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

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

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.

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


Forgotten Franchises: The WHA’s Birmingham Bulls

This is Part 2 to follow my prior “Forgotten Franchises” post. That post covered the Ottawa Nationals and Toronto Toros, the first and second stops of the franchise whose third stop was in Birmingham Alabama. Because the team went from the Toros to the Birmingham Bulls, they were able to keep the same logo.

The Bulls played three years in the WHA, never had a winning record and only made the playoffs once, but were nevertheless pretty successful in bringing hockey to Alabama. The team was not included in the WHA’s merger with the NHL and the franchise shifted to the minor league Central Hockey League.

There are two primary stories when it comes to the Bulls. The first is that, to appeal to the Alabama fans, many of whom didn’t know the finer points of hockey, the team went with a strategy very much in the vein of the movie “Slap Shot”.  Indeed, the Paul Newman character (Reggie Dunlop) was based at least in part on Bulls coach John Brophy.  Bulls player Dave Hanson appeared in the movie as one of the Hanson brothers, and was also said to be the inspiration for the Killer Carlson character in the same movie.

…But I’m not going to focus on that storyline.

The part of the Bulls story that I find most interesting is a youth movement it undertook. At the time, players could not be drafted by the NHL until they were 21 years old, but the WHA had no such restriction. The Bulls made a push to take advantage of this situation.

One of the players that the Bulls made a run at was Wayne Gretzky, but The Great One would sign with the Indianapolis Racers. However, the Bulls did sign a number of players, referred to collectively as the “Baby Bulls”, and had they been able to stay together could’ve been the basis to a very good team. Of course, even if the Bulls had been part of the merger, the terms of the merger stripped most of the WHA team’s players away in a “re-entry draft”, so this is all academic.

All of these players started their professional careers with the Bulls most were rookies in the 1978-79 season.

Craig Hartsburg played for the Bulls as a 19-year-old before going on to play 10 years for the North Stars.

In 77 games with the Bulls, he scored 9 goals with 40 assists.

Gaston Gingras was also 19, and would play for the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Blues through the 1988/89 season.

In 60 games with the Bulls, he scored 13 goals with 21 assists.

Rob Ramage was a older “Baby Bull”, he was 20 when he made the WHA 1st All Star Team.  He’d go on to play for a number of teams and hoisted the Stanley Cup twice.

In 80 games with the Bulls, he’d score 12 goals with 36 assists.

Rick Vaive played for the Maple Leafs, Sabres, Black Hawks and Canucks through the 1991/92 season.

In 75 games as a 19-year-old Bull, he would lead the WHA with 248 penalty minutes, score 26 goals with 33 assists.

Pat Riggin would play through the 1987-88 season with the Flames, Capitals, Bruins and Penguins. In 1983-84 with the Caps, Riggin would leading the league with a 2.66 Goals Against Average and 4 shutouts.

As a 19-year-old with the Bulls, he had a 3.78 GAA and a shutout.

Hall-Of-Famer Michel Goulet was 18 when he played for the Bulls. He’d go on to play for the Nordiques and Black Hawks.

In 78 games with the Bulls, he’d score 28 goals with 30 assists.

As I was finishing up this post, I realized that this last player actually played for the Bulls the year before the others, in 1977/78.  HOFer and two-time Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman) winner Rod Langway started with the Bulls as a 20-year-old before going on to win a Cup with the Canadians and later play a major role in keeping the struggling Capitals in Washington.

In 52 games with Birmingham, he’d score 3 goals with 18 assists.

Throw these guys on top of the players from the Toronto years – Frank Mahovolich, Paul Henderson and Vaclav Nedomansky – and you’ve got quite an assortment of talent for any team, much less a WHA team.

Forgotten Franchises: The WHA’s Ottawa Nationals / Toronto Toros

This original WHA franchise lasted through the entire run of the WHA and played in three different cities; I’m going to address the “early years” in this post, and then get to the final chapter in “Part Two”, which I’ll post next Friday.

The franchise which was to become the Ottawa Nationals was originally given the WHA rights to all of Ontario. The original plans were to put the team in Hamilton, which is at the westernmost part of Lake Ontario, and between Toronto and Buffalo if one is driving rather than sailing across the lake. Because there wasn’t a suitable arena in Hamilton, the team was instead put in the Canadian capital of Ottawa.

