The Virginia Squires, the Commonwealth's only professional sports franchise, will hold a reunion in Virginia Beach May 1 and 2. We take a look back at the team that produced Julius "Dr. J" Erving and other greats from the game.
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Here, a Julius Erving / Virginia Squires replica uniform.
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The ABA ball used in the final Virginia Squires game in1976
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Coach Al Bianchi and trainer Bob “Chopper” Travaglini (with towel) at a Squires game.
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Julius “Dr. J” Erving dunks the ball with authority
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Squires owner Earl Foreman
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From 1970 to 1976, Virginia had a professional sports franchise. The Virginia Squires, part of the renegade American Basketball Association, were beset with problems, but two of pro basketball’s best players ever got their start with the star-crossed team and have fond memories of the experience.
When the City of Norfolk purchased the former Jewish Community Center complex near Wards Corner in 2005, it acquired an ideal space for a city-owned recreational facility … and a piece of professional sports history. This was where Virginia’s first—and still only—professional sports team once practiced, and where two future superstars honed their skills with a strange red, white and blue basketball.
Julius Erving—who revolutionized pro ball by introducing the high-flying style that is prevalent in today’s National Basketball Association—was one of them. Fans called him “Dr. J,” or simply “the Doctor,” for his miraculous skills on a basketball court. The other player was George Gervin, one of the greatest shooters of all time. Each got his start on a now-forgotten team known as the Virginia Squires, which barnstormed across the commonwealth for six roller coaster seasons in the 1970s as one of a dozen clubs in the now-defunct American Basketball Association, or ABA. “To this day, people don’t know that we had Julius Erving and George Gervin on the same team,” the coach of the Squires, Al Bianchi, once recalled. “That sounds like the foundation for a championship team, doesn’t it?”
“It was August 1970 that Earl Foreman came marching across the Potomac and along with him came major league basketball in the state of Virginia.” Notes from a Squires game program
That year, the Commonwealth of Virginia was on a coliseum building boom. One after another, a series of 10,000-seat arenas was planned and built in Hampton, Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the ambitious owner of a struggling sports franchise that badly needed a home. “We were out of choices with ABA cities,” recalls Earl Foreman, the Baltimore-born man who brought professional basketball to the Old Dominion. “I said, ‘Well, if the markets in Virginia aren’t big enough in the individual cities, we can do a franchise where we are everywhere.’ So we started the first season in Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond and Roanoke.” It was a unique, perhaps desperate idea, and as Foreman now says, “It didn’t work, for so many different reasons.”
Foreman had purchased the financially strapped Oakland Oaks team in 1969 from singer Pat Boone. “I got paid to take over the team, I didn’t buy it,” he asserts now. “It was a great business deal.”
Foreman moved the ABA’s Oaks across the country, renamed them the Washington Caps and endured a miserable season in a dumpy arena in a bad neighborhood in the nation’s capital. Foreman, a real estate lawyer and investor, had previously been part owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, and one of the original partners who purchased the Chicago Zephyrs NBA franchise and brought it back to Baltimore as the Bullets. That franchise is now the Washington Wizards, still owned by a former partner, Abe Pollin.
Foreman says he wanted an ABA club for one reason only—so that eventually he could merge it into the more established National Basketball Association (NBA), just as the American Football League was at that time merging with the National Football League. “That’s what we were all after,” he says of the ABA, formed just two years before. The new league’s first commissioner was basketball legend George Mikan, who had the genius to insist that the ABA use a revolutionary red, white and blue basketball instead of the traditional orange model.
Foreman’s biggest asset was the talented but temperamental Rick Barry, a former NBA Rookie of the Year. Basketball experts often describe him as the purest “small forward” to ever play the game. Barry’s defection from the NBA’s San Francisco Warriors to the Oaks in 1968 had lent legitimacy to the fledging 11-team ABA, which introduced such “gimmicks” as the three-point shot into the pro game.
Foreman had been forced to take Barry to court to persuade him to play in Washington, but the player drew the line at living and playing in Dixie. “When Earl moved the team to Virginia,” Barry recalled in Loose Balls, Terry Pluto’s 1990 oral history of the ABA. “I thought, ‘This is the end of the line.’ I didn’t want any part of Virginia and was going to do all I could to get back to the [NBA], or at least out of Virginia.”
