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The dapper little Jewish man, 85 years old, a golden Fort
Lauderdale suntan across his face, looked up expectantly every
time another giant of the game brushed against him. Thirty years
ago Gabe Rubin was the owner of a charter team, the Pittsburgh
Pipers, in a new, funkadelic league, the American Basketball
Association. Saturday night he was in Indianapolis at an ABA
reunion honoring a league that valued big hair, flashy dunks and
second chances.

The ABA royalty, most of it anyway, was there, in a charmless
banquet hall in the Indianapolis Convention Center. There was
Julius Erving, gray at the edges, his posture perfect, signing
the league's trademark red-white-and-blue basketball for his
admirers. There was Spencer Haywood, smelling good and looking
rich, telling a little group how Shaquille O'Neal knows nothing,
nothing, of his accomplishments in the game. There was Artis
Gilmore, 7'2", extending a bony-fingered hand to onetime
teammates from the Kentucky Colonels. But Gabe Rubin wasn't
looking for those guys.

There was a dinner, of course. While 300 people ate filet mignon
seared with Dijon mustard and topped with herb breadcrumbs, they
watched ABA highlights culled from grainy film shot in dark,
leaky arenas. They saw David Thompson--the Rookie of the Year in
1975-76, the ABA's ninth and final season--consider two or three
shots while flying through the air. They saw Rick Barry shooting
free throws from between his knees. They saw Louie Dampier drain
30-footers for treys, in the days when the stuffy senior
circuit, the NBA, said it had no interest in the three-pointer,
none whatsoever.

The celebrants thumbed through a program, a page of which
commemorated the ABA's deceased: Wendell Ladner, who died in a
plane crash; Sonny Dove, a New York cabbie who skidded off a
drawbridge in Brooklyn; John Brisker, killed in a coup in
Uganda; Julius Keye, who fell off a ladder. In the center of the
page was Roger Brown, one of 30 players named to an alltime ABA
All-Star team chosen for the occasion, who died of cancer in
March at age 54.

Bob Costas, formerly the radio voice of the Spirits of St.
Louis, drew chortles when he remembered the great Afros of the
ABA--so roomy, Costas said, they "slept six." Darnell Hillman,
who played for the Indiana Pacers when they were an ABA team,
was presented with a plaque for having sported the league's most
luxuriant Afro and said with mock solemnity, "This I will
cherish dearly."

Gabe Rubin's purpose was more earnest. He carried in the right
pocket of his suit jacket a yellowing newspaper photograph, now
30 years old, showing Rubin and the player he had just signed to
the Pipers, Connie Hawkins. Nobody wanted young Hawkins in those
days. In 1961 he had been implicated in a game-fixing scandal as
a freshman at Iowa and was banished from the NBA. Later Hawkins
was exonerated, the ban was lifted, and now he is enshrined in
the National Basketball Hall of Fame. When Rubin finally spotted
Hawkins, the old man's face lit up, and he pulled out the

"Look how handsome you were then!" Rubin said.

Hawkins looked at the picture, then at his old boss. "What do
you mean, then? How 'bout now?"

The two ABA alums laughed and laughed. They were remembering the
old days, the times of their lives.


COLOR PHOTO: MARY ANN CARTER Legends from a funkadelic time (from left): Marvin Barnes, Erving, George Gervin, Haywood, Thompson and Freddie Lewis. [Marvin Barnes, Julius Erving, George Gervin, Spencer Haywood, David Thompson and Freddie Lewis holding red-white-and-blue basketballs]