Memories, Memorabilia, Moments…

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February 21st, 2022

Greetings and sincere salutations, blog faithful. Yes, it’s Monday. Monday Fun Day!

We were supposed to have a significant snow storm start overnight last night, and as we went to bed the Accuweather forecast was still saying 8 to 12 inches, starting around 3:00 am. Well, it’s now just after 12 noon and nary a flake has fallen. It’s late. Maybe it made a wrong turn over North Dakota? I suspect it will arrive at some point, and now they’ve “downgraded” it to 6 to 10 inches. We will do that thing northerners do. We’ll hunker down.

As you may, or may not, know I’m a bit of a nostalgia and memorabilia freak. Always have been since I was a kid and we had Boston Red Sox duffel bags full of catching gear in the garage. To be fair, at that point in my childhood the mitts, masks, spikes, and shin guards mesmerized me but not to the point of me being careful with it all. To me, it was all just toys. Most of that stuff has long ago disappeared, and that’s a shame.

Now, I do care for and relish my collectable stuff, whether it’s my own duffel bags from pro ball and Sauget Wizards semipro baseball, still stuffed with gear and uniforms as they were after the last game I played in any organization, or stuff I find out there on eBay or other sites. Some precious things, like my father’s first ever Major League jersey (1946 Cardinals) I bought at auction.

Just this week, I added something I’ve wanted to have for a very long time. I’ve wanted a clean basketball from the old ABA, the American Basketball Association, since the first day I found this crazy internet thing and began looking for one.

There are almost no game-used ABA balls to be found for less than $20,000 dollars. Incredibly expensive, unless you want one that was game-used and then driveway used, which reminds me of all that old Red Sox gear.

I found one on eBay only because a collectibles company now owns the rights and the logo for the ABA red, white, and blue ball. They are actual ABA basketballs, but are recently reissued and I didn’t care.

I loved the ABA ball. I had a rubber version of one all through high school, and when it would get dirty I’d take it to the kitchen  and clean it, just to make all the colors pop again. The first time I saw an ABA game, I was mesmerized. To see that tri-color ball fly through the air, rotating like a pinwheel of color, was so much cooler than the staid and old orange NBA ball.

And that was all on purpose. The ABA saw itself as a breath of fresh air in the pro basketball world. The NBA wouldn’t change a thing, and attendance was stunningly abysmal compared to today’s crowds. The NBA was becoming irrelevant.

The ABA saw the chance to cash in on that, and positioned itself as an all-new product. The ball was awesome. The 3-point shot was the ABA’s invention. And the style was run-and-gun, instead of the NBA’s “four corners” passing contests. I loved it.

To be fair, the ABA scuffled to stay in business throughout its existence. Many teams came and went, but a few were very successful. In the end, the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, and New York Nets were all merged into the NBA. The red, white, and blue ball didn’t make the merger. Sad day.

Loved this team!

My personal ABA experience was with the Spirits of St. Louis, a team uniquely monikered with its nickname before the city name to reference Charles Lindbergh’s plane. They played at the old St. Louis Arena and were a crazy collection of up-and-coming stars, solid role players, and flamboyant personalities. I was a huge fan. They only lasted two seasons. The first year, I was a college freshman and went to as many games as I could. Some nights there’d be 8,000 people in the Arena, and some nights it was more like 800. But I loved that team. Also loved their very talented play-by-play announcer, who was just 21 and straight out of Syracuse University. It was his first pro announcing job. You might have heard of him. His name is Bob Costas.

One night, my dad arranged for the team to give me a photo pass for a game against the Nets, who featured the one and only Dr. J, Julius Erving. It was amazing to sit courtside, or even under the basket, and watch those guys play. Dr. J could just flat defeat gravity. No, seriously. He seemed to be able to jump for a dunk, then change direction in mid-air, and then rise up another six inches. He levitated. And in a moment of pure luck, I got him on Kodachrome color film as he floated a finger-roll layup into the bucket. Like so many pieces of my personal memorabilia, that photo is long gone. How I’d love to have it now.

The second season, I had a job as an usher at the Arena, so I saw every home game the Spirits played that year.

Over the full span, guys like Marvin Barnes, Maurice Lucas, Moses Malone, Mike D’Antoni, ML Carr, and other great players wore the Spirits uniform. Gus Gerard was my favorite player. He’s pictured here on the cover of the Spirits yearbook. My dad often came to Spirits games with me, whether I was there as a fan or as an usher. Every time Gus Gerard would do something good, Dad would yell “Attaboy Gustav!!!” Like it was yesterday. I can still hear him. And just look at that gorgeous bad-ass ball.

