All-Star Showdown Helped Lift ABA

By MICHAEL MURPHY, Houston Chronicle

The first real showdown between the American Basketball Association and the NBA was held in the Astrodome on May 28, 1971, when All-Star teams from the competing leagues agreed to play an exhibition game.

And even though the established NBA won 125-120, many ABA players at the time felt the game showed how close to parity the two leagues were.

The NBA All-Stars featured such household names as San Diego's Elvin Hayes, Boston's John Havlicek and Milwaukee's Oscar Robertson along with the New York trio of Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Dave DeBusschere (who later would become commissioner of the ABA). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was supposed to play, but got married the day before the game and backed out.

Among the ABA stars were such non-household names as Indiana's Mel Daniels and Roger Brown, New York's Bill Melchioni, the Dallas duo of Donnie Freeman and Steve Jones, Utah's Zelmo Beaty (a Prairie View alum), Virginia's Charlie Scott and Miami's Larry Jones. New York's Rick Barry was about the only ABA star of any renown playing in the game.

But the ABA stars gave their NBA counterparts all they could handle before going down in a controversial loss.

"In Houston we had them down big and all of a sudden the calls started going against us," Daniels said. "They were NBA refs, and the calls started going against us and we lost by something like three points (five). We all played well, but it was just a bad situation with the refs (the NBA stars shot 70 free throws -- in an All-Star game). I think everybody enjoyed the game."

Some little-known facts about the ABA-NBA All-Star game:

· Former Celtics great Bill Russell coached the NBA stars and Larry Brown, then a player for the Carolina Cougars, coached the ABA All-Stars. Brown now coaches the Indiana Pacers.

· Frazier was named the game's Most Outstanding Player after scoring 26 points.

· The game was unusual not only because it was the first (not-wholeheartedly) sanctioned interleague play, but because the participants played under NBA rules in the first half and then ABA rules in the second -- the 3-point shot, 30-second shot clock (the NBA uses a 24-second clock) and the red, white and blue basketball.

· Lloyds of London provided insurance coverage for the ABA stars. The policy premium was $16,000.

This article Copyright © Michael Murphy and the Houston Chronicle and used with permission

Michael Murphy may be reached at

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