WMEX 1510AM Gary Leavitt and Friends SUNDAYS 6 AM – 9 AM “Check Us Out!”
Featured on the show:
We Changed the Game
Written by Robert Netolicky
“In memory and legend, the ABA is symbolized by Julius Erving, a red, white and blue ball, the three point shot, it its wide-open, free-wheeling style of play. The Spirits of St. Louis, the team I called games for, lasted only two years and they are often also cited as a prototypical ABA Team.
And yet, here is the trutyh: The ABA franchise, THE league flagship was the Indiana Pacers. Winners of three of the league’s nine championships. One of four to make it into the NBA. And the only one of the four with the same hometown and the same team name from 1967 to the present. From coach Bobby Leonard to league luminaries like Roger Brown, Mel Daniels, Freddie Lewis and Bob Netolicky, the Pacers were in many ways a model franchise. But like all ABA teams, they were brimming with characters. And as a business they often teetered on the brink.
Here is their fascinating and enduring story as told through the eyes of Bob Netolicky and others who truly lived it. If you loved the ABA as I did, or are simply curious about a fascinating slice of sports history you will love this book.” (Bob Costas)
That in a nutshell is what this book is titled “We Changed The Game” is about. It’s the underdog basketball league which competed with the NBA to get top notch players but was not given credit for so many different reasons and one of the obvious ones was they knew that the Red, White and Blue Basketball League was every bit as good as the brown basketball league with a lot more excitement.
“The ABA revolutionized basketball,” said Bob Netolicky, the author of We Changed The Game. “Walt Frazier recently said the NBA is the ABA.”
This book will take you from the very beginning of the ABA in the 60’s all the way up to the mid 70’s when it merged it with the ABA. As a matter of fact legendary NBA Hall of Famer George Mikan was the brainchild of the actual Red, White and Blue colored ball. He was quoted as once saying that “the brown ball looked a lot like a giant terd.”
The upstart ABA league had all kinds of new ideas for the flashy coast to coast high flying league. It included Cheerleaders (Miami Floridians) that wore bikinis, the three point line and other halftime activities that were not present in the NBA. These guys were playground basketball playing above the rim.
“The NBA was like a rotary phone back then and the ABA was more akin to a smart phone that could so much more,” laughed Netolicky. “At the time the NBA was slow it down into a half court game by setting up plays to strategically hit the open man. The ABA hit the open man while jumping up rebounding and throwing the ball down court to a racing guard or forward all in one motion. It was like a raceway.”
Netolicky himself is very familiar with raceways as he grew up and played his ball in Indianapolis and was fixture at the Indinapolis 500 for years. He also owned Neto’s Sport’s Bar and Grill saw many professional athtletes and race car drivers as its patrons.
“On any given night it was a regular who’s who of professional athletes and celebrities and who were in town for basketball or car racing,” stated Netolicky. “It was the in place to congregate before, during or after a sporting event.”
The Pacer teams of the early 70’s (three championships in nine ABA seasons) were every bit as good as the counterpart champions of the ABA which included the Knicks, Bucks, Celtics, Lakers and Warriors.
“We definitely could’ve held our own if not beaten them,” said Netolicky, who was known for incredible long range smoothaccuracy for a big man. “Heck the World Championship Knicks would not accept the Pacers challenge in 1970, the Golden State Warriors declined the Kentucky Colonels challenge in 1974 and the Boston Celtics refused to play Doctor J’s New York Nets the following year. That was proof positive that the NBA was fearful of the outcome.”
The book not only includes the great players from those Pacer teams but it also talks about other ABA greats including Doctor J, Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, David Thompson. The league was more than legit as is evident by the merger in 76-77 when 10 out of the NBA All Star Players were from the ABA. The top two leading scorers that season were George Gervin and David Thompson, two ABA alumni. The NBA Finals between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Portland Trailblazers featured five starters with ABA roots; Erving, George McGinnis, Caldwell Jones, Maurice Lucas and Dave Twardzik.
Just to be clear the main focus of this book was on those historic Pacer teams, how good they were, the fun stories that took place during the season or how the teams came about along with the backgrounds of the greats like Roger Brown, Neto, Mel Daniels and company.
“The stories divulged (not all) will educate people as to what was happening with professional sports behind the scenes,” said Netolicky. Many books have been written but mostly with falsities, inaccuracies and embellishment. We Changed The Game, just like its name, is the real deal.”
The purpose of this book was to raise monies for the “Dropping Dimes Foundation”. This was set up former ABA Players that never made it to the NBA whether by their careers winding down or other factors that never received a pension. Many of those said players (some of the very best basketball players in the history of the sport) have lived in poverty for many years and some so poor that an appropriate funeral could not be held for them. One player’s name comes to mind, Bird Averitt, an incredible guard with the Kentucky Colonels had no heat in his house when he passed in December of 2020.
“It’s a travesty that many of these players have had to live with little to no money for all these years, “ said Hall of Famer Big Man Artis Gilmore (nicknamed the A-Train). It’s almost like people just forgot about them. There were 225 players without pensions and now it’s down to 103. And that’s because the others have passed away. And not under the best circumstances. Hopefully between Bob Neto’s book and the NBA now currently working with Dropping Dime Foundation President Scott Tartar this may be just what the Doctor ordered or in this case what Neto ordered.”
“We’ve got guys like Bob Costas, who got his start in announcing with the old ABA St. Louis Spirits helping us out and going to bat for us,” said Netolicky. “Peter Vecsey, Jim Gray, many former ABA players and current NBA players who were inspired by the Red White and Blue Ball pall bearers are also stepping up the good of the sport and the 103 ABA Greats that are still around and without pensions.”
“Demeaned and devalued by NBA snobs and its ill-informed factions, we had chips on our shoulder the size of manhole covers. We were obsessed on gaining equal eyeballs, corresponding appreciation and identical idolatry. The Pacers of Slick Leonard, Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, Bob Netolicky, Freddie Lewis, Darnell Hillman, Don Buse, Jonny Keller and company attained all that and had had a blast doin’ it. (Peter Vescey)
Clyde Frazier said it best. “The NBA is the ABA and we didn’t want to play against them when it was two different leagues.”