The problem facing the ABA is whether the league can stick it out long enough. Recently the collapse of the Baltimore Claws led to the collapse of the San Diego Sails led to the collapse of the Utah Stars—and that leads to what? Want to bet on the Virginia Squires' survival? (When Dave Robisch, who had been both a Claw and a Sail this year, called his former coach at Denver, Larry Brown, for a job, Brown said something hilarious like, "Sure, Dave, and let you fold up our franchise, too?")
Ironically, several ABA owners would have preferred to abolish the Virginia and Utah franchises the very week San Diego went cold turkey, in order to get it over with, avoid the domino effect, redistribute the players and come up bobbing and weaving once more with six strong teams ready for a move into the NBA next year. But Virginia is still hanging on—at least until the next payroll.
"It's all over now," Denver's Brown said sadly last week. An original member of the league who has been through it all as player and coach on six different clubs (who can forget the legendary Oakland Oaks?), Brown finally has been beaten down by all the hopes and promises. "The ABA is through after this year," he says. "I've always wanted to coach in the NBA, but I didn't want it to happen like this."
Unfortunately, the options open to the ABA are few.
The league can:
1) Struggle on with seven teams—maybe six—and think about playing again next year with whatever is left. The prospect is incredible boredom, since a spectator can watch Indiana's Billy Keller go bombs away over Kentucky's Louie Dampier just so many times before falling into a stupor.
2) Pack up the tents altogether, putting 70 or 80 players out of jobs, some 40 of whom will immediately try out for and make the NBA. This would create total chaos, not to mention a few hard feelings when some of the longtime NBA names find themselves out in the streets selling Bicentennial pencils.
What is shown on the next page is so reasonable, so logical and makes so much good sense that it does not have a snowman's chance in Hades of being considered. Structured the same way as the National Football League, these proposed American and National Conferences are split into three divisions apiece. The National is composed of 12 teams from the present NBA which would remain in their respective divisions (the present Central being disbanded and Washington shifting to the East), while the American consists of the remaining six NBA teams combined with the six surviving ABA franchises, taking into consideration territorial imperatives, natural rivalries, balance of power and the Suez Canal.
For instance, in the East the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Spirits of St. Louis (who will probably move to Cincinnati) would be obvious rivals a la the NFL's Browns and Bengals. The Nets and Braves are in-state enemies, too, and an attraction: they drew 15,000 for an exhibition in Buffalo in October.
While each Central Division team has a traditional rival from the old league in the new division (Kentucky-Indiana, Atlanta- New Orleans), each team in the West gains a new but natural opponent from the other league (Denver-Phoenix, Houston-San Antonio).