“Rick had been selected to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated,” Foreman recalls. “And my PR man, on his own, took a Squires uniform with him to the shoot and, believe it or not, Barry wound up on the cover with an ABA basketball and in a Squires uniform.” That was the good news. The bad news was the infamous Aug. 24, 1970 story itself, which summarized Barry’s feelings about his new team in three words on the cover: “The Reluctant Virginian.”
“My son Scooter is supposed to go to nursery school this year,” Barry told SI reporter Peter Carry. “I hate to think of the complications that’ll cause in Virginia. I don’t want him to go down there to school and learn to speak with a Southern accent. He’ll come home from school saying, ‘Hi y’all, Daad.’ I sure don’t want that.”
Foreman says that people in Virginia resented those words. “And they should have.”
Barry was staking his position. “I figured [the comments] would force Earl’s hand,” he later admitted. “I knew that it would upset enough people [to] get me out of Virginia.”
Barry got his wish. Foreman traded him to the New York Nets, ensuring that he’d stay in the ABA. “It seems like the only sellouts we’d have [in Virginia] is when Rick and the Nets played there,” the former owner says today. “We didn’t have to fuel the fire with the fans after what he said in Sports Illustrated.”
Squires starter Jim Eakins, a 6'11" center from Brigham Young who had played for the Oaks and the Caps, remembers those Barry visits with his new team. “Ha! The Virginia crowds thought they were pretty ornery to Rick. But you know what? Virginians are nice Southern gentlemen compared to those guys in Philadelphia and New York, who knew how to say things that really needled you.”
The 1970-71 Squires didn’t need the Reluctant Virginian. That first team was deep. Along with Eakins, there were veterans such as Larry Brown, Doug Moe and Ray Scott, who would each go on to a successful head coaching career in the NBA. Two holdovers from the Caps season were Roland “Fatty” Taylor, a skilled defensive stopper, and Mike Barrett, who had played on the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team. The mutton-chopped Neil Johnson was picked up from the NBA Phoenix Suns and became the team’s rough-and-tumble enforcer.
But it was a cocky 6'6" rookie who stole the show that first season. “Charlie Scott came from the university of North Carolina,” Eakins remembers. “He didn’t feel he was the star—he told you he was the star. When he came to Virginia, I think he felt he was stepping down in status, even if it was the pros.”
Earl Foreman remembers Charlie Scott as a pain. “He considered himself a big city guy, and he said Norfolk was a rinky-tink town. He was just an unhappy person. Was he not the first black player at North Carolina? He led a charmed life.”
Nobody questioned Scott’s talent. In the Squires’ first season, he averaged 27 points a game and shared Rookie of the Year honors with Dan Issel, of the Kentucky Colonels. “While he was on the Squires, Charlie was the leader, and he took that role seriously,” says Eakins. “He would be willing to do whatever was necessary … as long as you didn’t take his shots away from him.”
The Squires won their first 12 games and went on to capture the league’s Eastern Division title before losing to Kentucky in the second round of the playoffs. In the first round, the fast-breaking Squires had gotten their revenge on Barry, beating his Nets in six games. All in all, it was a hell of a debut season for a first-year team in a league only four years old. And the real show had yet to begin.
“Virginia was a wonderful, wonderful experience for me,” says Julius Erving. “The two years I was there were wonderful. They set the stage for everything”—meaning his development into a superstar. “I was a single guy, and basketball was my life.”
Today, the man who was the Baryshnikov of the backcourt, who turned the dunk shot into ballet, is a successful businessman living in the snowy climes of Utah. Erving is one of only five players to score more than 30,000 points in his pro career. “Dr. J” is also the figure who put Virginia—and the ABA—on the professional sports map for a brief but shining period in the early 1970s. “If I had to list the top five things that the American Basketball Association gave to pro basketball,” Erving muses, “I’d say, first, the players—myself, George Gervin, Gilmore, Issel; second, the three-point shot; third, the extra referee; fourth, the emphasis on up-tempo basketball, which gives little guys like Steve Nash [a two-time winner of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award] a chance to play and … ah … number five, what would that be?”
How about drafting players before they finish or even enter college?
“Well, yes,” the Doctor says. “The league is a younger sport right now in that regard. That’s a good point … but that would be your number five, not mine.”
Julius Winfield Erving grew up in Hempstead, Long Island, just outside of New York City, and earned the nickname “the Doctor” at Roosevelt High School. His teammates later changed it to “Dr. J.” Later, at the University of Massachusetts, the graceful, small forward averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds a game in each of his first two seasons. The young athlete had a fast-breaking style that was more suited to the pros than to the rigid college game—and the new ABA offered him an early opportunity to play for pay. He passed up his last two years at UMass to join the Virginia Squires. Asked why he made the jump, he says, “There wouldn’t be enough words in your article—I accomplished all I could in college.”
