MEMORIES OF PHILIP MUSICK: "As a young sportswriter for the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press, I covered the Condors throughout their painful but hilarious existence. In a lengthy sportswriting career that included my work for the Press, a stint as USA Today's first lead columnist, and a number of books and magazine pieces, my favorite all-time beat was the crazy Condors. The Condors had some of the greatest characters and stories in the long history of professional sports. Crazy-for-crazy, I'd truly match the Condors against any team. A couple of quickies: regarding the name, your references to the screw-up of the name-the-team contest are fairly accurate, but the name "Condors" was chosen because no one had submitted it during the contest, thus the club did not have to reward any entrant. At most games in the Civic Arena, it was possible to sit in the press box and listen to the conversation of players on the bench. Publicist Fred Cranwell, the best PR man I met in a very long sportswriting career, used to open the door of the Civic Arena at halftime to let kids in free in order to give the impression of a larger crowd. As for the late John Brisker, there was that memorable team practice when he and a teammate threatened one another...with guns. I covered about everything there was to cover while a columnist, but nothing ever was as much fun as the Condors."
MEMORIES OF JOHN WILSON: "I attended my only ABA game on Saturday, March 27, 1971, at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. The Condors were playing the Utah Stars, and it could have been the highest attendance for a Condors game in their short and sorry history - 7,104.
There were a couple of reasons for the large crowd. The Stars were a real draw, with stars like Zelmo Beaty and Willie Wise, and a legend, Bill Sharman, coaching. The Condors had received unusually good press attention in the weeks prior to the game. John Brisker was challenging for the league scoring title, and Stew Johnson had had his record 62-point game a few days prior. But the main reason for the crowd was that there was a big auto show at the Civic Arena that afternoon, and with your admission to the auto show, you also got into the Condors game.
My fiancee was trying to get into modeling, and her agency had signed her up, for no money, to serve as a hood ornament for the cars. Good exposure, they said. And somehow, I managed to get into the Arena through the staff entrance with her. As an impoverished college student, it was the only way I would get to see a live game.
I remember the Condors cheerleaders, equipped with basketballs inside their bras, or so it seemed. I remember the loudest cheer during team introductions was for Dave Lattin, recently acquired and the only "name" player the Condors ever had. But his days with the great Texas Western NCAA Championship team and the NBA were far behind him. He was good for backing up Mike Lewis, five fouls and a shower.
Amazingly, the Condors won the game - 128 to 120. It turned out to be a shootout between Brisker and Zelmo. Utah's strategy in the late going was to get the mismatch with Beaty on the low block, guarded by Brisker. Twice Beaty posted him up and started to back him down inevitably toward the basket, but both times Brisker reached around and batted the ball away off the dribble. Zelmo was furious at the refs, who apparently saw an opportunity to give the pathetic franchise a boost, and ignored the obvious reach-in fouls. Brisker came back at the other end to rain in treys - I think he totaled six three-pointers for the game - and the Pittsburgh fans went home happy.
It was, I think, the last game of the season for the Condors. I hoped this game might help the team turn the corner. But the next fall it was, again, business as usual. The Howard Porter debacle soured the press toward the team. It was continuously reported that the ownership wanted to move the franchise to Connecticut (finally a believable explanation for the weird nickname.) The city rekindled its apathy toward the ABA and the Condors slid, unmourned, into oblivion."
MEMORIES OF HARVEY LIPSKY (reprinted from the ABA Fan Club Newsletter, September 1972): "The Pittsburgh Condors had only one capacity crowd in Pennsylvania during the 1971-72 season. I was at that game along with 1,749 other spectators. The date was February 9, 1972, and the place was Uniontown, Pennsylvania. I had planned on going to the Utah Stars/Pittsburgh Condors game at Pittsburgh since November 1971. The only thing to stop me would have been the Condors' rumored move to New Haven, Connecticut. On February 8, I checked the Buffalo Evening News to be sure that the Stars were playing at Pittsburgh on the 9th, since I recalled reading that the Condors had not shown up for a game in New York, and thus couldn't be trusted. The paper said Utah at Pittsburgh, so on February 9th I went to Pittsburgh for the game. While I was driving through Pittsburgh, I heard some sports reports and not one mentioned the Condors/Stars game. Instead, they were talking about the Penguins road game that night. I didn't think much of it at the time and I shook it off as the lousy press the Condors received. When I got to the Civic Arena, I went to park my car at the Arena's parking lot and was told by the attendant that the game had been moved out of the Civic Arena. I went to the Arena's ticket office to find out where the game was being played, but not even the ticket attendant knew where the Condors were playing. Fortunately, he did know their phone number, so I called the Condors' office and was told the shocking news: the game had been moved to Uniontown High School. I went back to the ticket attendant and he gave me directions to Uniontown, 40 miles from Pittsburgh. Two gas stations later, I had directions to the school. I arrived early and saw the preliminary game. Time went fast and the players arrived. At warmup time, I caught a glimpse of Mark Binstein. Binstein was in top form--telling the ball-boys how to put the adhesive tape for the 3-point shot on, after they had measured wrong and had to tear the tape off the first time. The game progressed to be a runaway for Utah, as Wise and Beaty scored 70 points. In the fourth quarter, the announcer thanked all 1,750 people for showing up. The figure was probably more than they would have drawn in Pittsburgh anyway. I saw the Condors play once more after that, March 4th at Nassau Coliseum. It was the make-up of the game they hadn't shown up for against the Nets."
