I don’t think it’s fair to pit a league that has 9 years of history (ABA) against a league that has 75 years of history (NBA) of course the NBA has a deeper pool of talent.
I think a better comparison is the All-Time ABA team vs the All-Time 1970s NBA team. This seems fair because both leagues were roughly competing with each other in the 1970s.
So here’s my picks (I’m leaving more notes for ABA players because most people don’t know as much about them):
All-Time 1970s NBA Team:
PG: Walt Frazier
The other choices are Tiny Archibald or Dave Bing, if we’re going by peaks I might take Tiny for his incredible season averaging 34/3/11 but Frazier is the overall most accomplished PG of the 1970s. Great two way player who can back you down and score or strip the ball away from you.
SG: John Havlicek
Havlicek is my shooting guard since he’s a swingman. A consummate team player, unlimited energy, just does everything on the court that’s needed to win. Great two way player.
SF: Rick Barry
An unstoppable scorer, you can’t foul him, and a very good passer as well. He might not be the best for team chemistry but you can’t deny his talent.
PF: Elvin Hayes
Also thought about moving Dave Cowens or Bob McAdoo to the PF spot, but I’ll still take Hayes over them. Hayes would get you buckets and also be a solid rim protector too. It’s great to have two way players on the team who can help out on both ends of the floor.
C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The 70s had a LOT of great centers. Walton, McAdoo, Unseld, Cowens, Moses, Lanier, Thurmond, Reed to name a few. All of them pale in comparison to the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
All-Time ABA Team:
PG: Louie Dampier
Not a lot of really great PGs in the ABA. There’s Larry Jones, Jimmy Jones, Mack Calvin, Charlie Scott who are all fine, but I’ll take Dampier for his shooting he’ll space the floor quite nicely – and he’s also the all time ABA scorer so he can definitely put the ball in the hoop. However I do have to note that Calvin and Scott had some ridiculous peaks – Calvin averaged 27/3/8 in his best season and Scott averaged 33/5/5 in his best season so they peaked higher than Dampier did but Dampier had better longevity and consistency.
SG: Warren Jabali
You might be wondering who is this guy? Why am I taking him over David Thompson and George Gervin? Well because he played his entire career in the ABA for one, so he’s better qualified for this team, and also he had an incredible peak as an all around player. Not only does he have a career average of 17/7/5 which is great all around but he peaked at 23/10/4 in his best season and a ridiculous 29/13/3 in the 1969 playoffs leading the Oaks to the championship and winning Playoffs MVP (Finals MVP). That’s some legendary stuff he did in his prime. Oh and there’s also Freddie Lewis and Donnie Freeman as well although they don’t have quite the peak or athleticism of Jabali.
SF: Julius Erving
As much as I love the underrated Roger Brown (shoutout to his 1970 season where he averaged 29/10/5 en route to winning the championship), and Rick Barry is already on my NBA team so I can’t use him here, but Dr J is the only pick here. How ridiculous was ABA Dr J? Well in 1976 he averaged a monster 35/13/5 en route to winning a championship for the Nets, winning both MVP and Playoffs MVP (Finals MVP) that season. What a beast.
PF: George McGinnis
The other options here are Connie Hawkins, Spencer Haywood, Billy Cunningham and Dan Issel all of whom have good arguments for being in this spot. Hawkins however only played 2 seasons in the ABA even though he was ridiculous in those seasons (he averaged 30/12/5 in the 1968 playoffs leading the Pipers to the championship, winning MVP and Playoffs MVP (Finals MVP) in his rookie season). Haywood also had a ridiculous rookie season in the ABA winning MVP and averaging 37/20/3 in the 1970 playoffs. Yes you heard me right. 37/20/3. That’s Wilt Chamberlain numbers. However, he only played 1 season in the ABA. Cunningham played only 2 seasons in the ABA winning MVP in 1973 averaging 24/12/6. Issel played a lot longer in the ABA than those guys but didn’t have the peak they had.
But.. I’m taking Big Mac over all of them. He played more ABA seasons than Hawkins, Haywood and Cunningham and had a higher peak than Issel did. What did McGinnis do? Well he won 2 rings with the Pacers and a Playoffs MVP (Finals MVP), then won MVP in 1975 averaging 30/14/6 then carried the Pacers to the Finals averaging 32/16/8 in the playoffs. That’s Lebron numbers. That’s how he’s my pick here in a crowded PF spot.
C: Artis Gilmore
The other picks here are Mel Daniels and Zelmo Beaty. We can cross Beaty off although he was great in the ABA playing 4 seasons there and winning playoffs MVP (Finals MVP) in 1971, but he doesn’t compare to Gilmore or Daniels. Daniels was the heart of the ABA Pacers dynasty winning 3 championships and 2 MVPs and the ABA’s all time leading rebounder. Gilmore won an MVP, Playoffs MVP (Finals MVP) with the Colonels and led the league in rebounding 4 times. Daniels played longer than Gilmore did in the ABA and had a better career but I would argue Gilmore was the better player. Gilmore was one of the strongest players ever, and when he was in the ABA he was much more agile than he was in the NBA later. Not only was he incredibly efficient but he was also a beast defensively too. He made 5 All-Def teams over Daniels. He also made All-NBA 1st teams as soon as he got into the league which means as soon as he came in the league he was better than Daniels. He also has a significant height advantage over Daniels, who was an undersized center at 6′9. However Daniels had the ‘heart’ that Cowens, Unseld and Moses and other undersized centers had while Gilmore was sometimes accused of not having enough focus on the court.
So.. it’s close but I’m taking Gilmore.
Results of the matchup
I think it’s closer than people think. Frazier I think would guard Dampier fairly well, he would have to guard him like he did Jerry West, Jabali vs Hondo would be an interesting matchup as Jabali was much more explosive than Hondo but Hondo is a solid defender as well – known for being more of an off ball than on ball defender though. Barry vs Dr J is a great matchup that takes you back to the 1972 playoffs where Barry’s Nets faced off against Dr J’s Squires and Barry won in a close 7 game series. But that was a rookie Dr J vs a prime Barry. prime vs prime I think ABA Dr J might be too much to handle. Hayes vs McGinnis.. another interesting matchup. McGinnis was more athletic and explosive and could run the ball up the court like Lebron. Hayes plays more like an older school Anthony Davis, he’s comfortable scoring both in the interior and perimeter and could defend you well in the interior. Hayes was a better defender than Big Mac but Big Mac was better all around on offense. Then for centers.. Kareem vs Gilmore we never saw this matchup in the NBA unfortunately since they played in different conferences. But I’ll say this.. nobody is able to stop Kareem. Wilt and Thurmond tried their best and ‘limited’ Kareem to 25 PPG from 30 PPG. I doubt that Gilmore can do much better than Wilt and Thurmond can. and Kareem was a pretty solid defender in the 1970s. Gilmore of course is more limited offensively than Kareem is. So I’m sure Kareem can probably do a decent job on him.
In the end I’ll probably take the NBA team but it’s closer than you would think.