NBA's loss may be ABA's gain

October 31, 2011|By Scott Bolohan | For RedEye

Sam Mack played in the NBA for 10 seasons for five teams. But while his old teams aren’t playing right now, Mack still is. He’s a member of the American Basketball Association’s Chicago Steam. Last season the Steam were the Midwest Regional ABA champs and Mack was an all-star. With the increasing likelihood that the Bulls won’t play this year, the Steam are hoping basketball fans will turn their attention to the ABA. RedEye chatted with Mack about the ABA and the NBA lockout.

What should NBA fans know about the ABA?

Here’s the thing about the ABA. These guys are aspiring NBA players trying to get to the NBA. These guys are just as hard-working and possibly even harder because they want a chance to perform on that level, so they compete. It’s a steppingstone to get to a higher plateau.

What is the atmosphere like at an ABA game?

A lot of it depends on the geographical area. We travel to Michigan and the fan support is tremendous. When we travel to a little smaller markets and they’re very supportive, it’s like a college game. Of course in Chicago here we only get 300 fans sometimes, but those fans are into the game. One thing I do like about the ABA is it brings it back to the old days of the CBA for the players. It’s no comparison to the CBA, but what they’re trying to do is get competitive teams and make it a competitive league. It’s on the up and up.

Who are some of the most exciting players in the league?

On the Steam, Rico Hill is very, very talented. It’s a wonder why he’s not playing in the NBA. He is a small forward and he can really play. You have a couple guys from the Michigan team who are really talented, the Kentucky team. We have ABA games out in Los Angeles and the East Coast so we’re trying to make it one big major league. Last year we had a national championship game down in Texas, which is great. They’re trying to spread it out so people can see that there’s talent here in the United States. You don’t have to go overseas. The players still work their day jobs but they still try to make it at night.

Last year you guys were the Midwest Regional Champs. What does that all mean to you?

I love basketball, it’s my escape. When I’m out on the basketball court, everything else is just nonexistent. I’m excited every time I pick up the ball. I can’t do the things I used to do out on the court, but as you get older you get a lot of knowledge and wisdom, so I play with wisdom. It means a lot to me, especially as a retired NBA player coming back and showing them what hard work means. I try to show them that you have to put in the work, you have to dedicate yourself and work hard.

Do you still have aspirations of making it back to the NBA?

I do, but as a coach. I’ve come to the realization that my career is coming to an end and I’m trying to gravitate more and more to the next phase of basketball. With the knowledge I’ve gained with my 30 years of playing between here in the NBA and overseas, I have a lot of knowledge that I can use to help future NBA prospects. I put on the Sam Mack basketball shooting camp. I want to help these athletes.

What do you think of the NBA lockout?

I follow it. I was the team rep in 1997-1998 when we went through this horrible thing back then, so I would go to all the meetings. But I think it’s a shame. We are taking away the game from the fans. But the fans have to realize, it’s not the players. It’s the owners’ decision to lock out. It’s all over money, of course, money makes the world go around. I’m a part of the player fraternity and I’m sticking with them. The teams that have money, the owners have money, they need to work this out so we can get back to doing the thing we love to do and give the fans a show.

Will the ABA benefit from it?

No doubt. I think if the lockout continues to last, all these other leagues will benefit because the fans want to see basketball. In Chicago with the Steam, the fans should come support us while there.

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