A Salute to the ABA!

Over the weekend, it dawned on me that all four of the basketball teams from the American Basketball Association back in 1976 were in the NBA’s first round playoffs this year.

The ABA’s Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, and the San Antonio Spurs all made it into the 2019 NBA playoffs.

This marks just the sixth season (out of 42 seasons since the NBA/ABA merger) that all four of the ABA’s surviving teams have made it into the NBA playoffs in the same year (1994, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2013). 

San Antonio has made it into the NBA playoffs for a record 22 straight seasons (winning five NBA championships during that time).  None of the other three ABA teams have won an NBA championship yet.

So, with the ABA quartet into the first round of the NBA playoffs, my ancient basketball brain took an enjoyable nostalgia trip back into the 1970’s to look at the always fun and suspenseful drama on the nine-year history of the ABA.

In the late 1960’s, it became clear that football’s American Football League was going to “make it” and join the established National Football League. 

The next great sports idea was to do it again – this time with a competing basketball league!

At the time the American Basketball Association was born in 1967, there were only ten NBA teams (there are now 30!). 

The ABA and began play in eleven cities.  Below is a list of the original teams and nicknames:

Indiana (Indianapolis) Pacers (as in the pace car at the Indy 500)

New York/New Jersey Americans (later changed nickname to “Nets”)

Denver Rockets (later changed nickname to “Nuggets”)

Dallas Chapparals (moved to San Antonio six years later and became the Spurs)

Kentucky (Louisville) Colonels (yes, as in “KFC”)

Houston Mavericks

Minnesota (Minneapolis) Muskies (a freshwater fish in northern states)

New Orleans Buccaneers

Oakland Oaks

Pittsburgh Pipers

Anaheim Amigos

Only the top four teams above ended- up coming into the NBA nine years later in 1976.  However, only the Indiana Pacers and the Kentucky Colonels stayed in the same city for all nine years of the ABA’s existence and never changed nicknames. 

The Denver Rockets officially changed their nickname in 1974 to “Nuggets” after the NBA moved the San Diego Rockets to Houston (a city which had failed miserably in the ABA).  By 1974, Denver was hopeful that their ABA team would be accepted into the NBA. Even if the league folded, the city felt comfortable that it would likely receive an NBA expansion team soon thereafter.

The Houston Mavericks’ ABA franchise was moved twice.  After two seasons in Houston playing to sparse crowds, the team moved to North Carolina and became the Carolina Cougars as it played home games in the cities of Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem. 

Five years later, the team was moved again to St. Louis and became “The Spirits of St. Louis” for two seasons before the league was dissolved.  The team played to crowds in St. Louis of less than 1,000 per home game.

The owners in St. Louis had been left out of the NBA/ABA merger, but they demanded to receive a percentage “cut” of the future television revenues associated with the ABA franchises in perpetuity.   In the merger year of 1976, the NBA and ABA television revenues were relatively insignificant (a few million dollars per season). 

However, by the year 2012, reports claimed that the owners of the defunct St. Louis ABA franchise had received an estimated $255 million in television revenues since the league’s 1976 merger with the NBA.  In the past few years, the NBA negotiated a buy-out and renegotiated to award the ABA’s St. Louis owners over $500 million in cash and a much smaller future TV royalty percentage.

Meanwhile, other ABA franchises simply wandered from city to city and ultimately folded.

The Minnesota Muskies became the Miami Floridians after just one year in 1968.  Like the team in Carolina, the “Floridians” then traveled around the state with Miami, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, and West Palm Beach hosting “home” games for four years until the team folded in 1972.

The New Orleans Buccaneers swashbuckled their way to the first ABA championship back in 1968.  By 1970, the team moved to Memphis (nicknames ranged from Pros, Sounds, and TAM’s (Tennessee-Arkansas-Mississippi – GENIUS, eh?). 

In 1975, the team moved to Baltimore and renamed the “Hustlers”.  After public protests prior to their first game, the team changed names to “Claws”.  They folded during the Preseason in Baltimore in 1975! 

The Oakland Oaks survived for two seasons before moving to Washington (Capitals) in 1969.  After only one season, the team relocated to Virginia and, like Carolina and Miami, traveled from city to city (Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond, and Roanoke) for their home games for the next six seasons before the team folded just one month prior to the ABA/NBA deal in 1976.

The Pittsburgh Pipers played one year in the Steel City and then, despite solid attendance (by ABA standards, that is), moved to Minneapolis for its second season.  Lack of attendance in Minnesota in 1968 forced the team to move back to Pittsburgh in 1969. 

The team came back to Pittsburgh but the fans weren’t happy that the Pipers “played them” (pun intended).  So, management opted for a “Name the Team” contest. 

