While I'm not crazy about the concept of Barry Bonds joining the Mets, I will confess a fondness for Will Ferrell movies and anything pertaining to the ABA, so when Semi-Pro dribbled into my neighborhood cineplex, I was there quicker than you can say Bill Melchionni.
Unless you share the same two weaknesses, it's a flick you can skip, at least until it's on Starz. But man do I love seeing that red, white and blue basketball in action, even the fictitious kind.
A decade ago, I bought from Mitchell & Ness a New York Nets t-shirt with the beautiful logo that identified two American Basketball Association champions. I wore it to a few Mets games and it always — always — provoked a question or a comment, usually along the lines of “Where can I get one of those?” or “Yeah!” The Nets of Long Island and the ABA of 1967-1976 represent a package deal that gets better with age. They reside in that comfort zone where abandoned radio station formats and demolished ballparks go to live out their best days. You don't actively remember that Musicradio 77 played too many commercials or that Comiskey Park's concourses were cramped and dark. You remember the fun.
I remember the ABA as great fun, if not as much unadulterated fun as Semi-Pro makes it out to be, nor as preternaturally doomed as the league's definitive oral history, Loose Balls by Terry Pluto, makes clear it was. The movie implies the whole thing was an excuse for coaches to wrestle bears. The book revels in forehead-slapping tales like the team owner who thought he was drafting exactly to his GM's specifications only to learn the depth chart he was working off of was not ranked for basketball potential but listed alphabetically. To me, as a kid whose world revolved largely around spectator sports, the ABA was the genuine article, the real McGinnis if you will. Basketball was my favorite pre-puberty non-baseball sport and the Nets were every bit as authentic and competitive to me as the Knicks and the NBA were. The Nets were on Channel 9. The Nets played in playoffs. The Nets' standings appeared in the papers and their games were covered by sportswriters. I never for a second considered the ABA any kind of a joke.
The thin strand of plot to Semi-Pro involves which ABA teams get to be absorbed by the NBA. It still makes me sad the mini-merger that rescued the Pacers, Spurs, Nuggets and Nets ever happened. I loved having the ABA around. I loved that ball. I loved the three-point shot and the 30-second clock and the 84-game schedule and the defense-optional ethic and the Nets' rivalries with the Kentucky Colonels and the Virginia Squires and the Spirits of St. Louis, all of which I took as seriously as any Mets-Cubs or Mets-Pirates series (at 12, I sat in my bedroom, tuned in to WGBB and cursed out the likes of Louie Dampier for hitting too many threes down in Louisville). I idolized Dr. J before I'd ever heard of Dr. K, and loved as a matter of course Nets stalwarts like Melchionni and Rick Barry and Billy Paultz and Brian Taylor and Larry Kenon and Super John Williamson. I loved that a major sports team called Long Island home. You knew the league was newer than the NBA, that it wasn't as popular as the NBA, that you could hear the red, white and blue ball bounce on television because the Carolina Cougars weren't exactly packing 'em in, but it never occurred to you this league wasn't worthy of your attention.
Leagues don't just materialize out of thin air anymore, not the kind with major ambitions. I caught only the tail end of the AFL, didn't cotton to the WFL, didn't care about the WHA and never quite bought into the USFL. But the ABA transcended all that alphabet soup during my formative years. The ABA was the big time.
I've never quite gotten over the disappearance of the ABA. Whenever the subject arises, or whenever the New Jersey Nets are momentarily worth considering (minus Jason Kidd, I sense that will be increasingly infrequently), I feel a twinge for when we were kings, a phantom pain where a particular rooting muscle used to thrive. The New York Nets were my team, held in esteem not all that distant from the regions of my heart reserved for the New York Mets, definitely in concert with the affinity I felt for the New York Knicks before their chronic dry rot set in. The Nets were twice the best team in their league, hands-down the most vibrant league the 1970s had to offer. Then the league was no more and Dr. J, as far as Uniondale was concerned, was no more and — after a single desultory NBA season — the New York Nets were no more. Between October of 1969 and May of 1976, I celebrated a World Series and a National League pennant plus two NBA titles and two ABA titles. I had no idea I was living inside a golden era.
