HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (BVM) — The American Basketball Association (ABA) used to be the world’s premier basketball league. With classic talents like Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Artis Gilmore and more roaming the courts on any given night, all eyes were on the ABA.
Then in 1976, the ABA merged with the less-popular NBA, forming one league. Since then, the NBA has become one of the most successful leagues in sports history.
But the ABA is starting to make a return across the U.S., with 180 teams having popped up throughout the last two decades. As of now, many of the teams consist of former local high school and college players, with maybe 200 fans to their name.
However, ABA organizations like the North Alabama War Dawgs out of Huntsville are leading the charge to bring this league back to relevancy.
The War Dawgs began in 2019 with a vision from founder Timothy Jones. A retired Navy veteran, Jones has a passion for the game of basketball, but Huntsville didn’t offer many opportunities at the time.
“There were no semi-pro teams around this area because I probably would’ve tried out if possible,” Jones said. “One of my friends had a team in Georgia. I wanted to do something different, give back to the community and have a love for basketball.”
That’s when Jones began reaching out and making connections in the area. He met with the Chamber of Commerce, met co-founder Christopher Burge, and that’s when all the dots started to connect. Burge used to play professionally overseas, so he had relationships with players all over, and especially within the Huntsville area.
The two founders met with players from the former minor league team at the time, the Huntsville Force.
“They were really good but they didn’t get a lot of visibility. Most people didn’t know anything about the Huntsville Force so we took a lot of those players and added them to the War Dawgs,” Jones said. “A lot of guys now feel a lot more professional, rather than just a guy on the court playing basketball.”
They quickly built a culture that the players felt special in. By using their connections and resources, their players were finally getting attention and the true “pro athlete experience.” Members of the media were contacting them for radio interviews, their photos and stories were posted all over social media, and their website was well-maintained.
In their first season as an ABA organization, they made the playoffs, which were canceled due to COVID-19. They had a roster full of former Division I basketball players, and even had two of their players, Jeff Moss and Dallas Jones, drafted into a Mexican professional league.
“There’s a lot of great players in the ABA. There’s some real good basketball that’s not getting captured,” Jones said. “These cities need to support it. The NBA is the NBA, but this is a gem that people need to watch out for.”
But outside of the game of basketball, Jones believes these organizations can serve other purposes. Knowing that the ABA will be just one stop in these men’s lives, Jones tries to make sure his players are understanding the big picture.
“I would like for them to learn how to be professional. It’ll take them a long way, not just for basketball but whatever road they go down in life,” Jones said. “If they decide to be a coach, an AD, a trainer, understanding a professional doesn’t mean the number of zeros you make, it’s the person. How you talk to people, react to people.”
Another mission Jones has revolves around the community. As a local team in a local area with local fans, the War Dawgs’ founder understands that they will only go as far as the community allows them to.
“Connecting with the city, connecting with different non-profit and profit groups in the city,” Jones said. “We are still in the beginning phase of getting the city to recognize this team is serious and very professional.”
With the ABA growing and presenting obscure rules like 4-point and 5-point shots, no foul outs and various forms of in-game entertainment, they could catch the attention of basketball fans around the U.S. For the War Dawgs, the season begins on Nov. 14 against the Music City Jazz from Nashville, Tenn.