Forgotten Franchises: The ABA’s San Diego Conquistadors / Sails

Going into the 1972-73 season the ABA had two teams fold, so to keep the league with 10 teams the league expanded for the first and only time.  The expansion team was granted to San Diego (which had lost the Rockets to Houston), and that team was called the Conquistadors, or “Q’s” for short.

For the first season the team was coached by K.C. Jones, who would go on to lead the Celtics to two championships and also make the Hall Of Fame as a player.  The team was expected to be horrible, but surprised by being on the low side of mediocre, finishing with a 30-54 record and squeaking into the playoffs.  They got swept by the Utah Stars in the first round.

For their second season, the ownership made a big splash by signing Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain to be their player/coach.  However, a Lakers lawsuit prevented Chamberlain from suiting up, so he remained solely the coach of the Q’s.

1974-75 Topps - [Base] #250 - Wilt Chamberlain - Courtesy of COMC.com

1974-75 Topps – [Base] #250 – Wilt Chamberlain – Courtesy of COMC.com

Wilt’s heart didn’t seem to be in it as solely a coach, so he was one-and-done with the Q’s.  The team did make their second and final playoff appearance, and once again lost to Utah in the first round, but this time they took it to 6 games.

The third season saw two new coaches come and go and ended with a 31-53 record.

After the third season, the team was sold and the name was changed to the San Diego Sails, complete with new colors, new uniforms and mostly new players.

The team made a go of it, but struggled out of the gate, and it also became apparent that the team would never be allowed to join the NBA to compete against the Lakers in southern California.  On 11/12/75 the plug was pulled and the San Diego Sails folded, the second of three ABA teams to fold during that final ABA season.

Post-Mortem
The NBA’s Buffalo Braves moved to San Diego in 1978 and became the San Diego Clippers. That Clippers team lasted just six seasons before moving north in 1984 to become the Los Angeles Clippers. San Diego has not had an NBA team since.

Featured Cards

Red Robbins was a career ABA guy, having played in 8 seasons with 5 teams, being named All-ABA twice, and winning a league championship with the 1970-71 Utah Stars.

Travis Grant was a 1st round (13th overall) draft pick of the Lakers in 1972.  Early in his second season he was dropped by the Lakers and jumped over to the Q’s.  He’d also play in the ABA for the Kentucky Colonels and Indiana Pacers.

George Adams played in all three seasons that the team was the Conquistadors, but despite what the card says, he didn’t play for the San Diego Sails.

Other notable players
Billy Shepherd – dangerous 3-point shot guy
Chuck Williams – 2nd in the ABA in 1972/73 in Assists
Caldwell Jones – 3rd in the ABA in 1973/74 in Rebounds
Dwight “Bo” Lamar – All-Rookie for the Q’s in 1973/74, would play a season with the Lakers

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Forgotten Franchises: The ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals

The Dallas Chaparrals were a charter member of the ABA, starting with the 1967-68 season.  During their first few seasons, the team regularly had a winning record and repeatedly made the playoffs, but they ran into poor attendance and general disinterest in Dallas.

dallas-chaparrals-logo

Before  the 1970/71 season, the team announced that they would become a regional franchise called the Texas Chaparrals, and would also play games in Fort Worth and Lubbock.  This was such a failed experiment that the plug was pulled on Fort Worth after two months, and Lubbock did not fair much better.  After one season, the experiment was over and they returned to being the Dallas Chaparrals.

In early 1973, the rumors were flying that groups from New Jersey and New Mexico were eyeing the Chaps.  That February, the ABA announced that the team would move to New Jersey, and eventually move to the Meadowlands upon completion.  The league signed off on this move, pending approval of the New York Nets, as the Meadowlands fell in their their territory.  The Chaparrals did not move to New Jersey, so it seems safe to assume that the Nets did not give their approval.

Before the 1973/74 season, in an unusual move, the team was leased to a San Antonio group with an option to buy after three years.  At the time, San Antonio was the largest city in the country without a major sports franchise.  The team was such an overwhelming success in San Antonio – it took them only 16 games to pass the previous season’s attendance in Dallas – that the lease was torn up and the group bought the team.  That team is, as you might have guessed, the San Antonio Spurs.

