Vintage ABA Team Logos

10 Greatest ABA Teams of All Time

10 Greatest ABA Teams Of All Time

 

ABA Basketball Logo

The brief history of the ABA was filled with colorful players, coaches, and owners. The league existed from 1966 until its merger with the NBA in 1976. Several big-time NBA stars started their careers in the ABA, including Julius Erving, George Gervin, Moses Malone, Connie Hawkins, and Mel Daniels. While only four ABA franchises officially transitioned to the NBA, several ABA teams foreshadowed future NBA expansion teams. These include the New Orleans Pelicans and New Orleans Buccaneers, the Utah Jazz and Utah Stars, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Muskies, the Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis Sounds, and the Miami Heat and Miami Floridians.

ABA Basketball 1966-1976

In the early years, the media didn't take the ABA seriously. However, when exhibition games between the ABA and NBA were set up, sports reporters took serious notice. Many were shocked that the ABA could compete with, and even defeat, NBA teams. During the ABA's decade-long run, they had several memorable teams that could compete for NBA championships. Here is our 10 Greatest ABA Teams of All Time.

1975 Kentucky Colonels ABA Logo

1) 1974-1975 Kentucky Colonels

Record: 58-26
Result: ABA Champion
Record vs NBA Teams: 3-2 (W Colonels 118 - Bullets 95) (W Colonels 109 - Pistons 100) (W Colonels 93 - Bulls 75) (L Kings 102 - Colonels 91) (L Rockets 96 - Colonels 95)
Head Coach: Hubie Brown
Key Players: Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, Louie Dampier, Marv Roberts, Bird Averitt, Ted McClain, Will Jones

Coached by a young Hubie Brown they ran through the ABA playoffs with a 12-3 record. They were a well built and balanced starting five with role players to boot. Kentucky won 22 out of its last 25 regular season games, including 10 in a row to close the regular season. Artis Gilmore anchored the middle defensively better than any big man in the 1970's.  Something that was missing from many ABA rosters. Dan Issel was a premium power forward who was an automatic mid range shooter and a rugged player inside. Louie Dampier ran the point guard and stretched defenses with his unique three point range. Gilmore, Issel and Dampier each appeared in the 1975 All-Star game.


Hubie Brown said: "The 1975 Kentucky Colonels were the best team I have ever coached. No other team has even come close. They were just a great, great team because they had perimeter scoring in Dampier and Issel, they had Gilmore at the low box. Teddy McClain could guard anybody in either league. Gene Littles was a hell of a defensive player. Wil Jones and Marv Roberts combined for over 20 points a game and we never ran any plays for them . . . . We went 22-3 in the last 25 games of the season and 12-3 in the playoffs.'


Owner and KFC businessman John Y Brown was full of ideas. After Kentucky won the ABA championship in 1975, he challenged the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to play the Colonels, offering to pay the NBA $1 million if the Warriors could defeat the Colonels. The Warriors and NBA declined. However, the two teams did meet on October 8, 1975 at Freedom Hall in Louisville. The Colonels won the matchup of the league champions, 93–90.

Kentucky Colonels Wins ABA Championship

The ABA's answer to Bill Russel, Gilmore was named 1st Team All-ABA after averages of 23 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks. The 7-4 Gilmore had his best year offensively shooting 58% from the field. After his performance in the ABA finals, he took home the ABA Finals MVP trophy.

Dan Issel was a fan favorite because of his time staring at the University of Kentucky. "The Horse" provided a steady 17 points and 8 rebounds a night, both second on the team.

Owner Ellie Brown with Dan Issel & Artis Gilmore

Like Issel, Dampier played for the University of Kentucky in college, making him an instant favorite with fans. Louie Dampier 16.8 points per outing and led the team in assists at 5.4 per game. The point guard was the best 3 point shooter in pro basketball.

One of the biggest strengths of the team was its tremendous depth, marked by key playoff performances by Ted McClain, Marv Roberts and Wil Jones. 6-8 forward Marv Roberts was tremendous in the playoffs for Kentucky. The Brooklyn native averaged over 15 points and 5 rebounds per game in the ABA Finals, both ranked third on the team.

