Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘All-American Basketball Alliance’ Category

1978 Kentucky Stallions

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Kentucky StallionsAll-American Basketball Alliance (1978)

Born: 1977 – AABA founding franchise.
Folded: February 1978

Arena: Louisville Gardens

Team Colors:

Owner:

 

The Kentucky Stallions were a Louisville-based franchise in the short-lived All-American Basketball Alliance.  The AABA had eight franchises in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S., but it quickly became apparent that the league’s investors didn’t have any money.  The league launched on January 6, 1978 with a four-team doubleheader hosted by the Stallions in Louisville.  Within 30 days of its debut, the entire league was out of business.

The AABA came along a year-and-a-half after the demise of the American Basketball Association (1967-1976).  The ABA was a legitimate major league that ultimately forced a merger with the NBA. The AABA was an explicitly minor league operation that promised (but failed to deliver) modest pay of $100 per game for its players.  Nevertheless, there were plenty of pro basketball players out of work due to the 1976 closure of the ABA.  The AABA managed to attract a considerable number of ABA vets. In fact, the league could have been mistaken at times for an Indiana Pacers Old-Timers Tour.   Ex-Pacers guard Billy Keller, who won three ABA titles with Indiana in the early 1970’s, served as player-coach for the Stallions.  The AABA’s Indiana Wizards signed Keller’s former teammates Roger Brown, Mel Daniels, Freddie Lewis and Bob Netolicky.

Other notable players on the Stallions included former Chicago Bulls guard Bobby Wilson, who led the AABA in scoring at 26.6 points per game, and former Kentucky Colonels (ABA) big man Goose Ligon.

The Stallions’ record was 7-5 at the time the All-American Basketball Alliance abruptly folded in early February 1978.

 

Links

All-American Basketball Alliance Programs

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1978 West Virginia Wheels

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West Virginia WheelsAll-American Basketball Alliance (1978)

Born: 1977 – AABA founding franchise.
Folded: February 1978

Arena: Wheeling Civic Center

Team Colors:

Owner: David Segal

 

The West Virginia Wheels are a forgotten minor league entry in the All-American Basketball Alliance, a penniless organization that last only four weeks in the winter of 1978.  The Wheels were one of eight founding AABA clubs, stretching from Rochester, New York in the north to Georgia in the south and west to Indianapolis.

27-year old former Duquesne star Mike Barr, who spent time with the Virginia Squires and Spirits of St. Louis of the ABA and the Kansas City Kings of the NBA, was the team’s player-coach.  David Segal, a Philadelphia-based attorney, was the nominal owner of the Wheels and also the President of the fledgling league.

The Wheels made their debut on January 11, 1978 by defeating the Kentucky Stallions 109-107 at the Wheeling Civic Center.  It quickly became apparent that the AABA organizers had no money and no clue what they were doing.  Only one owner – Dick Hill of the Rochester Zeniths – actually put up the $25,000 franchise fee.  Hill reportedly had to buy uniforms for all eight teams in the league as well.  Players – who were supposed to earn $100 per game – went unpaid throughout the league.

The Wheels managed to play 11 games during January 1978, including four home dates in Wheeling.  Three consecutive late January home game were cancelled when the Wheels’ scheduled opponents couldn’t afford to travel to Wheeling.  On January 31, 1978 the Wheels played what would be their final game, a 119-113 road victory over the Carolina Lightning in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The AABA folded the following week after less than a month of operation.  The Wheels’ final record was 3-8.

 

Links

All-American Basketball Alliance Programs

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1978 New York Guard

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All-American Basketball Alliance (1978)

Born: 1977 – AABA founding franchise
Folded: February 1978

Arena: Westchester County Center

Team Colors:

Owner:

 

This very obscure minor league basketball team from the All-American Basketball Alliance played just nine games before folding. The AABA formed in January 1978. The level of play was roughly on par with the Eastern Basketball Association (1946-1978). The EBA was a no-frills bus league which offered a place to play for NBA training camp cuts and for refugees from the recently defunct American Basketball Association (1967-1976).

The Guard were based in White Plains, New York at the Count Center. The team boasted a few New York Knicks connections. Head coach Fuzzy Levane coached the Knickerbockers in 1958 and 1959. Forward Mel Davis out of St. John’s was the Knicks’ 1st round draft pick in 1973. Other notable players included New York playground legend Fly Williams and former ABA All-Star center Gene Moore.

Not all of the Guard players were at the end of the professional road. Young center Major Jones went on to a six-year NBA career with the Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons from 1979 to 1985.

The Guard made their debut on January 11, 1978 with a 129-110 road loss to the Rochester Zeniths. The team played eight more games over the next three weeks and compiled a record of 4-5. This included the final game in league history on February 2, 1978, which was another road loss in Rochester. The AABA turned out to have no real financial backing and closed its doors a few days later.