Nowadays, nearly every star college player leaves school prematurely for the pros. Take the money and run. It was the ABA that, for better or worse, pioneered the idea. By signing Erving, the Squires opened the floodgates for other “hardship cases”—a term that came to be used to describe players who left college to earn money for themselves and their families. “The ABA’s thing was to get the [college] underclassmen,” says Clay Shampoe, a Norfolk-based sports historian who co-publishes a Virginia Squires tribute website. “The NBA didn’t want to touch that. But the ABA had no qualms.” (In 1974, the Utah Stars would take it to the next step, grabbing headlines by signing Virginia’s Moses Malone soon after he graduated from Petersburg High School.) “The ABA set the tone for that era—the big hair, and the black athletes really coming into their own,” says Shampoe. “It was the players saying, we’re the outlaw league and we’re going to do what we want.”
Nobody would personify the ABA better than the Doctor. He arrived in Virginia in 1971, prior to the Squires’ second season, and immediately impressed everyone. “Julius first played in a tryout camp in Richmond,” Bianchi remembered in Loose Balls. “We had a few veterans there, but mostly it was guys just trying to make the team. Julius was running up and down the court, dunking on people, and I was thinking, ‘Look at what we found.’”
To sign him quickly, Foreman endured what he calls a hellish day of contract negotiations at a Philadelphia hotel. The youngster was accompanied by a bevy of supporters, including his high school coach, all looking out for his well-being. “I had been going all day, it was late afternoon, getting dark,” Foreman recalls. “I walked around and there’s Julius, his long limbs sprawled on the hotel bed. He looked up and me and said, ‘You tell me why I should come to your team.’ And I was miffed that he had the audacity to say that to me. But I didn’t blow up. I finally gave him an ultimatum, and he signed.”
Julius got $500,000. Foreman got a workhorse. Swen Nater, a center from the fabled UCLA basketball program, was a fellow Squire rookie that year. “Doc was an inventor, as you know,” Nater says. “And he never did anything in a game that he didn’t practice first, that’s what he told me. He said, ‘When you see me doing something fancy, I would have practiced it 100, 200 times.’” Forward George Irvine, a longtime Squire fan favorite, once asked Erving about a backwards dunk he was practicing over and over. Erving told him he’d seen himself doing it in a dream.
Eakins remembers the moment when he realized what they had in Erving. In an exhibition game against the Kentucky Colonels, on one play, the Squires sprinted down the court. The ball was passed to Erving, who wanted to swoop in for a layup, only to have his path blocked by Colonel center Artis Gilmore, who was 7'4". No matter: Doc pulled the ball down, shifted it from his right hand to his left, then brought it back up and laid it in the basket. “He was in the air the whole time,” Eakins recalls. “My jaw dropped. I remember saying, ‘I don’t believe what I just saw.’”
Dave Twardzik, the Old Dominion University star who played for Virginia, also watched in wonder. “My first year with the Squires was Doc’s second year,” he says. “I played probably 15-20 minutes a game, and I can remember sitting on the bench and being in awe of what he did. As good a player as Erving was, he was also a classy guy …. There was no condescension on his part.”
Twardzik was first signed by NBA’s Portland Trailblazers but elected to go with Virginia despite Portland’s more lucrative offer. “One reason I decided to go to the ABA was that it was a more wide-open style than the NBA, and the guards were a little bit smaller. I was 6'1" and not big, and guards in the NBA were 6'3" or 6'5", so it was good for me. Plus I felt a real comfort zone staying in the Tidewater, Norfolk area. We loved it there.”
One enduring myth about the Squires is that Virginia didn’t support the team, even in the franchise’s early years when it was winning. Squires historian Shampoe says the attendance figures tell a different story. “They did OK. It wasn’t like empty arenas. The first year, the Squires played in the ODU Fieldhouse, which seats 5,000, and they drew good. Then the second year, the team moved to Scope, which doubled the size. But it’s not like there were only 500 people in the stands.”
