Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1982-1986 Detroit Spirits

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Continental Basketball Association (1982-1986)

Born: 1982 – CBA expansion franchise.
Moved: 1986 (Savannah Spirits)

Arenas:

Team Colors: Red, Silver & Black

Owners:

 

The Detroit Spirits were a minor league basketball franchise that toiled in the shadow of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons for five seasons in the mid-1980’s.  The Spirits attracted some attention at the outset of their first season in 1982-83 by signing cult basketball enigma Marvin “Bad News” Barnes.  Barnes, a former Providence College star, was the American Basketball Association’s 1974 Rookie-of-the-Year. But his subsequent pro career was dogged by erratic behavior, arrests for firearms and narcotics, and general under achievement.  Playing in the CBA was a form of penance.  Barnes’ Spirits contract was worth $5,000 for the season.  Rival big man Moses Malone, the runner-up to Barnes for ABA Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1974, had a $2.2 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1982-83.  As he had in previous stops, Barnes missed Spirits practices and games. The team eventually suspended him.

The Spirits won the Continental Basketball Association championship in 1983, their first season of operation. They defeated the Montana Golden Nuggets, coached by George Karl, in the championship series.  Minor league legend Tico Brown scored 60 points, a CBA playoff record, in Detroit’s Game 5 victory.

Despite the championship, Spirits owner Agustin Arbulu endured a number of headaches during his first season. Playoff games at Cobo Arena drew only a few hundred fans per game. Then there was a bizarre episode where inmates at the Dunes Correctional Facility in Michigan somehow got hold of the Spirits’ long distance calling code. The prisoners charged over $19,000 of long distance calls to the team account.

A return visit to the CBA championship series in 1985 resulted in a loss to the Tampa Bay Thrillers.

The Spirits started out at Cobo Arena downtown, but attendance was poor. The team moved to smaller, cheaper venues in subsequent seasons, including Calihan Hall at the University of Detroit.

In April of 1986 the Spirits moved to Savannah, Georgia where they became known as the Savannah Spirits.

 

Detroit Spirits Shop

Bad News: The Turbulent Life of Marvin Barnes, Pro Basketball’s Original Renegade by Mike Carey

 

In Memoriam

Center Marvin Barnes died of a drug overdose on September 8, 2014 at age 62. Providence Journal obituary.

 

Links

Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs

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Written by AC

August 5th, 2013 at 2:40 am

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