HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE Compiled by Robert Bradley, with special thanks to Steve Dimitry, Roger Meyer and Dick Pfander for their many contributions
The impetus for the American Basketball League occurred during the summer of 1960 when Bob Short moved his National Basketball Association franchise, the Minneapolis Lakers, to Los Angeles for the 1960-61 season. Abe Saperstein, owner of the Harlem Globetrotters who 's team had frequently performed as the opening game for NBA teams to bolster attendance throughout the 1950's, felt that he had been promised the NBA franchise in Los Angeles, and in response, announced the formation of a rival league, the American Basketball League in March of 1961, with the league to begin play in October of 1961 with the season split into two halves.
The charter eight members of the league included Saperstein's own Chicago Majors, the Cleveland Pipers, a former Amateur Athletic Union industrial league club owned by a group of investors headed by a young George Steinbrenner, Art Kim's Hawaii Chiefs, Ken Krueger's Kansas City Steers, Len Corbosiero's Los Angeles Jets, Lenny Lipman's Pittsburgh Renaissance (known simply as the Pittsburgh Rens), George McKeon's San Francisco Saints and the Washington Tapers (another former industrial league team owned by the Technical Tape Corporation and Paul Cohen). Saperstein installed himself as the league's commissioner, setting up a conflict of interests which would the tarnish the league's leagues credibility, as would his involvement in the ownership structure of other ABL franchises.
Only a handful of established NBA players joined the league, one of them being Boston Celtics' star guard Bill Sharman, who after failing in an attempt to become the head coach of a proposed Pittsburgh NBA franchise elected to become the coach of the ABL's Los Angeles team (Sharman would become the only coach to win professional basketball titles in three different leagues, winning with Cleveland of the ABL in 1962, the Los Angeles Stars of the ABA in 1971 and the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA in 1972). In Cleveland, John McLendon, who had enjoyed great success as a college and AAU coach, led the Pipers, becoming the first African-American coach of a professional basketball team. Joining McLendon and Sharman as the league's coaches were former pro players Andy Phillip (Chicago), Red Rocha (Hawaii), Jack McMahon (Kansas City), Neil Johnston (Pittsburgh) and Stan Stutz (Washington) and college coach Phil Woolpert (San Francisco).
No big-name played were enticed to jump from the NBA, but a few established players joined the league, including Syracuse's Dick Barnett who signed with Cleveland and New York's Kenny Sears who signed with San Francisco. Larry Seigfried was the only notable NBA draft choice to sign with the league as he joined Cleveland. Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, a member of Saperstein's Globetrotters and a former New York Knick, returned to play for Chicago, and former Syracuse and Fort Wayne star George Yardley signed with Los Angeles. Another source of talent for the league was the list of players banned by the NBA for perceived transgressions while in college. Among the blacklisted players to join the ABL were Connie Hawkins of Pittsburgh (from Iowa), Tony Jackson of Chicago (St. John's) and Bill Spivey of Hawaii (Kentucky). The bulk of the ABL's players came from the Eastern League (the forerunner of today's Continental Basketball Association) and AAU teams.
During the season, Washington moved to New York, where they had been located as an AAU team, and Los Angeles folded during the first half of the season due to financial problems, with Sharman moving on to Cleveland as coach, filling the position which had been left vacant when McLendon resigned due to Steinbrenner's interference.
Hawkins (27.5 PPG, 13.3 RPG, .510 FG%) was named the ABL Most Valuable Player, with Dan Swartz of New York (24.8 PPG, 9.0 RPG), Bill Bridges (21.4, PPG, 13.4 RPG) , Larry Staverman of Kansas City (17.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG) and Barnett (26.2 PPG) joining him on the All-ABL First Team and Johnny Cox of Cleveland (18.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG) , Sears (17.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.4 APG), Spivey of Hawaii (22.7 PPG, 11.2 RPG), Nick Mantis of Kansas City (14.6 PPG) and Jackson (17.5 PPG) and Hershell Turner of Chicago (16.5 PPG) forming the All-ABL Second Team.
