Basketball's outlaw league is back. For nine seasons starting in 1967, the American Basketball Association (ABA), with its huge afros and tri-colored ball, was the roughneck competitor to the NBA. Among the hoops legends that squeaked down the ABA's court were Julius "Dr. J" Erving and Moses Malone. But in 1976, the ABA folded and its four strongest teams the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs joined the NBA we know today.
But now the Florida Pit Bulls, led by co-owner/player/coach Tim Hardaway, will resurrect ABA basketball in South Florida when they play their opening game against the Orange County Buzz. And timing couldn't be better, what with the NBA now enforcing a dress code among its players that prohibits "chains, pendants, or medallions worn over the player's clothes." In other words, the NBA has lost its style, says Joe Newman, the Indianapolis-based chief executive of the fledgling ABA. "In today's ABA, the afros have been replaced by the various things that the NBA has eliminated," Newman says. "Specifically, that's the hip-hop and rap culture."
Originally relaunched as an NBA competitor in 2000, the ABA has grown from eight teams to its current 48, making it the largest professional sports league in existence. The league is also attracting former NBA talent, including former Miami Heat star Hardaway, Cedric Ceballos of the Orange County Buzz, and even bad-boy Dennis Rodman, who will play for the Tijuana Dragons. "But don't take the Florida Pit Bulls as a negative for the Miami Heat," Newman warns. "We plan to complement the Heat."
During the ABA's six-month game schedule, the debuting Pit Bulls will play such teams as the Birmingham Magicians, Charlotte Krunk, Mississippi Stingers, and Atlanta Vision, among others. And basketball is only part of ABA-style entertainment. "You can expect a show even during half-time," Newman says. Indeed, during the opening game, hip-hop throwbacks Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh will take the court. For upcoming games, halftime entertainment will include Trick Daddy (November 15), Akon (November 21), ABA Starz In Motion Tour (November 29), and 112 (December 8). These hip-hop shows might explain the ABA's refusal to legislate style, just as the old ABA never complained about the hairdo sported by former Kentucky Colonels star Artis Gilmore. He was seven-foot-two or seven-foot-six, if you counted that four-inch 'fro. "This new NBA dress code is a terrible idea," Newman says. "To legislate clothing at a league level, it's the equivalent of the automobile industry saying you need to wear a solid blue shirt and white tie to drive a car."
OK, Newman, point taken: The ABA outclasses the prude NBA. But will our new Pit Bulls have game? "They'll have an excellent team," he says. "Will they dominate the ABA? You'll have to go to a game to find out."