in any event. The Squires were a "regional" franchise that played home games in three Virginia cities. Regional franchises were not considered viable, and none of the Squires' "home" cities were nearly large enough to support an NBA team.
After the Squires folded, the Kentucky Colonels, led by Artis Gilmore, defeated the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 1976 ABA Playoffs. The Colonels, in turn, lost a seven-game semifinal series to the Denver Nuggets, led by Dan Issel and David Thompson. The Nuggets, in turn, lost the ABA Finals to the New York Nets with Julius Erving, who had defeated George Gervin and the San Antonio Spurs to get there. The Spirits of St. Louis and their star Moses Malone had survived the regular season but missed the playoffs. All six teams were still standing as the ABA and NBA, with the Oscar Robertson suit settled, commenced their final merger negotiations. The merger was finally consummated on June 17, 1976, at the NBA league meetings in the Cape Cod Room at Dunfey's Hyannis Resort in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
The Colonels were one of the strongest franchises throughout the history of the ABA. In addition, the Kentucky Colonels-Indiana Pacers rivalry was the league's fiercest, and in all of professional basketball (NBA included), the Colonels ranked sixth in attendance. In spite of that history, the Colonels' final games came in the 1976 ABA Playoffs as the defending champions bested the Pacers to advance to the semifinals before bowing out to the Nuggets in a tight seven game series.John Y. Brown, Jr., the owner of the Colonels, preceded the 1975-76 season by selling star center Dan Issel for $500,000 to the Baltimore Claws. However, when the money never arrived, Brown sent Issel to the Nuggets. Shortly afterward, he sent defensive standout Teddy McClain to the New York Nets for $150,000. Those transactions, especially the sale of former University of Kentucky star Issel, turned off many of the Colonels' fans. Though it was clear to everyone that the Colonels had the talent and the fan support to join the NBA for the 1976-77 season, in the face of various obstacles, Brown had other plans. The NBA's Chicago Bulls desperately wanted Colonels star Artis Gilmore, whose NBA rights the Bulls owned, so the Bulls fought hard to keep the Colonels out of the merger.
During the merger negotiations in June 1976, the NBA made it clear that it would accept only four ABA teams, not five. The Nuggets and Nets, clearly the ABA's two strongest teams, were obvious choices. The Spurs had posted impressive attendance numbers since moving from Dallas, and were thus a very attractive choice. With the Bulls letting it be known they would object to the Colonels being part of any merger, the Pacers were the next most viable choice. Brown saw the writing on the wall and decided that it was better to fold the Colonels for cash, instead of continuing to fight.
On June 17, 1976, Brown reached a financial agreement with the remaining teams in the ABA and folded the Colonels for $3 million. In addition to the $3 million that Brown received for agreeing to fold the Colonels and stay out of the ABA-NBA merger, he also sold Gilmore's rights to the Bulls for $1.1 million.
According to the terms of the ABA-NBA merger the Kentucky Colonels players were placed into a dispersal draft (along with the players from the Spirits of St. Louis). The Chicago Bulls took Gilmore for $1.1 million. The Portland Trail Blazers took Maurice Lucas for $300,000, the Buffalo Braves took Bird Averitt for $125,000, the Indiana Pacers took Wil Jones for $50,000, the New York Nets took Jan van Breda Kolff for $60,000, and the San Antonio Spurs took Louie Dampier for $20,000. With the funds he received from the agreement with the other ABA teams and Colonels players sold in the dispersal draft, Brown promptly turned around and bought the NBA's Buffalo Braves for $1.5 million, and parlayed the Braves into ownership of the Boston Celtics.
Brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna had made a fortune as pioneers in the manufacture of polyester, and they wanted to own an NBA team. After an attempt to purchase the Detroit Pistons fell short, the Silnas purchased the ABA's Carolina Cougars franchise with the expectation of moving it into the NBA with the impending merger of the two leagues. The Silna brothers moved the Cougars to St. Louis, Missouri, because it was then the largest city in the United States without a professional basketball team, and they thought this would make their team more likely to join the NBA. In 1974, the Cougars, roster and all, were overhauled and became the ABA's Spirits of St. Louis from 1974 through 1976. The 1974-75 Spirits had upset the reigning ABA champion New York Nets in the 1975 Eastern Division Finals before losing to the eventual champion Kentucky Colonels, but in the 1975-76 season the Spirits' play was uneven and their attendance waned.