As for Dallas, they would not have another major league basketball team until the expansion Dallas Mavericks arrived for the 1980/81 season.

Among those who have played for the Chaparrals include Cincy Powell (an All-Star in 1970), John Beasley (three-time All-Star and the 1969 ABA All-Star Game MVP), and Joe Hamilton.

1971-72 Topps Basketball Joe Hamilton

This is Joe Hamilton’s rookie card.  He was named to the ABA’s All-Rookie  team, and once finished 5th in the league in free throw percentage.

About the team name…

“Chaparral” makes me think of this (pardon the crappy photo of a Hot Wheels car I keep on my desk at work):

hot-wheels-chaparral-2

…or rather, the Chaparral Racing team which had been dominant in the 1960’s and got immortalized for me via Hot Wheels and A/FX slot cars.

So I was puzzled when I looked chaparral up in the dictionary and found references to thickets of shrubs, or sometimes the land in which such thickets of shrubs grew.  Huh?

Some of the newspaper articles I saw said that the ABA team’s owners couldn’t decide on a name, so they just named it after the Chaparral Club restaurant where they’d met.  This may be apocryphal, I don’t know.

THEN… I found out that there’s a bird called the Chaparral Bird or Chaparral Cock… it’s a member of the cuckoo family and is also known as a Roadrunner (Meep!  Meep!).  The team’s logo features a bird like that, so it seems that this is what they were going for.  Maybe this would’ve been more obvious to me if I’d ever been in the southwest.

Regardless of the origin of the name, shortening it to “Chaps” for the uniform wasn’t the greatest idea, in my eyes.  It brings to mind a team of posh players saying things like “I say, Chaps!  Spiffing takeaway!  Jolly good!”


Black Friday COMC Sale!

It’s Black Friday, and all that entails!

COMC is having a promotion.  Check out my cards!  Check out other people’s cards! If you’re running a promotion, feel free to leave a link in the comments, and I promise to look at your wares.

Forgotten Franchises: The ABA’s Spirits Of St. Louis

It’s been a while since my last “Forgotten Franchises” post, but this one took a while to get all my notes organized, because there was a lot of stuff going on off the hardwood for this former ABA franchise.

Spirits Of St Louis logo

The Spirits Of St. Louis was (or maybe wasn’t) the final incarnation of a franchise that spanned the entire history of the ABA. The team started as the Houston Mavericks, spent a few years as the Carolina Cougars (a regional franchise that was based out of Greensboro, NC) and then became the Spirits… At least technically. As Cougars coach Larry Brown and most of the roster went elsewhere, there are some who regard the Spirits as an expansion team.

However you want to regard the Spirits, they brought basketball to St. Louis for the first time since 1968, when the St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta.  The team name comes from “The Spirit Of St. Louis”, the airplane that Charles Lindbergh used to make the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. That original airplane is preserved in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

In their first season, the Spirits went 32-52 but finished third and made the playoffs.  After upsetting the 58-26 New York Nets in the Semis, they lost in 5 games to the Kentucky Colonels in the Eastern Division Finals.  In their second and final season, they improved to 35-49 but missed the playoffs.

Notable players included Marvin Barnes, M.L. Carr, Caldwell Jones, Maurice Lucas, Moses Malone (who was purchased from the Utah Stars after that franchise folded) and Steve “Snapper” Jones.
1975-76 Topps Basketball Steve Jones
Steve Jones played 8 years in 7 cities during his ABA career, and capped it off with a year with the Portland Trail Blazers. He was a three-time ABA All-Star and has worked as a broadcaster on Blazer’s games and on NBA TV.

There’s another notable name associated with the Spirits, one who never set foot on the court or touched the ball.  For the team’s first season, the play-by-play announcer was a 22-year-old who dropped out of Syracuse University to take the job.  That college dropout was Bob Costas.

After the Spirits’ second season, the ABA merged with the NBA.  When the merger came, the Nets, Spurs, Pacers and Nuggets went to the NBA and the other two remaining ABA teams, the Spirits and Kentucky Colonels, were bought out.  However, the way that the Spirits were bought out would have a long-lasting effect on the NBA and especially on Spirits owners Daniel and Ozzie Silna.