1975 ABA World Champion Kentucky Colonels

In the first round of the playoffs they dismantled the Memphis Tams 4-1, as Memphis had to answer for Gilmore inside. They faced the Spirits of St. Louis in the 2nd round, St. Louis was led by Marvin Barnes and Freddie Lewis. Despite Barnes and Lewis combing for nearly 60 points per night, Kentucky won 4-1.

Kentucky would face the Indiana Pacers in the 1975 ABA Finals. 17,388 fans witnessed game 3 as Artis Gilmore finished the night with 41 points and 28 rebounds. On May 22 Kentucky and Indiana met in Louisville for Game 5. Billy Knight scored 40 points for the Pacers in front of 16,622 fans; the effort was not enough as the Colonels won 110–105 to claim the 1975 ABA Championship 4 games to 1. Gilmore and Issel dominated the series combining for over 46 points and 33 rebounds per night. Gilmore was named the Most Valuable Player of the championship series.

 

 

1976 New York Nets ABA

2) 1975-1976 New York Nets

Record: 55-29
Record vs NBA Teams: 5-2 (W Nets 110 - Knicks 104) (W Nets 103 - Knicks 101) (W Nets 109 - Braves 83) (W Nets 122 - Bullets 114) (W Nets 117 - Braves 97) (L Bullets 109 - Nets 108) (L Nets 114 - Warriors 119)
Result: ABA Champion
Head Coach: Kevin Loughery
Key Players: Julius Erving, John Williamson, Brian Taylor, Jim Eakins, Rich Jones, Kim Hughes, Al Skinner, Bill Melchionni

There is no question the Nets were superior to both the New York Knicks and Buffalo Braves, as they went 4-0 in exhibition play in 1976. They also squared off with the Golden State Warriors, who won the previous years NBA Championship. In the highly contested affair, the Warriors won a close game 119-114. “We had a team that as it was structured then if it had gone to the NBA, we were a competitive team,” said Turetzky. “We could have fought for a championship with the Celtics and the other people.” 

They won the championship in 1974 and the last year of the ABA 1976. They had a well balanced starting 5 built around the cornerstone of the ABA, Julius Erving. Julius Erving was the cornerstone of the team, transforming the franchise when he arrived before the 1973-74 season. Over his three seasons with the Nets, Erving led the ABA in scoring twice, averaged 28.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.3 steals, and 2.1 blocks per game, and won three ABA MVP awards. He led the Nets to ABA championships in 1974 and 1976 with epic playoff performances in both years.

In 1974-75, the team won a franchise-record 58 games, but was upset in the playoffs by the Spirits of St. Louis. The Nets retooled for the 1975-76 season, dealing off Larry Kenon and Billy Paultz.

Julius Erving New York Nets ABA

During the 1976 season Julius averaged a league leading 29 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. He upped his game when it mattered most, averaging 34 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists during the playoffs. 

“The key guys were really Soup (Super John Williamson) and Doc,” said Turetzky. “It was his game. Kevin would just give it to Doc to go. The second play was LA-23. That was Soup. John, you just take the ball and do what you want to do. One on one, it was his ball. That’s how they did it.”

Super John Williamson New York Nets ABA

The Nets second best player may have been the pysical shooting guard “Super John” Williams. A rookie in 1974, his dominant second half helped the Nets rally to clinch the title against Denver in 1976. The last player from the 1976 ABA champions to play a game for the Nets, Williamson averaged 17.8 points for the team over parts of seven seasons.

Brian Taylor, the ABA Rookie of the Year in 1973, was another key player. Taylor led the league in steals with 2.8 per game in 1975 and was a consistent contributor, averaging 14.0 points per game with the Nets. His performance during the 1976 campaign included 17 points and 6 assists per night, often drawing comparisons to New York Knick counterpart Walt "Clyde" Frazier.

Although Erving, Williamson and Taylor made up the core. New York featured several key role players like Jim Eakins, Rich Jones, Kim Hughes, Al Skinner and Bill Melchionni.

1976 New York Nets ABA Champions

In the last night of the ABA, Julius Erving showed he was King. As he had two years earlier, Erving turned in an epic playoff performance. He averaged 37.7 points and 14 rebounds in the six-game championship series win against the Denver Nuggets. The Nets came back from 22 points down in the second half to clinch Game 6, with Williamson scoring 24 points in the second half and 16 in the fourth quarter. Erving was named ABA Playoff MVP on the last night of the ABA.

