Much has been made about the All-American Basketball Alliance, the all-white basketball league that boxing and wrestling promoter Don "Moose" Lewis introduced to the world two weeks ago. Many have called Lewis' league racist. Some have called it a failure in the making. Others a promotional stunt on par with something straight out of the P.T. Barnum playbook. And maybe it's a little of all three. Maybe it's none of the above. But one thing it's not is homophobic. Discrimination only goes so far.
"I actually had today someone ask me if we are going to allow gays. I'm like, well, if they're white, U.S.-born gays," Lewis says.
And therein lies the rub for progressives and the PC-minded when it comes to Lewis' AABA: what kind of bigot would ban blacks but not gays? It boggles the mind. That is until you step outside of your preconceived notions about exactly why a boxing promoter from Atlanta would attempt to start an all-white, all-American basketball league in the first place. According to an AABA press release, the league is looking for owners in both Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island, in addition to other Southeastern cities, from Atlanta and Augusta to Chattanooga and Jacksonville.
Truth be told, Lewis is a man who wants to make a buck, and this is as good a way as any. "I've been called a huckster, which actually isn't a bad term," Lewis says with a laugh. "This is a niche to be filled and an alternative brand of basketball, but also it's been quite honestly a phenomenal hook for us. We've had more attention in the last week than I ever could have envisioned."
The promoter adds, "It's worked out great. We've even had someone talking to us about turning this into a reality show. And in the end, our white all-stars play a group of minor league black all-stars, and we'll call it Snowball Versus Broball."
Well, there's been worse on television. And in this day and age of reality TV excess, a simple basketball game between white players and black players sounds kind of tame, but something that many would watch with as much twisted interest as the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs tennis match in the 1970s. Lewis just might be on to something. "You know what P.T. [Barnum] said: 'There's a butt for every seat.' And that's what I'm going to do. I'm putting white butts in the seats to see this."
Previously, the man known as Moose has headed up the Georgia-based International Wrestling Union and the American Basketball Alliance, a retro-style basketball league that was to feature vintage-looking uniforms, white players with crew cuts, and black players with afros. The ABA was later renamed the Global Basketball Alliance, and the retro idea was abandoned. The new league reportedly was designed to capture the spirit of professional wrestling, the now-defunct XFL, and the Harlem Globetrotters. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the GBA went under.
As for the fate of the nostalgia-minded ABA, Lewis says, "The NBA comes in and takes that idea, puts their multi-million dollar marketing machine behind it, and steals the thunder. I obviously couldn't compete with their massive marketing."
He adds, "I've been the conventional route, and that's been a dismal failure."
As for the charge that he is a racist, Lewis denies it. He claims that he is organizing a massive pay-per-view in Nigeria pitting black boxers against white boxers and that when he arrives in the African nation, plans are in place to make him a chieftain. "That hardly sounds like a racist or white supremacist, now does it?" Lewis says.
Moose adds, "We're not going to allow hatemongers, we're not going to allow swastikas, we're not going to be the Georgia Aryans. We're talking (about) basketball, an alternative brand to what is now NBA basketball entertainment, where you can grab the ball, walk five steps, and dunk the basket. That's not basketball as we know it."
While this particular criticism of the NBA rings true, the chances that the AABA will actually get off the ground — at least here in South Carolina — are iffy at best.
According to Greg DeLoach, assistant town manager of Hilton Head Island, the city has had no contact, no requests for information, and no request for applications from the AABA. The mayor's office has received dozens of e-mails opposing the all-white league.
According to Thomas D. Peeples, mayor of Hilton Head Island, "It is ironic that after just five days after celebrating Martin Luther King Day, we have to read of this so-called league. The formation of the league is cynical at best and unwelcome here or anywhere."
Meanwhile, up on the Grand Strand, things don't appear to be faring any better for Lewis' league. According to Mark Kruea, public information officer for the city of Myrtle Beach, the city hasn't been contacted by anyone affiliated with the league. "I can't imagine that it's a real proposal or that it would find any support anywhere," Kruea says. "It definitely won't find any support in Myrtle Beach."