The first game in WHA history was played in Ottawa on October 11, 1972. The Nationals were host to the Alberta (later Edmonton) Oilers. The Oilers won that game 7-4.

The team was not a success in Ottawa, and I read (but could not verify) that within the first months of the season there were rumors of the team moving to Milwaukee. The Nationals finished with a 35-39-4, 4th in the East division and good enough to make the playoffs. However, they didn’t have access to their home ice for the playoffs, so the postseason home games were held in Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Ottawa lost in the semis to the eventual league champion New England Whalers.

Before the following season, the team was sold and became the Toronto Toros.

They played their first season in the University of Toronto’s arena while working on alternate venues within the Toronto area. None of those panned out for the short term, and the University’s arena had a small capacity and no broadcast facilities, so the team became the tenants of their NHL rival and moved to Maple Leaf Gardens.

The Toros marketed themselves aggressively and courted a younger fanbase than the Maple Leafs. They also signed a number of former Maple Leafs, and made an attempt to lure Leafs’ star Darryl Sittler. They did well at the gate but suffering from leasing the Garden from the Maple Leafs’ owner, who was generally not a fan (to say the least) of the WHA and the Toros.

After three seasons in Toronto and no feasible alternative available within Toronto, the Toros reluctantly moved south to Alabama, keeping the logo and the alliteration by becoming the Birmingham Bulls… which is where Part 2 of this Forgotten Franchises entry will pick up.

Among the Toronto Toros who put significant time in with NHL teams were…

…Hall Of Famer Frank Mahovolich, who capped off his Hall Of Fame career with the Toros and the Bulls.

Paul Henderson was a former Maple Leaf and Red Wing, but most importantly to Canadian hockey fans, he was a national hero for scoring three game-winning goals in the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.

Vaclav Nedomansky was the first player to defect from behind the Iron Curtain, defecting from Czechoslovakia and signing with the Toros.

After playing with the Toros and Bulls, he put in four seasons with the Red Wings

Wayne Dillon, who played with the Toros, Bulls, Rangers and Jets.

Dillon’s 1975-76 Topps card shows him with the Rangers, but I’m pretty sure that’s a Toros jersey.

Gilles Gratton only played 47 NHL games with the Blues and Rangers, but was possibly best known for his goalie mask which had a tiger’s face painted on it.

Pat Hickey played for the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Blues, with brief stops with the Colorado Rockies and Quebec Nordiques

Mark Napier turned pro as a 19 year old, was the WHA rookie of the year, and would win Stanley Cups with the Canadiens and Oilers.  He also played for the North Stars and Sabres.

Forgotten Franchises: The WHA’s Philadelphia/Vancouver Blazers

The Philadelphia Blazers were one of the 12 teams which played in the WHA’s first season… but was not, technically, an original franchise.

That’s because the original plan was to have a team in south Florida called the Miami Screaming Eagles, but due to arena and money issues, that team never took the ice. Instead, the franchise was transferred to Philadelphia to compete for fans with the then-6-year-old Flyers team.

While the franchise was still in Miami, they signed two prominent NHL players; goalie Bernie Parent…

…And center Derek Sanderson.

Both Sanderson and the Blazers realized a mistake had been made, and after 8 games, the Blazers paid Sanderson off to void his contract.  Sanderson went back to the Boston Bruins.

Bernie Parent, meanwhile, had a contract dispute one game into the playoffs and would declared himself a free agent.  The Blazers would trade his WHA rights to the New York Golden Blades, while his NHL rights belonged to the Maple Leafs, the team he left when he jumped to the WHA.   Parent said that he’d only jump back to the NHL if he could play in Philly, so the Leafs traded his rights to the Flyers and he signed for less money than he could’ve gotten from the Golden Blades.

Getting back to the Blazers… In 1972/73, the team went 38-40-0, finished third in the East Division and got swept in the first round by the Cleveland Crusaders.

After that inaugural season, the team was sold to a new owner who moved the team to Vancouver; On the plus side, the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks were even less established than the Flyers, having been in place since the 1970-71 season. Unfortunately for the Blazers, they would share an arena with their NHL counterpart.