 

1970 Indiana Pacers Logo

3) 1969-1970 Indiana Pacers

Record: 59-25
Record vs NBA Teams: N/A
Result: ABA Champion
Head Coach: Slick Leonard
Key Players: Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, Billy Keller

The Indiana Pacers took home the ABA Championship in 1970, 1972 and 1973. It would have been interesting to see the ABA’s best dynasty compete in the NBA during the early '70s. Many people think Indiana may have won multiple NBA Championships with this team. Indiana featured a trio of 1970 ABA All-Stars in Mel Daniels, Roger Brown and Bob Netolicky.

Although the 72' and 73' teams featured 4 All-Stars with the addition of George McGinnis. The best Indiana Pacers team of all time was the 1970 Championship team. They complied a 59-25 regular season record and then ran through the playoffs with a 12-3 record. Early in the 1970-1971 season they played the NBA's New York Knicks, who would go on to win the championship one year later in 1973. This was one of the best NBA vs ABA showdowns.

Indiana Pacers Celebrate The ABA Championship

Bob Netolicky was also named to the All-ABA 2nd team in 1970, after he put up averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds. "Neto" was a fan favorite, the free living center was known for his popular Indianapolis based nightclub known as  Neto's, a popular spot after all the big Pacer games in the 70s.

Although he was snubbed from the All-Star game, point guard Freddie Lewis was a dynamo at the lead guard position for Indiana. The third year pro averaged 16 points and 4 assists. Rookie guard and Indiana native Billy Keller was a tough 5-10 guard from nearby Purdue. Keller was among the best backup guards in the league.

Mel Daniels Indiana Pacers ABA

Big man Mel Daniels was the most feared centers in the ABA. With averages of 18 points and 17 rebounds, Daniels was named 1st team All ABA in 1970. He was named ABA MVP in the 1969 and 1971 seasons. At 6-9 220 "Big D" was known for his inside play and tactical approach.

Roger Brown Indiana Pacers ABA

One of the best scorers in ABA history Roger Brown was peaking during the 1970 season with averages of 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. During that 1970 championship campaign, he averaged 28.5 points per game, including a high of 53 in the series—an ABA record. In the last 3 games of the 1970 ABA Finals, Brown poured in 53, 39 and 45 points to seal the title for the Pacers. The Brooklyn native was named 2nd team All ABA at the end of the season. Brown was named the 1970 ABA Playoff Most Valuable Player after his performance in the Finals against the Utah Stars.

"In my 20 years in pro basketball, I've never seen a player come up with such consistently superb performances in playoff games," Bill Sharman said."Roger just dominated, and that's tough for a forward to do." Jerry West, one of the greatest guards ever to play the game, was equally impressed. "I have no doubts he could start on any team in my league," West told the Los Angeles Times. "I bet we could even find a spot for him on the Lakers."

Indiana Pacers ABA Team Picture

Indiana dominated Carolina in the first round to win four straight games. In the conference finals the Pacers easily beat Kentucky in 5 games. In the ABA Finals they faced off with a loaded Utah Stars team. The series only went 5 games, with Indiana taking a commanding lead in the series.The title was clinched with a 111-107 victory over the Los Angeles Stars, in Los Angeles, on May 25 — technically the 26th in Indianapolis because the game didn't begin until 11 p.m. local time. It could have happened in Game 5 in Indianapolis if not for a star player going water-skiing the day before the game, but we'll get to that later.

Point was, the Pacers won it all and the city didn't care how, when, or where. It just wanted something to celebrate, and how it went about doing so revealed the team's impact.The Pacers flew home via commercial jet the next day. A parade was conducted the day after that, the 27th, carrying the players, coaches, and front office executives from the team office at 638 E. 38th St. west to Meridian and south to the Circle, where 7,500 fans were waiting. Easily the best dynasty in the ABA history.

