New Pro Cage Loop May Raid NBA

[In November 1966, the news that a second pro basketball league was now in the works yielded a trickle of follow-up newspaper articles, including this one from the Christian Science Monitor. The article ran on Monday, November 28 and, like most of the news coverage, it started with the cautionary tale of the recently deceased American Basketball League (ABL). The moral of the CSM story: a second pro basketball league would be doomed. Several incredulous NBA and ABL types were happy to go on the record to make exactly this point—still 22 days before the just-renamed American Basketball Association held its maiden organizational meeting at the Beverly Hills Hilton. In my next blog post, I’ll share the minutes from that historic first ABA meeting.]

Los Angeles—“I think the American Basketball League had a better chance than this new one does,” Lou Mohs, general manager but the Los Angeles Lakers, says. “I’ll get excited about it if and when the first ball is thrown out and when they do a major league job drawing money, not just people.”

The old ABL with franchises in Washington, D. C., Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Kansas City, San Francisco, Honolulu, Chicago, and Los Angeles came into being June 3, 1961. By December 1962, with losses of $1 million and owners panicking, the league folded.

Organizational Meeting 

Now comes the American Basketball Association with teams slated for Seattle, Atlanta, Phoenix, Cleveland, New York, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Anaheim, Calif. 

It will rival the established National Basketball Association starting in 1967-68 head-on only in New York in Los Angeles. However, Walter J. Kennedy, NBA president, recently announced that by 1974 his league will be expanded from the current 10 to 16 teams. 

Two cities from among Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Seattle, San Diego, Phoenix, and Atlanta will join the NBA either next fall or in 1968-69. 

“All sports you have two leagues except basketball,” says a representative John McShane and Associates of Anaheim. “In football there are 26 teams. We conducted a market research study and found out that there was enough interest in basketball to start another league.”

McShane Associates and Professional Sports Management of New York City have worked the past 24 months formulating the league. An organizational meeting is scheduled “in a Midwestern city” Dec. 5. 

“This is the first time a major professional league in any sport has ever been organized by professional management,” says McShane. “Before, it’s been a group of owners who have organized.”

Each new franchise must be able to show a net financial worth of $1,500,00, a working bank account of $500,000, and post a $250,000 bond. Yet it will cost “less than $100,000” to begin.

“Most of our new owners are wealthy individuals who have proved themselves in other sports,” says the McShane representative. “Nobody is in who is not prepared to put out money for at least 25 years. We’re solid. 

“We studied the ABL and we think it was poorly managed and was not properly financed. We will have advertising, radio and television tie-ins.”

Talent Thin

The man negotiating to use the Sports Arena as a prospective owner of the Los Angeles ABA franchise is reportedly Eugene V. Klein, who headed a syndicate that purchased control of the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League for $10 million in September. 

Several other AFL owners are rumored to be seeking franchises, possibly including comedian-TV producer Danny Thomas, a major shareholder in the Miami Dolphins. Bill Bartholomay of the baseball Braves is said to be another prospective ABA owner. 

By the same token, it is rumored that two owners of National Football League teams have applied formally to the NBA for its next two franchises. 

A switch, however, is that Wilt Chamberlain ofthe Philadelphia 76ers is said to be a prospective franchise owner-player in the ABA. McShane admits the ABA does intend to “raid the NBA for players.” But with a “raid nucleus,” the ABA also believes there is enough untapped college talent to stock two leagues.

“Talent is thin now,” counters Mohs. “I don’t know a player in America we could get to help the Lakers. There’s not even enough talent for a lousy Eastern (minor) League. When you talk about adding even one team, like we did in Chicago this year, you weaken the whole structure. 

“And there aren’t enough fans indoctrinated into basketball as a sport to watch it, like there are in baseball and football. Very few teams in the NBA are prosperous. They talk about starting on $100,000. There isn’t a team in the NBA that doesn’t spend that much just during the summer. 

“To make money you have to draw three-quarters of a million dollars for 40 games. That’s an average attendance of 5,000. This is not a glamorous business. I haven’t had a vacation in seven years. And I work at least one-half of all Saturdays and one-third of all Sundays.”

The old ABL had Bill Sharman as coach of the L.A, Jets, a few quality players like Dick Barnett, and the late Abe Saperstein of Harlem Globetrotters fame as league commissioner. 

“I don’t like to be a prophet of doom,” says Len Corbosiero, president of those defunct Jets. “But you can have the best managed organization on earth and it won’t draw. People come out to see players—superstars like West, Baylor, Chamberlain, Russell. 

“The NBA is now weaker player-wise than it has been. The new League might raid some of the established stars, but it’ll take an awful lot of money to get them. And it’s easier to pay a star’s salary in football or baseball where you have big stadiums than it is from arenas where the seating capacity is limited. Chamberlain was all set to jump to our league, but his price was exorbitant. 

“I’d say it’ll take $30 million to get a new league going. Even if they do get a few NBA players by raiding, they’re going to be competing against NBA owners like Ben Kerner (St. Louis), Ed Gottlieb (San Francisco), and Ned Irish (New York). These men are astute, and they’ve been around a long time.

“But the new league will, if nothing else, force future NBA expansion. I don’t think the NBA would have moved into Los Angeles or San Francisco if it hadn’t been for the ABL. And a new league is always great for the players.

“I remember visiting the St. Louis Hawks’ bench after our league was disbanded. One of the players told me, ‘I want to thank you for boosting my salary.’”  

–Cliff Gewecke, Christian Science Monitor, November 28, 1966

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