NBA Playoff Broadcasts

Heat vs. Nuggets for NBA title; Denver is the last of the old ABA clubs to advance to the finals

The start of the American Basketball Association

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I lived through the ABA from start to finish, 1967 to 1976. I knew little about the 12 fresh clubs when they launched, until I started listening to the first-year games of the New Jersey Americans. The team was carried on a thin signaled New Jersey radio station, WJRZ, 970 on the AM dial. The dial position was a lightbulb of a signal.

In 1967, FM radio wasn’t popular yet. It would eventually dominate the radio band. Two all-news stations were big, WINS born in 1965 and WCBS in 1967. WJRZ fluttered on and off. It had the Mets after it was dumped, first by powerhouse WABC and later by WHN. Even the Mets had to patch together a mini-network of weak sticks to cover the city, Long Island, New Jersey and Westchester. The Yankees too on WPIX-TV, struggled to sell sponsorships in the mid 1970s. Play-by-player Phil Rizzuto had to read appeals for sponsorship support on-air. 

With the Mets on WJRZ, it became one of my chosen pushbutton dial positions. In the fall of 1967, I accidentally cranked open the station and listened to Spencer Ross on NJ Americans games. His work stimulated me. He got the gig, recommended by Marty Glickman. The same year, New Yorkers listened to Marv Albert doing Knicks broadcasts with inimitable passion. In 1967-68, Albert and Ross inspired many budding voices. The Americans had a fraction of Knicks’ fans.

Meanwhile, Connie Hawkins led the Pittsburgh Pipers to the first ABA championships, a win over the New Orleans Buccaneers.

The ABA was laboring badly. The Americans, later the Nets, advanced to the playoffs. But the building was literally flooded that first year and the team in 1968 had to forfeit and move to Long Island. Nothing was for granted in the formidable years of the American Basketball Association.

The ABA in Denver

Pro basketball in Denver with the ABA was baptized as the Rockets in 1967.

Jerry Schemmel came within a hair of losing his life. In 1989, he survived a United Airlines crash in South Dakota, staring death in the eye. Of the 296 on board, 111 were killed. Jerry went through a gut-wrenching experience.

He went to law school, then did Nuggets’ play-by-play when the opportunity arose in Denver from 1992 to 2010. Jerry then moved to MLB, switching over to the Colorado Rockies. “I did the Nuggets for 18 seasons and this is my 13th doing the Rockies.” He’s done so in two different stints. His legal degree and years of practice in Colorado, I’m sure, has helped put the meals on his table when necessary.

“Yes, I think Denver has become an excellent NBA city,” he told me this week. “The Broncos have always been the king and they will stay that way, but I believe the Nuggets’ fan base these days is outstanding. Denver is still a rapidly growing city and many young people are moving in, especially to the downtown area. And they are becoming huge Nuggets fans.”

I asked Jerry to asses the history, a club that started as the Denver Rockets in 1967 and changed names to the Denver Nuggets in 1974. They’d merge with the NBA in 1976. Along with three other ABA survivors, the Nets, Pacers and Spurs, only Denver, until now didn’t qualify for the finals.

“My most remembered season (until now) was probably the 1993-1994 season. That season, the Nuggets  upset Seattle in the playoffs, becoming the first number eight seed to beat a number one seed. The team then took the mighty Utah Jazz to seven games in the next round!”

I asked Schemmel for the best five Nuggets ever:

  1. Nikola Jokic
  2. Dikembe Mutumbo
  3. Chauncy Billups
  4. Carmelo Anthony
  5. LaPhonso Ellis

How about the best three Denver coaches:

  1. George Karl
  2. Michael Malone
  3. Doug Moe

“And yes.” he said. “Denver Nuggets fans are crazy excited about this team and the upcoming NBA Finals! It’s been a long time. The Nuggets have never even gone to the finals. The fans are as charged up as any on the planet!”

Miami’s unpredictable win over Boston on TV last night:

TNT’s Broadcast of the NBA, Game #7, Miami vs. Boston, led by Kevin Harlan was superb. He has a command for the right word at the right time, the ability to engage his partners and has an overall riveting and driving style. In my view, at this point, he’s earned the basketball TV voice of the year. (Stan Van Gundy – left)

Stan Van Gundy worked nicely with Reggie Miller. He’s more conventional than Jeff but more colorful too. His brother Jeff on ESPN, chimes in, in a choppy fashion. Stan rarely complicates strategy for viewers. The trio last night explained the zone defenses in simple terms. SVG talked about the tough standards of Coach Erik Spoelstra, a disciple of Pat Riley. Like him or not, Pat founded some good ones like Spoelstra and administrator Andy Elisburg.

The way the Heat move flawlessly, players rotate swiftly and rarely make mental mistakes. They’re committed and determined. The summer programs are strenuous and monitored by the administration and coaches. Boston just seemed a step behind last night.

A little footnote, The Miami Floridians existed for only four ABA seasons, from 1968-72. They moved to Florida after a season in Minneapolis where the they were the Muskies, in the league’s first year, 1967-68.



David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Barry Kipnis
11 months ago

Article references two great Brooklyn raised High School players, namely Connie Hawkins (Boys H.S.) and Doug Moe (Erasmus Hall H.S.) both of whom were notable in the ABA.