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Don't beat them—absorb them
Frank Deford
August 18, 1969
After trouncing the ABA soundly on all sides, basketball's bigger NBA is moving toward a solution it figures is less costly than victory
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August 18, 1969

Don't Beat Them—absorb Them

After trouncing the ABA soundly on all sides, basketball's bigger NBA is moving toward a solution it figures is less costly than victory

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"As it stands now," he says, "the merger would be in clear violation of antitrust laws. All of the players took a position two years ago that they would never be caught in another NFL-AFL situation, where the football leagues got a waiver through Congress permitting the merger. We are alert to the situation, and we are going to point out to Congress that sports is like any other business and you can't have 14 owners getting together around a table and saying, "Let's restrict the players' salaries.' And that is essentially exactly what they are saying when they talk about merging."

The other hurdle concerns the competing franchises in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. The NBA already has tacitly given in to the point that both leagues can have a franchise in New York—the Knicks in Manhattan, the Nets in suburbia—but they will not be so benevolent about California.

The two ABA teams involved—the Los Angeles Stars and Oakland Oaks—are crying that they will not play sacrificial lambs, but it is difficult to see any other way out. The problem is complicated further by the individual case of Rick Barry, who jumped the San Francisco Warriors two years ago to take 15% of the Oaks as player-owner. Franklin Mieuli, Warrior owner, is surely demanding that Barry's return across the Bay be part of the ABA indemnity.

If the Oaks (and the Stars) are moved to new prime expansion sites like Portland or Houston, Barry certainly would not mind going back to San Francisco. There is a clause in his contract that he is not bound to the Oaks if they leave Oakland. Also, he quietly tried to unload some of his stock in the team last winter (there were no takers). But would the ABA let their only drawing card go? " Connie Hawkins is a special case, too," Gardner says simply.

Says Barry: "Any merger must be approved 100% by the NBA owners, and I can't see Jack Kent Cooke and Franklin Mieuli approving unless the ABA vacates their territories. And I also can't see us—the Oaks and the Stars—leaving. So the merger talk might sound good, but how do you get around that? I am an Oakland Oak, that's all I know."

The start toward merging may, then, have been promising, but it will require a great deal of backscratching among owners and backslapping in Washington before there can be any substantive results.

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