 

In Memoriam

Forward Larry McNeill died on December 29, 2004 at age 53.

Guard head coach Fuzzy Levane passed away on April 30, 2012 of heart failure at age 92. New York Times obituary.

 

Downloads

January 11, 1978 New York Guard @ Rochester Zeniths Scorecard & Roster

 

Links

All-American Basketball Alliance Programs

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1977-1983 Rochester Zeniths Basketball & Softball

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Rochester ZenithsAll-American Basketball Alliance (1978)
Continental Basketball Association (1978-1983)

American Professional Slo-Pitch League (1978-1979)

Born: 1977 – AABA founding franchise.
Folded: June 30, 1983 – The Zeniths cease operations.

Arenas (Basketball):

Stadium (Softball): Harris Whalen Park

Team Colors: Royal Blue & Gold

Owners:

  • 1978-1979: Dick Hill
  • 1979-1980: Dick Hill & Art Stock
  • 1980-1983: Numerous community stockholders

CBA Champions: 1979 & 1981

 

Dick Hill owned Western New York’s top television dealership in the 1970’s, selling and servicing the dominant brands of the day – Zenith and RCA.  In 1977, Hill dove into the world of professional sports, acquiring a minor league basketball franchise in the new All-American Basketball Alliance.  A few months later, Hill also purchased a expansion franchise in the American Professional Slo-Pitch League, a men’s pro league entering its second season in the summer of 1978.   He named both of the basketball and softball clubs after the brand that fueled his dealership’s success – the Rochester Zeniths.

The AABA turned out to be a disaster.  Hill discovered that most of the other owners had no money and by February 1978 the whole things collapsed after a little more than a month of play.  Hill’s Zeniths were the class of the league at 10-1 and he was able to keep the basketball Zeniths going after the AABA’s demise and enter his club into the Continental Basketball Association for the 1978-79 season.

Rochester ZenithsMeanwhile, the softball Zeniths debuted in the APSPL, playing out of Harris Whalen Park in suburban Penfield, New York.  The softball team finished their 1978 debut season last in their division with a 22-42 record, second worst in the 12-team league.

It was a rough first year for Hill, between the AABA debacle and the lackluster debut of the softball team.  But things turned around once the Zeniths entered the Continental Basketball Association in the winter of 1978-79.

Under Head Coach Maura Panaggio, the Zeniths had the best record in the league at 36-12.  The CBA was mostly a Northeastern circuit at the time, stretching from Pennsylvania to Maine, but the league did have one remote outpost 3,000 miles away in Alaska – the Anchorage North Knights.  The Zeniths swept the Knights in the 1979 championship series.  Zeniths guard Andre McCarter, formerly with the Kansas City Kings of the NBA, won the CBA’s 1979 Most Valuable Player award.

The softball Zeniths also turned things around in 1979, winning their division with a 35-27 record.  They lost to the Kentucky Bourbons in the playoff semi-finals.  1979 was the last year for softball under the “Zeniths” name in Rochester.  When the club returned in 1980, it was known as the Rochester Express.

A few odd stories about the Zeniths…

The basketball team split their games between the downtown Rochester War Memorial and the Dome Arena in suburban Henrietta.  The Dome Arena was never intended for basketball and didn’t have a hardwood floor.  As an alternative, the building management installed a green rug with basketball lines, similar to what was used in some European countries at the time.  The ball made a muffled “thump” with every dribble on the carpet.

Rochester ZenithsPrior to the 1979-80 season, New Jersey nightclub owner Art Stock joined Dick Hill as an investor in the basketball team.  Stock was known for his “Art Stock’s Playpen” nightclubs up and down the East Coast from Fort Lauderdale to the Jersey Shore in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  As part of Stock’s investment deal, the night club owner got to replace Mauro Panaggio as Zenith’s head coach during the 1979-80 season.

“Art lived in Atlantic City where he had another night club.  The team’s trainer and players ran practices in his absence.  He would fly in for games, female entourage of Disco Babies in tow, or meet them on the road,” former Zeniths public address announcer Terry Proctor wrote in a 2005 column for New York’s Lake and Valley Clarion.  “The team was a toy to him.  The players didn’t listen to him and were so good they coached themselves.”

In spite of their absentee coach, the Zeniths returned to the CBA Championship Series in 1980 for a rematch with the Northern Knights.  This time Anchorage got the best of it, winning the 1980 title.  The Northern Knights were coached by Bill Musselman, a who would take over the top job with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers just a few months later.  Only in the CBA would the league championship series pit a coach on the NBA fast track against a disco owner whose team played basketball on a rug.

Stock left after the 1979-80 season and Mauro Panaggio returned to coach the team.  He led the Zeniths to their second and final CBA championship in the spring of 1981.  This time they defeated the Montana Golden Nuggets, who were led by future NBA coach George Karl.

