The Spirits of St. Louis were one of two teams still in existence at the end of the American Basketball Association (ABA) that did not survive the ABA–NBA merger. They were a member of the ABA in its last two seasons, 1974–75 and 1975–76, while playing their home games at the St. Louis Arena.
|Spirits of St. Louis|
Spirits of St. Louis
|Arena||St. Louis Arena|
|Location||St. Louis, Missouri|
|Team colors||Burnt orange, silver, black, white|
|Team manager||Harry Weltman|
|Head coach||Bob MacKinnon |
|Ownership||Ozzie and Daniel Silna|
The Spirits (who took their name from the Atlantic Ocean-crossing plane flown by Charles Lindbergh) were the third incarnation of a franchise that began as the Houston Mavericks and later the Carolina Cougars. However, only a few players from the 1973–74 Cougars followed the team to St. Louis, so the Spirits were essentially an expansion team.
The Spirits were a colorful team featuring a number of players, both on and off the court, who were fairly successful in their basketball careers. Among them were Moses Malone, acquired during their second and final season, who went on to a long and successful career in the NBA, culminating in enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Maurice Lucas spent most of his time in the ABA as a Spirit, then later became an all-star in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers. Other well-known players that played for the team included former Boston Celtics sixth man Don Chaney, future Celtics head coach M.L. Carr, and Ron Boone, who held the record for consecutive games played in pro basketball for many years. One of the most colorful players on the team was forward Marvin Barnes, famous for stories about his off-court behavior and lack of understanding of time zones.
A couple of off-court personalities from the team became well known as well. One of the coaches in 1975 was former NBA player Rod Thorn, who became the NBA's vice president of basketball operations (in essence, the league's chief disciplinarian and the number-two man behind commissioner David Stern) for a number of years. On radio, the team featured Bob Costas as its play-by-play announcer on KMOX. Costas would go on to a highly successful career working for NBC television and radio.
After a slow start in their inaugural season, 1974–75, the Spirits reached the playoffs with a late rush, then upset the defending ABA champion New York Nets in the first round of the playoffs. But the team squandered this good start the following year. Despite inheriting several players (including Malone) from the Utah Stars after that franchise failed in the middle of the season, the Spirits finished well out of playoff contention in 1975–76. Attendance in St. Louis fell through the floor; they were lucky to draw crowds of more than 1,000 people in an 18,000-seat arena, and frequently drew "crowds" in the hundreds. At season's end, negotiations were under way to move the franchise to Salt Lake City, Utah as the Utah Rockies.
In the summer of 1976, with the ABA at the point of financial collapse, the six surviving franchises (the Virginia Squires went bankrupt immediately after the final season) began negotiating a merger with the NBA. But the senior circuit decided to accept only four teams from the rival league: the Nets (the last ABA champion), Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs.
The NBA placated John Y. Brown, owner of the Kentucky Colonels, by giving him a $3.3 million settlement in exchange for shutting his team down. (Brown later used much of that money to buy the Buffalo Braves of the NBA.) But the owners of the Spirits, the brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna, struck a prescient deal to acquire future television money from the teams that joined the NBA, a 1/7 share from each franchise (or nearly 2% of the entire NBA's TV money), in perpetuity. With network TV deals becoming more and more lucrative, the deal has made the Silnas wealthy, earning them $186 million as of 2008, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and $255 million as of 2012 according to The New York Times. (The NBA nearly succeeded in buying out the Silnas in 1982 by offering $5 million over eight years, but negotiations stalled when the siblings demanded $8 million over five.) On June 27, 2007, it was extended for another 8 years, ensuring another $100 million+ windfall for the Silnas. In 2014, the Silnas reached agreement with the NBA to greatly reduce the perpetual payments and take a lump sum of $500 million. In the last few years before the lump sum agreement, the Silnas were receiving $14.57 million a year, despite being owners of a team that hadn't played one minute of basketball in more than 35 years. The Silnas will, however, still be receiving a now much smaller portion of the television revenue through a new partnership with the former ABA teams the Nets, Nuggets, Pacers and Spurs.
