As we sit back and watch both New York professional basketball teams in the NBA playoffs (Knicks-Celtics and Nets-Bulls) for some strange reason I thought back to the 1975-76 season.

The Nets defeated the Denver Nuggets that year 4-2 to win the ABA championship, their second ring in the past three years.  The Nuggets, coached by Larry Brown had the best record in the league and were led by David Thompson, Dan Issel and Bobby Jones.  But Julius Erving was too much for them in the finals; Doc averaged 37.7 PPG in the finals.  Over in the NBA, the Celtics had captured the title beating the Phoenix Suns 4-2. It was the Celtics 13th ring.

75-76 was the ABA’s last season.

Their “swan song.”

The red white and ball was no more.

Four teams (Nets, Pacers, Nuggets and Spurs) joined the NBA on June 17th, 1976.

Or like my friend Glenn Thomas likes to say, “Suspended operations.”

There was talk of a possible game between the Nets and Celtics to determine the real champion.

No such luck, it never happened.

Cowens and Doc on SI cover

I would have loved to been in the schoolyard hanging out with guys like John Corrar and Tom Brady talking about who would win? The banter would have been memorable like most conversations/arguments in the yard.

While researching for this entry, I found this piece of information from http://www.remembertheaba.com/abastatistics/abanbaexhibitions.html

After the 1974-75 regular season, the ABA Champion Kentucky Colonels formally challenged the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to a “World Series of Basketball,” with the winner to take a $1 Million purse (to come from anticipated TV revenues). The NBA and the Warriors refused the challenge. Again, after the 1975-76 season, the ABA Champion New York Nets offered to play the NBA Champion Boston Celtics in a winner-take-all game, with the proceeds going to benefit the 1976 United States Olympic team. Predictably, the Celtics declined to participate.

In the boys schoolyard there was always compelling basketball talk. I recall guys arguing over “who was better?”

We had Celtics fans, Nets fans and Knicks fans in the neighborhood.  My guy Jack Kelly from 7th avenue is one of the biggest Celtics fans around so I’m sure after he reads this entry, he’ll have something to say about the meeting that never took place. My good friend Kevin Molloy was a Celtics fan too. It was not hard to root for them. They played the game the right way.

The Celtics were fundamentally sound with guys like Dave Cowens, Paul Silas and John Havlicek up front for the Celtics would be a load for the Nets. Hondo was 36 at the time and nursing a sore foot.

The Nets, coached by Kevin Loughery played a run and gun style led by the “Big 3” in Julius Erving, Brian Taylor and John Williamson. People tend to forget that Larry Kenon and Billy Paultz were NOT on this Nets team. They were traded the year before in two transactions to the San Antonio Spurs involving Swen Nater, Chuck Terry, Kim Hughes, and Rich Jones. Mike Gale also left New York for San Antonio.

Doc was incredible. He was the leading scorer that year and had captured his third straight league MVP.

When the merger took place Red Auerbach said that we’re going to see one of the greatest forwards to ever play this game. He was talking about Julie.

Debates were common, especially when it came to sports. Didn’t matter where you were. In the yard, on the corner or in Farrell’s.

The Nuggets beat the Celtics in an exhibition game back in October. Nets beat the Nuggets in the finals so you never know.

The backcourt  of Jo-Jo White and Charlie Scott vs Taylor and Williamson would have been sweet. Boston had three players (Cowens, Hondo and Silas) make 1st team all-defense.

Overall for the ABA, their players and teams did well in the NBA after the merger.

“The ABA was like the wild west, and Julius Erving, George Gervin, James Silas and all the other ABA stars were gunfighters. They are men of legend known to millions, but whose actual deeds were seen by few,” Bob Costas said in Terry Pluto’s fantastic book about the ABA.

The following season after the merger, the Portland Trailblazers won the NBA championship (thanks to Maurice Lucas). Their opponent in the finals was the 76ers (thanks to Doc), the Nuggets won the Midwest and the Spurs led the league in scoring. The Nets on the other hand were a mess. They had the worst record in the league at 22-60 but they did do something to make the NBA history books. In February they became the first NBA team ever to have an all-left-handed lineup: Tim Bassett, Al Skinner, Bubbles Hawkins, Dave Wohl and Kim Hughes.

That Nets-Celtics in 1976 championship game would have been special.

So, who wins, Nets or Celtics?


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8 Responses to WHO WOULD WIN?

  1. richie k says:

    celtics hands down, they were a solid team and knew how to win, plus i think the Nets would have been confused without the red and white ball, lolllll

  2. jiimyvac says:

    I think the Nets may have edged the Celtics… Havlicek would have trouble holding Erving… the backcourt was about even… Cowens may have been a problem but Nater was far from a stiff and I liked Paul Silas but he would have trouble holding Kenon… think it would go 7 but the Nets.,. as far as Golden State versus Kentucky… the Colonels were two big and deep…
    As leagues the NBA was superior but the ABA had some great teams and players…first post merger All Star game was loaded with former ABA guys and the finals featured Erving, McGuiness, Lucas, Twarzik and Calwell Jones… FYI :The Spirit of St. Louis owners, the Silna brothers, held out for TV rights and have collected over 25o million dollars and the deal is for perpetuity!!!

  3. jiimyvac says:

    My bad… Kenon was traded.. still think the Nets were too deep… with Skinner McClain, Kim Hughes off the bench..Celtics had no bench to speak of. remember the Celtics had their hands full with the Suns.. the Nets had to go through the Colonels with two Hall of Famers and a team that won the title the year before…Best book about the ABA: Terry Pluto’s Loose Balls…

  4. Dan Mahoney says:

    I would have loved to have seen that matchup but would have to go with the Celtics. Too much experience and too much depth for the Nets to handle. Cowens would have dominated big time. Kim Hughes and jim Eakins would have been eaten alive by Cowens. To coin a phrase from Joe Farrell,”Kim Hughes could not throw a pea in wok”
    Swen Nater was traded mid-season. and was not on the Nets team.
    Besides the obvious matchup of the Nets big three players against the Celtics, I would have loved to see Paul Silas of the Celtics and Tim Bassert of the Nets banging it up. Tim Bassert played with ‘bad intentions” under the boards as did Silas.

    • hoopscoach says:


      I was waiting for you to chime in. You’re right about Nater, he was long gone.

      Doc would have scored 50; Hondo was on his way out.

  5. Glenn Thomas says:

    Although I would cheer for the Nets I would have to think that the Celtics would have beaten that Nets team for aside from Dr. J the Celtics had the advantage in almost every other position and Havlicek was a great player even if one would take Erving over him. That’s only my opinion and 2 cents for what it’s worth. The Nets’ team from two years earlier with Brian Taylor, John Williamson, Larry Kenon, Julius Erving, and Billy Paultz was a great team that defeated Moses Malone and the Utah Stars for the ABA Championship was one of my favorite teams ever! I would have liked to have seen the Nets keep that team intact for a while longer for Kenon was my favorite player and I was sorry to see him and Paultz traded to San Antonio.

    • hoopscoach says:


      I think I’d be in the same boat as you (cheering for Nets, but C’s probably win).

      Doc would get 50 though…

  6. jiimyvac says:

    Cowens would have done well but the Nets had more depth… Ted McClainn was a great third guard… The Nets had experience as well winning a title in 73-74 with Doc, Taylor, & Williamson as holdovers from that team… I definitely thik the first Nets team would have won over the Celtics…

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