Stories about the Condors' pitiful attendance figures are plentiful (see Harvey Lipsky's memory, above).
At top left, a classic ABA photo along these lines. Rookie and future Hall-of-Famer Julius "Dr. J" Erving (#32) shoots a free throw in front of a sparse and bored Pittsburgh "crowd" at the Civic Arena. The Condors' George Thompson (#25) looks on as well. Is anyone in the stands actually watching Dr. J? I count only one person - the father at the top right of the photo.
The Condors were also a terrible draw on the road. Here, John Brisker (#40) gives up another easy layup in a January 5, 1971 contest in Fort Worth, Texas with the Texas Chaparrals. The Chaps announced a crowd of 500, but even that small figure is obviously padded.
(Photos © Al Hall and Robert Hurt, and used with permission)
MEMORIES OF AGUSTIN TORRES: "I remember the St. Patrick's Day ABA doubleheader held in Madison Square Garden in New York in 1971 or 1972. I still have the button they handed out, with the logos of Kentucky, New York, Pittsburgh, and the Floridians (who also brought their famous ballgirls). Written on the button is the saying: 'So go the Irish, so go the ABA.' What I remember of the Pittsburgh game was the crowd on its feet in the second half as John Brisker kept burying 3-pointers, something many people had never seen before. They kept chanting his name and stomping their feet, and he kept firing. I don't remember how many he had but it could have been anywhere between 7 and 10 of them. This year, I was at a luncheon at St. Peter's College in Jersey City where Fred Cranwell is the college's public relations man (a position he held with Pittsburgh). Fred always recalls sitting in his Condors office with John Brisker. He was on the phone with a Condors' executive, and in his pocket he had a court injunction to prevent Brisker from jumping to Seattle in the NBA. All Cranwell could think about was that John owned a gun. He basically froze while the executive kept yelling on the phone, from long distance: "give 'im the damn papers!" Fred said Brisker was actually a nice sweet man with children. Some years later, Fred said he picked up Brisker's voice on his telephone answering machine saying hello. He didn't sound well, said Fred. He never heard from Brisker again. Fred told me, believe it or not, that Brisker may have gone to Africa to fight for Idi Amin during civil war in Uganda. Fred told me this with a straight face and swears it's true."
MEMORIES OF JEFF GOLDAMMER: "I was a 10-year old member of the "Brisker's Banditos" club. I don't have detailed memories of the games although I followed them faithfully. I tagged along with a local Catholic High School that played some games down at the Civic Arena before the Condors games. Occasionally we actually got to shoot on the court and that was very exciting. That three point line seemed like a mile away from the basket.
My most vivid memory of the Condors, beside the empty Arena, was a promotion where they gave away basketballs. Imagine that! Giving away basketballs, a fairly pricy item. So my two friends and I got our red, white, and blue basketballs, but they looked odd. We actually used them on the Arena court and it's hard to express our disappointment and bewilderment when the first ball to go into the hoop got stuck. The balls were actually bit bigger than the hoop. Not quite as big as a beach ball, but close."
MEMORIES OF PAUL DORMAN: "I attended an exhibition game in Pittsburgh between the Condors and the Milwaukee Bucks. Surprisingly enough, the game was fairly well attended, probably about 5,000-6000 people. For the Condors, that was a huge crowd. The game itself was a big disappointment because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who was the big draw) did not play. He had suffered a poke in the eye a couple of nights before. I believe this was during the final year of the Condors' existence. They had a couple of good players besides Brisker. I remember that George "Machine Gun" Thompson was on that team. Also, one of the great names in all of sports -- Harley "Skeeter" Swift. That year, it seemed like the Condors always scored lots of points. But the other teams usually scored a few more."