In those first seasons, the Squires spread home games out across the state, to Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond and Roanoke. But Foreman met an unexpected roadblock. Sports reporters in Richmond weren’t keen to embrace the franchise with Norfolk and Hampton, and he says the squad never felt welcome in Virginia’s capital. (While waiting for the Coliseum to be built, the Squires first played in the old Richmond Arena.) “Their nose was stuck up because the team was only playing 10 games there,” says Foreman. “The attitude was, Richmond was the big city and how dare we consider them to be second-rate to Norfolk. So the Norfolk papers considered us their team, and the Richmond papers didn’t.”
Jim Eakins remembers good crowds in Norfolk and Hampton. “But Richmond, we had about half full … . And attendance in Roanoke was fairly poor.”
Playing in venues across the state drained the players, according to Twardzik. “Even a trip up to Richmond, 90 miles away, was almost like a road game. Playing 26 in Norfolk, 10 in Hampton, five in Richmond and two or three in Roanoke, it took us out of a normal routine.”
But some players enjoyed those home trips. “I’d go for rides, exploring the countryside,” Dr. J remembers. “The beautiful Virginia countryside.”
In the locker room, things weren’t so tranquil. According to Eakins, Charlie Scott was upset when Erving joined the Squires and decided he wanted to leave. “He did not like sharing the limelight with Doc. What a force they could have been together.”
Scott’s departure to the NBA Phoenix Suns came at a bad time—at the end of the regular season, right before the playoffs. At first, he wasn’t missed as the Squires swept the Floridians in the first round. Dr. J dominated the series, averaging 37.7 points and scoring 53 in one game. Then came the second round and another match-up with hated Rick Barry and the New York Nets. Despite another stellar series by Erving—he led all post-season players in scoring and rebounds—the Squires lost a grueling seven-game brawl, conceding the final contest at Scope, 94-88.
That 1971-72 season was the closest the Virginia Squires would ever come to winning the championship title.
Even though the pro sports team was integrating well in the Tidewater community, Foreman was strapped for cash. “The population in Virginia was such, the market was such, that you couldn’t support that team. All along, the ABA owners felt there’s going to be a merger. The idea is that we would hang on long enough for that.”
But things looked bad when new star Erving tried to bolt after his rookie year. Just before the 1972-73 season, he got into a contract dispute with Foreman. It was soon announced that Erving was considering a $1.4 million deal with NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “I said, ‘No way,’” remembers Foreman. The ensuing legal battles were settled just before the season started. The deal was this: Dr. J would return to the Squires for one more season, after which he would be traded to the New York Nets for $1 million. Erving’s best friend and sidekick, the late Willie Sojourner, would leave with him. In exchange, Virginia would get George Carter, a former Squire and fan favorite. “The arrangement kept Julius in the ABA, and he got more money. I thought it was a good deal,” Foreman says.
For obvious reasons, Virginia fans didn’t agree. For trading Erving, Foreman was vilified. Critics called him the “bandit” of the ABA. Squires historian Clay Shampoe says he recently found a used ABA All-star program with a picture of Foreman inside. “Sure enough, someone had scrawled ‘crook’ all over his face.”
Erving went back to Norfolk, donned his Squires uniform for one more year and picked up right where he left off, leading the ABA in scoring. He also drew closer to Foreman. “The second year I was there,” Erving says, “I shared a penthouse apartment with him and his wife. When they were out of town—which was a lot—I stayed there, and then I’d move over to the hotel [when they returned]. I got to know Phyllis Foreman and Earl Foreman very, very well.”
Erving’s mother, Callie Mae, would call Phyllis from New York and ask her to make sure her son was eating well. “I checked his cupboard and all I found was cans of SpaghettiOs,” she laughs today.
“I had a bachelor pad,” Erving says. “So who knows what was in my refrigerator at the time?”
Contract squabbles aside, Dr. J never forgot Earl Foreman. Says the former owner, “When Julius retired [in 1987], he had a party and held a candle lighting ceremony. He had 13 candles on a cake, signifying the 13 years he had spent in the ABA and NBA. He had 13 people lined up to light a candle on a cake. It’s a tradition at a function called a bar mitzvah, you know. One of the proudest moments I’ve had in sports was when Julius asked me to light the first candle.”
Although he didn’t like the prospect of losing his star player at the end of the season, Al Bianchi kept the team focused. The Squires coach had won the respect of his players. “You’d run through a brick wall for Al Bianchi,” says Twardzik.
Erving agrees, calling his two years with the coach “a wonderful experience for me. He let me play through the mistakes that young players make … I got the chance to become a complete player because [of him].”
