When one analyzes the sports legends which give this city its unique athletic history, one must look at the athletes and landmarks that have been so crucial to providing the river city something to cheer about, but one must also look at the teams.
I’m not talking about good teams or even great teams, I’m talking about iconic teams, and in this first Team edition of Sports legends of the ‘Ville, there’s perhaps no team more iconic to discuss than the 1975 Kentucky Colonels.
In the 1970’s the ABA had been steadily growing as a professional basketball organization, directly competing with the NBA. In fact, the ABA’ impact can still be seen in professional basketball, as a handful of former ABA teams are currently in the NBA and of course the showmanship that has been so closely aligned with the American Basketball Association.
The most winningest ABA team played here in the city of Louisville, at Freedom Hall. And, for the Kentucky Colonels in their all too short but none the less rich history 1975 was their stand-out season, as they concluded with the ABA championship, still the city’s only professional championship.
While leading scorer and Jacksonville University alum Artis Gilmore had no trouble sinking shots, the duel attack of former Kentucky Wildcats, Louie Dampier and Dan Issel made the Colonels seemingly unstoppable.
That is with the additional support of Pepperdine’s Bird Averitt, Northern Illinois’ Jim Bradley, North Texas’ Joe Hamilton, Albany State’s Wil Jones, High Point University’s Gene Littles, Tennessee State’s Ted McClain, Tennessee’s Red Robins, Utah State’s Marv Roberts, South Carolina’s John Roache, and of course the University of Louisville’s own Ronald Thomas.
The championship came appropriately enough against the Colonel’s biggest rival the Indiana Pacers, who the guys from the River City were able to take down four games to one in a championship series.
Following their championship, the Colonels actually challenged the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to a World Title Game; with similar stipulations surrounding the first super bowl around ten years prior.
The Warriors declined the challenge, however to this day many believe that the Colonels would have one out that game, proclaiming the superiority of the ABA.
Following the ABA’s eventual disbandment, Gilmore would go on to play in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, and Boston Celtics; Dampier went to the NBA to play for the San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile Issel jumped ship to the Denver Nuggets, an ABA team who would go on to join in the expansion into the NBA.
Bird Averitt signed a contract with the Buffalo Braves (currently the Los Angeles Clippers). Like Issel, Jim Bradley made his way to the Nuggets prior to joining the Rochester Zeniths in the Continental Basketball Association. Ironically enough Wil Jones joined the Pacers when they became new members of the NBA.
Gene Littles would go on to coach, notably working for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ted McClain became another Colonel transplant to the Nuggets where he began an NBA career that would take him to Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Buffalo. Marv Roberts eventually made his way to the NBA as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Head coach Hubie Brown accepted positions coaching in the NBA in Atlanta, New York, and most recently Memphis where he left in 2005. However, Brown still proclaims that the ’75 Colonels was the best basketball team he ever coached. In 2005, Brown was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a year after he was named the NBA coach of the year.
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