September 22, 1971. Louisville, Kentucky. Freedom Hall.
Just over 40 years ago the Baltimore Bullets made the 600-mile trip west from Northern Virginia, where they had battled the N.B.A.’s New York Knickerbockers in their preseason opener the night before, to square off against the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association in the biggest game few today have ever heard about. The contest would be the second act in an Inter-League Exhibition Game (ILEG) series, a sporting event invented by the owners who were looking for something to make “airing out the big arenas, sweeping the floor and printing up tickets worthwhile,” amid rumors of a merger between the two roundball associations. Though early on, these exhibitions were not well publicized, they weren’t without meaning.
The 1971 ILEG series was headlined by two N.B.A. titans, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Baltimore Bullets, both gearing up for another shot at an N.B.A. championship. They were scheduled to play five A.B.A. squads in five A.B.A. cities; the games were held in A.B.A. cities like Louisville and Winston-Salem for the simple reason that the N.B.A. didn’t want to legitimize the upstart league.
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