Instead of getting a $3 Million buyout like the Colonels did, they negotiated a $2 Million sum, plus a percentage of the TV revenue for the four teams that did go to the NBA… In perpetuity.  As TV revenue grew in importance for the NBA and all sports, this became a tremendously valuable buyout.  The resulting revenue stream amounted to $300 Million as of 2014, and then they got another $500 Million from the NBA to buy them out of the contract.  Talk about having a long-lasting impact on the sport…

 

 

Forgotten Franchises: The WHA’s Denver Spurs/Ottawa Civics

While researching my previous “Forgotten Franchises” post about the WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers, I ran across some very interesting stuff about the Stingers’ expansion partner, the Denver Spurs. After a while I ran across enough interesting bits about the Spurs that I knew I had to make it the next post in the series.

denver spurs logo

It’s one thing to say “The WHA expanded in 1975 and one of the teams did poorly, moved to another city and folded”… but it’s entirely another thing to say that this all happened over the course of a couple of months, and the expansion team in question would play just 41 games before going under.

The story begins three years earlier in 1972, when Ivan Mullenix bought the Western Hockey League’s Denver Spurs with the promise that he would get the city an NHL team. Two years later he was awarded an NHL expansion team for Denver; the Spurs and a group in Seattle would join the league for the 1976-77 season.

Unfortunately for Denver, it was not a good time for the NHL to expand. Aside from the issues caused by the rival WHA, there were already struggling teams in the NHL, most notably the Kansas City Scouts, the California Golden Seals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The expansion started to look questionable, and the league gave the prospective owners permission to buy an existing team and relocate them. At one point Mullinex tried to buy the Seals and move them to Denver, but negotiations fell through. Similarly, attempts to move the Penguins to Seattle also did not come to fruition.

Around the same time, the Seattle group missed a deadline for a $1M deposit on the expansion team, and were eliminated from the expansion process. In March, 1975, it appeared that the NHL was prepared to admit just Denver as a lone expansion franchise, putting them in the Adams Division with Boston, Toronto, Buffalo and California.

I couldn’t find any specific reference to what subsequently happened to the NHL expansion team, but it clearly fell through in short order. I would guess that the league decided that expansion wasn’t a good idea when several teams were a very real threat to relocate or fold. At the last minute, the Spurs accepted an offer to become a WHA expansion team that would play in the brand new McNichols Arena.

Denver hockey fans and season ticket holders did not take this well… They were promised the NHL and instead got the WHA, which many of them regarded as being another minor league. Other issue dogged the team, such as not having a liquor license in time for opening night.

As a result, attendance was poor. In a brand new arena in a new market, attendance averaged around 3,500 per game, and many of those were promotional tickets. Attempts were made to increase attendance, but they did not help.

In December, it became clear that the NHL was working on moving an existing team to Denver starting in 1976, so the Spurs began to work on an escape plan. Late in December, negotiations began to move the Spurs to Ottawa and sell the team to a local group.

Early in January, 1976, the team was officially moved to Ottawa, without the players being aware when it happened. Their first game as the Ottawa Civics took place in Cincinnati; the players found out they were no longer the Denver Spurs when the Canadian National Anthem was played before the game and they were announced to the crowd as the Civics.

Meanwhile, back in Denver the city seized gear and furniture left behind by the team, in an effort to collect money owed to the city. Those goods were later auctioned off.

The Ottawa group couldn’t get their financing together, and the sale of the team fell through.  Even though the Civics drew good, enthusiastic crowds in their two home games – averaging over 8,500 for the two nights – Mullinex had no interest in operating a team based in Ottawa, and so several players were traded or sold and the plug was pulled on the Ottawa Civics in the middle of January. The team ended up playing just 41 of its scheduled 80 games.

…Which brings us to an interesting angle involving the O-Pee-Chee WHA cards.