On April 9 Cleveland edged Kansas City 106-102 to win the best-of-five ABL Championship Series three games to two. After winning the league championship, Cleveland shocked the basketball world by signing Ohio State All-American Jerry Lucas to a two-year, $50,000 contract. Lucas brought an impressive resume with him: not only was he one of the key members of the 1960 Olympic team and leader of Ohio State's NCAA championship team of 1960-61, he had been named player of the year in 1961, NCAA tournament MVP in 1960 and 1961, All-American three times (1960, 1961 and 1962), leading the NCAA in rebounding twice (1960-61 and 1961-62) and field goal percentage three times (1959-60, 1960-61 and 1961-62) with career averages of 24.3 points, 17.2 rebounds and a 62.4 % field goal percentage. Soon after the signing, the ABL and NBA held discussions about a merger of the two leagues, but in July the NBA announced that Cleveland would be joining the league as an expansion franchise at a cost of $400,000 (including a $100,000 indemnity to Cincinnati who held the NBA rights to Lucas). The ABL quickly filed a lawsuit blocking the Pipers from joining the established league.
Some of the league's losses were substantial. Saperstein's Globetrotters were being scheduled on many occasions in an opening game in an effort to boost attendance. Barnett was forced back to Syracuse by a court order, and Steinbrenner's Cleveland franchise dropped out of the league, taking Lucas along with them. A plan for a franchise to play in Denver never reached fruition.
The 1962-63 season began with three relocated franchises as the New York Tapers had moved again, becoming the Philadelphia Tapers, the San Francisco Saints became the Oakland Oaks and the Hawaii Chiefs became the Long Beach Chiefs. Three teams returned from the 1961-62 season - Chicago, Kansas City (now coached by Johnny Dee) and Pittsburgh, with the league now reduced to six teams.
The league continued operations until suddenly, on December 31, it ceased operations, claiming losses of $1 million in 1961-62 and $250,000 in 1962-63. Kansas City, which had the league's best record, 22-9 at the time, was declared league champion by Saperstein. Oakland, Long Beach, Kansas City and Pittsburgh considered continuing with a reorganized four-team league, but their plans fell through and the brief tenure of the ABL ended at that point. The top ABL players scattered throughout basketball, with Hawkins joining the Globetrotters and Bridges joining the NBA's St. Louis Hawks.
The only lasting impression made by the league rested in two innovative rule changes: a three-point field goal, which would later be adopted by the American Basketball Association and NBA itself, and a widened free throw lane (adopting the Olympic-sized key), which the NBA soon copied.
ABL MEMBERSHP CHRONOLOGY 1961-62 - 1962-63
1961-62 In- Chicago Majors 1961-62 - 1962-63 [charter franchise] Cleveland Pipers 1961-62 [charter franchise] Hawaii Chiefs 1961-62 [charter franchise] Kansas City Steers 1961-62 - 1962-63 [charter franchise] Los Angeles Jets 1961-62 [charter franchise] New York Tapers 1961-62 [formerly Washington Tapers, moved during season] Pittsburgh Rens 1961-62 - 1962-63 [charter franchise] San Francisco Saints 1961-62 [charter franchise] Washington Tapers 1961-62 [charter franchise] Out- Los Angeles Jets [disbanded during season] Washington Tapers [to New York Tapers during season]
