Mel Daniels was out on his Indiana ranch breaking some colts when he heard the news. Freddie Lewis was sitting in his living room in Indianapolis. Down in North Carolina, Byron Beck and Lou Dampier were practicing for an exhibition game against the U.S. Olympic team. Beck let out a whoop and threw the basketball the length of the floor; Dampier sat down on a bench and shook his head.
All their trials, Lord, soon be over.
As pro basketball enters its first consolidated, expandable, assimilated, mergerama year, these four NBA players are all that remain of the original ABA. Oh, there are a couple of old Oakland Oaks hanging around coaching. A few red, white and blue 30-second clocks. One solitary three-point circle (in Indianapolis' Market Square Arena—you couldn't get it off with a nuclear attack). But everything else is gone.
No more Butch Booker and Brian Brunkhorst and Willie Somerset having his false teeth stolen from the locker room. No more Irv Inniger and Elvin Ivory and Helicopter Hentz shattering two glass backboards in one game. No more Leary Lentz and Lonnie Kluttz and Les Selvage—bless his heart—throwing up 26 three-point prayers in a single night. No more Marlbert Pradd.
Though the merger or the absorption or the surrender or whatever one wishes to call it does not affect the Dave Cowenses and Rick Barrys and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars in the same way it does ABA people ("All it means is two more trips to New York to see the folks," says Abdul-Jabbar), the new 22-team league is a welcome conclusion to most of the game's thorny problems.
What is important now is that the New York Nets, or somebody, guarantee us a look into the future by coming to terms with the best player on earth, Julius Erving. For probably it is the wondrous Dr. J, more than any greenbacked lawsuit, who brought about the holy consummation.
When Erving decided to hold out for a renegotiation of his $230,000-plus annual salary during the preseason, not everyone considered him all that wondrous anymore. Yet as soon as veteran NBA supporters witness a couple of the Doctor's basic impossible, incredible, unbelievable sky-jams, who will deny him a sultan's ransom? Last week Erving and Nets President Roy Boe continued to cross swords over Fort Knox while 14 CBS-TV executives fingered the panic buttons. This Friday night the network begins its expanded 54-game regular-season coverage with the Nets at Golden State; CBS has scheduled Erving's Nets no less than 12 times during an 18-week period.
That should satisfy those ticket-buyers who gobbled up every seat in sight for Erving's debuts around the NBA, especially one J. Smiley of Detroit. On the day merger was announced Mr. Smiley appeared at Cobo Arena, whipped out his $200 Ford Motor Company payroll check and mumbled something like, "Gimme all you got for the Doctah."
While the Nets as well as all basketball need their physician, the Knicks among other teams may require a mortician. Intradivisional play counts for little this season, with everybody playing everybody else four times at most. "You won't have control of your own destiny any more; they've taken out the divisional meaning," says Boston Coach Tom Heinsohn.
Ah, but. "We won't have to worry about playing Portland and Seattle six or seven times anymore," says Golden State's Barry. "We get bored seeing each other so often."