1975-76 O-Pee-Chee WHA #23 - Ralph Backstrom [Good to VG‑EX] - Courtesy of COMC.com

1975-76 O-Pee-Chee WHA #23 – Ralph Backstrom [Good to VG‑EX] – Courtesy of COMC.com

Just prior to the expansion that created the Spurs and Stingers, the Chicago Cougars and Baltimore Blades folded. As it worked out, many of the players on the Spurs roster came from the Cougars. You can spot these guys on their OPC cards because, like Ralph Backstrom, they were shown in airbrushed Cougars uniforms. I chose this Backstrom card to illustrate this because this photo shows the distinctive numbers on the left shoulder that was unique to the Cougars. Many of the card backs also mention what the players had done with the Cougars in the previous season, so perhaps these players were originally intended to be in the set as Chicago Cougars.

Also, the front of the card says “CIVICS” and the back has a little note at the bottom: “NOW OTTAWA CIVICS”. Looks like OPC did a last minute change to reflect the franchise moving.

What I find interesting is the timing.  The franchise moved in early January, just a little more than 2 months into the season… but since OPC was able to change the cards, that means the cards could not have been printed until January. I guess I’d assumed that hockey cards like these would be released at the beginning of the season, but these cards couldn’t have come out until after the league’s midway point.  I don’t suppose anybody has a handle on when these WHA sets got released?

At any rate, the Denver Spurs proved to be a bad idea for all involved, and the 41 games of their existence is the shortest timeframe for any WHA team.

Forgotten Franchises: The WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers

The Cincinnati Stingers were a World Hockey Association (WHA) team that was relatively successful in that they were a stable WHA franchise, lasting four years without any rumors of moving or folding. Much of that stability likely had to do with the fact that they had a new arena to play in, the Riverfront Coliseum (now US Bank Arena).  Unfortunately for the hockey fans in Cincy, they ended up getting the short straw when the WHA merged with the NHL.

The Stingers had been a WHA expansion franchise in 1975-76, joining the league along with the Denver Spurs… The Spurs are an interesting-enough story that I’ve started researching them as the next “Forgotten Franchise”.

1976-77 OPC WHA Rick Dudley

The Stingers’ best season was 1976-77 when they went 39-37-5 and finished 2nd in the east to the Quebec Nordiques, but got swept in 4 games by the Indianapolis Racers in the first round of the playoffs.

Although some of the NHL/WHA merger proposals included the Stingers, it became apparent that the NHL wasn’t all that interested in absorbing the Stingers, as their attendance was below NHL standards. When the merger was completed, the Stingers and Birmingham Bulls were paid to disband.

The Stingers remain the only major league hockey team that Cincinnati has had.

The Stingers had a fair number of notable players, including two HOFers:  Mike Gartner and Mark Messier were teenagers during their brief time as Stingers.

Other players of note include Dennis Sobczuk, Robbie Ftorek (who lead the WHA in Assists in 78/79), Rick Dudley, Blaine Stoughton, Gilles Marrotte, Barry Melrose and Mike Liut:
2007-08 ITG Between The Pipes Mike Liut

Ron Plumb was another notable Stinger, and the only Stinger to win a league award, getting the Dennis A. Murphy Trophy (awarded to the WHA’s top defenseman) in 1976/77.
1977-78 OPC WHA Ron Plumb

When I was a kid in the 1970’s, I picked the Stingers as my favorite WHA team… despite the fact that I’d never seen a WHA game, not even on TV. I was just intrigued as could be about a rival hockey league, I was at an age where I *had* to have a favorite team in any league in any sport, and I loved the Stingers’ logo and colors. Because of that early “fandom”, I have a minor goal of collecting all of the Stingers cards from their 4 years of existence, plus any additional cards that might pop up, like the above 2007-08 In The Game card of Mike Liut.  I’d tell you about  my progress towards that goal, but I honestly have no idea of where I stand.

Forgotten Franchises: The ABA’s Virginia Squires

The Virginia Squires was a regional ABA team that played from 1970 to 1976, with the franchise being terminated shortly before the ABA’s merger with the NBA.

1972-73 Topps Basketball Roland Taylor

The franchise dates back to the ABA’s first season in 1967/68.  They started out as the Oakland Oaks, and won a championship in the league’s second season.

