The highlight of the ABA Reunion was the Gala Banquet held on Saturday night. Bob Costas, the master of ceremonies, put on a memorable show for over 500 attendees. The event included the showing of rarely seen ABA video clips and the formal presentation of the 30 man All-Time ABA Team. Special achievement awards were given to the All-Time ABA MVP (Julius Erving) and the All-Time ABA Coach (Slick Leonard). Finally, the "Biggest ABA Afro Award" was given to Darnell Hillman, and the "All-Time ABA Cry-Baby Award"
I haven't posted any pictures of this event, because you will all get to see it shortly on Classic Sports Network. CSN had a special camera team at the banquet. From what I understand, CSN will air Bob Costas' entire verbal presentation, with the exception of the video clips. The air times will be announced soon.
Al Hunter and the Reunion Committee pulled out all the stops for this banquet. The dinner itself consisted of filet mignon, red bliss rissole, mesculin mix salad, fresh asparagus, and New York style cheesecake. Each table was decked out in a red, white, or blue tablecloth. Everyone got a special 30 page souvenir program (several pages of which were borrowed from this web site), along with an embroidered ABA baseball cap. At the center of each table was one of those special commemorative ABA red white and blue basketballs! Since each table seated eight people, there were some interesting battles over which person out of the eight would walk away with the free basketball. Each table was a lesson in human psychology!
The presentation of the 30 man All-Time ABA Team was spectacular. 25 of these 30 players were seated at the front of the room, at an "elevated" head table. Fittingly, players like Artis Gilmore, George McGinnis, Dan Issel, and Warren Jabali towered over everyone. The players were introduced to the crowd through film highlights of their careers. Julius Erving's video tribute was particularly impressive--the Reunion organizers managed to dig up some broadcast-quality video footage of Erving playing with the Virginia Squires. You could hear the murmurs of appreciation on the banquet floor as ABA fans once again saw a young Dr. J float through the air in Squire blue, dunking the red, white and blue basketball over helpless ABA opponents. I think that people were also appreciative of the Darel Carrier and Warren Jabali highlights since film of those players is very rare.
Bob Costas is always funny and articulate. He noted that the Reunion was a very special event for him because it had brought together a number of "long-lost" ABA players and personalities he had not seen in many years. In particular he mentioned Van Vance, the longtime radio voice of the Kentucky Colonels. As he presented the All-Time ABA MVP Award to Erving, and the All-Time ABA Coach Award to Slick Leonard, it became very apparent that he still harbors special feelings for the ABA and the Spirits of St. Louis.
Costas handed over the microphone to Julius Erving for presentation of the Biggest Afro Award. The finalists for this coveted award were Dr. J himself, Freddie Lewis, Larry Kenon, Mike Gale, Artis Gilmore, James Silas, Mike Jackson, Rich Jones, Steve Jones, and Darnell Hillman. Dr. J announced that the competition for the award was tough, and it was a hard decision to make, but that Darnell Hillman definitely worked hard for the award and deserved it more than anyone else. Hillman was on the banquet floor as Erving announced his name. A lot of former players gave Hillman high fives as he slowly made his way to the stage to receive his prize. When he finally arrived on stage, Hillman received a bronze plaque of himself with a huge afro. Hillman responded that he would always cherish this prestigious award.
Rick Barry won the All-Time ABA Cry-Baby Award. There was no formal presentation of this award since Barry did not appear at the Reunion. Receiving honorable mentions for this award were Larry Brown, George Karl, and the entire 1973-74 Virginia Squires team.
Costas has a very interesting relationship with Marvin Barnes. At the end of the banquet, Costas invited Marvin to the microphone, and the two spoke about their ABA days, and about Marvin's recent troubles. Marvin told the audience that he is now clean. He now works with underprivileged children in Houston, Texas in one of those boot camps for boys who are too young to go to prison.
Costas squirmed a little bit as Marvin gently chided him for telling all the "Marvin Barnes" stories over the years (including the famous "time-machine" story), but never keeping in touch with Barnes while he was in prison. Costas replied that Marvin has moved around a lot in the last twenty years, and has often been difficult to reach. I'm sure these two, and others, will now keep in better touch
At the end of the program, Costas made a pitch on behalf of Classic Sports Network. He asked people to send any long-lost ABA footage to the cable network. It will be interesting to see if anything comes out of the woodwork.