When two� Indianapolis businessmen paid $50,000 for the rights to the ABA name five years ago, no one imagined that they'd soon preside over what CEO Joe Newman calls "the largest pro sports league in the world." But if the beauty of the ABA is that Everyman can start a team, that's also the bane. Six weeks into the league's fifth season, seven of 48 teams have suspended operations.
Nonetheless, the over-the-calf tube-sock spirit of the old ABA, which was shuttered in 1976, prevails. Coaches include ex-NBA players such as Darryl Dawkins (above) and Tim Hardaway. Giuliana Mendiola, the former Pac-10 women's player of the year at Washington, went for 12 points, six assists and four steals for the Los Angeles Aftershock in a defeat of the Tijuana Dragons, the team for which Dennis Rodman will play when he's so moved. Even as several ABA teams wobble, nine of the 10 in the Northeast, in which the Vermont Frost Heaves would play, are still in business. The number of ABA players to reach the NBA stands at 38 and counting. As Maryland Nighthawks owner Tom Doyle says, "Nobody ever complains about the quality of play."
The breadth of the league leaves each club to tailor its product to local tastes. That's what the Arkansas RimRockers did a year ago, using former Razorbacks Todd Day and Kareem Reid to lure nearly 15,000 fans to their ABA title-game victory in Little Rock. And that's what the Utah Snowbears failed to do; despite going 26-1, the Snowbears attracted crowds of fewer than 100, in part because they played on Sundays, a Mormon holy day. Even if the ABA's mantra weren't "fan-friendly and affordable family entertainment," it's safe to say that in Vermont, we wouldn't be calling our cheerleaders the Heave Hos. The ABA takes fan-friendliness to an extreme. Under the "3-D" rule, a basket off a turnover in the backcourt is worth an extra point. And the 11th-man rule permits a local to suit up for, and play in, every home game. I play ball with a light-up-the-town-league farmer named Mike, the fire chief in New Haven, Vt., who could hold his own as a guest Heave. Turn that game into Volunteer Firefighter Night, and suddenly we'd have a community event as Vermont-pure as any chicken-pie supper.