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ABA stands for Amateur Basketball Association

A.J. Walling
3/28/2008 2:19:16 PM
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"Take your league and shove it", seems to be the message that the Halifax Rainmen's owner Andre Levingston is sending to the A.B.A.

Although the initials for the A.B.A. stands for the American Basketball Association, it has been more like the Amateur Basketball Association in the slightly more than a year since Halifax has been involved with it.

Over the decades I've followed pro leagues, minor-pro, college, and even the imaginary pro-hockey league where the Halifax Icebreakers were to skate in the new and improved WHA. That's the one with Bobby Hull as commissioner. It never got off the ground and the only memory of the Icebreakers is a sketch of their logo.

We had a year of pro soccer (CSL) in Halifax in the early 90's as the Nova Scotia Clippers and the Halifax Windjammers lasted three years in the 90's.

But, I have never seen such a sad, sickly, sordid, spectacle as this league called the A.B.A.

The Halifax Rainmen announced they would withdraw from this league immediately, and this is a team that is in a tie breaker for a playoff spot which starts in two weeks in Quebec City.

There have been some mighty strange things that took place in the past season but the decision to tell the A.B.A. to 'stick it' is as a result of what took place last week, when the scheduled team, the Bahama Pro Show became the No-Shows and didn't show up leaving hundreds of fans stranded and irate at the Halifax Metro Centre.

But that was no surprise to those who follow the league.

Chris Munson is a freelance sports writer who lives in Vermont and has followed the fortunes or misfortunes of the ABA.

"Needless to say, this is a league that has some serious issues. Since the rebirth of the ABA in 2001, over 170 teams have folded, disbanded or fallen into other state of disrepair. As far as the Halifax franchise goes, I may not agree with the timing of their departure from the ABA, but I cannot argue with their decision to leave the league," is what Munson told TSN.ca.

Last summer I set out to write a column for a daily paper and went looking for something good about this ABA league.  I couldn't no matter how hard I tried.

I felt like Hank Snow and his song "I've been everywhere" going from town to town trying to get a good quote. From Rochester to Indy, to Detroit, to Niagara Falls, to Florida, California and all over North America they all were negative if not down right nasty towards this league.

"Did you know that the league president Joe Newman had a team in Indy and it folded," to "Don't tell me Halifax is going into that the lowest of the pro-leagues," to one editor (Indy Star) who said "We use the ABA for comic relief."

Ouch!

The column turned into a two-page epic and over a week of interviewing led to not a single positive comment from past members.

When I wrote the piece the president of the Rainmen, Andre Levingston, wanted to 'discuss' with me and we had lunch at the Midtown Tavern in Halifax.  I didn't want to see him lose money like so many had and my story was almost totally based on facts and not opinion.

He didn't believe the league could be that bad.

They weren't, they were worse.

Where does the litany of faults and fabrications start?

How about at last year's A.B.A. All-Star game when the League's Commissioner Joe Newman told me that Halifax was 'such a jewel' that his league would set up a travel fund to 'fly in the teams'.

I think only one team flew in. The rest came in cars, vans and maybe stagecoach.

I've emailed Newman twice in the past week on this and the Halifax issue and he will not return the emails or answer the questions.

And when the teams came to Halifax most of them showed up with few players.

Time and time again teams would show up at the Metro Centre having driven 15 straight or more hours to get here and it seems just about every second team had but a handful of players.  Instead of 10-13 players only six or seven would show up.

From 'personal problems' to 'not having the proper documents to get across the border' too simply 'not being able to, with documents, get into Canada were the excuses being heard on a game after game basis.

One has to wonder just how many unsavory characters are in the A.B.A. that our country does want to allow in simply to play a basketball game and return home.  The answer appears to be, lots.

Which led to a most unique coaching strategy which is Halifax with 12-13 players would divide their teams into two six-player contingents and play the opposition who had only one or two reserves.  Talk about tiring out the competition.

That system produces wins for the home team but it is not what the A.B.A. is supposed to stand for and not what people are paying up to18 bucks to see.

But, it's typical for the A.B.A.

In doing this story there were some interesting tales that were uncovered and one of the best is about coach came into New Jersey with only four players so he asked where the local YMCA was and 'recruited three or four players' for that one night.