The 1975-76 season had not turned out so well in terms of either attendance or wins on the court. In May 1976, due to attendance problems in St. Louis, the Spirits announced that they were going to move to Salt Lake City, Utah, to play as the Utah Rockies when a lease agreement for the Salt Palace was arranged. This followed an attempted merger of the Spirits and the Utah Stars franchise during the 1975-76 season, a merger that, had it occurred, contemplated the team leaving St. Louis for Utah. But the Stars folded before the merger could occur and instead, the Spirits bought the rights to some of the Stars' best players, including Moses Malone. In an effort to be included in the ABA-NBA merger, the Spirits' owners, the Silna brothers, proposed selling the Spirits to a Utah group, buying the Kentucky Colonels franchise, and moving the Colonels to Buffalo to replace the Buffalo Braves, who were then planning to move to the Miami region (The Buffalo franchise would eventually move to Southern California, first as the San Diego Clippers before moving north to Los Angeles; Salt Lake City and Miami eventually gained NBA franchises, Salt Lake City through the move of New Orleans a few years later in 1979, and Miami via expansion in 1988). The Spirits were not included in the merger, but the Silna brothers nonetheless managed to turn the merger, for them, into one of the greatest deals in the history of professional sports:
In June 1976, the remaining ABA owners agreed, in return for the Spirits folding, to pay the St. Louis owners $2.2 million in cash up front in addition to a 1/7 share of the four remaining teams' television revenues in perpetuity. As the NBA's popularity exploded in the 1980s and 1990s, the league's television rights were sold to CBS and then NBC, and additional deals were struck with the TNT and TBS cable networks; league television revenue soared into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Silnas continue to receive checks from the NBA on a yearly basis, representing a 4/7 share of the television money that would normally go to any NBA franchise, or about two percent of the entire league's TV deal.
Thanks to their deal during the ABA-NBA merger, the Silnas received millions of dollars through the 1980s, and at least $4.4 million per year through the 1990s. From 1999 through 2002 the deal netted the Spirits' owners at least $12.53 million per year; from 2003 to 2006 their take was at least $15.6 million per year. The two Silna brothers each get 45% of that television revenue per year and their attorney during the merger negotiations, Donald Schupak, receives 10%. They credit their terrific deal to careful planning: the Silnas had expected the Spirits and Colonels to enter the NBA but for the ailing Virginia Squires to be left out, and the Silnas thought up the television revenue deal as a way to treat the Squires' owners fairly if the Squires did not join the NBA with the other ABA teams. As of 2013, the Silna brothers have received over $300 million in NBA revenue, despite the fact that the Spirits never played a single NBA game.
The terms of the ABA-NBA merger included the Spirits of St. Louis players being put into a special dispersal draft along with the Kentucky Colonels players. Marvin Barnes went to the Detroit Pistons for $500,000, Moses Malone went to the Portland Trail Blazers for $300,000, Ron Boone went to the Kansas City Kings for $250,000, Randy Denton went to the New York Knicks for $50,000 and Mike Barr went to the Kansas City Kings for $15,000.
Sometime prior to 2013, the Silna brothers sued the NBA for "hundreds of millions of dollars more" they felt the NBA owed them, presumably for NBA League Pass subscriptions and streaming video revenues that they feel should count as an extension of television revenues. In January 2014, a conditional settlement agreement between the NBA, the four active former-ABA clubs and the Silnas was announced. As part of the deal, the Silnas are reported to be receiving $500 million upfront from the former ABA teams. The Spirits of St. Louis Basketball Club, L.P., will continue as an entity and will retain its original share of the TV revenue streams of the former ABA teams, but the former ABA teams will get a majority stake in the Spirits of St. Louis, effectively earning back a majority of the revenue they transfer to the Spirits. While the Silnas still earn a minority share of the revenue of the Spirits for now, the former ABA teams have gained an option to purchase the remaining stake held by the Silnas in the future. Also, the Silnas will drop their litigation against the league seeking a share of additional media revenue streams, with the NBA agreeing to grant some of the disputed funds to the Spirits L.P. The deal must still receive court approval.
This article needs to be updated.February 2019)(
The folding of the Spirits dissolved a very talented basketball team, one that likely would have competed successfully in the NBA. Twelve players from the final two Spirits of St. Louis rosters (1974-76) played in the NBA during the 1976-77 season and beyond: Maurice Lucas, Ron Boone, Marvin Barnes, Caldwell Jones, Lonnie Shelton, Steve Green, Gus Gerard, Moses Malone, Don Adams, Don Chaney, M. L. Carr and Freddie Lewis.
