Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1968-69 Minnesota Pipers

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Minnesota PipersAmerican Basketball Association (1968-1969)

Born: June 28, 1968 – The Pittsburgh Pipers relocate to Minneapolis, MN
Moved: 1969 (Pittsburgh Condors)


Team Colors:

Owners: William Erickson & Gabe Rubin

ABA Championships: None


The American Basketball Association began play in 1967 and established its league officers in Minneapolis. Former Minneapolis Lakers superstar George Mikan served as the ABA’s first commissioner. And the Twin Cities received one of the ABA’s eleven original franchises – the Minnesota Muskies. The Muskies, led by rookie center Mel Daniels, were outstanding and posted the second-best record in the league at 50-28. But Minnesotans ignored the team at the box office. The Muskies moved to Miami after the ABA’s inaugural season ended in May 1968.

Minnesota got another shot at the ABA just month later. Gabe Rubin, owner of the 1968 league champion Pittsburgh Pipers, sold a majority interest in his club to Minnesota attorney William Erickson. The Pipers had a superb roster of players, including the league’s reigning MVP Connie Hawkins, All-Star guard Charlie Williams, former Duke star Art Heyman and power forward Trooper Washington, who led the ABA in field goal percentage in 1967-68. Hawkins and Williams were both blacklisted from the NBA at the time due to dubious collegiate point shaving allegations.

Crucially, Pittsburgh Pipers head coach Vince Cazzetta did not move west with the team. Pipers’ ownership reportedly declined to pay his relocation expenses. Minnesota replaced Cazzetta with a man named Jim Harding. Harding was a collegiate coach, known for winning records and short tenures at a string of small schools. Harding was a drillmaster and self-described perfectionist, putting the Pipers through exhausting practices, banning soul music in the locker room and raging on the sidelines.

Minnesota PipersThe defending champs raced off to an 18-8 start in the fall of 1968. Connie Hawkins averaged nearly 35 points per game through the first month, including an ABA record 57 against the New York Nets on November 27, 1968. Jim Harding earned a spot coaching the Eastern Conference squad at the January 1968 ABA All-Star Game by virtue of the Pipers’ hot start. But Harding was beginning to unravel. Feuds with his players and Pipers management went public. In late December, Harding experienced chest pains and doctors diagnosed with him high blood pressure. He was ordered to take a six-week break from coaching the Pipers, but returned after three.

Meanwhile, injuries started to take a toll on the Pipers. Connie Hawkins missed 25 games after mid-season knee surgery. Minnesota’s record stood at 24-14 when Harding returned from his medical leave in mid-January 1969. The Pipers stumbled into the All-Star Break with a 2-5 record after Harding resumed his coaching duties.

Simmering tensions with the coach finally boiled over at the 1969 ABA All-Star Game in Louisville, Kentucky. Hawkins missed the game due to his knee problems. Trooper Washington and Charlie Williams represented the Pipers on the Eastern Conference team, along with Harding. Harding got into a late night physical altercation with Pipers founder and co-owner Gabe Rubin at the host hotel on the night before the game. The fracas left both men visibly bruised and scratched. Commissioner George Mikan removed Harding as coach of the Eastern All-Stars. The Pipers fired Harding  shortly thereafter. He never coached professional basketball again.

The Pipers faded in the second half and finished 4th in the East with a 36-42 record. They lost in the first round of the 1969 ABA playoffs to the Miami Floridians – the franchise that had been the Minnesota Muskies the year before.

Connie Hawkins averaged 30.4 points and 11.4 boards for the season. The Hawk earned First Team ABA All-Star honors for 1969 despite missing a third of the season. After the season, he settled his lawsuit with the National Basketball Association. The NBA ended his ban and paid him a $1.3 million settlement. He left the ABA and made his long-delayed NBA debut with the Phoenix Suns in the fall of 1969 . He was 27 years old. The Basketball Hall-of-Fame inducted Connie Hawkins in its Class of 2012.

The Pipers proved no more viable in the Twin Cities than the Muskies were the year before. At first the Pipers tried to cultivate a regional appeal by splitting games between the Met Center and the Duluth Arena. But the Duluth games were a box office flop and the experiment was abandoned by January 1969. After the 1968-69 season concluded in April 1969, co-owner William Erickson gave up on the Pipers and relinquished the club to founder Gabe Rubin. In the absence of any other options, Rubin moved the team back to Pittsburgh for the 1969-70 season. The franchise eventually went out of business in 1972.


Minnesota Pipers Shop

Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto

Met Center Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max


Minnesota Pipers Memorabilia


In Memoriam

Power forward Tom “Trooper” Washington suffered a fatal heart attack on the sideline while coaching the minor league Pittsburgh Pit Bulls on November 20, 2004. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary.

Guard/forward Art Heyman passed away on August 27, 2012 at age 71. New York Times obituary.

Pipers Hall-of-Fame forward/center Connie Hawkins died on October 6, 2017 at the age of 75. New York Times obituary.



American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs


Written by Drew Crossley

December 26th, 2017 at 4:05 pm

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