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Old 04-09-2018, 09:28 PM  
the27guy's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2013
Posts: 12,137

Alright. Settle in, folks. This is going to be a long one. I’m going to use this as my journal entry from the event. I’m not sure that a single person will wade through what follows, but it will be fun to write and later to reference.

First off, big thanks to the creator of this thread. Without him, I wouldn’t have gone to this event. I wouldn’t even have heard about it.

I live in Salt Lake and when I first saw this thread, I immediately thought about my dad. Although I was born well after the NBA/ABA merger, I grew up on stories of Zelmo Beaty, Willie Wise, Moses Malone, Artis Gilmore and The Doc. I went to my local card shop as a kid hoping to find Utah Stars cards cheap that I could take home and show my dad. I brought home cards of Ron Boone, Glen Combs and Willie Wise - always to impress my dad and hope that he'd tell me a story.

So, with my dad in his late 60s, and being keenly aware how quickly time passes and how rare these opportunities are, I called my dad and told him about the event and asked if he’d be interested in going.

There were barriers - financially, obviously - But more-so, my dad has a very serious fear of flying. I had not been on a plane with him in 20 years.

But we both were feeling the same thing - this was a rare opportunity. This was a once in a lifetime event.

I bought the tickets to the dinner, booked the flights and took Friday off. This was all during my busy season, so I need to express how many times I really doubted this decision. Seriously. The week leading up to March 30 was a complete whirlwind. But we made time and we made preperations.

Our red-eye 5:20 AM flight was.... well.... early. But we traveled to Denver (fitting given the ABA history) and the we pushed on to Indianapolis.

Small side note.... Indianapolis is small! I just assumed every big city “back east” was huge. Not so much. Salt Lake’s downtown is much more “big-city” than Indy. I don’t say that to boast of my own city. Just surprised me, that’s all.

We arrived at the hotel, and literally didn’t even get to the elevator before we started noticing extremely tall humans. I’m 6-4, but I felt small on this trip.

My dad, immediately said... “oh my. That’s Doug Moe.” I suggested that we go talk to him but my dad wasn’t sure that he wanted to. He didn’t want to bother anyone on this trip - but I walked over, extended a handshake and started the conversation. My dad had read an article about Doug just a few weeks prior. Those of you that know of Doug Moe know that he is hilarious. He did not disappoint. He could not have been kinder or more personable. He called himself a “slob” on Saturday night and told some hilarious stories. He is a treasure.

I asked him what his plans were for the day. He told me he wanted to get a really good nap.

Later in the trip, Doug saw my dad coming up the escalator and Doug greeted him. The point about many of these guys being incredibly grateful to have people coming to see them cannot be overstated.

We almost immediately walked into Walt Szczerbiak- not shockingly, the father of Wally and ABA guy. He and his wife were so happy to talk with us. They (and most of the players) were staying in the JW Marriot, which is where we stayed, too. This ended up being an important part of our weekend. More on that later....

Which reminds me, I’ve already missed an integral part of our story which you will need to know for later to make sense....

When we first got to the hotel, and checked in, I asked the extremely helpful young lady at the front desk if most of the players would be staying at the hotel. She told me that they would be, and handed me a piece of paper with the itinerary for the weekend. I thanked her gratefully and didn’t think much of the moment.

We went up to our rooms and dropped off the bags and then headed down for lunch. We saw some players sitting in the lobby but couldn’t easily identify them, so we headed toward the restaurant.

This is probably another point in the story that needs some color. We were shocked at our lack of ability to identify the players. My dad was a season ticket holder for the Utah Stars, and I am, how do I put this in a way that is kind to myself, an obsessive pro basketball fan. I have owned at one time or another every card of every ABA player that topps ever made.

But (I guess not shockingly) the years change people especially their appearances.

So we walked past the players that were chatting in the lobby and went and sat down in the hotel restaraunt. I saw a giant of man from behind and immediately knew.....”Dad, that’s Ice”. It was. George the ice man Gervin. He was eating. We didn’t bother him. He got up and left a few minutes into our meal. 5 minutes later Rick Barry sat down right next to us. Again, we didn’t bother him. Two hall of famers in five minutes. Unreal.

When we walked out of the restaraunt a bunch of other players were in the lobby just enjoying getting re-acquainted. Some of them had not seen each other in literally 40+ years. I talked to one of them, a super nice guy, Tom.... something. I had not heard of him. I said something that I thought was pretty brave. I admitted that we were having a hard time identifying all the guys. He said, “so are we”.

That made me smile.

He told me to just walk up to the guys and ask who they were. He said that’s what they were doing, and so we should feel comfortable doing the same.