The winning entry was the Pittsburgh Pioneers.   A local college already had the Pioneer moniker and threatened to sue!  Thus, the team became known at the Pittsburgh Condors for three seasons before the team folded in 1972 (four years before the NBA/ABA merger).

The original Anaheim Amigos became the Los Angeles Stars in 1968 after just one season.  After two lackluster years in the big city, the Stars relocated to Salt Lake City and became the Utah Stars.  

The Utah Stars drew great crowds (8,500 per game), but the owner apparently wasn’t very good at managing the team’s expenses. The team folded in 1975 after the owner missed the team’s payroll.   

Eventually, Utah’s fans were rewarded and Salt Lake City eventually received an NBA team in 1979 when the New Orleans Jazz NBA franchise owner relocated his team there (and, oddly enough, didn’t change the team’s nickname).  The Utah Jazz still play in today’s NBA.

The American Basketball Association brought the red, white, and blue basketball (which I still love), the three-point shot (which the NBA finally adopted in 1969), and added a significant increase of player talent such as future Hall-of-Famers Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Moses Malone, Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore, and my personal favorite, sharpshooting guard, Louie Dampier

The ABA’s teams and talented players gave the NBA some much needed energy and innovation at a time when professional basketball was struggling to find its niche.

SwampSwami salutes and will forever treasure his memories of the ABA! 

Take Note! Bring the Jazz back to New Orleans!

Dear NBA:

The time has come.  It is long overdue.  It is time to return the team nickname of “Jazz” back to its rightful basketball home in New Orleans!

Though New Orleans’ current nickname of Pelicans (the state bird of Louisiana) is pleasant enough for the city’s professional basketball franchise, just about everyone outside of the state of Utah knows that N’awlins should reclaim its former basketball moniker.

New Orleans is world renowned for its jazz.  Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Wynton Marsalis, and the Dukes of Dixieland are just a few of the famous jazz music performers who have been linked to New Orleans over the years.

According to one website, Salt Lake City does have a few jazz clubs open on the weekend.

New Orleans has the French Quarter featuring Bourbon Street with its jazz clubs playing for patrons day and night.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (the musical one) is held every spring for nearly two weeks with hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the city even sported a Six Flags amusement park named “JazzLand” (which was severely damaged during the hurricane and remains closed today).

Even the U.S. National Park Service acknowledges a long history of jazz music in Louisiana’s famous Crescent City since 1895.

Enough is enough.  This is not a negative story about Salt Lake City or the state of Utah.  They have done a terrific job of supporting their franchise over the years.  They will also do a fine job supporting their professional basketball team with a new and more appropriate nickname in the future.

Can you imagine the NFL’s Green Bay Packers moving to another city to become the “San Antonio Packers”?  Neither can I.

How did Salt Lake City become the home of the Jazz?

Salt Lake City and New Orleans share a common basketball link dating back to the American Basketball Association of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  The Utah Stars and the New Orleans Buccaneers both played in the ABA.  Worth noting is that the 1971 Utah Stars possess one thing that has alluded the current Utah Jazz – a league championship.

The New Orleans Buccaneers were an early casualty in the ABA as the team moved to Memphis in 1970.  Fortunately for New Orleans, the National Basketball Association awarded an expansion franchise to the city in 1974, and the New Orleans Jazz was born.  Featuring the Mardi Gras-themed colors of purple, green, and gold, the new NBA team played most of their home games in the cavernous Louisiana Superdome.

Meanwhile in Salt Lake City, the ABA folded in 1976 with the NBA grabbing four of the most promising franchises (Nets, Pacers, Nuggets, and Spurs).  Salt Lake City had terrific fan attendance, but the NBA (at the time) thought the market was too small to be granted a franchise.

The New Orleans Jazz traded with the Atlanta Hawks to acquire LSU phenom, Pistol Pete Maravich (shown at the top), to draw fans to the Superdome.  Unfortunately, the team’s payroll became strained after bringing Louisiana’s favorite hoopster home to become the face of the franchise.  The New Orleans Jazz basketball team added another color to the palate – red ink – at a time when the ownership couldn’t afford it.

Just before the 1979-1980 season began, the New Orleans NBA franchise suddenly relocated to Salt Lake City.  It was too close to the beginning of the season to change the nickname of the team, so Utah retained the name “Jazz”, the musical note logo, and even the Mardi Gras colors of the team.

Fast forward 39 years, the Utah Jazz have been a very successful franchise.  With NBA Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone and John Stockton leading the way, the Utah Jazz made it to the NBA Finals twice, but they are yet to win an NBA championship.

My theory is that the team is jinxed and should return the rightful nickname of Jazz back to New Orleans.  For the fans in Utah, it would mark a chance to start anew with a fresh nickname.  The Utah Stars of the ABA were a champion.  It’s time for a change in Salt Lake City.

Take note, Utah.  Time to face the music, and give the Jazz back to New Orleans!