Erving’s second and final season with the Squires was bittersweet. The team lost in the second round of the playoffs again, but a new player had arrived in midseason who would brighten the prospects of a struggling franchise about to lose its star. But nobody knew that at first. “Just as we really didn’t know what we had when we signed Julius,” Bianchi recalled in 1990, “the same was true of George Gervin, maybe even more so.”
The rail-thin Gervin was a rising star at Eastern Michigan University when he was suspended after hitting an opponent during a game. “George had a reputation for punching some guy,” Foreman recalls. “Now, if you knew George … it seems unlikely. But there was a stigma about him, and we had the opportunity to sign him.”
“Squires General Manager Johnny Kerr saw me play in the Continental League, in Pontiac [Michigan],” Gervin says today, calling from San Antonio. “I think I scored 45, 48. He told Earl Foreman and got me a contract.”
At first, the shy 19-year-old didn’t impress. Says Jim Eakins, “They told me he was another Julius Erving. I said, ‘Really?’ His first practice, he came out and was a skinny little kid, very unsure of himself.”
Even Bianchi had reservations. “I got a little mad at him because he wouldn’t play me,” Gervin recalls. “This is where I have to point to the guidance of Dr. J and Fatty Taylor. They would say to me, ‘Be patient, you’ll get your turn.’ Al actually turned out to be one of my favorite coaches. He just didn’t like to play rookies, wasn’t nothing against me.”
“Gervin came in in the middle of the season and didn’t have the chance to get into the groove,” Eakins says. “But over time he started to relax and play basketball, and his game [emerged].”
Doc helped. “We developed a relationship real early,” Gervin remembers of his mentor Erving. “We used to play one on one after practice, and it helped me out a great deal. I got schooled early on, and it helped build up my confidence. Of course, Julius used to win most of those games. But I got my jumper going, and I picked up a few.”
Erving is fond of his former teammate. “I wish I had played my whole career with George Gervin, ” he says. “We played the rest of that season together. It was great, and he became the mainstay of the Squires when I went to New York.”
Fatty Taylor came up with the rookie’s famous nickname. “I was only about 165 pounds and real skinny,” Gervin remembers. “And we’d play and practice, and everybody would be soaking wet, and my practice jersey would barely have water on it. Fatty used to look at me and say, ‘You did all that work and ain’t sweating!’ And he started calling me ‘Ice. ’”
Later in his career, the 6'8" Ice would become the leading scorer in the NBA, a nine-time all-star and the founder of the George Gervin Youth Center in San Antonio. But the ABA Virginia Squires was where he perfected his legendary finger-roll shot, flipping the ball over the rim with silky smoothness.
And in January 1974, he became the next ex-Virginia Squire.
Earl Foreman sold Gervin for the same reason he traded Erving. “It was money,” the former owner says. “Angelo Drossos [of the San Antonio Spurs] had good financial backing in San Antonio, and he wanted him.” He stops to measure his words. “You’ve got a payroll to meet, rent to pay, your budget. Owning a basketball team in those days, in either league, was a losing proposition. Even the Celtics didn’t make money then—they made it in the playoffs. And what gets lost in the telling is that the ABA was born to merge with the NBA. The people that were in it, like myself, we weren’t making money. We were funding it and waiting for a merger.”
Twardzik, now an assistant general manager with the NBA’s Orlando Magic, credits Foreman for having “the insight and vision to bring a professional team to the Tidewater area. And it was successful—we were a good team. Then, all of a sudden, I don’t know why, his business plan changed and he ended up having to sell players.”
Eakins remembers hearing about a possible Gervin trade at the ABA All-Star Game in Norfolk. “I knew it was true. And I was so mad at Earl Foreman.”
Fans screamed obscenities at Earl and Phyllis at the game, and hung the owner in effigy outside Scope. A shaken Foreman then tried to reverse the deal. “I had remorse,” he says. But money had already changed hands. Ice left the team.
“I did want to stay,” Gervin confirms. “Think about it: I’m a young black kid from Detroit, and Virginia has three black colleges in the area. So I felt at home. I was a young guy, had all the girls, and I was real comfortable.”
“How did I feel being vilified for selling the players?” asks Foreman. “I understand, because I have the heart of a fan.”
Erving understands Foreman’s predicament. “He did what he had to do,” he says of his former boss. “He made deals designed to help secure his survival in a business that was very unpredictable and risky, and he’s gone on to get involved in soccer [as the founding commissioner of the Major Indoor Soccer League]. He knows how things work.”
