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The Franchise

Jumping into the ABA with the Vermont Frost Heaves 

Posted: Wednesday December 14, 2005 11:47AM; Updated: Thursday July 6, 2006 1:21AM
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For a modest franchise fee, SI's Alexander Wolff found that he could own an ABA team.
For a modest franchise fee, SI's Alexander Wolff found that he could own an ABA team.
Michael J. LeBrecht II/1Deuce3 Photography/SI

The idea stirred to life a little more than a year ago, in the offices of NBA scouting director Marty Blake in suburban Atlanta. Blake was holding court as only he can, flitting from subject to subject, before he finally came to rest on the re-born American Basketball Association, a 21st century version of the league that gave us the three-point shot, the red, white and blue ball, and all sorts of over-the-calf tube-sock memories. Two Indianapolis businessmen had paid $50,000 for the rights to the ABA name, and in the space of four years had somehow created what one of the co-founders alternately called "the largest pro sports league in the world" and "the Starbucks of pro sports." As teams popped up all over, and more than a few disappeared, the churn was testing the patience of Blake, a man who prides himself on tracking every potential NBA player in the world.

"They have a team playing in a high-school gym out in Gwinnett County," Blake told me. "Call themselves the Reigning Knights of Georgia. I want to send my scouts to check out their players, but I can't get rosters or schedules out of the league. Apparently it costs only $10,000 to get a franchise."

He paused just long enough for me to form and blurt out the fateful thought: "For that, I could start a team."

So here we are. Wednesday morning, from my home in Vermont's Champlain Valley, I drove east over the mountains to the Municipal Auditorium in Barre to meet my colleagues in the press as president and general manager of the ABA's latest expansion team, the Vermont Frost Heaves. (If you don't know what a frost heave is, not to worry. Vermonters know, and by the end of this story you will too.)

The Frost Heaves hope their team will be as snazzy as their new logo.
The Frost Heaves hope their team will be as snazzy as their new logo.
Chris Hercik/SI

My bosses aren't sinking a cent into the enterprise. Not that I'd want them to, given the mess Time Warner made of the Atlanta Hawks; besides, Vermonters wouldn't embrace the Heaves if some flatland conglomerate were paying the bills. But SI has detached me to file regular dispatches to the magazine and SI.com on the birth and, with tip-off next November, life of the team, one of more than 60 the ABA projects for its 2006-07 season.

SI art director Chris Hercik has come up with our "dynamic roadbed" logo. And my wife, Vanessa, the assistant GM, is stacking the first boxes of shirts and caps and bumper stickers between the old cow stanchions in our dairy barn. (They can be purchased here.)