Hal Blitman and the Miami Floridians

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Hal Blitman and the Miami Floridians

Postby rlee » Thu Jun 02, 2011 11:24 pm

Hal Blitman and the Miami Floridians
By Rich Pagano
CORRESPONDENT
Delconewsnetwork.com

http://www.delconewsnetwork.com/article ... =fullstory


The American Basketball Association (ABA) was established in 1967, and the first ABA game was played on Friday, Oct. 13, between the Oakland Oaks and the Anaheim Amigos.

In that inaugural season, the Pittsburgh Pipers, led by Connie Hawkins, captured the championship when they defeated the New Orleans Buccaneers.

One team that finished a close second to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Division with a 50-28 record was the Minnesota Muskies. Well financed and led by Mel Daniels, the Muskies packed up and moved to Miami after that first season. In Miami, they became the Floridians and were coached by Jim Pollard. That season, they finished second to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Division and made it to the eastern finals in the playoffs.

The following year, Pollard was fired and former Darby-Colwyn and Cheyney coach, Hal Blitman, was hired. Miami’s general manager, Dennis Murphy, who was the true founding father of the ABA, flew Blitman down to Florida on a Saturday morning, and he began coaching that night.

“It was a nightmare. For the first five games,” Blitman recalled. “I couldn’t do any coaching at all. I was appointed Saturday morning, and we played Saturday night and Sunday. Then we went on the road for four games. When we came back, we were one and five.”

Blitman also lost some key players that season when both of his centers were injured. Skip Thoren was out for the season, and Hal Booker had a knee operation. Blitman had to move 6’6” forward Don Sidle to the center position. Incidentally, Blitman had coached Booker at Darby Junior High, Darby-Colwyn High, and Cheyney State.

That season, the Floridians finished last in the Eastern Division with a record of 23-61.

Of the fourteen players on the Miami roster at the end of the year, only four remained at the beginning of the 1970-71 season. Blitman, also Miami’s director of player personal, made quite a few trades. He made the Floridians, who were one of the slowest teams in the league, one of the fastest.

Miami also had a new owner, ad agency founder, Ned Doyle, the man who made the Avis Slogan, “We Try Harder,” a household phrase.

With players such as: Ron Franz, Dave Nash, Larry Jones, Craig Whitman, Trooper Washington, Hal Booker, and Mack Calvin, Blitman was sure his team would make the playoffs.

However, with twenty-two games remaining and a record of 18-30, Blitman was fired.

“What really hurt was the fact that we had a good club that was going to make the playoffs,” remembered Blitman. “We had played thirty-four of forty-eight games on the road, and our traveling all the time had been too tiring.”

Blitman grew up in a tough section of Philadelphia near Connie Mack Stadium. He attended Simon Gratz High, where he played basketball, graduating in 1947.

After a three year layoff, he entered West Chester State College, but a knee injury in his sophomore year prevented him from playing basketball. Instead, he became a student coach, helping with the Rams freshman and varsity teams.

After graduation in 1955, Blitman was hired at Darby High School, where he coached the junior high team for two years. During those two years, his record was 33-2, which included two league championships and a seventeen game winning streak.

The following year, he assisted coach Herm Solar at the high school, and then when Solar stepped down to become the principal at Darby, Blitman succeeded him.

The next five years, Blitman would take Darby-Colwyn to unparalleled heights, winning four Section titles, four District One titles, and two State championships. He finished at Darby with an incredible record of 107-15.

However, it was at Cheyney State where Blitman became nationally known after he led the Wolves to five straight NCAA tournaments and won 137 games in just six seasons.

Hal Blitman was truly one of the greatest basketball coaches our county has ever produced.

I would like to remind everyone that the Italian American Heritage Festival will be held on Sunday, June 5th at Rose Tree Park from Noon to 6 p.m., rain or shine. The festival celebrates Italian food, heritage, culture, authors and entertainment, and I am going to be there and have the opportunity to sell my book, “Delaware County Sports Legends.”

The book showcases over 230 photographs of athletes and coaches that have contributed so much to our county’s sporting past. With “Father’s Day” right around the corner, my book would make a great gift for all those fathers who have an interest in sports, especially Delaware county sports. It is a real must for those Delco sports fans.
rlee
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