“I had been mad at Charlie Scott, and Doc, for jumping,” says Jim Eakins, now a high school teacher in Utah. “I didn’t realize what was going on behind the scenes. At the All-Star Game, I realized that it wasn’t about the players. It was the instability of the organization.”
True. At the end of the Squires’ fourth season, Earl Foreman couldn’t hold on to his NBA merger dream any longer. With the ABA’s help, he sold the team “to some guy in the sandwich business."
The last Squires seasons could be source material for a slapstick movie starring Will Farrell. The team’s new owner was Van Cunningham, of the Virginia-based Stewart Sandwiches Company, who purchased the club along with a consortium of 56 local investors. They called the team the New Virginia Squires, but there wasn’t anything new but losing—an ominous thing for a team whose financial condition had always been shaky. The team’s record in 1974-75 was a dismal 15-69, the worst in ABA history. The team acquired, then lost, the rights to another North Carolina phenom, David Thompson. Then center David Vaughn was shot by a Chesapeake policeman after stealing $14 from a gas station.
The 1975-76 season, the club’s last, was equally bad. The club opened 0-5, prompting Cunningham to fire the only coach the Virginia Squires ever had, Al Bianchi. The team would eventually go through five more coaches before posting a cellar-dwelling 15-68 record. “Some of the problems were just impossible,” the Squires beloved trainer Chopper Travaglini later told a reporter.
Swen Nater was traded back from the Nets that final year. “You really had to love the game to play when your paychecks were bouncing,” he says. Lacking money, new management tried to sell 100 corporate banners, at $5,000 apiece, to hang in the Scope. They didn’t sell 50.
The entire league was imploding. “What did the ABA in?” asks Foreman. “One word: television. We could never get a network deal.” By the final season, the league was down to 10, then six teams.
But excitement continued to surround Dr. J in New York, where he had won an ABA championship after leaving Virginia (he’d later grab an NBA crown with the Philadelphia 76ers). Doc’s mass-media coming-out party occurred at the first-ever slam dunk competition, held at the final ABA All-Star game. He won the event with a gravity-defying dunk that remains one of the iconic images in the history of professional basketball. Erving ran forward and started his 15-foot leap toward the basket at the foul line. He seemed to hang in the air forever—his afro folded by the wind—holding the ball high in the air before stuffing it through the net. It was the symbolic first flight of the modern basketball era, and the debut of a new type of basketball player.
Fittingly, the Virginia Squires played their final game at Norfolk’s Scope against Erving’s Nets. They lost in front of 7,000 fans. Dr. J entertained Virginians one last time, scoring 38 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
When the 1975-76 season ended, four ABA teams—New York, Indiana, San Antonio and Denver—were admitted into the National Basketball Association. “We had enough talent in the ABA to force the NBA to pay attention,” Erving says. “For economic and practical reasons, they merged the league.” He and a host of other “outlaw” stars—from Dan Issel to James Silas to Moses Malone—soon began playing for the NBA.
And they forever changed the old league. According to Twardzik, who would go on to win the 1977 NBA title with Portland as one of the league’s pioneering “small guards,” the NBA was “very reluctant” to adopt any ABA ideas. “They thought the ABA was an inferior league and that its ideas were gimmickry. Turned out they weren’t: The three-point shot is an integral part of our game now. The dunking contest and the three-point shooting contest”—NBA All-Star game staples—“those are all ABA ideas.”
And, not surprisingly, the suits at the television networks liked the ABA’s flashy brand of basketball. Gervin lauds the ABA owners, opportunistic as they were, for being innovators. “The ABA brought more than just players. It had its own vision of what the future of this game might be,” he says. “The owners don’t get enough credit for it.”
But Virginia would never again be a part of pro basketball’s big show. The Squires franchise was forced to close one month before the merger, on May 11, 1976, when it failed to make a $75,000 league assessment payment. “I think basketball was probably ill-fated in Virginia,” Dr. J says. Except for minor league baseball and hockey, the Squires remain in the history books as Virginia’s one and only foray into big-ticket professional sports.
Earl Foreman, the man who marched across the Potomac in 1970, waited a long time for a merger that he figured would boost his fortunes—and those of the Squires. He didn’t wait long enough. “The people in charge of the Squires at the end didn’t know what they were doing,” he says. “They didn’t know the game. If I had been in charge when the merger happened, Virginia would have an NBA franchise today. I would have made sure of it.”