|Friday, October 6
Skyliners? Houn' Dawgs? Meet the new ABA 2000
By Darren Rovell
For 20 years, Dick Tinkham and Joe Newman have met once a week for a talk.
"See ya there," they'd say to each other. Minutes later the two would be at the corner of 96th and Meridian at the local McDonald's in Indianapolis to sit --sometimes for hours -- and sip their coffee, catch up and reminisce about the old days. Their routine was beautiful.
But Newman knew that there was nothing routine about that cold March afternoon when Tinkham called him for an emergency meeting. "I've got a great idea," said Tinkham. "I'll meet you at McDonald's."
When they got there, Dick told Joe he wanted to go back to the past. Literally. Tinkham is one of 10 former owners of the ABA's Indiana Pacers. Newman took care of the team's advertising.
"He told me that he wanted to resurrect the ABA," said Newman, CEO of Alliance Broadcasting Group, a company that owns and operates 12 radio stations throughout the country. "And I told him I'd help him do it under three circumstances. One, that we'd have diverse ownership and diversity at all management levels. Two, that we change the rules and make basketball a faster up-beat game as opposed to the rough and tumble NBA. And three, that we make it a fan friendly game and get the public back into it."
Tinkham agreed. Thursday the two friends watched as new coaches Darryl Dawkins, Jamaal Wilkes and George Gervin were all on hand to introduce the ABA 2000 at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles, Calif.
Arrangements were being made up until the last minute. The league had to settle an NBA lawsuit concerning the use of former ABA trademarks in late-September. Two teams that participated in the league's inaugural draft in August, Indianapolis and Long Island, didn't make it to the introductions less than two months later. One owner couldn't secure a venue in Austin, Texas, and decided to move his franchise to Hampton Roads, Va. on Tuesday.
And while the league was introduced with eight teams -- Chicago Skyliners, Detroit Dogs, Hampton Roads Titans, Jacksonville Jackals, Kansas City Knights, Los Angeles Stars, Memphis Houn' Dawgs and Tampa Bay ThunderDawgs -- Newman said late Thursday evening that he expected Anaheim, San Francisco and Hartford to officially join the league by Friday afternoon after paying the $1 franchise fee.
Yes, that's just a buck if you're counting at home. But before you decide to go out and buy your own team for pocket change found in your sofa, note that teams are responsible for paying players and maintaining their operating budget.
So, it's safe to say that things might change before the league debuts its 60-game schedule Dec. 26. But, one thing is for sure. The ABA 2000 will capitalize on being the alternative, much like its predecessor did from 1967-76.
Owners of teams in the ABA 2000 are ready to fight hard to secure the best talent. While the Continental Basketball Association looks for a new owner and recent talks of the CBA merging with the International Basketball League have heated up, it's ironic that ABA 2000 hopes to pass itself off as the most stable option for the players.
The big moment of truth for the league is later in October, when NBA rosters are cut down (season opens Oct. 31) and players who would be among the best in the ABA will be available. The league will entice those that don't make the NBA, as well as current CBA and IBL talent, by offering the highest salary of the minor leagues. With a team salary cap of $900,000, players can expect to make about $65,000 for a season -- still about $250,000 less than the NBA minimum. Player call-ups to the NBA will not be allowed, but buyouts are possible.
The league's August draft featured Dennis Rodman, Tim Hardaway and Dominique Wilkins as selections among a slew of NBA second-round draft picks. But league co-founder Tinkham and CEO Gerald Williams will be too busy in the coming months to think about attracting a star like that. The two be working on selling the league to sponsors, securing a TV contract and rolling out an ABA 2000 merchandise line.
In the meantime, Newman is already focused on next week's meeting with his friend Dick. "I would love to do a deal with McDonald's," Newman said.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.