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 What is . . . ?
Over 35 years ago, a group of inspired individuals decided to kick off the inaugural American Association Basketball League season. Through the mail, they each drafted teams of NBA players to play against each other. They would use board, dice, and card type games for their play, games which took the player statistics and made ratings to simulate the players abilities and reproduce those statistics. Games like PTG, Big League Manager, Negamco, Statis-Pro, Strat-o-Matic, APBA, and, my favorite, Mickey’s Fastbreak were used. Every year, a full season was played and playoffs determined a league champion. Every year, the team owners made trades of players and draft picks in an attempt to improve their lot. The rosters remained constant except for these trades, so the owners knew to plan for the future.

That’s what the AABL is . . . a simulation of the NBA where the team owners run their teams, make their trades, set up their player rotations, etc., just like the real thing. We play an 80 game season, have playoffs, and rookie/free agent drafts every year. Unlike fantasy leagues, which take today’s NBA results and statistics and manipulates them through formulas to determine winners, we use basketball game software and play basketball games against each other. The league has been around for almost 30 years, and will be around as long as there’s an NBA to simulate.

OK, tell me more about the games . . .

Glad you asked that question. I’ll start with the simplest of all, simulating the free throw percentage, and build on it. Say your favorite player shoots 75% from the free throw line. In order to simulate this ability accurately, you can get yourself a standard deck of playing cards, and assign that for hearts, clubs, and diamonds, 3 of the 4 suits, the player will sink the free throw, and for spades he misses it. Shuffle the deck to make it a truly random process. But as you draw the cards and record how the player performs, you’ll find that he hits his 75% of the free throws. You have accurately simulated this players ability to hit free throws. Use dice, make your own set of 1000 numbered cards, make yourself a roulette wheel with 1000 numbers on it, any true random number generator, and you’re in business. Computers can do better, generating random numbers to several decimal points to further improve the accuracy of the simulation.

That’s the concept of the games. The board games mentioned above that we used in the early years (up until about 1988) used combinations of cards, dice, even spinners to produce the random numbers. The player ratings were on cards, and the results recorded by hand on scoresheets.

Of course, free throw accuracy is only one of a players performance categories. In order to fully simulate a players abilities, it is necessary to take all of his statistics, and somehow rate him for shooting, passing, defending, rebounding, fouling, etc., until you have a good model of him as a player.. 

OK, I’ve got the game stuff down, tell me a little more about the AABL . . .

As stated before, the AABL is about to enter its 37th season of play. 37 years ago, a group of "gamers" drafted their own teams from the players in the NBA. After trading players around and finalizing their roster, they played their home games and sent the results and statistics to Mike Trautman, then league commisioner, who totalled them up and issued newsletters to show the scores and standings. The statistics were kept by hand, the math done by hand, the newsletters typed on carbon paper. After the season, playoffs were conducted amongst the top teams to determine the league champion. The new rookies and other players who were not on any AABL team were then put into a draft pool, with selections in order of worst team records. More trades, more play, more statistics, more carbon paper.

Each team owner played his home games using detailed instructions from the opposing coaches to run the opposing team. The instructions were sent through the mail, thus the term play-by-mail league. Several of this type of league were in existence at the time, most of which were organized through a publication called All Sports Digest, a magazine published in the ‘70’s for sports gaming enthusiasts. The AABL is a survivor of this era, as most all of these leagues died off as the original hobbiests got older and interest declined. We survived primarily because of dedicated membership and mainly through the efforts of Mr. Trautman, who would play games for teams who could not finish in time and continued the rigorous manual process of recording the stats and mailing the newsletters.

I got back into the league in 1981, after getting married and getting almost all the way through college. I tracked down Mike and was pleased to find a team open. The failure of our favorite game at the time, Mickey’s Fastbreak, to maintain profitability and fold threatened the survival of the league in the late 80’s, but BBALL came to the rescue. Mike’s time became more limited at this time, and the league was on the brink of failure again, but Jim Battin would not let it fail, stepped in, and rescued the league again, running it for two years. The computer was now in play to keep the statistics and make up the newsletters. Around 1990, Jim asked me to take over running the league, as his computer had dumped the league statistics and his own time had become limited. I was happy to help, since it was a favorite hobby of mine, and I’ve been doing it ever since. The thing that makes the league click, however, is the dedication of its members. Our members have been on board now for 5 years with no changes. Mike Trautman has been with the league for all 29 seasons, Jim Battin, Fred Roen, Gordon Baier, and Rick Dean have been around since the ‘70’s, I joined in the ‘70’s, dropped out and rejoined in 1981, Kreis Selvidge has been here since the ‘80’s, most of the rest since the early ‘90’s. We feed on the competition, as there’s no prizes and not much glory to win.

The process continues. We continue our league play, playoffs, drafts, and trading. The drafts are conducted on the phone and in internet chat rooms. The newsletters have almost been replaced by this home page, with the exception of a few who have no internet access . . . yet. We have rules to keep us in line, but there’s an honor amongst us to do right by our fellow members.

Are you up to the AABL? Do you know your NBA player abilities and statistics well enough to build a winner? Should you go for the proven veterans and try to win now or go for the young talent and build a monster for the future?

Want to know more? E-mail league commissioner and web-master Ed Freeman

 

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