The NBA imposed the following terms on the four ABA refugees--the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs:
The indemnities and other penalties were as draconian as the penalties that the AFL teams faced as a consequence of the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, with the notable exception that the NFL continues to recognize AFL records.
The Nets offered their superstar forward Julius Erving to the Knicks in return for waiving the $4.8 million indemnity, but the Knicks declined the offer. Instead, Erving was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million. In effect, the Nets traded their franchise player for a berth in the NBA.
In the first NBA All Star Game after the merger, 10 of the 24 NBA All Stars were former ABA players.
In the first post-merger season's NBA Finals between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Philadelphia 76ers, five of the ten starting players were former ABA players. Those five starters from the ABA were Julius Erving, Caldwell Jones, George McGinnis, Dave Twardzik and Maurice Lucas.
Of the 84 players in the ABA at the time of the merger, 63 played in the NBA during the 1976-77 season. In that first post-merger season, four of the NBA's top ten scorers had come over from the ABA (Billy Knight, David Thompson, Dan Issel and George Gervin).
Don Buse, who joined the NBA with the Pacers, led the NBA in both steals and assists during that first post-merger season. The Spirits of St. Louis' Moses Malone finished third in rebounding; the Kentucky Colonels' Artis Gilmore was fourth. Gilmore and his former Colonels teammate Caldwell Jones were both among the top five in the NBA in blocked shots.
Tom Nissalke left the ABA to coach the NBA's Houston Rockets in the first post-merger season and won the Central Division; Nissalke was named NBA Coach of the Year. Former Kentucky Colonels coach Hubie Brown took over the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, and the four former ABA teams kept their coaches as they entered the NBA.
In their first NBA season, the Nuggets--a team that had never won an ABA championship--finished with the league's second-best record, 50-32, and won the Midwest Division. In their second NBA season, the Nuggets repeated as Midwest Division champions, and in their third season the Nuggets missed a third consecutive division title by a single game. Although the financial and draft penalties caused the team to slip a little bit after coach Larry Brown's departure, the Nuggets would remain an NBA power throughout the 1980s. After a period of mediocre play through most of the 1990s and early 2000s, the Nuggets recovered and made the playoffs ten years in a row from 2004 to 2013, though to date they are the only former ABA team to have never played in the NBA Finals.
The Spurs, who could never get past the first round of the ABA playoffs before the merger, won NBA division titles in five of their first six NBA seasons. This was in spite of the financial and draft penalties imposed on the team. The Spurs then went through a period of decline in the late 1980s, but rebounded in the 1990s, and in 1999 became the first former ABA team to both reach and win the NBA Finals; as of the end of the 2018-19 season they are the only former ABA team to win a title. They have since won four more NBA titles, in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014. In 2003, the NBA Finals matched two former ABA teams, the Spurs and the New Jersey Nets.
After years of being the ABA's strongest team on the court and at the box office, the merger caught the Pacers at an awkward moment financially. As mentioned above, they were included in the merger more or less as an afterthought after the Bulls effectively vetoed the inclusion of the Colonels, who were on far stronger footing financially. The team had started unloading their stars during the last ABA season. After their first NBA season, the Pacers resorted to broadcasting a successful telethon in order to survive financially into their second NBA season. In part thanks to the telethon, led by Nancy Leonard (wife of Hall of Fame coach Bobby Leonard), the Pacers' average attendance jumped from 7,615 during the 1976-77 season, their first in the NBA, to 10,982 during the 1977-78 season.
The Pacers finished their inaugural NBA season with a record of 36-46. Pacers Billy Knight and Don Buse represented Indiana in the NBA All-Star Game. However, this was one of the few bright spots of the Pacers' first 13 years in the NBA. During this time, they had only two non-losing seasons and only two playoff appearances. Finally overcoming the draft and financial penalties imposed in the merger, the Pacers won NBA Central Division championships in 1995, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2013 and 2014. They reached the NBA Finals in 2000, and reached the Eastern Conference finals in the previous two years and again in 2013 and 2014.
The Nets, severely handicapped by the financial penalties placed upon the team, sold Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers. Nate Archibald, the one bright spot left on the roster, broke his foot and the Nets finished their first NBA season at 22-60, the worst record in the league. After their first NBA season, the Nets moved to New Jersey and had a few more weak seasons there before finally improving in the early 1980s as they overcame the financial penalties imposed on them during the merger. By 1984, the Nets were making the NBA playoffs and by 2002 the Nets finally made the NBA Finals, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. They made it to the NBA Finals again in 2003, this time losing to the San Antonio Spurs, another former ABA team. In 2012, the Nets moved to Brooklyn.
