MEMORIES OF MARK MAHAGAN: "Cincy Powell, Jim "Goose" Ligon, Walt Simon, Wendell Ladner, Bird Averitt, Les "Big Game" Hunter, Wil Jones, Jim McDaniel, Mike Pratt, Jimmy Dan Conner, Ron "The Plumber" Thomas. 99 out of 100 people would have never heard of any of these former Colonels, but I think of them often. My Dad would tape ABA games (with a tape recorder -- not a VCR, of course) and replay them every morning while he got ready for work. I vividly remember the voice of Van Vance with the call. Van is still around on WHAS radio in Louisville. Freedom Hall was the site of many of my favorite memories. We had season tickets for a couple of years. They were the Colonels glory years with the likes of Little Louie, Big Dan and Artis. I remember the songs the cheerleaders danced to (Free Ride, Fly Robin Fly, etc). But most of all, I can't forget the second saddest day of my young life (the 1st was when the Colonels didn't join in the NBA merger). The Night Dan Issel Was Traded. I'm practically in tears as I recall this. I was out at Louisville Downs when the PA announcer told the stunned crowd that The Horse had been traded to the Baltimore Claws. How could the management betray us loyal fans? To this day, I blame this ill-fated decision as the main reason the Colonels weren't absorbed by the older league."MEMORIES OF DUANE BONIFER: "My most vivid memory was meeting Wendell Ladner during a Louisville summer parks event. He was at the city park in my neighborhood one summer day signing autographs, teaching kids how to shoot hoops and generally yucking it up with everyone. My Mom and I had gone to the park that day unaware he was going to be there, and when we saw him she gave him my baseball glove to sign. My Mom wasn't a big sports fan, but she liked Ladner because he was "so nice to the children." A few months later, Ladner died in a plane accident, and my Mom cried -- which shocked Dad and me. After reading your site, I discussed Ladner's death with my folks and asked my Mom why she was so upset when he died. She said it was because he was so involved in the community and supportive of the area's children. That was one of the great hallmarks of the Colonels in Louisville, they were so involved with the community. You felt like the team belonged to the city, sort of like the Dodgers belonged to Brooklyn. My Dad was a high school history teacher, and he got free tickets several times a year from the team simply because he was a teacher. I understand why John Young Brown Jr. took the money and ran to the NBA, but I'm convinced that Louisville would have been successful in the NBA if they had merged in '76. Now it's too late, and all I have is an old RC Cola bottle commemorating the '75 championship team. And that's too bad, because if folks think the Utah fans are nuts about the Jazz, that's nothing compared to what the Colonels' fans would be like today."
MEMORIES OF DENNIS OECHSLI: "I was a gym rat growing up in Louisville and was always going to Kentucky Colonels games whenever I could beg, borrow or talk my future father-in-law out of his seats. I remember going to a playoff game one Sunday evening. The Colonels were in a rather tight game when 'Mr. Excitement' Wendell Ladner checked in. He hadn't been in the game but a few minutes when he made one of his patented diving saves of an errant pass directly in front the the Colonels bench. He saved the ball but crashed back first into the water cooler next to the bench. At this time, the bottles on the top of the cooler were made of glass. The bottle smashed to the floor and Wendell landed on the shards of broken glass. He jumped up quickly and tried to get back to the floor but the trainer stopped him because he was bleeding profusely from gashes in his arm. Play was stopped and Wendell was led to the locker room soaked in blood. The crowd was silent figuring that this was the last they would see of Wendell. Thirty minutes later, he came sprinting back to the bench with as I remember over 100 stitches in his arm. He begged to re-enter the game, but sanity prevailed and Wendell was placed at the end of the bench for his own protection."
MEMORIES OF JIMMY WILCOX: "When I was a young boy trying to understand the game of basketball in a roundball crazy state like Kentucky, I saw a televised playoff game between the Colonels and the Virginia Squires. That Virginia team had the Ice Man and the Doctor, both at once. Kentucky was about to win in a blowout when Issel cleared a board and fed an outlet to none other than....WENDELL LADNER! Wendell was wide open for an uncontested layup. Instead he dribbled under the basket from the righthand side, and did not take the shot. He went all the way out to the left corner...the DEEP left corner. From there he heaved up the most ridiculous three pointer I've ever seen! Perfect ABA basketball. Some of the best memories of my life were spent listening to Van Vance late at night on a little radio out in the country. Oh, and by the way, Ladner missed the shot."
MEMORIES OF KIRK A NIENABER: "It was April 1974. I was 9 years old and drove with my older brother to see Game 3 of the Eastern Division final between the Colonels and the Nets. We sat in the upper end of Freedom Hall behind one of the baskets. The Colonels were down 2-0 in the Series, and Dr J. threw in a fall away basket at the buzzer to win the game 90-88 (I think). I'll never forget it. I was so excited because I grew up in Cincinnati and was just starting to become a Royals fan when they left--So the Colonels became my team, and I was disappointed when the NBA didn't bring them in."
