After performing their second mercy killing in a month, ABA officials smiled gamely last week and declared their league was now healthy, having finally unloaded two teams that had bled the circuit for years. They were sorry to see the San Diego Sails go, they said, as earlier they had been sorry to scratch the Baltimore Claws.
By the end of the week the forced smiles had faded, for now the Virginia Squires and the Utah Stars also appeared to be in danger of collapse. And the Spirits of St. Louis, drawing abominably at home, were talking of moving to Cincinnati. What had been a 10-team operation was down to eight—and maybe to six—clubs.
The solution, says John Y. Brown Jr., the ABA president and husband of Kentucky Colonels Owner Ellie Brown, is merger with the NBA. "It's got to come this year. Twenty-four of the 28 teams in pro basketball lost money last season," he said, citing the owners' favorite statistic, which is based on undisclosed bookkeeping methods. "The NBA lost as much as we did—$100 million has been lost since we started in 1967. A merger is the logical solution."
The ABA now claims it has six strong franchises: Kentucky, New York, Denver, Indiana, San Antonio and, optimistically, St. Louis-Cincinnati. But attendance is down in every city except two, and the fact that the league has no network television contract does not give the ABA much leverage in any discussion of merger with the NBA. Logical as it might seem to Brown, merger in the near future is unlikely. A permanent injunction, obtained by the NBA Players Association, blocks the NBA from even discussing merger until a case testing the legality of the NBA option clause is settled. However, with a tottering ABA threatening to dump 100 unemployed players on the market, the Players Association might decide to drop objections to a merger and its court case.
But another obstacle is the NBA Board of Governors, which has affirmed its intention to defend the option clause in court. There are indications that 10 of the 18 NBA owners—those losing the most money in the costly war with the ABA—want to settle out of court. Four others appear staunchly antimerger. The remaining four could go either way, which is vital, since 14 votes are needed to approve any settlement. Thus, prospects for merger are bleak at best.
AND NO CUT
Apropos all this was a recent radio commercial for the Pennsylvania state lottery. In praising the top prize, $5,000 plus $500 a month for life, which could add up to a couple of hundred thousand, if you live long enough, the announcer exclaimed, "Why, that's as much as presidents make, or even basketball players."
GILDING THE LILY
Fenway Park, the perfect old-fashioned baseball stadium, is having a few things done to it this winter. One, which meets general approval, is padding the outfield fence Fred Lynn ran into with frightening force in that memorable sixth game of the World Series. Another, which is not meeting with such approval, is the installation of a vast electronic message board, complete with instant replay, at the top of the center-field bleachers. Fogies, mostly young, call this a desecration. An organization called POP-UP, which stands for People Opposing Pernicious and Unnecessary Progress, has been picketing, protesting that the glittering new wide-screen board will destroy the antique charm of the sexagenarian ball park. James Fogarty, a 25-year-old POP-UP lawyer, says, "The new scoreboard represents creeping Finleyism."
More progress. The famous old Iffley Road track at Oxford where Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile back in 1954 was bulldozed away last week as construction of a new all-weather synthetic track began. It will be the first track of its kind in Great Britain. Bannister, who was injured in a car accident a few months ago, was unable to attend the ceremony that took place before the dozers got to work, but his daughter Erin, now a student at Oxford, stood in for him. Sentimentalists, or possibly entrepreneurs, took care to fill a few sacks with cinders from the historic track just incase a demand for souvenirs develops.