The Rochester Zeniths continued on through the 1982-83 season, with Panaggio at the helm as President, General Manager and Head Coach.  The team closed up shop in June 1983 citing dwindling crowds at the War Memorial and financial losses.

 

Rochester Zeniths Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Former Zeniths center Jim Bradley was shot and killed in Portland, Oregon on February 20, 1982.  He was 29 years old.

 

Downloads

1979 American Professional Slo-Pitch League Franchise Sales Brochure

1982-83 Continental Basketball Association Magazine (Program Insert)

 

Links

Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs

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1978 Carolina Lightning

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Carolina Lightning BasketballAll-American Basketball Alliance (1978)

Born: 1977 – AABA founding franchise.
Folded: February 1978

Arena: Winston-Salem Memorial Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owner: Richard Pollak

 

The Carolina Lightning basketball team was a minor league outfit that lasted little more than a month in the all-but-forgotten All-American Basketball Alliance (AABA) in the winter of 1978.  Based out of the Winston-Salem Memorial Coliseum, the Lightning played ten games between January and early February 1978. Then the comically under-capitalized AABA imploded around them.

The eight franchises of the AABA – which also included Indiana, Georgia (Macon), Kentucky (Louisville), New York (Westchester), Richmond, Rochester and West Virginia (Wheeling) – intended to play a 74-game schedule.  The start-up league promised a standard base salary of $9,600 per player plus 4% to 8% of franchise profits (haha).

The Lightning were built by 23-year old player-Head Coach Mike Dunleavy.  The University of South Carolina grad made the Philadelphia 76ers as a 6th round longshot in 1976.  The Sixers cut him in November 1977 early in his second pro season.  Dunleavy latched on with the new AABA shortly thereafter and in one month’s time cobbled together an experienced roster.

34-year old Ed Manning had nearly a decade of service in the NBA and the American Basketball Association.  Manning’s 11-year old son Danny, a future #1 overall NBA draft pick, occasionally attended practice with his father.  Bob Bigelow was the 1975 1st round draft pick of the Kansas City Kings, recently released and playing minor league basketball in the Eastern Association back home in Massachusetts when his friend Dunleavy called.  Norton Barnhill was a Winston-Salem native who had earned a cup of coffee with the Seattle Supersonics the previous season as a rookie out of Washington State.  Melvin Watkins was captain of the UNC-Charlotte 49ers Final Four team the previous spring of 1977.

Carolina Lightning BasketballThe Lighting debuted on January 6th, 1978 against the Indiana Wizards in one half of an AABA doubleheader played at the Louisville Gardens in Kentucky.

Bob Bigelow – Forward 1978

Indiana had signed a bunch of the old Pacers’ stars from the ABA.  They had Freddie Lewis, Roger Brown, Mel Daniels.  Roger was a great player.  Not a Hall of Famer, but maybe he should be.  They were all in their mid-to-late thirties by then and had probably been drinking more beer lately than playing basketball.

Roger Brown was going to guard me.  I told Dunleavy ‘I’m going to run this old man into the ground!'”  Mel Daniels was a terrific player.  Maybe 6-9, 255 pounds.  By this time he was huge – more like 6-9, 300 pounds.  My biggest concern was that he was going to fall on me.  We played them in that big 18,000-seat arena in Louisville.  There couldn’t have been more than 500 people there.

The situation in Carolina was no better.   One Lightning home game at Memorial Coliseum drew only 170 fans.  Team President Richard Pollak admitted to The Associated Press that the players only received $300 each for eight weeks work after his investment partners withdrew.

Bob Bigelow

I was living in an apartment with Mike Dunleavy and his wife. One day the Carolina owner called up and told Mike ‘we’re cancelled’.  Mike said ‘the game?’  And the guy said ‘No. The league.’ And that was it.  I packed up my stuff and drove home to Winchester, Massachusetts, one day ahead of the big blizzard of ’78.  I got home just in time to dig out my parents’ 80-foot driveway.

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After their bizarre sojourn in the AABA, Dunleavy and Bigelow both returned to the NBA in part-time roles by the end of the 1977-78 season.  Dunleavy went on to a lengthy NBA career.  He later became a sought-after NBA Head Coach, leading the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers in a twenty-year uninterrupted run from 1990 to 2010.  He earned 1999 NBA Coach-of-the-Year honors with Portland in 1999.

Bob Bigelow is a respected speaker and clinician, who has lectured worldwide on the role of youth sports in child development.  His book Just Let The Kids Play was released in 2001.

The All-American Basketball Alliance of 1978 is not be confused with the bizarre plan announced by a Georgia-based boxing and wrestling promoter in January 2010 to form a whites-only basketball league in the South also known as the All-America Basketball Alliance.  Needless to say, the universally reviled plan was never pursued beyond the initial press release, although it did attract attention (and ridicule) from everyone from The Daily Show to the NAACP.

Links

All-American Basketball Alliance Programs

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