One night at Shea in 2001, I was wearing my ABA Nets shirt and Jason asked me if there was a Mets-Nets symbiosis the way there was and still is, for many, a natural Mets-Jets alliance. I thought about it and said not really, except for the rhyming. The Continental League was purely a ploy, so baseball never went for rebel outposts. You could make the argument that given the Mets' New Breed beginnings amid the heady days of the New Frontier that the Mets of the early '60s fit right in with the pioneering us-against-them spirit of the Titans/Jets and the Americans/Nets, though when you picture George Weiss at the helm, you tend to believe this was an establishment operation in training from the word go. The Mets were well-funded by Joan Payson and built on a proud National League tradition in New York. Not very rebellious.
On the other hand, it wasn't too terribly long after Marvelous Marv didn't touch first and somebody forgot to clue Frank Thomas in to how they shout “I got it!” in Spanish and Craig Anderson couldn't stop losing that the Nets moved from Teaneck to Commack to West Hempstead, each facility worse than the one before it. The Nets wore their winter coats on the bench because it was too cold not to. The Nets held a gerbil night from which the gerbils attempted a jailbreak. The Nets brought a million-dollar check, underwritten by the entire ABA, to a meeting whose express purpose was enticing young, impressionable New Yorker Lew Alcindor to join them and their league, but didn't bother to show the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the money. The Nets didn't trade their version of The Franchise, Julius Erving, for four lesser players; they sold him to the 76ers before entering the NBA, guaranteeing they would never, ever be what they were in the ABA. Hell, at least Joe McDonald salvaged Zachry, Henderson, Norman and Flynn for Tom Seaver. If the Nets ever do limp to Brooklyn, they will surely arrive unburdened by a third championship. They are now the Nets who sold Dr. J and, for good measure, traded Jason Kidd.
Maybe there's a little more ets-hood at work here than I suspected in 2001.
Will Ferrell doesn't need a plug from us, but these causes are certainly worth your attention:
• So many blogs dance on the head of a Mets pin and we will update our sidebar in short order to reflect the embarrassment of riches at our fingertips, but one I wanted to highlight right now is The Serval Zippers Sign, not just because it's thoughtful and well-written but also because it comes to us courtesy of FAFIF's own CharlieH. We've sat next to him in the upper deck, on the LIRR to Woodside and out in Jersey. Now we're happy to share a little corner of cyberspace with him and suggest you peer off into the distance and check out that Serval sign.
• I join Charlie in expressing admiration for Metsblog's Matt Cerrone's recent foray into blogging from St. Lucie. Through his association with SNY, Matt gained credentials and access that none of us have ever had and I loved how he put them to work, giving us a fan's eye view of how Spring Training functions from the inside, never losing that fan's eye. Matt's the last blogger who needs a plug from us, but we sincerely tip our caps to him.
• Before there were bloggers, there were beat writers. OK, there still are, but there was only one Jack Lang, who began covering the Mets at their outset and kept at it in one way or another nearly until his passing in early 2007. Hotfoot has let us know that the Mets are honoring Lang's memory with Jack Lang Day at Shea, which, via the sale of tickets set aside for the event, will serve to raise funds for the Epilepsy Foundation of Long Island. More information is available here.
• The Happy Recap is hosting a pair of blogger roundtables tonight and next Tuesday at 8 PM. Each session will feature a quartet of your favorite Mets bloggers chatting with THR readers on the upcoming season, answering questions and generally counting the minutes 'til Opening Day. Faith and Fear is honored to be slotted as a part of the second roundtable a week from tonight, March 18, and thanks Hoovbaca for the invite.
• We also thank It's Mets For Me for some very kind words recently and our pal Matt Silverman for making the Faith and Fear t-shirt forever a part of the New York Times archives. We look forward to reading his new book 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, even if we don't necessarily look forward to dying (having already done that last September 30, once is plenty for now, thank you very much).
• One more wholly unsolicited note as regards the Silverman editorial empire: Meet the Mets, the 2008 preview that renders the likes of Street & Smith's obsolete, has been spotted at area (my area, anyway) CVS and King Kullen stores. It's a great companion to your Mets experience…and not just because it includes two articles and intermittently competent proofreading from yours truly.
• If poetry is your thing, it may not be much longer after reading this mangy doggerel at AOL Fanhouse, but somebody asked for it, so there it is.
• Finally, we are pleased to report evil should cease to exist in the world after Thursday because malevolent wickedness will likely reach maximum critical mass at a site whose very name would seem to encourage the despicable and the diabolical. It will be ugly, all right, but the good news is the scenario taking shape in Tampa will probably never be surpassed for its sinister assault on the senses.