They may have won a championship, but they shared a market with the San Francisco Warriors and were losing that battle (The Warriors would shortly afterwards move their home base to Oakland and change their name to “Golden State”) .  The Oaks moved to Washington D.C. and became the Washington Caps (I’ve also seen it as “Capitals” and “Capitols”, but the team’s logo says “Caps” so I’m sticking with that).

After one season, and under pressure from the NBA (as the Baltimore Bullets were preparing a DC move), the Caps moved to Virginia as a regional franchise.  The team was based in Norfolk, but played games in Richmond, Roanoke and nearby Hampton.  Roanoke, in the western part of the state, hosted Squires games for just the first season in Virginia.

The move to Virginia did not go over well with Rick Barry, the team’s star player, and he was featured in Sports Illustrated with a disgruntled interview and cover story (I “borrowed” this image from the web).
rick barry sports illustrated cover 8-24-1970
This may be the only place you’ll see Rick Barry in a Squires uniform.  Within a couple of weeks, Barry was traded to the New York Nets for a draft pick and cash.

Rick Barry was just the first star player traded away by the Squires, something that snowballed as they went along… Trade a player, lose fans, lose money, need money, trade a player… It seems to me that the business plan for a lot of ABA owners was “Hang on until the inevitable merger with the NBA”, which seems like a dubious strategy in hindsight, but that’s easy to say from a distance and 40 years later.  Even if the leagues did merge (and they did), and no matter how the NBA was struggling itself (it was), why would any league want to absorb a team that just barely hangs on by its fingernails?

Anyway… end of my editorial.

Among the players who were sold by the Squires were Julius “Dr. J” Erving, who was sold to the Nets, and George “Iceman” Gervin, who was sold to the San Antonio Spurs.

In January of 1974, there was a rumor of a major shakeup in the ABA, with the Squires moving to San Francisco, The Memphis Tams moving to Chicago and the San Diego Conquistadors moving to Los Angeles.  I couldn’t find anything more to this story than the initial published rumor.

1971-72 Topps Basketball Roland Taylor

All throughout the 1975/76 season, the Squires were on the verge of collapse.  In May, 1976, The league revoked the Squires’ franchise, making them the 4th ABA team to fold that year.

A month after the Squires folded, the NBA/ABA merger was completed.  The termination of the Squires franchise (on top of the other teams folding) may have been a catalyst for the merger.

Notable players:
Swen Nater, Doug Moe, Jan Van Breda Kolff, Fatty Taylor, Charlie Scott and (as already mentioned) Julius Erving, George Gervin and almost Rick Barry.

Record on the hardwood:
The Squires started out as a strong team, finishing in 1st place in the East with a 55-29 record. They’d beat the Nets in the division semis, but lost to the second-place Kentucky Colonels in 6 games.

After that season, their winning percentage and position in the standings went down every single year until the very last season, when the percentage “rebounded” from .179 to .181. The Squires went from 1st to 2nd to 3rd to 4th to 5th (last) to 9th (REALLY last), and the 9th place finish was mainly because the struggling ABA had eliminated the two divisions.

About Roland “Fatty” Taylor…
I go looking for cards I can use for these “Forgotten Franchises” posts, and I got some basketball cards at a show and I got some basketball cards from COMC and it didn’t occur to me until I started on this post that the two examples of Virginia Squires cards I bought were both the same guy.

Fatty Taylor played for the Caps, Squires and Denver Nuggets.  He’s known for being one of the better defensive players in a league based on offense.  He got the name “Fatty” as a kid, and from the research I’ve done online, it seems like Topps was the only ones calling him Roland.

I don’t know… unknowingly buying two cards of the same guy… Do you think The Powers That Be want me to start a Fatty Taylor PC?