MEMORIES OF BILL WETHERBEE: "Kentucky Colonel games were broadcast over WHAS, Louisville, a powerful 50,000 watt clear-channel station whose signal on winter evenings carried all the way to my home in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. The games were done by the legendary Cawood Ledford and Van Vance, in a time well before we had cable television or any other widespread access to televised sports broadcasts. Their calls of Colonels' games brought the ABA to life for a distant fan. They made the ABA a reality to basketball fans in the Northeast, where the league was largely ignored by the local press."
MEMORIES OF SANDY CHESS: "Growing up in Eastern Queens, New York, I was a huge Nets fan from 1969 onward. I attended most Nets home games from 1972 until the end. In following the ABA, I would listen as often as I could to Van Vance doing Colonels games on WHAS. I picked up the broadcasts pretty easily at night. By the way, I was able to meet Van at Nets games. In fact, one time he put me on his "Star of the Game Show" after he talked with Dr.J. Van would do that type of thing with fans around the country from time to time."
MEMORIES OF JIMMY SAND: "I live here in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Colonels. I really don't have one special memory. But I do remember the heated rivalry with the Pacers, how McGinnis could palm a ball like a grapefruit, Gervin's finger roll, and how David Thompson could dominate a game. I also remember all my favorite Colonels: Issel, Gilmore, Dampier, Carrier, and Lucas. And I recall the sadness when Wendell Ladner died; he really hustled every minute he was on the court. But what sticks out in my mind (and I'm not sure how many times it really happened) is that every time we played against Dr. J (whether he was with the Squires or the Nets), he always seemed to beat us with a last second shot."
MEMORIES OF RICK FURLONG: "I'm 38 years old and was born in Louisville. I remember getting floor seats to a Colonels game behind the basket. I was a big Dan Issel fan. On one particular play Issel rolled to the basket but the pass went behind him, and the ball landed in my lap. Dan looked real mad and turned to look where the ball went. He saw me with the ball, gave me a big smile, and I noticed his front teeth were missing. I then held up the ball, and he came over and asked me for it and rubbed my head. I was young then and that was my greatest ABA memory."
MEMORIES OF MIKE HERP: "My Grandpa worked for Brantley Ushering Service after he retired. He could always get us great seats on the floor at the Colonels' games at the Convention Center (now Louisville Gardens) and later at Freedom Hall.
We saw some neat stuff...Dan Issel scoring his 10,000 career point...Wendell Ladner crashing into a glass water cooler (against the Carolina Cougars in a playoff game, I think) and needing 50 stitches to return to the game...Dr. J hitting an unbelievable 4th quarter, buzzer-beating jumper over Artis Gilmore in the 1974 playoffs to kill the Colonels chances of winning the series against the Nets…Billy Keller throwing in a half court shot at the 4th quarter buzzer in Game 2 of the 1975 ABA Finals that would have won the game for the Pacers, but it came after the buzzer (or at least that is what the refs ruled after a long, heated discussion on the floor). The Colonels went on to win that series with the Pacers, giving them the ABA Championship. Then they beat Golden State of the NBA in an exhibition game the next season, to win the unofficial "World Championship."
I remember the fans hollering "Goose" every time Jim "Goose" Ligon scored...the Marathon Oil siren going off when a Colonel (usually Dampier or Carrier) hit a 3-pointer, followed by John Tong saying "some lucky fan just won 10 gallons of Marathon Gasoline."
My childhood memories are filled with memories about the Kentucky Colonels. We always listened to Van Vance on WHAS radio for the road games, because there was virtually no television coverage of the ABA. Sometimes we would get a local broadcast of the games from Indianapolis, Virginia or Carolina.
I often lament the day that the Colonels didn't join the NBA. For a lousy $4 million, the Colonels could have gone in with NY, Denver, San Antonio and the hated Pacers. John Y. Brown was willing to pay half of the entry fee, but he wanted the community to take a financial stake with him. Seems our civic leaders just weren't interested. Now, those same leaders talk of spending hundreds of million of dollars to bring an NBA franchise to Louisville. We already had one of the best teams in pro basketball in 1976, and just watched it fade away with only our memories to preserve it. Thank goodness I still have some team pictures, a commemorative RC Coke bottle (for the 1975 ABA title), and a lot of old ABA basketball cards."
The 1975 Kentucky Colonels Championship Ring. (Photo courtesy of Broadway Rick's Strike Zone)
MEMORIES OF JIMMY W. ESTES: "My brother passed away recently, at the early age of 43. We were ABA fans together, following our Kentucky Colonels. During the 1974-75 season, when we finally won the title, we did not miss a game. When the team went to Indy to play in the 1975 Finals we were there. We watched Artis Gilmore have the game of his life, moving us up 3 games to none. We talked about the ABA for years after. I still have hundreds of Colonels programs and ticket stubs and I will keep them forever. Long live the great ABA."
MEMORIES OF JOHN HARRELL: "I'm one of a number of young Louisvillians (I turn 31 in February 1997) who grew up considering the Kentucky Colonels the most important part of my team sports life. My favorite Colonels memory was going to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in 1975, watching the Colonels chew up the Spirits of St. Louis, and going home safe in the knowledge that an ABA championship would finally be ours. I still have most of my Colonels memorabilia, from a pennant which is old and frayed, but is also framed and hanging in my study, to a piece of plaster board my dad cut out for me. I used it to get all the players' autographs at a preseason gathering in downtown Louisville before that 74-75 title season."