The rumors of August have become the guns of September in pro basketball, and the explosions could easily lead to chaos in October. The established National Basketball Association and the struggling American Basketball Association are at war. The barrages of real and false charges, the salvos of press releases, counterreleases and threats of multimillion-dollar suits have generated so much smoke, heat and bitterness that the head of the ABA. James Gardner, has gone so far as to say of his opposite number in the NBA: " Walter Kennedy is a bigot and a hypocrite" What NBA people are saying about those in the ABA is hardly less inflammatory
Considering what is going on, though, it is not surprising that even the more sensible people in the sport, are losing their heads. For example:
At the same time that an ABA spokesman was telling a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED correspondent in Los Angeles that the Atlanta Hawks' Zelmo Beaty had just signed a contract with the ABA. the general manager of the Hawks was telling another SI reporter in New York that Beaty had made an appointment to sign his NBA contract the next day. (At week's end Beaty had not signed with anyone.)
?In North Carolina an ABA coach told a reporter that Bob Cousy told him that John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics had contacted the ABA and was prepared to jump because he was mad at Bill Russell and didn't want to play in Boston anymore. Bob Cousy said he never said any such thing to anyone and that as far as he knew Havlicek was too secure with the Celtics to contemplate such a move. (Havlicek said he was leaving his home in Columbus, Ohio to talk contract with Red Auerbach in Boston.)
?In New York the chief of officials for the ABA, Sid Borgia, who had once been supervisor of officials for the NBA, helped arrange for four NBA referees to jump to the ABA. Their move was announced last Thursday—and the ABA fired Borgia on Friday.
?That same Thursday, in Philadelphia, the NBA's 76ers called a press conference to confirm the security of their star center, Luke Jackson, while—at the same moment—the ABA was announcing that Luke Jackson would play for the Carolina Cougars starting next season. At 3 p.m. that day SI Correspondent Smith Barrier got on a plane leaving Philadelphia for Greensboro, N.C. and sat down several seats from Jackson. When they reached Greensboro, Barrier walked up to Jackson and asked, "What are you doing here? The 76ers are looking for you in Philadelphia."
"Yes, I know," said Jackson. "People have been trying to reach me all day. My wife took all the calls."
"Why did you switch leagues?"
"Well, I don't know yet. I haven't signed a contract with the Cougars."
"What? It was announced by the ABA this morning in New York."