Take 5: A lesser-​​known era of basketball history

Robert Lieb, a professor of supply chain management in Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, recently published a book, Shooting Threes and Shaking the Basketball Establishment: The Short, Chaotic Run of the American Basketball League. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Before there was the Amer­ican Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion, a lesser-​​known pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball league called the Amer­ican Bas­ket­ball League was formed in 1961 to chal­lenge the NBA and send a jolt through the pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball estab­lish­ment. Robert Lieb, a pro­fessor of supply chain man­age­ment in Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness, recently pub­lished a book, Shooting Threes and Shaking the Bas­ket­ball Estab­lish­ment: The Short, Chaotic Run of the Amer­ican Bas­ket­ball League, detailing the ABL’s his­tory. Here are five inter­esting details from the book you might not know about bas­ket­ball history.

1. Abe Saper­stein, the founder and owner of the Harlem Glo­be­trot­ters, started the ABL to com­pete with the NBA. During the 1950s, many NBA teams had serious finan­cial prob­lems. Saper­stein worked with the league to schedule games with the Glo­be­trot­ters, which became a major source of rev­enue for the NBA. As a result, Saper­stein believed he would get the NBA’s future Los Angeles fran­chise. Instead it went to Bob Short, who moved his Min­neapolis Lakers there in 1960. Saper­stein felt betrayed and started the ABL as a rival league. The ABL started oper­a­tions in 1961 with eight teams, including one in Hawaii.

2. The ABL was the first pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball league to use the three-​​point line, not the Amer­ican Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion. It was very pop­ular in the ABL and was later adopted by the ABA, which began oper­a­tions during the 1967–1968 season. The NBA did not start using the three-​​point line until the 1979–80 season.

3. When the eight-​​team ABL was formed, 19 players jumped from the NBA to the new league. That led to a clash between the two leagues in the legal system, which ulti­mately played a role in elim­i­nating the NBA’s reserve clause that tied players to their NBA teams, later fos­tering the con­cept of free agency.

4. The pres­i­dent of the ABL’s Cleve­land Pipers was George Stein­brenner, future owner of the New York Yan­kees. His team won the league cham­pi­onship in its only full season. He shocked the bas­ket­ball world by signing Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas, who was the col­le­giate player of the year during the 1961–62 col­lege season. The NBA had cov­eted Lucas, and Stein­brenner had hoped to parlay the signing into a new NBA fran­chise for Cleve­land. His strategy worked when in July 1962 the NBA offered him a fran­chise for Cleve­land, but plans fell through due to a lack of money.m

5. When the ABL ended oper­a­tions on Dec. 31, 1962, it was esti­mated Saper­stein had per­son­ally lost nearly $2 mil­lion in his attempt to com­pete with the NBA. While the ABL fea­tured many former and future NBA stars, its most notable player was Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins, who played for the Pitts­burgh Rens.