1962-63 In- Long Beach Chiefs 1962-63 [formerly Hawaii Chiefs] Oakland Oaks 1962-63 [formerly San Francisco Saints] Philadelphia Tapers 1962-63 [formerly New York Tapers] Out- Cleveland Pipers [disbanded] Hawaii Chiefs [to Long Beach Chiefs] New York Tapers [to Philadelphia Tapers] San Francisco Saints [to Oakland Oaks] ABL FRANCHISES BY SEASON 1961-62 - 1962-63
CHM - Chicago Majors [Chicago, IL] 1961-62 - 1962-63 CLP - Cleveland Pipers [Cleveland, OH] 1961-62 HAW - Hawaii Chiefs [Honolulu, HI] 1961-62 KCS - Kansas City Steers [Kansas City, MO] 1961-62 - 1962-63 LAJ - Los Angeles Jets [Los Angeles, CA] 1961-62 LBC - Long Beach Chiefs [Long Beach, CA] 1962-63 NYT - New York Tapers [New York, NY] 1961-62 OKO - Oakland Oaks [Oakland, CA] 1962-63 PHT - Philadelphia Tapers [Philadelphia, PA] 1962-63 PRN - Pittsburgh Rens [Pittsburgh, PA] 1961-62 - 1962-63 SFS - San Francisco Saints [San Francisco, CA] 1961-62 WST - Washington Tapers [Washington, DC] 1961-62
1961-62 - CHM CLP* HAW* KCS LAJ# NYT* PRN SFS* 1962-63 - CHN KCS LBC OKO PHT PRN
Notes: * - franchise disbanded or relocated after season # - frachise disbanded or relocated during season
ABL ARENAS 1961-62 - 1962-63
CHM- Chicago International Amphitheater, Chicago, IL 1961-62 CLP- Cleveland Arena, Cleveland, OH 1961-62 Public Hall, Cleveland, OH 1961-62 Baldwin-Wallace Gymnasium, Berea, OH 1961-62 HAW- Honolulu City Auditorium, Honolulu, HI 1961-62 Hilo Civic Center, Hilo, HI 1961-62 KCS- Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, MO 1961-62 - 1962-63 Memorial Hall, Kansas City, KS LBC- Long Beach Sports Arena, Long Beach, CA 1961-62 LAJ- Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CA 1961-62 Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA 1961-62 NYT- Long Island Arena, Commack, NY 1961-62 OKO- Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA 1961-62 PHT- Convention Hall, Philadelphia, PA 1962-63 PRN- Pittsburgh Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA 1961-62 - 1962-63 SFS- San Francisco Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA 1961-62 Cow Palace, Daily City, CA 1961-62 WST- Washington Coliseum, Washington, DC 1961-62
ABL YEARLY STANDINGS 1961-62 - 1962-63
1961-62 ABL -- First Half-- --Second Half-- -----Total----- Eastern Division W L Pct. GB W L Pct. GB W L Pct. GB Cleveland Pipers 24 18 .571 .. 21 18 .538 .. 45 36 .556 .. Pittsburgh Rens 23 19 .548 1 18 21 .462 3 41 40 .506 4 Chicago Majors 18 26 .409 7 21 18 .538 .. 39 44 .470 7 Wash/NY Tapers 14 28 .333 10 17 22 .436 4 31 50 .448 14
Western Division W L Pct. GB W L Pct. GB W L Pct. GB Kansas City Steers 28 12 .700 .. 26 13 .667 .. 54 25 .684 .. San Francisco Saints 19 17 .528 7 19 21 .475 7.5 38 38 .500 14.5 Hawaii Chiefs 13 28 .317 15.5 16 25 .390 11 29 53 .354 26.5 Los Angeles Jets* 24 15 .615 .. .. .. .... .. .. .. .... ..
*Los Angeles disbanded 10Jan62
ABL FIRST HALF PLAYOFFS
12Jan62 Kansas City 106, Cleveland 93 at KCS 13Jan62 Cleveland 98, Kansas City 87 at CLP 14Jan62 Kansas City 120, Cleveland 104 at KCS
ABL SECOND HALF PLAYOFFS ABL PRELIMINARY ROUND (Single elimination- Chicago and Cleveland drew first round byes) 29Mar62 San Francisco 107, Pittsburgh 103 (OT) at PRN 29Mar62 New York 125, Hawaii 116 (OT) at PRN
ABL QUARTERFINALS 30Mar62 Cleveland 117, San Francisco 112 at CLP 30Mar62 New York 115, Chicago 108 at CLP
ABL SEMIFINALS 31Mar62 Cleveland 107, New York 84 at KCS
