The college coaches, led by Adolph Rupp of Kentucky, had led that charge. "I'm the guy who first blew the whistle on the ABA," said Rupp. "My attention was called to the fact that, all over the United States, one of the leagues was making an attempt to meddle with boys who had competition remaining. We've always had an understanding with the NBA about that, and it's worked out nicely. The ABA said the Haywood case was hardship. Well, many other cases are hardship, too. They've fooled around with Calvin Murphy; George King [the Purdue coach] says they've fooled around with Mount; and they've fooled around with Maravich, too. They've made all kinds of crazy, fantastic offers. It's time for this league to adhere to the rules. The NBA always has."
Echoing Walter Kennedy's thinking, many NBA officials also believe that standing pat in a defensive posture is their best bet. They arc secure in most of the big cities and large arenas that are essential for the financial health of any major league franchise, and they have a lucrative network TV contract, while their rival does not. Says San Diego's Pete Newell: "No doubt there will be problems with competitive signing of players, and it's common knowledge that not all NBA clubs are in the black. But the advantages of merger aren't that significant as opposed to keeping the NBA intact. The NBA has always signed most of the players it wants. Competition has had an effect only when we are negotiating with a big star. In most cases, however, salaries are escalating because the economy is escalating."
Ben Kerner, former owner of the St. Louis Hawks and one of the sport's best brains, says of a merger: "The NBA would be doing the ABA a favor, lending it stature it doesn't have. Let's say the ABA does get two or three of the NBA's stars—the NBA has 50 of them. It would take them years to gain parity. They have no name players, no major cities, no experienced management personnel. In their contract talks they haven't had to pay out anything yet—it's like the Broadway show, Promises, Promises. As for their stealing referees, there are some I wish they had stolen a few years ago when I was in business."
Gardner, meanwhile, was warning that at least 50 NBA players had been in contact with the ABA and that 15 to 20 were involved in "serious" negotiations. "The timing is right for us," he said. "Next year we will have a shot at 20 topflight ballplayers and six superstars. We think we can get four of those superstars for one big reason: the NBA couldn't afford them 'cause it's strapped financially. Ned Irish of the Knicks told me he has players making $50,000 to $60,000 sitting on the bench, and he just can't afford a bidding war. Why stay in business, he told me, when players' salaries soak up 110% of the gate? On the other hand, our people can afford one year of aggressive bidding—and most of them are willing to do it. Our money will be on the table next spring. If Mount and Maravich and Murphy don't pick it up, then it will be there the year after and the year after that—or until somebody is smart enough to take it,"
"Before they will consider merging with us," says Walter Kennedy, "the ABA people say they want the first six choices in next year's draft, plus half of our existing TV contract—out of which they will pay their indemnity. Well, those demands are foolish, I repeat: there will be no merger with the ABA in the foreseeable future. And as for all this stuff about NBA owners being unable to afford a bidding war, that's nonsense. We have always paid top dollar for our talent and will continue to do so.
"Several years ago the NBA said there was room and talent in this country for 20 professional basketball teams. We still believe that, and whether or not those 20 teams are achieved through expansion or merger with some other professional league remains to be seen."
With this mood prevailing on both sides, and the fury of battle taking possession of the protagonists, the prospects of peace are no better than they were when the guns of August 1914 opened fire.