 

Oakland Oaks 1969 Logo

4) 1968-1969 Oakland Oaks

Record: 60-18
Result: ABA Champion
Head Coach: Alex Hannum
Key Players: Rick Barry, Warren Jabali, Doug Mo, Larry Brown, Jim Hadnot

Although they were dominant in a less competitive early ABA, the Oakland team stands out for their talented starting five. There starting lineup of Larry Brown, Warren Jabali, Rick Barry and Doug Moe was considered among the best in ABA history.

The road to the championship was led by pioneering owner, Kenneth Davidson, who aggressively pursued Barry and one-time Warriors head coach Alex Hannum, signing them for an unprecedented $85,000 per year. His efforts drove a historic turnaround from last place to first in one year. The next off season saw Davidson sign Carolina Tarheel alumni Larry Brown and Doug Moe.

Rick Barry and Doug Moe of The ABA's Oakland Oaks

Rick Barry may have been the best forward in pro basketball. The 6-6 swingman averaged over 35 points per game in the 1967 NBA Finals before jumping to the ABA. At the time of his signing, Barry was the ABA premier talent, and the most well-recognized star in the league. Barry went down with an injury only 35 games into the 1969 season. Through that point of the season the forward was averaging 34 points, 9 rebound and 4 assists.

Oakland made two key offseason additions in point guard Larry Brown and forward Doug Moe. The future hall of fame coach Larry Brown was a pass first point guard that led the ABA in assists at 7.1 per night. Tough nosed and hard working forward Moe averaged 19 points and 8 rebounds for the Oaks.

Rick Barry and Warren Jabali of The Oakland Oaks

Warren Jabali was the most feared man in the league, perhaps the most violent guard of all time. He was Vernon Maxwell in the 1970's. He was named the ABA Rookie of the Year in 1969, after averaging 21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists. Jabali had a deep dislike for the teams star Rick Barry. After Barry was injured Jabali took over the scoring slack, averaging over 28 points per game in the playoffs in route to the ABA playoff MVP.

The deep cast of Oakland role players were valuable throughout the season. Reserves Ira Harge, Henry Logan, Jim Eakins, and Gary Bradds played valuable roles after Barry went down with an injury.

The Original Oakland Oaks

With Barry injured, the Oaks came together at just the right time. They faced a tough 7 game series in the first round against the Denver Rockets. They managed to escape in game 7 with a 115-102 victory. They had an easy time in the 2nd round sweeping a New Orleans Buccaneers team.

In the 1969 ABA Final they were able to take down the Indiana Pacers in 6 games. Warren Jabali had one of the all time Finals series. The rookie averaged 33.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 4 assists per game. The 6-2 guard managed to shoot 48% in the series. In the nine playoff games in Oakland, the Oaks averaged just 3,401 attendance a game (30,615 total). The highest came in Game 5 of the Finals, when 6,340 were on hand.

Oakland reported drawing only 3,100 fans per game, when a more accurate count was probably much lower. The Chronicle reported the team had lost $2 million, which was confirmed years later in the HBO documentary when it was confirmed the championship ring cost him $2.5 million, before the cost of the ring was calculated.

 

Utah Stars 1971 ABA Champions

5) 1970-1971 Utah Stars

Record: 57-27
Record vs NBA Teams: N/A
Result: ABA Champion
Head Coach: Bill Sharman
Key Players: Zelmo Beaty, Willie Wise, Ron Boone, Red Robbins, Glen Combs, Merv Jackson

They were tough as nails, led by a defensive intensity seldom seen in the old ABA. They beat Kentucky in the ABA finals to take home the 1971 Tittle. Willie Wise, Ron Boone and Zelmo Beaty formed a hard nosed defensive trio that gave opposing coaches fits. They were coached by old Boston Celtic player Bill Sharman, who himself experienced great success with the defense first approach of the Boston Celtics. Sharman had a tremendous amount of theory, ranging from chocolate bars at halftime to down home remedies for injuries.

While teams like New York, Kentucky and Indiana were eventually celebrated as great teams of the 1970's, the 1971 Utah Stars are probably the greatest basketball team of the 1970's that no one ever really heard about. Utah was perennial contenders in the ABA, having reached the ABA finals on 3 different occasions. Unlike Stockton and Malone, this Utah team broke through in 1971.

