In a 36-hour period last summer, while Dow-Jones was steadily insisting that bears were in control of the market, the new Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association sold $2,250,000 worth of stock in their franchise. The 5,000 new part owners are all Ohioans, among them little old ladies in May Craig hats who brought their capital (minimum $100 per investor) in brown paper bags, and small boys who now come up to Cleveland Coach Bill Fitch at clinics and tell—not advise—him how to make the expansion team a winner. "I'm one of your owners" is how they introduce themselves.
Cleveland is not the only place where pro basketball's stock is solidly bullish. The NBA's attendance has increased 250% over the last five seasons despite the competition of the young American Basketball Association. The ABA has somehow survived a sickly infancy and will merge with the older league as soon as Congress grants the antitrust immunity permitting completion of the deal.
The NBA could not have wished for a neater pre-anniversary present than having the Knicks win the championship last season. The victory gained nationwide attention for the game in New York-based media and dispelled any doubt that pro basketball would escalate in the '70s as pro football did in the '60s.
Despite impending boom, the pros must come to grips with a number of serious problems. Six ABA teams will play this season in areas that are either untested or have proved to be apathetic to the sport, and several NBA franchises have yet to benefit from the league's growth except through expansion fees. Since trading Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati has suffered a drop in season ticket sales, and the Royals are planning more giveaways than daytime TV. At various games, fans will receive emblems, sweat shirts, balls, caps, gym bags, T shirts, shoes, turkeys, panty hose, hams and, as a sort of slap shot at the Royals' own game, hockey pucks. "Ever held a hockey puck in your hand?" asks Cincy General Manager Joe Axelson in a memo to Royals' fans. "Makes a great conversation piece."
While acquiring all that loot, Cincy fans should find second-year Guard Norm Van Lier a grand conversation piece, too. It takes a full season for many a top player to find himself in the pros, and some of this year's stars will come from among last year's rookies. These include Van Lier, Boston's Jo Jo White, the Bucks' Lucius Allen, Baltimore's Fred Carter, Buffalo's Dick Garrett and the Floridians' Mack Calvin, who are all good, quick and now experienced guards. Milwaukee's Bob Dandridge and Utah's Willie Wise are among the forwards in the same class. Previews of all NBA and ABA teams start on the following page.