Forgotten Franchises: The NHL’s Seals (Golden And Otherwise)

Whether you’re talking about the California Seals, Oakland Seals, or California Golden Seals, you’re talking about a team which had a relatively short and turbulent history as the NHL’s entry in the Bay Area… and if the NHL didn’t have reasons to make things work in the Bay Area, the team’s history would probably have been shorter.
California Golden Seals logo
In 1967, the NHL doubled in size by adding a “Western Division” comprised of 6 expansion teams:  the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

The Seals had their start as the San Francisco Seals in the Western Hockey League, as the owner who was given the NHL expansion team bought the Seals and essentially moved them over to the NHL. The WHL Seals were a very successful team, but because a proposed arena in San Francisco fell through while a new arena opened across the bay, the NHL’s California Seals started off in Oakland.  A month into the season, when it became apparent that the fan base wasn’t moving with them, the team attempted to build local interest by changing its name to the Oakland Seals.

1973-74 OPC Terry Murray

As it became more and more apparent that hockey was not working in Oakland, attempts to move the team started to surface, all while the NHL dug in its heels to keep a league presence in the bay area.

In the late 1960’s, both Vancouver and Buffalo were promised teams by the league, and before they were granted expansion teams for 1970, both cities attempted to obtain the Seals.  Both moves were rejected by the league.

The team was sold to Charles O. Finley, who changed the name to California Golden Seals and changed the colors to match his Oakland A’s.  The change in ownership did not bring an end to the rumors and failed relocation attempts surrounding the Golden Seals.

Late in 1971 there was speculation that there might be work underway for Finley to move both the A’s and the Seals to Washington D.C.  Washington had just lost the Senators to Dallas (where they became the Texas Rangers), and was a couple of years away from getting the Capitals as an NHL expansion team.

1972-73 Topps Joey Johnston

In June, 1973, a group from Indianapolis reached an agreement with Charles O. Finley to move the Seals to Indy (this was before the WHA’s Indianapolis Racers).

In the mid-1970’s, both Seattle and Denver had been awarded conditional expansion franchises.  In the meantime, both cities tried to get an existing franchise to relocate.  In 1975, a group in Seattle was trying to get the Seals or Penguins without success.  The proposed expansion fell through;  Seattle still is waiting for its first major professional hockey team.

Later in 1975, the Seals were said to be either moving to Denver or being folded.  Neither would happen.

The team was sold to a local group, but when plans for a new arena in San Francisco fell through, the league finally gave approval for the team to be relocated.

1975-76 Topps Hockey Larry Patey

In July, 1976, the team was finally approved to move to Cleveland and become the even-shorter-lived Cleveland Barons.

Success On The Ice:
Well, “success” is a bit of a misnomer. The high point of Seals franchise history was in their second year (1968-69) when they finished with a 29-36-11 record, good for 2nd place in the new “West Division”, and they made the playoffs and lost to the Kings in 7 games… But keep in mind that despite the “East” and “West” labels, all six expansion teams were in the “West”, while four teams in each division made the playoffs. In the first year of expansion, the Flyers won their division with a losing record and a worse record than 5 of the 6 teams in the East.

The Seals also made the playoffs in their third year (1969-70), but they finished the season with a 22-40-14 record and beat out the equally-dismal Flyers on a tiebreaker. They were swept in the first round by the Penguins, and never made the playoffs again.

Notable Players: 

The most notable player associated with the Seals is one who never played for them.  After the 1969/70 season, the Seals and Canadiens made a deal which involved exchanging draft picks;  In addition to players moving in either direction, the Canadiens’ 1970 draft pick (#3 overall) went to Oakland and the 1971 Seals’ draft pick went to Montreal.  The Seals used their pick on Chris Oddleifson, who also would not play for the Seals… He would be traded to Boston the year after being drafted. The Seals went on to have the league’s worst record, and the first round pick they’d traded away turned out to be the first overall, which the Canadiens used for Hall-of-Famer-to-be Guy LaFleur.

As far as players who suited up for the Seals, Dennis Maruk holds the franchise single-season records for goals, assists and points.
1976-77 Topps Hockey Dennis Maruk

Hall-Of-Famer Harry Howell played for the Seals towards the end of his career.

Among the relatively notable names to play for the Seals are Ivan Boldirev, Gilles Meloche, Carol Vadnais and Craig Patrick (who’s in the Hall primarily as a GM, decidedly not as a player).

Post-Mortem:
The Seals were a dreadful team on and off the ice, and if the NHL didn’t need a California team for a TV contract, who knows what would’ve happened.