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Interconference games would be played just as in football, so that people in Portland could enjoy Julius Erving and those in San Antonio could marvel at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Playoffs would be set up with wild-card berths, just as in football, so that we could all watch the Nets choke, as we watch the Oakland Raiders choke every year.
The conferences are put together precisely for the benefit of the TV networks so that ABC, say, could telecast the games of one conference and CBS the other. Though the initial reaction might be to choose the older conference, how long could a network resist the audience drawn by the incomparable Dr. J; the spectacular David Thompson; the amazing Bob McAdoo; and the likes of Marvin Barnes, George Gervin, Artis Gil-more, John Drew and everybody's favorite white draw, Pistol Pete Maravich?
Of course, this setup is all too sensible ever to work. Even now the brilliant NBA thinkers are unlimbering their ammunition. Franklin Mieuli, president of the champion Golden State Warriors, says, "To bring in that many new teams would be sheer folly. We hardly know anything about these men. They would be our partners. We have criteria for franchise holders which include stability, character references, a lot of things. The ABA is nameless and faceless." The words bring to mind everyone's description of the players on Mieuli's own team last season, when it came out of nowhere to win the NBA title. Except for Rick Barry, the Warriors were "nameless and faceless," too.
Fitzsimmons of Atlanta repeats a common complaint of the older league. "It's hard enough selling NBA teams," Cotton says. "How would they draw in our arenas? Erving? Thompson? Hey, one man doesn't draw. You draw by putting Ws on your side of the ledger.
Fitzsimmons' theory underwent scrutiny on the very night he spoke, when his Hawks, leading their division with an unbelievable three-game home winning streak, met the champion Warriors, with the best record in basketball, at the Omni in Atlanta and drew a semisparkling and possibly padded 8,660, the largest crowd of the season. Fitzsimmons was ecstatic, especially after his team got another W.
A week earlier the Denver Nuggets had attracted 9,125 for a contest with the Indiana Pacers, without George McGinnis, and Larry Brown was disappointed at the puny turnout because it was more than 2,500 below the Nuggets' average home attendance.
This contrast between Atlanta and Denver has surfaced before. When Thompson, the NBA's No. 1 draft pick out of North Carolina State, announced last spring he was leaning toward the Nuggets instead of the Hawks, Thomas Cousins, an Atlanta owner, asked, "Who is Denver? They're not even on TV." The Nuggets contented themselves by signing both Thompson and the NBA's No. 3 pick, Marvin Webster, both of them from the Hawks' draft list.
The NBA undoubtedly would demand huge indemnities from ABA teams to enter into a one-league arrangement ( New Orleans, the last NBA expansion team, paid a cool $6 million to get in) but that could be worked out by owners with mutual interests. A more serious difficulty would be the status of those ABA players whose draft rights are also owned by NBA teams.
"There is bad blood everywhere," says Pat Williams, general manager of the 76ers. "One school of thought says that while we have the ABA on the run, let's bury them. I know damn well I want those players whom we drafted. Milwaukee would demand Erving. Atlanta would demand Thompson. Chicago would demand Artis Gilmore. You think the ABA teams would agree to come in empty, like expansion clubs?"
But what would Williams do with his draft choices, Marvin Barnes and Caldwell Jones? Philly already has something like 37 no cuts on a 12-man roster; how would he stretch an annual payroll said to be in excess of $3 million? And what would the Pistons, for example, do with their former drafts, Dan Issel and Larry Kenon? They'd have to call Manpower to find work for their current forwards, Curtis Rowe and Al Eberhard.