Ron Boone Utah Stars ABA

Forward Ron Boone averaged 16 points and 5 rebounds. Boone was an aggressive forward that carved out a lengthy career in pro basketball. The tough nosed forward was known for his durability, legend has it Boone never missed a game from the beginning of his career in 4th grade all the way to his retirement.

Zelmo Beaty led the team with 22.9 points and 15.7 rebounds per game. Beaty was among the most underrated players in the history of the ABA. The big man played in the NBA for 7 seasons before his move to Utah. He was a 2 time NBA All-Star averaging over 20 points in 3 different seasons and Beaty averaged more than 10 rebounds per game in 6 seasons in the NBA. He has instant success in the ABA, the 6-9 Beaty was a 3 time ABA All-Star.

Willie Warren Utah Stars

San Francisco product Willie Wise was one of the best forwards in the ABA. Known for his tough defense and athletic prowess, Wise showcased a  bevy of skills. Wise averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds and 2 assists. The versatile Wise remains one of the best kept secrets in pro basketball history.

Red Robbins, Glen Combs, Merv Jackson played critical roles for a Utah team that went all the way to the Championship.

Utah Stars Win The ABA Championship

Utah faced a tough playoff road. In the 1971 season, they made easy work of the Dallas Chaparrals in the first round sweeping them 4-0. In the second round they faced defending Champion Indiana Pacers, whom they lost to in the previous seasons ABA Finals. The series was a competitive back and forth affair going the full 7 games. Utah was able to win a game 7 on the road 108-101, Willie Wise scored 31 in the win.

In the 2nd round they faced a tough Kentucky Colonels team. Willie Wise had a big series as Utah took home the championship in a high scoring game 7, 131-121. Zelmo Beaty was named the 1971 ABA Playoff MVP.

 

1968 Pittsburgh Pipers ABA Logo

6) 1967-1968 Pittsburgh Pipers

Record: 54-24
Result: ABA Champion
Head Coach: Vince Cazzetta
Key Players: Connie Hawkins, Chico Vaughn, Art Heyman, Charlie Williams, Ira Harge

The ABA's first great team, the Pittsburgh Pipers, featured the league's top talent in playground legend Connie Hawkins. "The Hawk" was an instant star, averaging 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 assists, and giving instant credibility to the fledgling league. The Pipers posted the league's best regular-season record at 54-24 (.692) and went on to win the ABA's first championship. They defeated the New Orleans Buccaneers 4-3 in the Finals, with Hawkins earning Finals MVP honors. This remains Pittsburgh's only pro basketball championship.

Connie Hawkins Pittsburgh Pipers ABA MVP

"The Hawk" was an instant star in the ABA averaging 26 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists. Hawkins gave instant credibility to a league in great need of notoriety. The Brooklyn legend put on a show. At the end of the season he was given an updated shooting shirt, his past seasons accolades plastered across every inch of the garment. Suffice to say but Hawkins was terribly embarrassed by the publicity stunt.

Chico Vaughn and Charlie Williams started in the back court for Pittsburgh. The duo combined for over 40 points per game in the regular season. Williams stepped up his play during the playoffs, averaging over 23 points per contest.

Duke hero Art Heyman was a key offensive player for the Pipers. The smooth shooting 6-5 swingman averaged over 20 points per game in his only season in Pittsburgh.

The ABA's Original Pittsburgh Pipers

They made easy work of the first two playoff rounds. Beating the Indiana Pacers in a sweep and beating the Minnesota Huskies 4-1. In the ABA Finals they faced off against the New Orleans Buccaneers led by Larry Brown and Doug Moe. The series went the full 7 games with Connie Hawkins being named ABA playoff MVP after averaging 30 points and 11 rebounds.