Then he pointed me towards a chair and said, “there’s Artis”.

The A-train. All 7-2 of him. Looking good too! Artis Gilmore. We approached him. He shook our hands and tried sending us to the hospital in the process. He looks really good. Super sharp. He's also well spoken.

We met 2-3 other guys that day but finally went to dinner after a nap and sat next to three more players. I need to fill in their names later. I didn’t bug them during dinner.

Before going to bed, I checked the itinerary and found that the hotel was providing a shuttle to the events of the next day. Awesome!

So, Saturday, we woke up and followed the directions to the shuttles and found a lady with a sign saying something about the ABA. She asked if we were there for the shuttle and said that we needed to get in quick because the shuttle was almost full.

I thought that maybe there wouldd be some players on the shuttle, but you can imagine my surprise when we got on and the entire shuttle was players and their guests. The problem was that this shuttle was a typical shuttle without a lot of leg room. So knees were poking into the isles. Rick Barry who was sitting solo stood up and my dad slid into the window spot and Barry sat next to him. I had an awesome conversation with 3 guys, none of which I knew (will add a name or two later). We talked about where they played. How the ABA was superior to the NBA and so many other things. All three guys were awesome. My dad meanwhile listened to Rick Barry talk about investments amongst other things.

About half way through the ride to the Fieldhouse at Butler, it occurred to me what was happening - at least, I think I know. But even as I write this, I'm still not totally sure. Let me explain-

I don’t think we were supposed to get on that shuttle. I really don’t. I think they assumed that my 60-something year old dad was a player. He’s 5 foot 10 - taller than the likes of Billy Keller- in stellar shape, and fits the age of the guys. We basically unintentionally socially engineered our way onto that shuttle. At least, I think that’s what happened.

I think back to the lady who gave us the itinerary. I think she thought he was a player too. The itinerary had stuff on it that was just for players.

So, as we arrived at the Fieldhouse, I’m thinking.... ummm, what do I do now?

So we got off the shuttle and sort of just fell in line with the players and their guests. We walked through the back door and up to a table with name tags on it. My dad was still clueless (love ya dad), and went up to the table looking for his tag. I packed light for the trip and so I was wearing business casual and probably looked a little more official than most people there. I put my arm around my dad and guided him away from the table where I’m sure we were going to get outted.

The next 90 minutes was a whirlwind. It was the equivalent of going back stage to a concert where the band is 100 ABA players who are arriving by the shuttle and greeting each other as old friends. It was incredible.

None of the other fans had been let in. Well, very few. A lady came up to me... I don’t know who she thought I was, but she handed me three badges. I don't know why she gave me three, and frankly I don't know who she was, but I will forever be grateful. I don’t know exactly what those badges gave us privileges too, but while several hundred (maybe a thousand?) fans waited for what seemed like forever - probably 90 minutes.

We met everybody.

Dan Issel. Super kind and warm.

Billy Keller. The great PR man of the ABA. He told me, “you know, those guys who didn’t make it to this.... I really feel bad for. How many of these guys are still going to be around in 5-10 years?” I told him a story about when I bought one of his league leaders cards back when I was 7. So cool.

Stew Johnson was my favorite. The longest traveler of the weekend, dude travelled from Sweden to be there. Nose ring. Dreads half way down his back. I caught him with his phone pointed towards me and my dad taking a picture. When I caught his eye, he said “I gotta tell people that you two came from Utah to see us”. He couldn’t have been cooler. Just a dude who was grateful to be part of the weekend.

Swen Nater gave me his business card. Dude is still a truck.

I told Darnell Hillman that if he took the red, white and blue ball he was holding and went and threw it down on the nearby hoop that he'd sure give the fans a treat. He responded, "they're going to be waiting a long time for that."

Jumbo Jim Eakins and I spoke for about 5 minutes. Turns out he lives about 10 minutes from me not far from salt lake. Told me about his LDS missions to Micronesia and the phillipeans, which was cool because I served a mission too. He was just a dude.

I asked Doug Moe how his nap had been and he replied “it was wonderful”

George Adams’ wife caught me taking a bunch of pictures and gave me her email and asked that I send her all of them.

Meeting the members of the Utah Stars that were there was the most fun. Al smith, Randy Denton and Willie Wise. Willie was one of my dads absolute favorites. He couldn’t have been more gracious.

