Is Semi-Pro (2008) Based on a True Story?

Directed by Kent Alterman, ‘Semi-Pro’ is a sports comedy film revolving around a singer named Jackie Moon in 1976. Using the money he has garnered thanks to his music career, he decides to buy a basketball team named Flint Tropics in the American Basketball Association (ABA). The singer opts for the roles of owner, head coach, starting forward, and the pre-game announcer in the team. But when it is announced that the ABA will merge with the National Basketball Association (NBA), with only four teams from the former association going forward, Jackie decides to turn the team around and not let this be the end of the Flint Tropics.

Starring Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, and André Benjamin, the 2008 movie is a fountain of comedy that is sure to leave you in splits. However, the merging of two sports associations and subsequent selection of final teams is an arc many cannot help but feel might be lifted from real life. Well, let’s explore the answer to that and the origins of ‘Semi-Pro’ together!

Is Semi-Pro a True Story?

‘Semi-Pro’ is partially based on a true story. Nevertheless, the movie’s setting is indeed inspired by real-life events. The merging of the American Basketball Association (ABA) and National Basketball Association (NBA) shown in the film depicts an actual incident that occurred in 1976. The two organizations had been working on merging the two leagues together since the early 1970s.

In fact, the merger could have taken place as early as 1970, as both NBA and ABA were more than eager to become one, and the team owners from both sides could not be happier. The movie also appealed to basketball fans across the nation, who could not wait for their favorite teams from two separate leagues to play with each other. Unfortunately, due to an antitrust lawsuit, the proceedings came to a screeching halt.

The lawsuit filed by Oscar Robertson in 1970 was monumental in ensuring better rights for the players in the NBA. Also known as “the Big O,” he was a well-known name in the NBA, even though he wasn’t playing anymore. During the time of the lawsuit, he held the position of the president of the NBA Players’ Association and hoped to put an end to the option clause that bound players to a team throughout their career. The lawsuit further focused on the NBA’s College drafting, which in effect also bound players to a single team.

Another major point of discussion during the debacle was the restrictions imposed on free-agent signings that hampered the players. Roberston additionally sought reparations for players who the mentioned rules had harmed. Thanks to Robertson’s efforts, the players in NBA were not forced to be a part of the same team even if they wanted a change. Moreover, it led to reforms in free agency and draft rules and an increase in player earnings.

Despite the delay that Robertson’s lawsuit was responsible for, the end of the legal battle in 1976 allowed the leagues to merge with a much better environment for the players. Out of the six remaining teams in the ABA, the only four teams that would move onto NBA were the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets (now Brooklyn Nets), and San Antonio Spurs. The Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis folded, and their players were reassigned to new teams through a dispersal draft.

Despite the comedic overtone, the movie does take several elements from real life; just like in the films, only four teams were able to move on to NBA from ABA, though the reasons differed. Thus, ‘Semi-Pro’ is almost an homage to one of the most crucial times in American sports history, as the merger marked a significant change in the basketball industry and affected everyone in the field.

Read More: Where Was Semi-Pro (2008) Filmed?