1971: NBA-ABA Players Plan All Star Game

Back in 1971, the rival established NBA and the upstart ABA would not discuss interactive play, so, the players took matters into their own hands, even planning an All Star Game between players from the two basketball leagues at the Astrodome for Friday, May 28, 1971.

In a column by writer Bobby Risinger of the Baytown Sun 0n Tuesday, May 25, 1971, Astrodome Publicity Director Wayne Chandler offered his own thoughts on the unofficial, outlaw-feeling game that some players from the two leagues had put together for three days later in American Sport’s still new and most glamorous venue for big deals. Remember. The Astrodome had been the site of college basketball’s so-called Game of the Century back on January 20, 1968, when UH’s 71-89 victory over UCLA sort of inadvertently-on-purpose captured the eyes of the TV-chained audience that quickly jumped upon more opportunities soon after for watching other big collegiate level round ball games in prime time.

Could lightning strike again – especially between two loosely assembled clubs of teams with no known local support for the NBA brand among ticket-buying fans in the Houston market?


Risinger wrote ….

There are many reasons why the all-star game scheduled for Friday could be a first class flop. There are just as many reasons it could be a success.

In the first place, the club owners disapprove of the players forming a committee and agreeing to play such a game. But the czars of the game are making no effort to defuse the operation, nor are they helping to make the spectacle successful.

“From what I have heard unofficially,” said Wayne Chandler, Astrodome publicity director, “the owners will not raise a hand to help. But on the other hand, they are not trying to prevent the game from being played.”

Further notable quotes from Chandler ….

“This is the first the players have ever tried to put on a major spectacle. This is a case of the players promoting the players and they want more than anything for it to work.”

“Usually it’s the owners promoting the players, but this time it’s the players doing it all.”

“I’m sure the ABA wants to show it can play with the other league. And I’m sure the NBA doesn’t want to lose this game.”

The Apparent NBA Team Owners Psychology at Play ….

The NBA team owners apparently couldn’t block the game, so they took the only sane position available to them. They would sit back and hope to salvage some to all of the credit for it working out to their own desires while using their absence of approval as the Teflon route away from any failure that might well ensue as blame that lands in a wide splatter band upon anyone suspected of helping or approving the original game idea. (What a novel idea. Wonder why some of our politicians in Washington never thought of such a “constructive” weasel strategy for dealing with all the serious issues now facing our country on every foreign and domestic level?)

The Game Outcome ….

NBA 125 – ABA 120. Behind 26 points by Walt Frazier, the NBA took the 5/28/1971 basketball All Star Game from the ABA and their high scorer, Rick Barry, whose 20 points were the only other 20+ individual total for both teams. The Astrodome crowd was a tepid total of 16,364 fans, nothing like the 50,000 plus collegiate game fans that showed up for the UH-UCLA game in 1968. One intended connection between the two games did not occur. Lew Alcindor (whom we best remember today as Kareem Abdul Jabbar) did not play for the NBA Stars in the game because of injury. Alcindor of UCLA and Elvin Hayes of UH had been the two driving stars of the 1968 Astrodome “Game of the Century.” Elvin Hayes, the other big star from 1968 did play for the NBA, tying two others with 17 points as the second highest scorer for the NBA in the 1971 game.

A good close game and fair national coverage seemed to have earned a plus score for the poorly formed game, in spite of its low ticket sale to live customers. Remember also that 1971 was prior to the time of the Rockets moving their home from San Diego to Houston. The same bad gate in an NBA franchise city would have registered much higher on the blame and failure scale.

Peace and Unity ….

It didn’t happen over night. The ABA would continue for another half decade, until August 5, 1976. That’s the day the National Basketball Association (NBA) merged with its rival, the American Basketball Association (ABA), and took on the ABA’s four most successful franchises: the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, the New York (later New Jersey) Nets and the San Antonio Spurs. The Virginia Squires, one of the three dissolving ABA clubs, went bankrupt prior to the merger and received a small financial franchise buy-out sum. as total compensation The Kentucky Colonels settled for a much larger total buyout sum of $3.2 million dollars.

The third and last dissolving ABA franchise, the St. Louis Spirits negotiated a spiritually inspired arrangement. The Spirits negotiated a buyout lump sum of only $2.2 million dollars, but were also able to add on a 1/7 interest payment from all the four merging ABA clubs annually on their future incomes from television in perpetuity. To date, the former Spirits club owners have received more than $168 million dollars from the NBA. The NBA’s periodic attempts to buy them out of the merger deal are invariably, but nicely refused, presumably with a Cheshire Cat smile about five miles wide .

St. Louis Spirits Residual TV Money Income To Date ….

By the way, in case you are wondering, here’ s the math ….

$ 168,000,000 times a 1/7th  share (0.14285714286 %)

= $ 25,428,571.43 ….

an aggregate sum that is an ongoing, building thing, from here to eternity.

I guess it simply shows how little the professional sports industry still understood in the mind-1970s about how valuable their TV revenues were going to be to the total future revenue picture.


Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas


3 Responses to “1971: NBA-ABA Players Plan All Star Game”

  1. Wayne A Chandler Says:

    Bill, I think we all were disappointed at the attendance, but we really didn’t have much help in a short promotion period, I think everyone recognized he high calibre of play in both leagues. It was the first time that I had been this close to so many future BB Hall of Famers.
    I remember still thinking that pro basketball was a long way from making it big in Houston.

  2. Doug S. Says:

    I have always loved the story of how the Spirits of St. Louis owners the Silna Brothers (Ozzie and Daniel) were the biggest winners of the merger.

  3. Bill Tanner Says:

    I attended the 1971 NBA vs ABA All Star game at the Astrodome in Houston. There was a unique event during live action in the game. After a missed shot, the ball bounced on top of the rim, then came to a stop, perfectly balanced on the right side of the rim, about midway between the back of the rim and the front of the rim. After several seconds, one of the players jumped up and tapped the ball off the rim. I think they had a jump ball. I lived in Houston from 1/28/1968 until I returned to my boyhood home on the VA-NC line in January 1986.

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