In order to compete with the Canucks, the Blazers owner tried – and failed – to lure Phil Esposito away from the Bruins.

Without Espo, the Vancouver Blazers finished 5th in West Division with a 27-50-1 record and did not make the playoffs.

In the third season, the Blazers again missed the playoffs by finishing 4th in the new Canadian Division with a 37-39-2 record. After two seasons in Vancouver, the team moved to Alberta and become the Calgary Cowboys. Two years after that, the franchise folded.

Other notable Blazers included Butch Deadmarsh, Andre Lacroix, who lead the league in points that first year before being traded, and most surprisingly to me, Hockey Hall-of-famer and Hart Trophy winner Andy Bathgate. Bathgate coached the team during part of the 1973/74 season, and would briefly come out of retirement at age 42 and play 11 games for the Vancouver Blazers in 1974/75

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.


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):


…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 WHA’s Los Angeles Sharks

It’s Shark Week!

…And because it’s Shark Week, we gotta have Sharks!
Los Angeles Sharks logo

Long before there was NHL hockey in San Jose, the Los Angeles Sharks took the ice as one of the 12 original WHA franchises.

Actually, at the very beginning of the WHA, before any teams took the ice, there was a San Francisco Sharks franchise…   This was meant to be one of the original WHA franchises, but financial difficulties forced the league to sell the franchise to a group from Quebec, and the Quebec Nordiques were instead the flagship franchise in this spot.

The original name of the L.A. team was Los Angeles Aces, and the teams colors were red and black so it would seem like they were going for the playing card definition of “aces”.  I thought this was kind of an odd name for a franchise in Los Angeles (as opposed to, say, Las Vegas).

…Then I found a quote from Harry Howell (then of the L.A. Kings) in early 1972.  Harry, in talking about the “other” L.A. team, said “…they were going to call them the Aces, because Aces always beats Kings”.  Ohhhhhhh!!!!  I get it.  It’s not exactly the pinnacle of wit, but I get it.

Anyway, when the San Francisco team essentially moved to Quebec before the season started, the Los Angeles franchise took on the Sharks name.

The Sharks finished their first season with a 37-35-6 record, finished 3rd in the West Division and made the playoffs.  They would lose to the Houston Aeros in six games during the first round.

The second season wasn’t as successful, even though they lured Marc Tardif away from the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens.
1977-78 OPC WHA Marc Tardif
The Sharks finished in last with the league’s worst record (25-53-0).  At the same time, the L.A. Kings were fielding a competitive team, so that also had an effect on the Sharks’ attendance.

According to Wikipedia, the Sharks were the first team in the NHL or WHA to play a full season without a tie.

In February of 1974, the Sharks were sold, and after the season they moved to Detroit to try to wrest the hearts and minds of Michigan hockey fans away from the less-than-dominant (at the time) Red Wings.  The team was renamed the Michigan Stags, but poor attendance and the lack of a TV deal caused financial issues that resulted in the Stags folding that January.  The league created a Baltimore Blades franchise to fill the Stags’ spot, but attendance was just as poor in Baltimore as in Detroit, and the league terminated the franchise.

As for notable L.A. Sharks players…

The biggest name to have played with the Sharks was the aforementioned Marc Tardif. By the end of the WHA, Tardif was the league’s top career goal scorer, second in career assists and third in career points.  He was also a two-time winner of the Gordie Howe Trophy, awarded to the league’s MVP.

When I was reviewing the Sharks’ all-time roster, one of the names which jumped out at me was player/coach Ted McCaskill… and the reason his name jumped out at me is because I collect his son.
1994 Fleer Ultra Kirk McCaskill
Kirk McCaskill pitched for the Angels and White Sox, but he was also the captain of his University of Vermont hockey team, and had been drafted by the original Winnipeg Jets in 1981.

Ted McCaskill played in the UK, played in the Eastern Hockey League and Western Hockey League, had 4 games with the Minnesota North Stars and 91 games over two seasons with the Sharks.

Normally with one of these Forgotten Franchises posts, I’ll talk about how long it took for a city to get another team… but in this case, Los Angeles already had the Kings, and I don’t think there were many people who missed the Sharks after they left.  I’m sure there were some… the few, the proud, the L.A. Sharks fans.


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…