The American Basketball Association is expanding to Indianapolis, with a franchise owned by a Speedway businessman who promises to be more like Tony George than management of the other pro basketball team in town.
As always, when it comes to the ABA, it's sure to be a wild ride.
Many remember the ABA from its glory days in the 1960s and 1970s. What most folks around here don’t realize is that the ABA is still alive and kicking, with nine divisions, 52 teams (as best as I can tell) and a one-of-a-kind history.
But it's never been straight-line expansion, making franchise ownership risky at best. The 2007-2008 season saw nearly 20 teams fold within its first five weeks, and several remaining teams left the ABA to join other existing leagues. ABA executives insist the league is on the upswing.
The number of wacky stories coming out of this league are almost infinite. For instance, one ABA team based in Beijing would pay $3,000 to fly teams to Singapore for a two-game homestand. Early teams complained that they were forced to stay in a hotel that doubled as a brothel. ABA management forced Beijing to find a new hotel on hearing this news. Later teams stayed in a Holiday Inn.
Like I said, never a dull moment in the ABA.
The current iteration has no affiliation with the original ABA, which merged with the NBA in 1976.
The current ABA had an Indianapolis franchise in 2000 and 2001—the Indiana Legends, but like many before and since, it folded for financial reasons. ABA CEO Joe Newman, an Indianapolis entrepreneur, said the league has changed its business model since its inception, allowing many ABA teams to flourish.
The Legends had one of the best attendance records in league history, Newman said, and he expects the same from the new franchise, the Indianapolis Drive.
The Legends had a variety of home venues, and I recall that a good night might draw 1,500 spectators. Of course there were many nights that attendance didn’t nearly reach that level.
The ownership group of the Drive will be led by Speedway native Tim Hicks, a graduate of Ben Davis High School. Tim is the owner of VIP Management and Talent Agency, a company he founded in 1990. Hicks’ first client was NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
His firm also manages fan clubs for former Indiana Pacer Rik Smits and Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr.
Hicks has worked with Penske Racing, the Indiana Pacers, Indianapolis Ice, Indiana Twister professional soccer and the Racing Professionals Indy car racing team. Hicks also owns GodSpeed Marketing, Hicks Management Co. and WIN West Indy Network.
“Our goal is to load the team with players from Indiana, Purdue, Butler, Ball State, IUPUI, Marian, Indiana State, Manchester, Hanover, Evansville, Notre Dame and other great area schools,” Hicks said. “We will be local, we will be competitive, you can bank on that.
“And, one other thing, Hicks added. “We are not going to charge the city of Indianapolis $15 million a year for the right to see exciting, fun-filled, high scoring professional basketball at affordable prices. Like Tony George at the Indianapolis Speedway, we will not be a burden to the taxpayers.”
Hicks has not yet announced who will coach the team or where it will play next season.