Remembering the ABA


In 1976, there were crazy clothing styles, big hair and very different attitudes as compared to the present.

There were also two basketball leagues at the time: the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association. In Will Ferrell’s new sports-related movie, “Semi-Pro,” the focus is the final season of the ABA and its pending merger with the larger NBA.

The ABA stood apart from the NBA with the use of a 30-second shot clock and a 3-point line. In some ways, the ABA was as different from the other league as 1976 is from 2008. Ferrell described the 1970s as a fun time period to depict in a movie.

“I think it’s kind of a remarkable time period where, when we look back and think back to clothing styles and hairdos and attitudes, that was actually a time period that happened,” Ferrell said. “People actually wore the clothes they wore and looked the way they looked and thought, ‘I’m looking great. I will never get higher than this.'”

While the ABA produced such future NBA stars as Julius Erving, George Gervin, Moses Malone and Artis Gilmore, other players who made up the league were from the regular working class and had regular jobs when they weren’t playing.

While the league was considered professional, not all salaries were comparable throughout the league’s nine seasons, and financial problems caused many teams to close operations, similar to the plight of many semi-professional teams and leagues that struggle to exist today. Ferrell described one instance of a contract discussion as an example of why the league had a semi-professional feel to it.

“I was reading something recently that this one guy wanted $10,000 and a new refrigerator, and they came back, and the counter offer was $10,000 and a used refrigerator, and he said, ‘I will take it,'” he said.

Some of Ferrell’s research came from the book “Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association” by Terry Pluto. The book features memorable stories from various former players about the league and its players, including one of Ferrell’s favorites.

“[One] of the classic stories [was when] Marvin Barnes, who played for the St. Louis Spirit, refused to fly on a plane that was changing time zones because he was afraid it was a time machine,” he said. “That’s probably my favorite because I have those same fears myself.”

Ferrell is not new to the idea of a sports movie or sports for that matter. “Semi-Pro” is the fourth sports-based movie Ferrell has starred in, and he is a known fan of USC football.

In his life, Ferrell experienced athletic success at his high school, where he was a kicker for the football team and played basketball and baseball. Ferrell summed up his stature as a student-athlete with just one word.

“The word excellent comes to mind,” he said. “I started playing soccer when I was a kid, started playing basketball in eighth grade and played in high school, played baseball, played football; so I was kind of a funny jock.”