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Why Did The ABA Merge With The NBA?

The Basketball world is always going to remember August 5th 1976, the day that the ABA merged with the NBA to eventually create one of the best professional sports leagues in the world. However, this decision to merge together wasn’t an easy one to make. In fact, there were a number of hurdles that stood in their way but the respective commissioners felt like it was worth pushing through anyway.

Why Did the ABA Merge With the NBA? Each side of the 1976 merger, the ABA and the NBA, had different reasons for merging together. For the ABA, a merger with a larger, more popular league sounded great to the ABA owners, many of who were starting to struggle financially. As for the NBA, they realized that they could bring in an ABA team and it’s talented playing staff for half of what it would cost them to expand their league normally and at the same time take out its main competitor.

As we mentioned earlier, there were many giant obstacles that stood in their way of making this dream a reality. In essence, what we refer to as a merger between the ABA and NBA was more of a takeover. With the NBA keeping its governance system entirely in place, simply absorbing those ABA teams that they felt would add value to the long term future of the league.

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Oscar Robertson Lawsuit

The merger was delayed for a couple of years following the announcement of something called the Oscar Robertson lawsuit. It was otherwise known as Robertson v. National Basketball Association. Robertson had retired from playing basketball, but was the president of the NBA Players Union at the time. He believed that certain rules and clauses that the ABA and NBA were proposing were violating antitrust laws that were set in place. There was a ferocious legal battle that started in 1970 and didn’t get settled until the year 1976. With this going on, neither the ABA or NBA were able to get real momentum on a merger. The suit was finally closed off once the league decided to let out of contract players become free agents in exchange for their former team’s right to match an offer that the player might get from another franchise. Now known as Restricted Free-Agency.

Congress Wasn’t Helping

The ABA and the NBA wanted to help get the merger done smoothly and easily. So, Congress got involved to try and enable it all to happen even with the Robertson lawsuit going on at the time. They submitted a bill in 1972 that would have helped put the idea in place. Unfortunately, the lawmakers didn’t really take into account who they were creating this for. As it was aimed entirely at the NBA and ABA owners, causing a lot of frustration among Senators and players alike. This was why that first bill didn’t pass through and wound up dying before even getting to a vote. They threw another bill out onto the floor in 1973. It was able to get into the Senate, but for a second time it wasn’t able to advance very far. The ABA realized that Congress wasn’t helping their case and hired a new commissioner, Dave DeBusschere, to help get things going again. He helped push a lot of different things into place, but it took another couple of years for the official merger to happen.

ABA Contributions To The NBA After The Merge

There were more reasons that the NBA wanted to merge with the ABA than they realized initially. Those reasons came about after the merger was already solidified. Let’s start out with something that changed the game forever, the three-point shot. The ABA was the only league to use this in basketball at the time of the merger, and the NBA didn’t want anything to do with it. However, when the leagues combined, they reopened their minds to the idea and fell in love with it. If it wasn’t for the merger, we might have ever seen this contribution come into the fray. The next big crossover was the Slam Dunk Contest. The ABA created this at their All-Star game and it instantly became a smash hit for them. Fans everywhere wanted to tune in to watch it all unfold every year. The NBA liked it themselves and implemented it into their own league. Since then, it has been a staple of All-Star weekend. Finally, the NBA adopted the ABAs way of allowing college underclassmen to come into the league. Back in 1969, the Denver Rockets signed Spencer Haywood who was a sophomore star at the University of Detroit. The NCAA sued the organization but the ABA won that case. Before the merge, the NBA never even got close to grabbing underclassmen, but afterwards they started to follow. There have obviously been people against this method but still, it was something that the NBA didn’t do until the ABA was absorbed into them.

Results Of The Merge

It didn’t take long whatsoever for the ABA to make their presence felt on the NBA and in a good way. For example, the first NBA All-Star game after the merger happened saw 10 out of 24 players on the team be former ABA players. Five of the starting players in the NBA Finals that season were in the ABA as well including Julius Erving. As for the actual franchises that came over, there was mixed results. The Denver Rockets changed to become the Denver Nuggets because of the Houston Rockets existence. They then went on to have the second-best record in the league their first season at 50-32. The San Antonio Spurs were also included in the merge, relying on their superstar George Gervin to carry them to victory. They won five division titles in their first six years in the NBA because of it. Moving onto the Indiana Pacers now, they were unfortunately 36-46 in their first year. Still though, their attendance jumped after a very rough first season where they needed a telethon in order to survive financially. Lastly, we have the New York Nets. They had the worst record in the league their first year at 22-60 and had to sell Julius Erving’s rights because of horrible financial penalties. For example, they had $3.2 million to pay as an expansion fee and another $4.8 million fee on top of that due to location. Without a doubt, the merge ended up benefitting either party, except for the ABA teams that didn’t end up making the cut and folded instead.