 

1976 Denver Nuggets ABA Logo

7) 1975-1976 Denver Nuggets

Record: 60-24
Record vs NBA Teams: 4-2 (W Nuggets 124 - Celtics 114) (W Nuggets 94 - Jazz 79) (W Nuggets 115 - Sonics 110) (W Nuggets 111 - Warriors 107) (L Nuggets 101 - Jazz 115) (L Nuggets 100 - Warriors 115)
Result: Lost in ABA Finals to New York
Head Coach: Larry Brown
Key Players: David Thompson, Dan Issel, Bobby Jones, Ralph Simpson, Byron Beck, Marvin Webster

The 1975-1976 Denver Nuggets were symbolic of the ABA's fast-paced nature, averaging 121 points per game. Their top six scorers all shot over 50% from the field. The dynamic starting five featured future Hall of Famers David Thompson, Dan Issel, and Bobby Jones. In the 1975 offseason, Denver traded for Dan Issel and persuaded top NBA draft picks David Thompson and Marvin Webster to sign with the Nuggets. David Thompson, the ABA Rookie of the Year, averaged 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. "Skywalker" was a crucial signing, with Denver convincing him to join over the Atlanta Hawks, who held his NBA rights. Denver was one of the most consistent ABA cities, drawing large crowds that provided stability and financial freedom to pursue top talent.

David Thompson Denver Nuggets ABA

David Thompson was brilliant in his only ABA season. "Skywalker"was one of the most important signings in ABA history. Denver was able to convince Thompson to sign with Denver over the Atlanta Hawks who held his NBA rights.

In the off season, Denver managed to acquire the offensively gifted forward Dan Issel. The Kentucky product provided Denver with much needed rebounding, toughness and inside scoring. "The Horse" averaged 23 points per game to go along with 11 rebounds.

 

Bobby Jones Denver Nuggets ABA

Defensive specialist and high flying forward Bobby Jones averaged 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. The young forward showcased his future defensive prowess averaging 2 steals and 2 blocks per game.

Long-time ABA veteran Ralph Sampson was one of the ABA's most underrated talents. The smooth 6-5 swingman averaged 18 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds for Denver.

Denver had plenty of depth on the roster, with longtime hometown favorite Byron Beck provided depth at Center. 7-1 Rookie Marvin Webster was one of the most hyped big man in the 1970's, but the rookie played sparingly off the bench. Chuck Williams ran the point guard position and was second on the team with 5 assists per game. Monte Towe was David Thompson's best friend at NC State, Towe was a real surprise as the 5-7 guard provided great defense and quickness.


1975-1976 Denver Nuggets Team Photo

They were able to beat Kentucky in the conference finals, winning a 7th game in Denver 133-110, behind 40 points from David Thompson.

In the 1976 ABA Finals they met up with the New York Nets led by Julius Erving. They went down in game 6, losing 112-106 in New York despite 42 points from David Thompson.

Denver went 50-32 during their first season in the NBA. They lost in the playoffs to eventual NBA champion Portland. If Denver managed to win the 1976 ABA Finals, we might be talking about them as #1 on the list.

Carolina Cougars 1973 Logo

8) 1972-1973 Carolina Cougars

Record: 57-27
Record vs NBA Teams: 5-2 (W Cougars 124 - Celtics 104) (W Cougars 115- Hawks 108) (W Cougars 105 - Knicks 89) (W Cougars 118 - Kings 102) (W Cougars 122 - Braves 111) (L Cougars 111 - 126 Bullets) (L Cougars 106 - Hawks 120)
Result: Lost Semifinals to Kentucky
Head Coach: Larry Brown
Key Players: Billy Cunningham, Mack Calvin, Joe Caldwell, Steve Jones, Ted McClain, Tom Owens

One of the best ABA teams to never win a title, the 1973 Carolina Cougars, routinely dismantled NBA teams, going 5-2 against them. Led by Billy Cunningham, Joe Caldwell, Mack Calvin, and coaches Larry Brown and Doug Moe, the Cougars finished with a 57-27 record, tying for the ninth most wins in one ABA season. They were second in the league in scoring, averaging 115 points per game. Billy Cunningham was named ABA MVP with averages of 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists, and along with Calvin and Caldwell, was an ABA All-Star.

The Cougars pioneered the regional team concept, playing home games in Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte. Conceived by Sports Illustrated writer Frank DeFord as the "Regional Franchise," this strategy aimed to draw support from multiple cities. During the regular season, the Cougars played 28 games in Greensboro, 13 in Charlotte, and 2 in Raleigh. In the playoffs, they played 4 games in Greensboro, 2 in Charlotte, and one in Raleigh.

