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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)

Arenas: 

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.

 

Links

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 26th, 2017 at 4:05 pm

1978-1981 Minnesota Fillies

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Minnesota FilliesWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise
Folded: Postseason 1981

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Gordon Nevers

WPBL Championships: None

 

The Minnesota Fillies were one of eight founding franchises in the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1978, which was the first pro hoops league for women in the United States.  Minnesota was one of only three clubs, along with the Chicago Hustle and New Jersey Gems, that managed to survive for all three seasons of the WPBL’s existence from 1978 to 1981.

The Fillies made their debut on December 15, 1978 losing to the Iowa Cornets 103-81 at the Met Center in Bloomington before an announced crowd of 4,102.  The Fillies debut season was a study in chaos.  Three different women and two men coached the Fillies through training camp and a 34-game regular season schedule.  The coaches included team owner Gordon Nevers, a former mortician with no previous basketball experience. The Fillies finished the 1978-79 season with a 17-17 record and missed the playoffs.

Minnesota FilliesThe Fillies finest season was their second one.  Nevers hired former University of Minnesota star Terry Kunze to coach the team and the Fillies responded with a 22-12 record.  They defeated the New Orleans Pride in the playoff quarterfinals, setting up a best-of-three series with their arch rivals, the Iowa Cornets, in the semis in March 1980.  The Fillies blew out the Cornets in Game One by a 108-87 margin, but Iowa won the next two games and ended the Fillies’ run.

Nevers’ financial problems sank the Fillies third and final season in the winter of 1980-81.  The club left the Met Center in favor of the smaller Minneapolis Auditorium because it was cheaper and better suited to the typical Fillies’ crowd of around 1,000 people a night.  Missed payrolls culminated in a March 21, 1981 protest by Terry Kunze and eight Fillies players prior to a game in Chicago.  The disgruntled Fillies walked off the court just before tipoff and refused to return.  Officials awarded  the game to Chicago via forfeit, dropping the Fillies record to a league-worst 7-25.  WBL Commissioner Sherwin Fischer suspended Kunze and the eight players indefinitely.

Minnesota finished out the season using replacement players.  The Faux-Fillies lost their first game by 48 points and finished the season 7-28.

Whether or not Nevers and his partners could have or would have re-capitalized the team for another season will never be known. The rest of the Women’s Professional Basketball League folded before a fourth season could be staged.

 

Minnesota Fillies Shop


Met Center Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

 

Minnesota Fillies Memorabilia

 

Downloads

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

 

Links

Full of Heart in an Empty House“, Sarah Pileggi, Sports Illustrated, March 10, 1980

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

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1984-1988 Minnesota Strikers

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Minnesota StrikersNorth American Soccer League (1984)
Major Indoor Soccer League (1984-1988)

Born: November 30, 1983 – Ft. Lauderdale Strikers relocate to Minnesota
Folded: June 22, 1988

Stadium: The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (62,220)

Arena: The Met Center (15,184)

Owners: Joe & Elizabeth Robbie

Soccer Bowl Championships: None
MISL Championships: None

 

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers (1977-1983) of the North American Soccer League moved to Minneapolis in December 1983. Strikers owner Elizabeth Robbie wanted a city with a suitable building for indoor soccer and hoping to rekindle the tremendous fan support generated by the NASL’s Minnesota Kicks (1976-1981) during the late 1970’s. The Robbie family had deep pockets – patriarch Joe Robbie also owned the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

The Kicks averaged over 30,000 fans per match in 1977, making the club one of the most popular in the history of American professional soccer.  But that was at the old outdoor Metropolitan Stadium, which closed in 1981 shortly after the Kicks went out of business.  The Strikers would play their “outdoor” soccer indoors, in the much maligned Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  The Strikers drew an average of 14,263 for twelve outdoor (ahem) matches in the summer of 1984. That was the second best figure in the floundering NASL, but a far cry from the glory years of the Kicks.

Tino Lettieri Minnesota StrikersIn August 1984, the Strikers accepted an invitation to switch to the Major Indoor Soccer League, along with the three other NASL clubs.  The NASL folded a few months later.  The Strikers were now an indoor soccer-only club and they would play in the wintertime at The Met Center, home of the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars.

The Strikers high point came in the spring of 1986, when the club made a run to the MISL championship series.  A bandwagon formed during the team’s playoff run, and the team briefly became a hot ticket in Minneapolis, packing large crowds into the Met Center during the postseason.  The Strikers ultimately lost the championship series to the MISL’s dynasty club, the San Diego Sockers.

Indoor soccer really never drew in Minnesota. The Strikers lasted in the MISL for four seasons, but the team was perennially among the league’s worst box office performers.  The Robbies publicly considered folding the club on several occasions. They finally did so in June of 1988.

Much of the Strikers’ national publicity during their Minnesota years came thanks to eccentric goalkeeper and bird enthusiast Tino Lettieri.  Lettieri, who played for the Kicks from 1977 to 1981, owned quite a few real parrots. But he was best known for “Ozzie” (pictured with Tino above left). Lettieri kept the stuffed toy parrot he kept tucked inside his goal during games, first outdoors in the NASL and later indoors in the MISL.  The tradition continued until 1985, when an otherwise entirely forgettable MISL Commissioner named Francis Dale earned the league national headlines by banning Ozzie from the league’s nets.

 

Minnesota Strikers Shop

Minnesota Strikers Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max


The Met Center Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

Minnesota Strikers Memorabilia

 

Strikers Video

Strikers vs. San Diego Sockers. 1986 MISL Championship Series

 

In Memoriam

Joe Robbie passed away on January 7, 1990 at the age of 73.

Elizabeth Robbie passed a year after her husband in November 1991.

English defender Barry Wallace, who played from the Strikers from 1984 to 1985, passed away of cancer at age 47 in 2006.

 

Downloads

1984 Minnesota Strikers NASL Results & Attendance

1987-88 MISL Rule Book & Schedule

 

Links

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

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