Rick Barry was sitting by himself with his name tag and a mock-up of a 1969-70 tall-boys topps card in his ABA uniform in front of him. I casually told my dad.... "it's funny that they made this card for him since his rookie card was already an ABA card but from the 71-72 Topps set." Rick stopped what he was doing and quickly retorted "I don't have a rookie card", to which I replied, "oh yes you do Rick, you may not have a card from your rookie year, but you do have a rookie card" - something that, to be fair, most athletes don't understand. He disagreed, which did not shock me.

My dad told me later that someone had come up to him and asked, “aren’t you the guy that invented the alley-oop?” My dad thought this was a joke until he looked at the guy and his wife’s face and realized they were serious. I wonder how many people thought my dad was a player, including some of the players.

Although it was fun meeting the players, perhaps the most gratifying thing was to see how much they just wanted to interact with each other. Randy Denton was great but after about 30 seconds, he was ready to talk to his old teammates again.

After all the fans started coming in, we were ready to go. We had met everyone we wanted to. Everyone but Doc. But he wasn’t there.

I cannot describe to you how cool it was. It was seriously one of the absolutely most crazy sets of circumstances that allowed us that time with those guys. To be handed the itinerary and then the shuttle and the time at the signing. We were totally spoiled and I couldn’t be more grateful for how we just fell into the whole thing. It was the highlight of the weekend.

So, we Uber’d back to the hotel and hung out for a few hours.

Finally came the big event. The dinner.

We tried our luck at the shuttle again, and ran into our friend, the lady with the sign, who was thrilled to show us on. We talked to Del Harris - most of you know him from the NBA but he was also the head coach of the Stars. I was talking to my dad about how the Nuggets still have a shot at the playoffs when Harris, an announcer for the Pelicans, chimed in, “you bet they do”. For the next ten minutes Del and I talked about the race in the west. I have to add that Del really likes Donovan Mitchell.

During the meet and greet portion, they had a photographer taking pictures of everyone who wanted their image imposed on a 76-77 topps background. This was a fun moment. We were in line with (.....) and talked with he and his wife for a few minutes. Then, we got our picture.

George Tinsley looked super sharp. I razzed him about over dressing. He was a ton of fun.

Arvesta Kelly and his wife were super cool. She told me that she would never forget me. I was like, why? “Because you brought your dad out here to see us”. That was a cool moment for me. I talked to her and her husband for a long time.

Peter Vecsey and Bob Costas were both really quick to stand up for the significance of the league. They shared stats about how many ABA guys made NBA all star games and All NBA teams following the merger. They talked about the style of the modern game being so shaped by the ABA.

My dad was particularly thrilled to hear several of them mention how tough Willie Wise was.

Bob Costas shared his belief that many of the guys who played the majority of their careers in the ABA do not get the recognition that they should compared to their NBA counterparts. And he shared a rule that the Hall of Fame has implemented that they will not add more than one ABA player per year.

Randy Denton who was at my table, #51, had George Thompson come visit him and they looked like school boys together. They just clearly love each other. I believe they both played with the Memphis Tams.

Spencer Haywood was tired of all the love for Willie Wise and bragged about going for “50 and 30” on him, one game.

They told stories about paying for commercial flights so they wouldn’t have to take the dodgy airline that they usually took that couldn’t go over the Rocky Mountains so they had to go through.

Many people thanked Bob Netolicky for making the event happen. Most people didn’t think it would ever happen. Originally they only had 35 players commit, but in the end over 100 made the reunion.

So many stories.

When it was time to go back to the hotel, we found the lady with the ABA sign and she was thrilled to see us. She took us out to the shuttle but 5 minutes later, when no one else was ready to leave she asked the driver to just take us back.....

So, this private shuttle built to carry probably 30 gave just me and my dad a ride back to the hotel.

Sunday morning, when we walked out of our room for the final time, Warren Davis must have heard us and so he came out of his room and offered us a bottle of wine. He said the event organizers had given it to him as a gift and that he was not allowed to take it on the plane. What a kind man.

We politely declined and then he realized that in his haste he had locked himself out of his room. I offered to tell the man at the front desk and told him to stay there.

We made our way back to Salt Lake via Denver and I used the majority of the five hour layover to write this epoch on our adventure.

I'd like to leave you all with three things-

1) It's not always easy to make time and spend money on things like this - I'm flat out terrible at both things. But in this life we have a few opportunities to do things with the people that we love that really matter. This event mattered to my dad and me. It couldn't have been more meaningful.

2) Autographs, pictures and cards are cool, but experiences are what matter. We did not get a single autograph at the event. I know, shocking. I know most others did, and that's really cool. But sometimes just meeting people and appreciating the moment is what matters.

3) As Bob Costas said, "The ABA is a fraternity unlike any other". What a league.

Thanks for reading.

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