Mike Monroe: HOF committee ensures ABA gets its due

Something amazing happened at the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

Enshrined were two players who had begun their careers in the American Basketball Association and remained in the league until it ceased to exist and four teams were taken into the NBA.

Then, Julius Erving and Dan Issel were part of an eight-person enshrinement class in Springfield, Mass. They weren’t the first players to enter the Hall after having graced ABA courts, but their ABA tenures were longer and more integral to their careers thanks to predecessors Rick Barry and Connie Hawkins.

Erving and Issel were among the select ABA players who proved to the basketball-loving world that some of the most talented players in the game used a red, white and blue ball.

“I’m so happy to go in with ‘Doc,’” Issel said. “And I was proud we were the first two inductees who started our careers in the ABA and went all the way to the end of the league.”

Two more ABA stars — Spurs great George Gervin and Denver’s David Thompson — were enshrined in 1996. Artis Gilmore, the ABA’s first truly great center, should have been right with them. Somehow, he was not, and nobody can cite a good reason for his exclusion.

On Friday, the “A-Train” will take his place alongside Erving, Issel, Gervin, Thompson, Hawkins and Barry after being ignored by voters for nearly 20 years, along with every other person from the renegade league.

Thankfully, the Hall finally is making amends. Erstwhile Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, Hall of Fame chairman of the board, deserves much credit for convening a new committee to screen and recommend players, coaches and contributors from the ABA for induction.

Naturally, the announcement of Gilmore’s election both astonished and gratified the ABA-ers who preceded him in the Hall of Fame.

“When I read that Artis was being inducted, I was shocked to realize he wasn’t already in,” Issel said. “I’m really excited to hear about this (ABA) committee. I admit I am terribly biased because I love the ABA and we had some phenomenal players that came into that league, Artis being one of them. You can’t convince me that the last four or five years of the ABA we weren’t playing as good a brand of basketball as the NBA.”

Artis Gilmore’s 24,941 points rank 20th on the NBA/ABA all-time scoring list, between Jerry West and Patrick Ewing. (Express-News file photo)

Exhibit A for Issel’s contention: Though only six teams, with 10 players per roster, remained at the end, 10 of the 24 players in the first post-merger NBA All-Star Game were ABA “alums.”

Issel and Gilmore were the top scorers for the Kentucky Colonels team that breezed to the ABA title in 1975. He believes those Colonels could have beaten the NBA champion Warriors in a seven-game series, and a lot of us who were around the ABA shared that belief, and still do.

“People who don’t think the ABA was a good league should go back and check the exhibition scores between the ABA and NBA (in 1975 and 1976),” said Hubie Brown, who coached Gilmore and Issel to that ABA title in 1975. “People will be shocked to see how the ABA dominated.”

When the Spurs made the transition into the NBA, Doug Moe was their first head coach, but he was an ABA-er, start to finish.

“I’m very happy about this new committee,” said Moe, who still resides in San Antonio. “I don’t know who decides these things, but I know there were a lot of players in the ABA who were every bit as good as any of the players in the NBA. You take a guy like James Silas, he never got a chance to prove how good he was because he got hurt his very first year in the NBA. But if this new committee is able to recognize him, well, that would be very nice.”

Issel hopes one of his old Colonels teammates, Louie Dampier, will be the next player put forward for enshrinement. Pacers fans hope it is Mel Daniels, the big man who twice was the league’s MVP and the leader of three ABA championship teams. They pull, too, for Bob “Slick” Leonard, the ABA’s all-time winningest coach.

These are great debates, 30 years too late in the arguing.


Who’s next?

Express-News NBA writer Mike Monroe targets five former ABA stars he believes should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame:

Ron Boone, PG: Dallas Chaparrals (1968-70); Utah Stars (’70-76); Spirits of St. Louis (’75-76) — Averaged 18.4 pts., 5.0 rebs. in ABA; four-time ABA All-Star; All-ABA (’74, ’75); member of ’71 ABA champion Utah Stars.

Mel Daniels, PF/C: Minnesota Muskies (1967-68); Indiana Pacers (’68-74); Memphis Sounds (’74-75); New Jersey Nets (’76-77) — ’68 Rookie of the Year; ABA MVP in ’69, ’71; five-time All-ABA team; member of Pacers’ three ABA title teams (’70, ’72, ’73).

Louie Dampier, PG: Kentucky Colonels (1967-76); Spurs (NBA, ’76-79) — All-time leader in points (13,276), assists (4,044), 3-pt. attempts (2,217) and 3-pt FGs (794); seven-time All-Star (’68-75); holds ABA record for consecutive FTs (57); member of ’75 ABA title team.

Bob “Slick” Leonard, coach: Indiana Pacers, 1968-76 — Overall ABA coaching record of 387-270 (.589 pct.); winningest coach in ABA history; coached Pacers to five ABA Finals, three ABA titles; ABA playoff record of 69-47.

James Silas, PG: Dallas Chaparrals (1972-73); Spurs (ABA ’73-76, NBA ’76-81); Cleveland Cavaliers (’81-82) — All-ABA (’75, ’76); averaged 18.1 pts. in four ABA seasons; nicknamed “Captain Late.”

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