Original publish date: April 2, 2018
You have an excellent opportunity to be a part of basketball history this weekend, in fact, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This Saturday, April 7th (2018) Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University will be the site of the 50th reunion of the American Basketball Association. The ABA holds a special place in the hearts of most Hoosiers. Our hometown team, the Indiana Pacers, was the flagship franchise of this once legendary league. If you are a fan of the NBA too young to remember those heady days of the ABA in the Circle City, then you need to get to Hinkle from 11 AM to 3 PM on Saturday and see these legends in the flesh for yourselves.
The reunion is being hosted by and benefits the Dropping Dimes Foundation (https://droppingdimes.org/) an Indiana not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Dropping Dimes’ main focus and concern is for the well-being and betterment of former players of the American Basketball Association and their families, who are experiencing financial or medical difficulties and have encountered significant financial hardship or sickness. Every penny raised from this event will go towards this worthy mission.
Hall of Famers Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Spencer Haywood, George Gervin, Dan Issel, George McGinnis, Doug Moe, Larry Brown, Louie Dampier, Artis Gilmore and Bobby “Slick” Leonard are expected to attend. Other confirmed guests include many ABA All-stars and fan favorites from the 9-year history of this fabled league. In all, an estimated 100 alumni players are expected to attend including Hoosier household hoops names like Freddie Lewis, Darnell Hellman, Billy Keller, Don Buse, Jerry Harkness, Billy Knight, Donnie Freeman, Len Elmore and Dave Robisch. Other hardcourt heroes like Mack Calvin, Willie Wise, Darel Carrier, Chuck Williams, Al Smith, Ralph Simpson and Jim Eakins will also visit the scene of past battles on the hardwood.
Starting at 11 AM, each ABA alumni player in attendance will be presented with a special 50th anniversary ring in appreciation of their years of service in the league. Dave “The King” Wilson will act as emcee for the ring presentation ceremony with Senator Joe Donnelly, Mayor Joe Hogsett, Congresswoman Susan Brooks, Rupert Boneham from Survivor and Councillors Mike McQuillen and Vop Osili are scheduled to act as presenters. Butler mascot Blue III will also be on hand to “present” a few of the rings.
As part of the event, there will be a sports memorabilia and card show going on for fans at the same time. The card show is being managed by J & J All-Star sports cards of Indianapolis (www.jjallstarsportscards.com). Local eastside artist Shane Young (aka Fitz) will be painting an original piece of artwork on site to commemorate the occassion. Several local Girl Scout troops will be on hand to assist the ABA veterans. There will be trivia, history, memories and plenty of picture taking opportunities in what is sure to be the last time this collective group of O-G ABA ballers assemble in one place.
Dropping Dimes will have commemorative 50th anniversary pennants and basketballs for sale at the event and there will be an opportunity for the public to get autographs from the players for a nominal fee. The autograph fee benefits dropping dimes and is tax deductible. Admission is $10 at the door. Children aged 14 and under are free.
You may wonder, what is my interest in the 50th anniversary of the ABA? Well, over 20 years ago I co-hosted the 30th anniversary gathering of the ABA at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. Along with my friends Bob Netolicky and Dick Tinkham, we hosted around 75 former players over an August weekend in 1997. Nothing like that had ever been attempted before and we really never expected it to be attempted again. Neto and I were surprised some eight weeks ago when we were contacted by the guys at Dropping Dimes to organize this Saturday event at Hinkle.
I have been a fan of the ABA since I was a little kid and when the league folded I knew basketball would never be the same for me. It didn’t hurt that I was growing up in a city where the hometown team was always winning championships. Times were different then and so were the players. It was not uncommon to run into Pacers players in the grocery stores, restaurants and schools. They seemed more like neighbors than stars. The game in the ABA was different, with the red, white and blue ball and a three-point shot, it was way more exciting.
I’ve spoken many times in past columns about how my family would take me down to the state fairgrounds Coliseum and drop me off while they scooted over to the Tee-Pee restaurant for coffee and pie. I never had a ticket but somehow always managed to sneak inside. During those non-PC days the Coliseum allowed ticket holders to smoke cigarettes, cigars and pipes during games. There was always a thick cloud of smoke hanging about 12 to 14 feet above the court. I can still remember when Billy Keller would bring that ball up court as coach Slick Leonard yelled “Go for three Billy, shoot the three.” Keller’s high arcing shot would disappear into that cloud of smoke momentarily only to reappear a little farther down the cloud bank before swishing through the net. I know smoking is bad for you, but you know, that was a thing of beauty.
During that 1997 reunion, I was fortunate enough to witness epic scenes and visit with players that are no longer with us. I remember Marvin “Bad News” Barnes talking to Bob Costas about plane flights and time changes as if it were a time machine that Barnes wanted no part of. I remember Kokomo high school prep star Jim “Goose” Ligon walking around the room with a smile as big as the moon on his face. Goose was being led by the arm because he could barely see. But he insisted on being there for every moment because he knew he would soon be blind. Goose died less than seven years later in 2004.
I remember Gabe Rubin and Connie Hawkins spotting one another from across the room and coming together in a heartfelt embrace that ended with both men sobbing like children. Only the truest of fans with knowledge of the backstory understood the significance of this special moment. During Connie Hawkins’ freshman year at Iowa, he was a victim of the hysteria surrounding a point-shaving scandal that had started in New York City, Despite the fact that Connie was never involved in any conspiracy, he was kicked out of college and banned from the NBA.
By that 1967-68 first year launch of the ABA, Hawkins found himself playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. Rubin signed Hawkins to a two-year, $45,000 contract to play for his Pittsburgh Pipers team. That team went 54-24 and won the ABA championship. The Hawk led the league in scoring that year and won both the ABA’s regular-season and playoff MVP awards. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
That meeting between these two men over 20 years ago at that 1997 30 year ABA reunion was the first time the two men had seen each other since Connie had left to join the NBA’s Phoenix Suns in 1969. Gabe Rubin died on November 7, 2003. Connie Hawkins died on October 7, 2017. I’m proud to have played a small part in their personal reunion. Other memories from that reunion include 6’11” ABA Carolina Cougars / Kentucky Colonels and NBA player Jim McDaniels walking through the hall as curious onlookers pointed and whispered “Hey there’s Moses Malone” as he passed. McDaniels died on September 6, 2017.
Other notable attendee losses from that reunion include Marvin Barnes, Maurice Lucas, Zelmo Beaty and Mel Daniels, I remember Roger Brown and Walt Simon just barely missed attending that 1997 reunion, passing mere weeks before the event. I make these observations not to be morbid, but rather to illustrate the point that although mortals pass, memories last forever. Don’t miss your opportunity to revisit memories of your childhood, reconnect with heroes from the past and create some moments to remember of your very own. Come out and see us next Saturday. Tell ’em Al sent ya.
Date/Time: Saturday, April 7, 2018 9:00 am – 3:00 pm Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse 510 W. 49th St. Indianapolis, IN 46208
Schedule: 9:00: Doors Open & Trading Card Show Begins. 11:00: ABA Players Arrive 11:00-12:30: Ring Presentation Ceremony
12:30-2:30: Autograph Session.