On October 8, 2013, ESPN presented a documentary about the team, Free Spirits, as part of its 30 for 30 series. Part of the show contained the fact that the Silnas had been suing the NBA for "hundreds of millions of dollars more" they feel the NBA owes them, presumably for NBA League Pass subscriptions and streaming video (the Silnas dropped the suit when the NBA bought their rights out). As a result, – and on the advice of their attorneys – the Silnas refused to be interviewed for the program, directed by Daniel Forer. However, many players, members of management, and Costas – among others – shared their memories of the franchise.
|Spirits of St. Louis Hall of Famers|
|Rod Thorn 1||Head Coach||1975||2018|
|ABA Champions||ABA Finals Appearance||Division Champions||Playoff Berth|
|Season||League||Division||Regular Season||Postseason Results|
|1967–68||ABA||Western||4th||29||49||.372||Lost Division Semifinals (Dallas, 0-3)|
|1969–70||ABA||Eastern||3rd||42||42||.500||Lost Division Semifinals (Indiana, 0-4)|
|1972–73||ABA||Eastern||1st||57||27||.679||Won Division Semifinals (NY Nets, 4-1)|
Lost Division Finals (Kentucky, 3-4)
|1973–74||ABA||Eastern||3rd||47||37||.560||Lost Division Semifinals (Kentucky, 0-4)|
|Spirits of St. Louis|
|1974–75||ABA||Eastern||3rd||32||52||.381||Won Division Semifinals (NY Nets, 4-1)|
Lost Division Finals (Kentucky, 1-4)
The 1974–75 ABA season was the eighth season of the American Basketball Association. The Kentucky Colonels won the 1975 ABA Championship after winning the Eastern Division; the Denver Nuggets won the Western Division. Julius Erving and George McGinnis shared the league's MVP award.1974–75 Spirits of St. Louis season
The 1974-75 American Basketball Association season saw the Spirits of St. Louis, led by Marvin Barnes, Maurice Lucas, Gus Gerard and coach Bob MacKinnon, finish third in the ABA Eastern Division and defeat the New York Nets in the 1975 ABA Semifinals before losing in the Eastern Division Finals to the eventual ABA champion Kentucky Colonels.1976 ABA dispersal draft
On August 5, 1976, as a result of the ABA–NBA merger, the NBA hosted a dispersal draft to select players from the Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis, the two American Basketball Association (ABA) franchises that were not included in the ABA–NBA merger.
The eighteen NBA teams and the four ABA teams that joined the NBA, the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs, were allowed to participate in the draft. The teams selected in reverse order of their win–loss percentage in the previous NBA and ABA seasons. The team that made a selection paid for the signing rights to the player, which were set by the league's committee. The money from the draft was used to help the four ABA teams that merged with the NBA to pay off some of their obligations to the two folded ABA franchises, the Colonels and Spirits. The team that made a selection was obligated to assume the player's ABA contract. The players who were not selected would become free agents.Twenty players from the Colonels and the Spirits were available for the draft. Eleven were selected in the first round and the twelfth player was selected in the second round. Eight players were not selected and thus became a free agent. The Chicago Bulls used the first pick to select five-time ABA All-Star Artis Gilmore with a signing price of $1,100,000. The Portland Trail Blazers, who acquired the Atlanta Hawks' second pick, selected Maurice Lucas and Moses Malone with signing price of $300,000 and $350,000 respectively. Marvin Barnes, who was selected fourth by the Detroit Pistons was the second most expensive player in the draft with a signing price of $500,000. Several teams elected to pass their first-round picks and only the Kansas City Kings used the second-round pick. The draft continued until the third round, but no other players were selected.ABA–NBA merger
The merger of the American Basketball Association (ABA) with the National Basketball Association (NBA), after multiple attempts over several years, occurred in 1976. The NBA and ABA had entered merger talks as early as 1970, but an antitrust suit filed by the head of the NBA players union, Robertson v. National Basketball Ass'n, blocked the merger until 1976.
As part of the merger agreement, the NBA agreed to accept four of the remaining six ABA teams: the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs. The remaining two ABA teams, the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis, folded, with their players entering a dispersal draft.Barry Parkhill
Barry Parkhill (born May 11, 1951) is a retired American professional basketball player from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1st round (15th overall) of the 1973 NBA Draft but elected to play in the American Basketball Association instead. A 6'4" (1.93 m) guard-forward from the University of Virginia, Parkhill played in three ABA seasons for two different teams. He played for the Virginia Squires and the Spirits of St. Louis.