ABL FINALS (Kansas City drew a bye to the ABL Finals) 1Apr62 Kansas City 126, Cleveland 101 at KCS 3Apr62 Kansas City 118, Cleveland 82 at KCS 5Apr62 Cleveland 130, Kansas City 114 at CLP 7Apr62 Cleveland 100, Kansas City 98 at CLP 9Apr62 Cleveland 106, Kansas City 102 at KCS
1962-63 ABL W L Pct. GB Kansas City Steers 22 9 .710 .. Long Beach Chiefs 16 8 .667 2.5 Pittsburgh Rens 12 10 .545 5.5 Oakland Oaks 11 14 .440 8 Philadelphia Tapers 10 18 .357 10.5 Chicago Majors 8 20 .286 12.5
The ABL disbanded 31Dec62 with Kansas City declared league champions ABL YEARLY STATISTICAL LEADERS 1961-62 - 1962-63
1961-62 ABL SCORING LEADERS Player, Team GP Pnts PPG Connie Hawkins, PRN 78 2,145 27.5 Bill Spivey, HAW 78 1,773 22.7 Dan Swartz, WST/NYT 70 1,739 24.8 Bill Bridges, KCS 79 1,697 21.4 Roger Kaiser, WST/NYT 80 1,556 19.4 John Cox, CLP 80 1,482 18.5 Jim Francis, SFS 73 1,395 19.1 Larry Staverman, KCS 79 1,387 17.5 Kenny Sears, SFS 75 1,330 17.7 Dick Barnett, CLP 50 1,314 26.2
1962-63 ABL SCORING LEADERS Player, Team GP Pnts PPG Bill Bridges, KCS 29 849 29.2 Larry Staverman, KCS 31 649 20.9 Bill Spivey, LBC 24 542 22.5 Sy Blye, PHT 28 496 17.7 Kelly Coleman, CHM 26 494 19.0 Fred LaCour, OKO 25 494 19.7 Roger Kaiser, PHT 27 467 17.2 Tony Jackson, CHM 27 464 17.1 Maury King, KCS 31 456 14.7 Ron Horn, LBC 24 450 18.7 Ranked by total points scored
ABL ALL-TIME LEADERS
SCORING Player, Teams GP Pnts PPG Connie Hawkins, PRN 94 2592 27.6 Bill Bridges, KCS 108 2546 23.6 Bill Spivey, HAW/LBC 102 2315 22.7 Larry Staverman, KCS 110 2036 18.5 Roger Kaiser, WST/NYT/PHT 107 2023 18.9 Sy Blye, WST/NYT/PHT 109 1797 16.6 Dan Swartz, WST/NYT 70 1739 24.8 Tony Jackson, CHM 99 1724 17.4 Roger Taylor, WST/NYT/PHT 107 1596 14.9 Kelly Coleman, CHM 103 1591 15.4 Bucky Bolyard, PTR-CHM 103 1515 14.7 John Cox, CLP 80 1482 18.5 Hershell Turner, CHM 99 1439 14.5 Jim Francis, SFS 73 1395 19.1 Gene Tormohlen, KCS 106 1380 13.0 Phil Rollins, PRN 97 1332 13.7 Ken Sears, SF 75 1330 17.7 Dick Barnett, CLP 50 1314 26.2 Frank Burgess, HAW 80 1229 15.3 Herb Lee, HAW 84 1193 14.2 Nick Mantis, KCS 77 1129 14.6 Jack Adams, WST/NYT 82 1123 13.6 Walt Mangham, PRN 103 1067 10.4 Maury King, KCS 109 1066 9.8 Bruce Spraggins, WST/NYT/PHT 105 1023 9.7
REBOUNDS Player, Team GP Reb RPG Bill Bridges, KCS 108 1496 13.9 Connie Hawkins, PRN 94 1243 13.2 Gene Tormohlen, KCS 106 1210 11.9 Bill Spivey, HAW/LBC 102 1092 10.7 Larry Staverman, KCS 110 956 8.7 Ben Warley, CLP/LBC 96 943 9.8 Sy Blye, WST/NYT/PHT 109 905 8.3 Leroy Wright, WST/NYT/PHT 106 763 7.1 Jim Francis, SFS 73 760 10.4 Kelly Coleman, CHM 103 749 7.2
ASSISTS Player, Team GP Ast APG Roger Taylor, WST/NYT/PHT 107 457 4.3 Maury King, KCS 109 424 3.9 Phil Rollins, PRN 97 381 3.9 Gene Brown, SFS/OKO 94 360 3.8 Ken Sears, SFS 75 347 4.6 Whitey Bell, SFS 71 322 4.7 Win Wilfong, KCS 97 312 3.2 Roger Kaiser, WST/NYT/PHT 107 307 2.9 Larry Staverman, KCS 110 304 2.8 Bucky Bolyard, PRN-CHM 103 286 2.8 Ranked by total assists
ABL AWARD WINNERS 1961-62 -1962-63
First Team Second Team Bill Bridges, KCS Herschell Turner, CHM Larry Staverman, KCS John Cox, CLP Connie Hawkins, PRN Bill Spivey, HAW Dan Swartz, WST/NYT Nick Mantis, KCS Dick Barnett, CLP Ken Sears, SFS Tony Jackson, CHM
ABL MOST VALUABLE PLAYER 1961-62 - Connie Hawkins, PRN
ABL COACHES 1961-62 1962-63 CHM Andy Phillip Ron Sobieszczyk CLP John McLendon/Bill Sharman ..... HAW/LBC Red Rocha Al Brightman KCS Jack McMahon John Dee LAJ Bill Sharman ..... NYT/WST/PHT Stan Stutz Mario Perri PRN Neil Johnston Neil Johnston SFS/OKO Phil Woolpert/Kevin O'Shea/Al Brightman Ermer Robinson