Nets' owner Roy Boe said of the merger, "The merger agreement killed the Nets as an NBA franchise. ...The merger agreement got us into the NBA, but it forced me to destroy the team by selling Erving to pay the bill".
|^||Denotes player who has been inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame|
|*||Denotes player who has been selected for at least one All-Star Game and All-NBA Team|
|#||Denotes player who has never appeared in an NBA regular season or playoff game|
|Round||Pick||Player||Pos.||Nationality||Team||ABA team||Signing price||Ref.|
|1||1||Artis Gilmore^||C||United States||Chicago Bulls||Kentucky Colonels||$1,100,000|||
|1||2||Maurice Lucas*||F/C||United States||Portland Trail Blazers (from Atlanta)[m]||Kentucky Colonels||$300,000|||
|1||3||Ron Boone||G/F||United States||Kansas City Kings||Spirits of St. Louis||$250,000|||
|1||4||Marvin Barnes||F/C||United States||Detroit Pistons||Spirits of St. Louis||$500,000|||
|1||5||Moses Malone^||F/C||United States||Portland Trail Blazers||Spirits of St. Louis||$350,000|||
|1||6||Randy Denton||C||United States||New York Knicks||Spirits of St. Louis||$50,000|||
|1||7||Bird Averitt||G||United States||Buffalo Braves (from Milwaukee)[n]||Kentucky Colonels||$125,000|||
|1||8||Wil Jones||F||United States||Indiana Pacers||Kentucky Colonels||$50,000|||
|1||9||Ron Thomas#||F/C||United States||Houston Rockets||Kentucky Colonels||$15,000|||
|1||10||Louie Dampier^||G||United States||San Antonio Spurs||Kentucky Colonels||$20,000|||
|1||11||Jan van Breda Kolff||G/F||United States||New York Nets||Kentucky Colonels||$60,000|||
|2||12||Mike Barr||G||United States||Kansas City Kings||Spirits of St. Louis||$15,000|||
Angelo Drossos, owner of the San Antonio Spurs: "When the leagues merged, the NBA moguls didn't want the 3-point shot. Red Auerbach hated it and said the Celtics would never go along with it. He had everybody up in arms against the play. Of course, a few years later Red drafted Larry Bird and suddenly he was all for it. And suddenly one of the bigger attractions at the All-Star Game is the 3-point shootout".
The ABA originated the idea of the slam dunk contest at the 1976 ABA All Star Game; the NBA subsequently held their first one in 1984. The slam dunk contest has ever since been a major part of the NBA's All Star Weekend (with the exception of 1998 and 1999).
Pressing and trapping defenses, rarely used in the slower-tempo NBA, were common in the ABA, and after the merger began to play a larger role in the NBA.
Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers star: "When the Knicks were pressing and shooting 3-pointers and all of that under Rick Pitino, people acted as if that was something new. Hey, half the teams in the ABA played like that".
Hubie Brown, former head coach of the Kentucky Colonels, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies: "We (the ABA) were ahead of the NBA in so many different ways. We had the 3-point play. The NBA said it was a gimmick; now it's one of the most exciting parts of the pro game... About everything we did in the ABA they do now in the NBA except they didn't take our red, white and blue ball". Eventually, the NBA revived the ABA's red, white and blue ball as the "Money Ball" in the NBA's Three-Point Contest.
The ABA had a far faster pace than the NBA, and this carried over into the NBA after the merger; today's NBA game is largely derived from the ABA. Longtime Denver Nuggets head coach and ABA alum Doug Moe, who also coached the Philadelphia 76ers, has commented, "The NBA now plays our (the ABA's) kind of basketball".
Prior to the ABA, the NBA did not allow college underclassmen to enter the league. In 1969 the ABA's Denver Rockets signed Spencer Haywood, a sophomore star at the University of Detroit who had played on the 1968 United States Olympic basketball team. The NCAA sued, but Haywood and the ABA prevailed. Julius Erving and George Gervin also joined the ABA's Virginia Squires as underclassmen, as did Jim Chones going from Marquette University to the New York Nets, George McGinnis from Indiana University to the Indiana Pacers and Ralph Simpson from Michigan State to the Denver Rockets. Moses Malone joined the ABA's Utah Stars straight out of high school. Eventually after the merger the NBA followed suit and the drafting of college underclassmen became common in that league and high school players were also selected in subsequent NBA drafts.