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1970-1975 Utah Stars

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Utah StarsAmerican Basketball Association (1971-1975)

Born: June 11, 1970 – The Los Angeles Stars relocate to Salt Lake City, Utah
Folded: December 2, 1975

Arena: The Salt Palace

Team Colors:

Owners:

ABA Champions: 1971

 

The Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association were the state of Utah’s first major league professional sports franchise. The team arrived in June 1970 after cable television pioneer Bill Daniels acquired and moved the ABA’s Los Angeles Stars club. The Stars were unloved in L.A., but Daniels acquired a very strong team. Los Angeles played in the 1970 ABA championship series, losing to the Indiana Pacers.

The Stars’ first season in Salt Lake was a charmed one. The team broke the ABA’s season attendance record with 262,342 fans for 42 home dates. On the court, center Zelmo Beaty arrived from the NBA. The two-time NBA All-Star actually signed with the Los Angeles Stars in 1969, but had to sit out the 1969-70 season before he could jump leagues. The Stars met the Kentucky Colonels in the 1971 ABA championship series. For the decisive 7th game on May 18, 1971, a standing-room crowd of 13,260 Utahns packed the 12,224-seat Salt Palace. The Stars knocked off the Colonels 131-121. Beaty earned Playoff MVP honors.

The Stars won the ABA’s Western Division for the next three seasons. The road back to the ABA championship ran through the Indiana Pacers. In 1972 and 1973, the Pacers eliminated the Stars in the playoff semi-finals. In 1974, the Stars best Indiana in the semis but then lost to the Julius Erving-led New York Nets in the championship series.

Utah StarsThe Stars final two seasons were defined by ownership turmoil. Owner Bill Daniels announced three separate sales of the Stars between April 1974 and June 1975.  All three sales blew up and ended with the cash-strapped Daniels back in control of the team. Amidst the confusion, All-Stars Zelmo Beaty, Jimmy Jones and Willie Wise and head Coach Joe Mullaney left the team.

Meanwhile, the Stars made national headlines by signing 19-year old Moses Malone to a 5-year, $1 million contract in the fall of 1974. Malone became the first player in the modern era to jump directly from high school to pro basketball.

Bill Daniels’ third and final effort to sell the Utah Stars came in June 1975. Daniels unloaded the team to a Mormon con artist named Snell Johnson and his brother Lyle. The Johnson brothers talked a big game about their sales prowess but put no capital of their own into the team. Less than a month into the 1975-76 ABA season, Daniels was forced to step back in and try to raise enough cash to keep the Stars afloat. The ABA terminated the franchise on December 2, 1975 for failing to make payroll. The Stars had a 4-12 record at the time. Most of the team’s top players, including Moses Malone and All-Star Ron Boone, were sold off to the Spirits of St. Louis to offset the team’s unpaid bills.

Pro basketball returned to Utah and the Salt Palace in 1979 when the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz moved to Salt Lake. Tom Nissalke, who was the last head coach of the Utah Stars in 1975, became the first coach of the Utah Jazz in 1979.

 

Utah Stars Shop

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

 

Utah Stars Memorabilia

 

Stars Video

20-minute documentary from the Stars’ 1971 ABA championship campaign: “We’re No. 1: Highlights of the 1970-71 Season”.

 

In Memoriam

Stars owner Bill Daniels passed away on March 7, 2000 at the age of 79. New York Times obituary.

Head Coach Joe Mullaney (Stars ’73-’74) died of cancer on March 8, 2000 one day after his former boss Bill Daniels passed away. Mullany was 74 years old. New York Times obituary.

Center Zelmo Beaty (Stars ’70-’74) died of cancer on August 27, 2013. The three-time ABA All-Star was 73. Salt Lake Tribune obituary.

Center Moses Malone (Stars ’74-’75) died in his sleep from heart disease on September 13, 2015 at age 60. New York Times obituary.

 

Links

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 24th, 2017 at 9:32 pm

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