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The History of the 1976 ABA and NBA Merge

The NBA is one of the world's most valuable sports leagues and generates upwards of $10 billion a year. Only the MLB and NFL generate more in the U.S., and other industries can capitalize on the league’s growing popularity.

Sportswear, travel, and betting industries benefit from the popularity of the NBA with multi-million dollar collaborative deals with teams and players for clothing and footwear, which is a significant money spinner. The travel industry has benefitted from people visiting major cities for important games, and the online betting app industry, also called mobile bookies, offers fans the opportunity to place wagers on NBA fixtures and other markets from all over the country. 

But where would we be without the all-important ABA/NBA league merger of 1976?


The ABA (American Basketball Association) was a basketball league that rivaled the NBA between 1967 and 1976. While the basics of the game remained the same between the two leagues, only the ABA had three-point field goals. The league was also seen as more flashy and dynamic and used an iconic red, white, and blue ball.

Though the exciting style was popular among fans, the ABA suffered from a lack of TV time, which would be its eventual financial downfall.

Early attempts at a merger failed before it was eventually pushed through in 1976. However, this was too late for the Baltimore Claws, San Diego Sails, Utah Stars, and the Virginia Squires, who all folded as the league limped on.

The Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis were the next to fold as the remaining four teams negotiated terms to join the NBA.

The Merger

The New York Nets, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, and 2023 NBA Championship winners, the Denver Nuggets, all joined the NBA for the 1976/77 season. 63 of the 84 ABA players transitioned, with four players finishing in the top ten scorers for the season.

The four remaining ABA teams agreed to several terms for the merger to go through.

Merger Terms for ABA Teams

The NBA treated the acquisition of the four new teams as an expansion and charged a fee of $3.2 million each. The New York Nets were also ordered to pay the existing NBA franchise, the New York Knicks, $4.8 million as compensation for any impact their addition to the league would cause.

The four teams were also excluded from receiving TV money from 1976 until 1979, and they would have no voting rights for their first two years. They were also excluded from the NBA Draft for the 1976 season. However, players from the Spirits of St. Louis and the Kentucky Colonels who were drafted separately could move to the four teams.

ABA Influences on the NBA

The NBA we know and love today has a long and fascinating history, and the merger with the ABA is one of the crucial factors that helped to make it what it is.

As well as four additional teams, the NBA adopted the 3-point rule for the 1979/80 season. The faster pace of the ABA also made a difference to the NBA, with styles developed to help teams press and trap defenses.

The famous slam dunk competition that features at the NBA All-Star Weekend is also an idea taken from the ABA.

Wrap Up

While it is sad that so many potentially exciting franchises were lost before the merger took place, the legacy of the ABA lives on through its member teams and the changes made to the NBA.

In an age where sports entertainment is a multi-billion dollar business, whether the NBA would have been as successful without the ABA’s influence remains to be seen.


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