The game had a middle-of-nowhere, underground Queens vibe, making it easy to forget the night represented an important moment in city basketball history.
It was the first home game of the season for the New York Internationalz, the city’s only American Basketball Association team.
Yes, that ABA. The one that turned Dr. J into a household name. The league that made dunking cool, Afros the rage and helped push the basketball world of set jumpshots and high socks into the modern era.
The ABA is back, believe it or not. One could argue that it never really went away- at least in the memories of older fans who remember the original league which was founded in 1967 and flourished until its merger with the National Basketball Association in 1976.
The ABA may have been a short-lived, nine-season-long experiment in sports league monopoly busting, but it did jump start the careers of several players, among them Julius Erving, David Thompson and George Gervin, who eventually went on to become all time NBA greats. The league popularized professional basketball outside of traditional Northeast and West Coast media markets, introduced the three point arc and a new style of fast-paced, offensive minded athletic basketball. And nobody forgot those trademark red, white and blue basketballs.
The league may not have been forgotten but in a real sense it did disappear, seemingly for good, and might have stayed a distant memory forever if it wasn’t for a group of entrepreneurs who decided to re-launch the ABA in 1999, more than three decades after its collapse.
In the past ten years since then we’ve seen the rebirth of the ABA. Sort of. New teams with old school names, and playing with the trademark American flag-colored rock, are once again battling for supremacy in small town arenas and gyms across the country. The only problem? So far, few people have bothered to notice.
Which brings us back to Corona, Queens, where the city’s own Internationalz squad hosted its inaugural home game to little fanfare in an underground community center gym, far off the basketball world’s radar.
As their game with Jersey Express began, more people started trickling into the stands to see the Internationalz compete, undoubtedly a little confused as to what this was all exactly about, but curious nonetheless. An ABA game? In New York? Didn’t the ABA croak a long time ago?
It did, but its back. And so are its fans, who didn’t particularly care that on this night that the Internationalz took a thumping from their cross-river rivals. As the announcer’s colorful play-by-play trailed the red-white-and-blue basketball around the court, it was clear to everyone present an old school tradition had been resurrected from the grave. Now it remains to be seen if this time the ABA will make it, or just die a second death.