The ABA existed from 1967 to 1976, for nine full seasons. During that time, the ABA fought a bitter war with the established National Basketball Association the NBA for players, fans, and media attention. In June 1976, the two rival pro leagues finally made peace. Four of the strongest ABA teams, the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs joined the NBA and survived. The other remaining ABA teams the Kentucky Colonels, the Spirits of St. Louis, and the Virginia Squires vanished, along with the ABA itself.
On October 13, 1967, the Anaheim Amigos lose to the Oakland Oaks, 134-129, in the inaugural game of the American Basketball Association. In its first season, the ABA included 11 teams: the Pittsburgh Pipers, Minnesota Muskies, Indiana Pacers, Kentucky Colonels and New Jersey Americans played in the Eastern Division, and the New Orleans Buccaneers, Dallas Chaparrals, Denver Rockets, Houston Mavericks, Anaheim Amigos and Oakland Oaks played in the Western. Until it folded in 1976, the league offered players and fans a freewheeling alternative to the stodgy NBA. "It was a looser atmosphere," one fan remembered. "We could do a lot of things the NBA won’t let us do"; these days, basketball games are "supposed to be family entertainment."
See how each American Basketball Association team came to be in their city, their nickname and their facility.
ABA-NBA Merger Committee
Oscar Robertson lawsuit
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.
The new teams' arrival was treated as an expansion, not a merger. The four remaining ABA teams had to pay a $3.2 million expansion fee to the NBA by September 15, 1976..
The New York Nets were to pay an additional $4.8 million directly to their in-town rival, the New York Knicks, as compensation for "invading" the New York area..
The four ABA teams would receive no television money at all during their first three seasons in the NBA 1976 - 1979, and were to pay one seventh of their annual television revenues after that to the owners of the defunct Spirits of St. Louis in perpetuity..
The four ABA teams would receive no votes related to the distribution of gate receipts or the alignment of NBA divisions for two years..
The remaining players from the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis would be made available to NBA teams through a dispersal draft, with superstars such as Artis Gilmore and Moses Malone going to teams other than the four ABA teams..
In addition, the NBA would not recognize ABA records..
The Nets offered their superstar forward Julius Erving to the Knicks in return for waiving the $4.8 million territorial penalty fee, but the Knicks declined the offer. Instead, Erving was sold to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million. In effect, the Nets traded their franchise player for a berth in the NBA.
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 Midwest 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.