In 2001, Parkhill was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.Bob MacKinnon
Robert MacKinnon (December 5, 1927 – July 7, 2015) was an American college and professional basketball coach. He coached three different professional teams in his career; the American Basketball Association's Spirits of St. Louis, and the NBA's Buffalo Braves and New Jersey Nets. MacKinnon also served as the Nets' general manager.Carolina Cougars
The Carolina Cougars were a basketball franchise in the former American Basketball Association that existed from late 1969 through 1974. The Cougars were originally a charter member of the ABA as the Houston Mavericks in 1967. The Mavericks moved to North Carolina in late 1969 after two unsuccessful seasons in Houston at the Sam Houston Coliseum.Don Chaney
Donald Ray Chaney (born March 22, 1946) is an American former professional basketball player and coach, most notable for his long stints as a player on the Boston Celtics.Freddie Lewis
Frederick L. Lewis (born July 1, 1943) is a retired American basketball player. He played professionally in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and American Basketball Association (ABA). He is the only player to start his career in the NBA, and play all 9 full ABA seasons (1967-1976) until the NBA/ABA merger, then sign back with the NBA.
Born in Huntington, West Virginia, Lewis was a fundamentally sound 6'0" (1.83 m) guard who could pass, shoot, and defend equally well. He attended McKeesport Area High School (in Pennsylvania) and Arizona State University before being drafted by the NBA's Cincinnati Royals.Gus Gerard
Gus Gerard (born July 27, 1953) is a retired American professional basketball player who played for the Carolina Cougars and Spirits of St. Louis of the American Basketball Association and the Denver Nuggets, Buffalo Braves, Detroit Pistons, Kansas City Kings and San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association.
Gerard played college basketball at the University of Virginia. He was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 3rd round (14th pick, 50th overall) of the 1975 NBA draft.Gerard was on the 1974–75 ABA All-Rookie First Team and made the 1976 ABA All Star Team. He played in all 84 games of his rookie season.Gerard's best NBA season came in 1976–77 when he averaged 10 points a game for the Denver Nuggets. Gerard finally retired the NBA after the 1980–81 season.Gerard's ABA and NBA careers were hampered by drug problems; after leaving professional basketball Gerard became a licensed chemical dependency counselor and was involved in a program called Bouncing Back, in which athletes like himself, former Spirits of St. Louis teammate Marvin Barnes and former NBA player Dirk Minniefield travel to schools and businesses, sharing their stories about addiction and recovery.Houston Mavericks
The Houston Mavericks were a charter member of the American Basketball Association. They played in the upstart league's first two seasons, from 1967 to 1969. Their home arena was the Sam Houston Coliseum. In 1947–48, there was an unrelated Mavericks franchise based in Houston as part of the Professional Basketball League of America.KMOX
KMOX (1120 kHz) is an AM radio station affiliated with CBS News Radio and broadcasting from St. Louis, Missouri. Owned by Entercom, it is a 50,000-watt class A clear channel radio station, according to the North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA), signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico. This permits KMOX's nighttime signal to be heard in most of the central U.S. and into Mexico and Canada. Its daytime signal provides at least secondary coverage to most of eastern and central Missouri, and much of west-central Illinois.