Billy Cunningham Carolina Cougars ABA

After a long court battle with the Philadelphia 76ers, Carolina got the rights to Cunningham. While the "Kangaroo Kid' only played 2 seasons in the ABA, his 1973 season may have been the best of his pro career. The do-everything forward took home the ABA MVP in the 73 season with averages of 24 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. The "Kangaroo Kid" was known for his above the rim playing style and his versatile offensive game.

Speedy point guard Mack Calvin was integral to Carolina while averaging 17 points and 4 assists. The 25 year old was named All ABA 2nd Team after the season. Calvin was among the top 5 point guards to ever play in the ABA.

Jumpin Joe Caldwell Carolina Cougars ABA

Joe Caldwell jumped from the Atlanta Hawks to the Carolina Cougars in 1970. The 6-5 forward averaged over 16 points and 5 rebounds in the 73 campaign. Caldwell was named an All-Star and selected to the All ABA defensive team.

Carolina was very deep and featured 6-10 big man Tom Owens, who contributed 11 points and 8 rebounds each night. Longtime ABA veteran Steve "Snapper" Jones averaged 12 points, while Gene Littles averaged 10 points per night.

Billy Cunningham Carolina Cougars ABA MVP

In the playoffs, they beat the New York Nets in five games to go to the Division Finals with a chance to advance to the ABA Finals. But the Cougars failed to advance, losing to the Kentucky Colonels in seven games, with the final one in their home court. They lost game 7, 107-96 against a loaded Kentucky Colonels team. 

The failure to sign North Carolina high school star Pete Maravich in 1970 may have been the kiss of death for the franchise. When the Cougars folded after the 1973-1974 season, the basketball rich state of North Carolina would have to wait more than 15 seasons for a pro basketball franchise to return. The team was sold following the 1974 season and reinvented as the Spirits of St. Louis.

 

1976 San Antonio Spurs ABA Logo

9) 1975-1976 San Antonio Spurs

Record: 50-34
Record vs NBA Teams: 5-3 (W Spurs 115- Hawks 111) (W Spurs 129 - Hawks 118) (W Spurs 101 - Kings 97) (W Spurs 101 - Braves 90) (W Spurs 109 - Hawks 107) (L Spurs 85 - Rockets 108) (L Spurs 104 - Jazz 105) (L Spurs 109 - Rockets 113)
Result: Lost Semifinals to New York
Head Coach: Bob Bass
Key Players: George Gervin, James Silas, Larry Kenon, Billy Paultz, George Karl, Mike Gale

San Antonio were perennial contenders in the playoffs, but were never able to break through and win the ABA Championship. The team had a great mix of inside and outside scoring including the dynamic duo of James Silas and George "Iceman" Gervin. The 1975 offseason saw the team make a key trade, dealing away starting center Swen Nater for the additions of Larry Kenon and Billy Paultz.

The Spurs were a great ABA franchise that had tremendous fan support. There large attendance figures were impressive even for an NBA team. The 76' team was easily the Spurs best ABA team as Silas, Gervin, Kennon and Paultz were all starting to round into there prime.

George Gervin San Antino Spurs ABA

Future Hall of Famer George Gervin was coming into his own, averaging 22 points and 6 rebounds. The 6-7 shooting guard showcased his effortless scoring ability and his cool demeanor.

Acquired in the offseason, Billy Paulz and Larry Kennon controlled the paint for San Antonio. "The Whoper" averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds. Paultz outplayed center Swen Nater who he was traded for in the off season. The athletic 6-8 Kennon averaged a career high 19 points and 11 rebounds. Providing athleticism and energy for the young Spurs team.

James Silas San Antonio Spurs ABA

Point guard James Silas had a career year averaging 23.8 points 5.4 assists, 4.0 rebounds on 52% shooting. The 6-1 guard was a blur with the ball and a true clutch performer earning the nickname "Captain Late" by the San Antonio faithful. Silas one of the top 5 point guards to ever play in the ABA.

Mike Gale, Tom Owens, George Karl, Allan Bristow all played key role off the bench. Future NBA coach George Karl and Allan Bristow were fan favorites with the San Antonio faithful. Owens was a long rangy center, who was underrated for much of his lengthy career.

