The 1976 merger between the ABA and the NBA ended up being incredibly successful in the long run. Of course, only for the NBA and ABA teams that were left to profit from it. Just four of the teams in the ABA were able to make it into the NBA, which means that there were many franchises that didn’t make the cut for various reasons.
What ABA Teams Were Not Part of the Merger With the NBA? There were 3 major organizations that fell short of the NBA mergers requirements and did not become part of the post merger NBA. The Kentucky Colonels, Spirits of St. Louis and the Virgina Squires. The 1975-76 ABA season had started with 9 Franchises, but the San Diego Sails and the Utah Stars folded after playing just 11 and 16 games respectively.
Why did the Colonels and the Spirits collapse though? Financial issues and other specific circumstances created an unfavorable situation for retaining their rosters and the financial pressure to compete in a failing league became too much.
The Kentucky Colonels
During those years that the ABA was up and running, the Kentucky Colonels were considered one of the most enjoyable teams to watch. They had a historic feud with the Indiana Pacers which made for a wonderful rivalry during the years they shared together. However, they quickly started to lose popularity around the time that the merger started to be brought up. The Colonels decided that they wanted to sell away their superstar center Dan Issel for $500,000. He was flipped over to the Baltimore Claws, a move that wasn’t perceived well by the fans. Apparently that blowback didn’t stop the team from making another unpopular move. Getting rid of Teddy McClain to the New York Nets for $150,000. At this point, the popularity was reaching lows that it hadn’t seen before. Still, they were one of the teams considered for a spot in the NBA due to how great they had been. Unfortunately for them, the Chicago Bulls refused to allow them to enter the NBA. Chicago thought that Kentucky moving into the league would badly hurt their fanbase and television market. On top of those concerns, they listed a number of reasons why the Pacers should be the team to take their spot in the NBA instead. There was a good fight being put up between the Colonels and the Bulls for who should get that spot, but the Colonels owner John Brown knew that the fight wouldn’t be worth it in the end. He knew that they were losing the argument and opted to sell the team for $3 million. Not to mention he gave the Bulls their star player Artis Gilmore’s rights for another $1.1 million.
The St. Louis Spirits
The St. Louis Spirits were never able to enter the NBA. After being purchased by Ozzie and Danile Silna, they changed from the Carolina Cougars to the Spirits. St. Louis didn’t have a professional basketball team at the time so the move seemed like a fantastic idea at first. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a great attendance rating and their performance on the court was average at best. Due to these reasons, they once again wanted to switch locations. The plan was to partner up with the Utah Stars, another ABA team. The partnership would turn the two teams into a rebranded organization known as the Utah Rockies and would be stationed in Salt Lake City. That was when the Stars folded as a franchise and left the deal to rot away. It was obvious for the Silna brothers that their franchise would not be included in the merger with the NBA. From their eyes, they saw three teams as a lock for the merger and one final spot being decided between the Pacers and the Colonels. Instead of just trying to fight it out, the Spirits folded over their rights and received $2.2 million in return. On top of that, they received a large share of all television revenues for the four teams that merged into the NBA. Fast forward a few decades and they accrued about $500 million in payments from that deal. They may not have made the league, but did receive plenty of compensation in their deal with the NBA.
Teams That Folded Too Early
Let’s start out by covering the Utah Stars, the team we mentioned earlier. Utah was a great team in the ABA and was actually incredibly successful over the years. They were doing well until their owner, Bill Daniels, made an unfortunate miscalculation. He made a hard bid to win the Governor of Colorado but his campaign was unsuccessful, resulting in a large sum of money lost. That following ABA season, his team wasn’t able to make payroll and he was forced to fold the organization quickly. He did end up paying back all the season ticket holders for his team to negate the effects of folding. Then we have the San Diego Sails. This was a team that had horrendous attendance ratings. Their owner saw these ratings and knew that a potential merger wouldn’t include them because of it. Not to mention that the Los Angeles Lakers former owner didn’t want them for the same reason that the Bulls didn’t want the Colonels involved. San Diego wound up selling away their franchise three weeks into the 1975 ABA season. Moving forward we have the Memphis Sounds. This group wasn’t performing well in attendance much so they changed their name and relocated to be the Baltimore Claws. Apparently, the move didn’t help them much at all. They folded quite literally three games into the preseason of 1975. The reason for the collapse was that they failed to post a performance bond with the ABA. Lastly, we have the Virginia Squires. The Squires had so much potential but threw it all away. They had players like Julius Erving, Rick Barry and George Gervin on their team. Yet they sold all of them away because they were consistently having financial issues. Due to all the players being sold away, they lost popularity because they couldn’t keep anybody. The year before they folded, they posted a 15-69 overall record. The Squires knew that their time was up. Plus, they weren’t in a viable region for the NBA to consider them. They also had a $75,000 league assessment fee that they couldn’t afford to pay. All of that led to their eventual demise in 1976.