KMOX operates as NewsRadio 1120 and refers to itself as The Voice of St. Louis.KMOX's transmitter is located in Pontoon Beach, Illinois. The KMOX studio is located at 1220 Olive Street in the Park Pacific Building at Olive Street and Tucker Boulevard. Entercom also has studios and offices there for its two other St. Louis radio stations, KYKY and KEZK-FM.For many years, KMOX broadcast using C-QUAM AM stereo, but stereo transmissions ended in the spring of 2000. The station now broadcasts an HD Radio signal. The Federal Communications Commission requires a digital (Digital) license for HD broadcasting.KMOX, along with WSDZ, are responsible for the activation of the Greater St. Louis Emergency Alert System for hazardous weather, disaster declarations, etc.Larry Fogle
Larry Fogle (born March 19, 1953) is a retired American basketball player. He was an ABA and NBA draft pick. He played in two games for the New York Knicks during 1975-1976 before playing for the CBA and starring on the Rochester Zeniths 1977-78 championship team.Marvin Barnes
Marvin Jerome "Bad News" Barnes (July 27, 1952 – September 8, 2014) was an American professional basketball player. A forward, he was an All-American at Providence College, and played professionally in both the American Basketball Association (ABA) and National Basketball Association (NBA).Maurice Lucas
Maurice Lucas (February 18, 1952 – October 31, 2010) was an American professional basketball player. The first two years of his postcollegiate career were spent in the American Basketball Association (ABA) with the Spirits of St. Louis and Kentucky Colonels. He then played twelve seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) with the Portland Trail Blazers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knickerbockers, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Seattle SuperSonics. The starting power forward on the Trail Blazers' 1976–77 NBA Championship team, he was nicknamed The Enforcer because of his primary role on the court which was best exemplified in Game 2 of the NBA Finals that season.Paul Ruffner
Paul Ruffner (born October 15, 1948) is a retired American basketball player who played in both the American Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association.
Ruffner was born on in Downey, California. He played basketball at Earl Warren High School in Downey, California.A 6'10" center, Ruffner played college basketball for Brigham Young University. The Chicago Bulls selected Ruffner in the second round of the 1970 NBA draft and the Virginia Squires selected him in the 1970 ABA draft. Ruffner signed with the Bulls.Ruffner played his rookie season, 1970–71, with the Bulls. Ruffner played for the Pittsburgh Condors of the ABA in the next season. After a year out of both leagues, Ruffner played during the 1973–74 and 1974–75 seasons for the NBA's Buffalo Braves. Ruffner then landed with the Baltimore Claws but the team folded after a few preseason exhibition games. Ruffner concluded his professional career in the final season before the ABA–NBA merger by appearing in two games for the Spirits of St. Louis during the 1975–76 campaign.St. Louis Arena
St. Louis Arena (known as the Checkerdome from 1977 to 1983) was an indoor arena in St. Louis, Missouri. The country's second-largest indoor entertainment venue when it opened in 1929, it was home to the St. Louis Blues and various other sports franchises. The Arena sat across I-64 from Forest Park's Aviation Field.
The Arena hosted conventions, concerts, political rallies, horse shows, circuses, boxing matches, professional wrestling, Roller Derby competitions, indoor soccer matches, the 1973 and 1978 NCAA men's basketball Final Four, the NCAA Men's Midwest Regional finals in 1982, 1984, and 1993, the 1992–94 Missouri Valley Conference men's basketball tournament, and the 1975 NCAA Frozen Four ice hockey finals.
It was demolished in 1999.Steve "Snapper" Jones
Stephen Howard "Snapper" Jones (October 17, 1942 – November 25, 2017) was an American basketball player in the American Basketball Association (ABA) and National Basketball Association who later become a television analyst. He was a three-time ABA All-Star. Jones' brother Nick also played in the ABA and NBA.
During his time in the ABA, Jones picked up the moniker "Snapper" but he never revealed how it came to be.Tom Ingelsby
Tom Ingelsby (born February 12, 1951) is a former American basketball player.
He spent his youth in Springfield, Delaware County, Pennsylvania and played basketball and football at St Francis of Assisi Elementary School in Springfield. He played basketball from 1965 to 1969 at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Springfield. In his junior season he helped the team win the Philadelphia Catholic League championship, beating Father Judge High School in the finals. The team fell short in the City Championship, losing to the West Philadelphia High School Speedboys.
Ingelsby, a 6' 3" guard, played college basketball at Villanova University from 1970 to 1973. Ingelsby was named the MVP of the Quaker City Tournament in Philadelphia in 1972, and was also named to the NABC and Big Five All Star squad that season. Ingelsby finished his collegiate career with 1616 points and 279 assists. He was selected as the 27th overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks.
Ingelsby played professionally for the Atlanta Hawks (NBA) in the 1973-74 season, for the Spirits of St. Louis of the (American Basketball Association) in the 1974-75 season, and for the San Diego Sails in the 1975-76 season.Ingelsby is the father of Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby, and coached his son at Archbishop Carroll High School.