1976 San Antonio Spurs Team Photo ABA

San Antonio advanced to the 1975 ABA Playoffs, but the Spurs would lose 4–3 to the New York Nets in the ABA Semifinals. San Antonio were perennial contenders in the playoffs, but were never able to break through and win the ABA Championship. They lost a 7 game series in the conference semifinals to the New York Nets.

During their first season in the NBA, they finished with a 44-38 record. They lost in the first round to the Boston Celtics. But they would have continued success well into the 80's.

 

1972 Virginia Squires ABA Logo

10) 1971-1972 Virginia Squires

Record: 45-39
Record vs NBA Teams: 1-1 (W Squires 112 - Bullets 107) (L Squires 123 - Pistons 128)
Result: Lost Semifinals to New York
Head Coach: Al Bianchi
Key Players: Julius Erving, Charlie Scott, Fatty Taylor, Jim Eakins

The 1971-1972 Virginia Squires marked Julius Erving's ABA debut and Charlie Scott's final ABA season. Both were named to the 1972 All-Star game, combining for over 60 points per contest, with Scott averaging 34.6 and Erving 27.3 points. The Squires finished the season 45-39, second in the Eastern Division. They were second in points scored (118.9) but ninth in points allowed (118.0). Just before the season ended, Scott left to join the NBA's Phoenix Suns.

If Charlie Scott played in the playoffs, Virginia would have likely won the ABA title in 1972. The Squires went to 7 games in the conference final with a New York Nets team that was led by Rick Barry. With Charlie Scott the Squires would have likely had enough to advance to the ABA finals and beat the 1972 Indiana Pacers.

Charlie Scott Virginia Squires ABA

Scott set the all-time ABA individual single-season scoring record by averaging 34.6 points per game in the 1972 season. He continued his success in the NBA, representing the Suns in three straight NBA All-Star Games (1973, 1974, and 1975). Scott was North Carolina's first black scholarship athlete, displayed a mature offensive game complete with deep range on his jump shot.

They had several talented role players like Jim Eakins, Fatty Taylor, and Neil Johnson. Center Jim Eakins averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds, while point guard Fatty Taylor averaged 9 points and 6 assists.

Julius Erving Virginia Squires

Erving became a force and walking legend in the ABA. He left Massachusetts after his junior year to sign a four-year contract worth $500,000 spread over seven years with the Virginia Squires. He scored 27.3 points per game as a rookie, was selected to the All-ABA Second Team, made the ABA All-Rookie Team, led the ABA in offensive rebounds and finished second to Artis Gilmore for the ABA Rookie of the Year Award. On a drive to the hole, he was challenged by the Kentucky Colonels’ 7-foot-2 Artis Gilmore and 6-foot-9 Dan Issel. “I went in between both of them and just hung there and waited for them to come down. Then I dunked on them so hard I fell on my back,” recalled Erving in the Boston Globe. “Just doing that made me confident to go after anyone, anytime, anywhere, without any fear.”

1972 Virginia Squires Team Photo ABA

Virginia finished 45-39, second place in the Eastern Division behind the powerful Colonels, who dominated the league at 68-16. In the playoffs, Erving scored 33.3 points per game as the Squires beat the Miami Floridians in four straight but would to the New York Nets and Rick Barry in Game 7 of the Eastern Division Finals.

The Squires went to 7 games with a New York Nets team that was led by Rick Barry. In the playoffs, the Squires swept the Floridians (with Game 2 even being broadcast on CBS), but the Squires lost to the New York Nets in the Division Finals. Virginia lost game 7 at home 94-89, Charlie Scott may have made all the difference. Perhaps the ultimate fate of the franchise would have played out much differently if they won that title in 1972.


ABA Greatest Teams Honorable Mention:

Title Teams: 1970 Indiana Pacers, 1973 Indiana Pacers, 1974 New York Nets,
Others: San Antonio Spurs 1975, Indiana Pacers 1975, Spirits of St. Louis 1975, Utah Stars 1974, Kentucky Colonels 1973, Utah Stars 1972,  New York Nets 1972, Kentucky 1971, Virginia Squires 1971, Los Angeles Stars 1970, Dallas Chaparalls 1970, Denver Rockets 1970, Indiana Pacers 1969, Miami Floridians 1969, New Orleans Bucs 1969, New Orleans Bucs 1968

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