A Rochester executive (Rochester, like Halifax quit the A.B.A. last year just before the playoffs) told me that one team had six players and a '13th man'.  That is a home town person who may get into a game towards the very end of the contest.

"But in this case the 13th man was used almost as a regular since they simply didn't have any players. It was pathetic," the executive told TSN.ca

This year in Halifax several teams came with very few players and in one case a team arrived coach less.

That's correct. An alleged pro-team in an alleged pro-league and both Boston Blizzard coaches had to stay home due to 'business reasons'.  Could you imagine the Raptors playing without a single coach?

In fairness to the Halifax team they, along with the Vermont Frost Heaves, may be the best run teams in the league.  Vermont was one of those two teams who played all their games last year.

Now, they did win the league title but had to go out and buy a trophy. I was told the league would reimburse them for that expenditure.  We're not sure if that happened.

Halifax, once they got their act going, did things well.  They played in the best arena according to many players in the league.  The 11,000 seat Metro Centre is a Mecca and the players who took in the A.B.A. All-Star game in January 2007 and those who played here this year stated such.

The Rainmen became professional in presentation and in media affairs.  In fact, Halifax brought up the professionalism of this league.

And, they kept their word and played every single home game until last week when the Bahama Pro Shows became the Bahama No-Shows.

Levingston immediately put in a call, and paid the flight to bring up the Atlanta Vision for two games to finish the schedule last weekend.  He had met his commitment to Halifax in having a full home schedule.

It should be noted that in addition to the scarcity of players by some of the teams there were clubs who cancelled coming to Nova Scotia and had to be replaced by others.  In other words often we weren't sure of what team would end up playing the Rainmen.   With the exception of a few teams, Manchester and Vermont come to mind, it was bush league all the way.

And wouldn't you know it, A.B.A. style,  for that last weekend of the season the Vision did show up but their uniforms didn't arrive and so they were given black team Canada T-Shirt and used masking tape to make numbers.

Only in the A.B.A.

You won't see too many of those jerseys in sweater shops across the nation.

It's been interesting, gut wrenching and almost unbelievable to follow and watch this league in action.

I try to follow it but have lost count of the teams that come in and out.  They started with 80 teams last fall and now maybe 35 are left.  Yes, over 40 have folded and in one 48 hour period, seven teams said good bye, never showed up or simply closed their doors never to be heard from again.

One team (Utah) lasted one game and another one day. No defending champ has ever finished the next season still in the league save for the possibility of Vermont in this current campaign.

The league owners try desperately to tie in their A.B.A. to the pro A.B.A. of the late 70's but believe me there are no Dr J's, Connie Hawkins or Moses Malones in this bunch.  The old A.B.A. that existed from 1967-76 saw four of their teams: the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs join the NBA much like several WHA teams moved to the NHL.  This is not the case with this A.B.A. version.

In many cases teams play to a few hundred fans. The only thing this league has in common with the old A.B.A. is the three-coloured basketball. 

Levingston wasn't overly crazy about the A.B.A. playoff schedule that seemed to change every week. Some teams with a few league games (under 10) got in while others did not. This was worse than the Gong Show.

Some teams got byes into the Final Eight ABA championship tournament playing a very short schedule while others, such as the Rainmen who met all their obligations would have to travel to Quebec City where this tourney is taking place and would have to earn the right via preliminary games to get into the Final 8.

"You could end up with the champion team having played just a handful of games in the league. That doesn't make sense," says Levingston who will now try and get Halifax into the National Basketball Association Development League (NBADL.) He's also looking at other options such as joining the PBL like many former A.B.A. teams have done or the Continental Basketball League.

"We're not sure where we are going but we are staying in Halifax and there will be basketball next season," the Rainmen president told TSN.ca.

Whatever ends up happening, the Rainmen have built a fan base and with all the problems over 3000 showed up for their final game against the Atlanta Vision. It's a good sign for the future.

And it can't be any worse than what he's had to go through over the past year.

I could write a book on this league.

For TSN.ca I'm Alex J. Walling

Alex J can be reached via email at:  ajw@eastlink.ca



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