For the last 25 years I’ve been looking for an ABA ball. When Barbara and I got married, they were already selling on eBay for $5,000. That was too crazy for me. Today, as I said, I don’t know where they all went but the supply is so limited you can spend $25,000 just to hold one in your hands. Insane.

So when I discovered the re-issued balls online, I finally had a shot at having that gorgeous ball in my collection, at a fraction of the price for a game-used one from back in the day. And then I noticed something on eBay. There was one signed by Dr. J himself. BAM! I hit “Buy It Now” as fast as I could. It is now in my possession. Question: How much do I love it? Answer: Every time I lay eyes on it I smile. I love it.

What a bet the Silna brothers placed. Cha-Ching!

And here’s something that will blow your mind. When the ABA-NBA merger happened, the owners of the Spirits made the NBA an offer. “We’ll skip the merger if you pay us a small percentage of TV income in perpetuity.” At the time, the NBA was making next to nothing for network TV rights. It was a helluva deal, they figured.

Well, as you know the NBA has exploded into one of the biggest and richest sports leagues in the world. The Silna brothers made a bet that no one could have foreseen. After they’d received about $800 million they finally agreed to end the deal and take a few more million in a buy-out of the contract. Easily the greatest coup in the history of sports franchises.

Here in the lower level of our house, where the home theater and my office are located, I’ve done a little rearranging. We have a really stylish metal and glass audio rack that we used in our first Woodbury house. It was too nice to just give away when we moved into this house, but we didn’t really need it. So it mostly just sat in the corner with some old surround-sound equipment on it. Like a piece of memorabilia!

Once the ABA Dr. J ball was in my possession, I knew what I wanted to do. And now here it is…

All of this makes me smile. Life is good when you’re smiling.

The ABA ball, my Bob Griese Football Hall of Fame football, and my authentic Major Indoor Soccer League ball from my days in indoor soccer management. Also a few autographed baseballs.

Above the rack is a print of a Norman Rockwell piece of art called “The Rookie” and it features a geeky new ballplayer arriving at Spring Training for the Boston Red Sox. As legend has it (and despite the fact my father could bend legends like a pro) Ted Williams was either not available to pose for the photo Rockwell took in order to create the painting, or he just didn’t want to do it. So my dad stood in for him at Teddy Ballgame’s locker. It sure looks a lot more like Del Wilber than Ted Williams, so I’ve always believed it to be true.

Above that, a replica Vikings helmet signed by quarterback Kirk Cousins. This may or may not be obsolete any day now.

And next all this memorabilia, on the adjacent wall, is a limited-edition and numbered lithograph of the original artwork for the cover of the Rush album “Power Windows.” It’s signed by all three members of the band, including the late Neil Peart. Attached are two Neil Peart drumsticks. A photo of all three guys signing it is on the back of the frame. That photo, a significant piece of proof of authenticity, is almost as cool as the lithograph.

The challenge is this: I have many more autographed baseballs, and some other collectibles I love, but they are buried in a mover’s box somewhere in the utility room. When we moved to Spokane there was really no place to display it all, so I just put the boxes away. They are here somewhere, but cleaning out the utility room is one of those major projects that just seems to never happen. It will, someday. And my Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Paintsville Hilanders signed balls, as well the very baseballs I hit for homers against the USA Team, the Korean National Team, and in the NCAA Regional Championship, will have a display home again.

It’s memorabilia. The physical form of memories.

And, you ask “How’s the book going?” Still chugging along, and Elon Werner and I are ramping up the PR effort to spread the word further.

If you’ve bought and are reading it (and like it) do me a solid and tell your friends. And don’t be shy about reviewing it and rating it on Amazon. That creates sales all by itself.

Just send them here, to my new website. With one click they can go straight to the correct page on Amazon. And with another click they can read all about me because, you know, that’s so important. Plus, I look handsome as hell thanks to the photographic genius of my niece Kerry B. Smith.

Bob Wilber’s Website

Thanks for following along. We’ll be taking advance reservations to view the Dr. J autographed ABA ball. I’m still smiling.

If you liked this (are you smiling?) please click on the “LIKE” button below. Muchas gracias for that, amigos and amigas.

See you again soon. Fire up a 3-pointer and remember the ABA is what brought that to you. Nothin’ but net.