Forgotten Franchises: The ABA’s Kentucky Colonels

The Kentucky Colonels were a noteworthy ABA franchise;  even though they weren’t one of the teams that eventually merged into the NBA, they were one of two franchises to exist during the ABA’s entire nine-year run without moving or changing their names (The other was the Indiana Pacers).

1971-72 Topps Basketball Walt Simon

The Colonels won the ABA Championship in 1975, and had three players that meet the Shlabotnik Test: Louie Dampier, Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore. What’s the “Shlabotnik Test”? A basketball player must be good if I, Joe Shlabotnik, have heard of them, even though I have never followed basketball.

In 1973, the team was sold to a group that intended to move the team to a new arena in Cincinnati, but when the arena plan fell through, the team was sold to a group that kept the team in Kentucky (although the did play a portion of their schedule in Cincy).  I think that every basketball “Forgotten Franchise” I’ve done has either moved to Cincinnati or *almost* moved to Cincinnati.

In 1975, the owner of the Colonels decided he could not afford both Issel and Gilmore, and Issel was traded to the Baltimore Claws, which folded after three preseason games. Issel was subsequently sent to the Denver Nuggets.

When the ABA merged with the NBA, the Colonels were not one of the four teams that the NBA approved of, so the franchise was folded.  The Colonels’ owner, John Y. Brown, used the money to buy the NBA’s Buffalo Braves and while some assumed that he would move the Braves to Louisville as a new Colonels franchise, two years later he moved the team to San Diego to become the Clippers.

Louisville has been used numerous times since then as a threatened relocation destination, but have not hosted an NBA team.

As for Walt Simon, the forward pictured on the card above, he played 7 years in the ABA and was an All-Star during the 1968-69 season (while with the New York Nets).  After his playing career he worked for the KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Corporation for 22 years, moving up to VP of franchising.


2 thoughts on “Forgotten Franchises: The ABA’s Kentucky Colonels

  1. I had a brief fling as an ABA fan when we first moved to Houston. The Houston Mavericks were in their first season. Went to a couple of games and there seemed to be more players than fans. We moved back east for a couple of years and when we got back to Houston the Mavs were gone.

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