MEMORIES OF FRED CRANWELL: "Some extra info on the Condors' 1971 exhibition games with NBA teams. For the record, the October 2, 1971 game between the Pittsburgh Condors and the Chicago Bulls was NOT played in Pittsburgh, but rather in Sarasota, Florida, the hometown of Howard Porter. The game was part of a settlement between the Bulls and the Condors -- who both had Porter under contract. The Condors agreed to allow Porter to fulfill his contract with the Bulls. And the Condors could keep all the gate receipts from the exhibition game. We had offered to play the game at Villanova -- from whence Porter came (costing Villanova big NCAA bucks as well as many forfeitures) -- but AD Art Mahan declined. This game did not attract a large crowd. I remember Mark Binstein offering a $500 bonus to any player who could "accidentally" cause Porter not to finish the game. After a skirmish, Porter was forced to leave the game and did not return. John Brisker returned to Pittsburgh $500 richer.
We guaranteed the Milwaukee Bucks $25,000 to play in Pittsburgh on October 10, 1971. We spent big bucks advertising: "ALCINDOR IS COMING." He changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar just before the game. I believe we gave the Bucks $10,000 when the contract was signed, with the rest due the day of the game (which was a Sunday afternoon). The Friday before, the Bucks called and insisted that we wire them the rest of the money immediately or they would not show up for the game. What they did NOT tell us was that Kareem was injured and was not going to play. On the day of the game, the Bucks further advised us that Kareem would not even show up at the game. Rather, he was going to rest in his hotel room. After a lot of bickering, the big guy agreed to take a bow before the game -- in his street clothes. I think the crowd was actually somewhere between 8 and 9 thousand. But we took a big financial bath. There were about 5,000 empty seats, which gives you an idea of what kind of basketball town Pittsburgh is. We were going to give the profits from the game -- if any -- to the Pittsburgh Press Newsboy Fund, which sent kids to summer camp. The next day, the Press ripped us for falsely proclaiming that Alcindor was coming when we really knew he wasn't (not true). The Press also stated that the only people in Pittsburgh who were happy with the game were "the Condors officials who took the money to the bank." So much for credibility. The Pittsburgh media was cruel."
MEMORIES OF DENNIS SELL: "The exhibition game between the Pittsburgh Condors and Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, October 10, 1971 was played in the evening, not in the afternoon as stated by Condors' publicist Fred Cranwell. I remember this game distinctly, as I was a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee at the time and listened to the game on the radio that Sunday night. By the way, Sunday, October 10, 1971 was the scheduled date of Game 2 of the 1971 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. The game was rained out and made up the following day.
Although the Bucks won the game, 129-115, the Condors actually led early in the second half as Pittsburgh's George Thompson opened the third period with a basket to give the Condors a 61-60 lead. The official attendance for that game was 9,888.
While the Condors last "home" game was played in Tucson, Arizona on Tuesday, March 28, 1972, their final game in Pittsburgh was played two days earlier on Sunday, March 26, 1972 against the Virginia Squires. Dave "Big Daddy" Lattin's 18-foot jump shot with 11 seconds left gave the Condors a 131-130 victory. Julius Erving, who led the Squires with 41 points, missed an eight-foot jump shot in the closing seconds that would have won the game. Bob Verga and Harley "Skeeter" Swift led the Condors with 29 and 27 points, respectively. Walt Szczerbiak, father of current NBA star Wally Szczerbiak, dumped in 24 points for Pittsburgh. The Condors' usual leading scorers, John Brisker and George Thompson, did not play due to injuries."
MEMORIES OF ALEX STEWART: "I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and we didn't have a pro team. But I remember my dad taking me and my best friend to an ABA game at Boutwell Auditorium between the Pittsburgh Condors and the Kentucky Colonels. It was in 1971 or 1972. I remember that the Colonels won. I don't know if this was an exhibition game or regular season game, but it was my very first pro basketball game."
FROM THE JANUARY 1973 ABA FAN CLUB NEWSLETTER (reprinted with permission): "In the spring of 1972, the ABA received a letter from Hersey Boyer, No. 23594, who called himself the Inmate Basketball Commissioner of C Block at Attica Prison in upstate New York. Hersey was requesting help for the prison basketball league. The ABA answered the call by sending two red, white and blue basketballs. Then, with the league purchase of the Pittsburgh and Floridians franchises, the league came into possession of a number of uniforms and the chance to give further aid. The uniforms of the Pittsburgh Condors, sweatsuits and all, were sent to the prison. While the Condors no longer existed, their uniforms lived on."