||Almost 30 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 manipulate's 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
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 in all of these categories. BBALL Pro Basketball,
developed by league member Bob Chaikin, is the software product in use by 15 of the
leagues 16 members, and is my personal favorite. BBALL started as a dice powered
game with player ratings on cards, and was programmed for the computer in the late 1980's.
Mr. Chaikin takes the time each season to rate every player for free throw % (of course),
field goal %, rebounding ability, defensive ability, steals, turnovers, blocked shots,
fouls, 3 point accuracy, etc. The number crunching goes to the point of determining how
often the player handles the ball, and how often he shoots, passes, gets fouled, or turns
the ball over when he does. Bob then takes his ratings and puts them through the rigors of
several full season replays, tweaking here and there, to make sure he has accurately
reproduced every players abilities.
Of course, in our league, the players are teamed with completely different team mates.
It is important to understand that a player who averages 30 points a game in the NBA
probably will not score 30 points if he is teamed with a couple of 20 point scorers in the
AABL. In some early games, the ratings would try to get each player to reproduce his
averages despite who his team mates were. By rating the players the way that BBALL has,
a true picture of the effects of different player combinations can be obtained. Look at
the AABL stats for the just completed season as an example . . . you' ll see a
player like Kendall Gill, who averaged 22 points for the New Jersey nets in 96-97 scored
nearly 29 for the Slippery Rock Robins, primarily because he was the only true scoring
threat on his AABL team. An accurate simulation is the key to a league such as this, and BBALL
has been the key to the continued success of the AABL for the last 10 years. But don't
take our word for this, just ask the NBA. Chaikin has worked for the NewJersey Nets in the
past and currently works for the Miami Heat as a statistical consultant using this same
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 30th season of play. 30 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
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