Floridians Fan Memories (Page 1)

MEMORIES OF BILL GRONVOLD: "I used to be a board operator at WOCN in Miami. WOCN was the flagship radio station of the Miami Floridians in 1969. We never used to know whether games would actually air, as we didn't know if the line charges had been paid. I remember that I could go to Floridians games for a buck. The games were played at various sites around South Florida, including a former airplane hangar in Coconut Grove (Dinner Key Auditorium) and a community college gymnasium. I was at a game at the Dinner Key Auditorium one night when referee Norm Drucker jumped over the scorer's table and into the crowd to confront a fan who had thrown something onto the court following a close officiating call. Players and other fans had to restrain him."

MEMORIES OF LYNN SHACKELFORD (Miami Floridians player, 1969-70): "I suppose what I remember most is when I joined the Miami Floridians in January of 1970, I had come from 3 NCAA championships at UCLA. Our 3 year varsity record was 88-2. After I signed with the Floridians, we promptly lost 10 straight. Very quickly, I learned again how it felt to lose. Our coach, Hal Blitman, told me that he had studied John Wooden's record and that he, Blitman, was actually ahead of Wooden at a similar stage in his career. This of course was prior to the Floridians going down the tubes. It was like Grand Central Station that year, with all the players coming and going. I remember playing with Al Cueto, the world's tallest Cuban (where are you Al?). Actually I was only there a couple of months and then went to work for the owner (Bob Howard), who was struggling in the shopping center development business."

MEMORIES OF HOWARD LEIBOWITZ: "In the early 1970's I moved to South Florida and I went to several Floridians games. I have a few memories of the team. One was an advertising campaign they had for the 1970-71 season. It referred to the team's dismal season the year before. They said that instead of firing the coach and keeping the players, they fired all the players and kept the coach. The print ad had the coach (Hal Blitman) standing next to a group of players who were covered up by a big sheet. From the way they played before, they should have fired the players AND the coach. Blitman actually became my high school vice principal a couple of years after the team folded. In regards to the scantily clad ball girls, I happened to save a program from a Floridians game. Of course, it contained a picture of the ball girls. Several years later I started a new math class in high school. You guessed it, one of the ex-ball girls was now my math teacher. She was a little embarrassed (to say the least) when I brought the program in for the rest of the class to see."

MEMORIES OF STEVE JAFFE: "I used to go to the Floridians games in the Miami Beach Convention Center. I was at the Convention Hall quite often in those days because it also hosted World Championship Wrestling. The local champs were Dusty Rhodes and Jack Briscoe - and we would go to see them more frequently than the Floridians! I believe I had my 10th or 11th birthday party at a Floridians game. My buddies and I all sat in the second or third row and we spent most of our time looking at the ball girls. I went home with a red white and blue ball. The most amazing thing was that coach Hal Blitman suddenly ended up as the vice principal of my junior high school. Ironically, he did not coach our basketball team. But what a nice guy. I am sure that after a few years in the wild and woolly ABA, overseeing a bunch of kids looked like a great job. Finally, I remember a song that the Floridians put on the radio to advertise the games. It was called 'Get that ball, Floridians.' Catchy, no?"

MEMORIES OF JOHN J. LIFRIERI: "I grew up in South Florida in the 70's and at 10 years old I was a huge Floridians fan. I would listen to the games on AM radio and keep stats on my loose leaf school paper. Calvin 28 points, Jones 19 points, etc. I never missed a game. Back then the games were almost never televised so I had to visualize what the players looked like. An older friend caught wind of my fanatical behavior and told his best friend about me. Bill Zei was a young sports writer for the local Hollywood Sun-Tattler and covered the Floridians back in 71-72. Bill asked me if I wanted to go with him to a game and of course I was eager to go. With permission from my folks, we enjoyed the game. At half-time Bill lead me down to the press table where I met and actually was interviewed live by play-by-play announcer Sam Smith. After the Floridian win, I met Mack Calvin in the locker room. All was recorded in a special article in the Sun-Tattler (written by Bill), explaining the loyal fan I was. I believe it was titled 'Little Johnny at Floridians.' I will never forget the thrill and I still keep the paper article tucked away somewhere."

MEMORIES OF GLEN ORENSTEIN: "I can remember visiting my grandparents in Florida as a 9 year old. We went to see the Floridians play the Virginia Squires at the Miami Beach Convention Hall. My grandfather was a former New York City high school basketball coach and knew Larry Brown's family. He did not follow the ABA closely and thought that Brown was still with the Squires. After we arrived at the game, he was informed by a Squires player that Brown had been traded and was now a Denver Rocket. The Squire who told my grandfather this while he was warming up? Doug Moe. At that same game, at halftime, they let the kids go on the floor and shoot baskets until the teams came out for the second half. Now if they only let me do this at Madison Square Garden today. At the end of the game, I had my program autographed by a number of players including the Floridians' star player Mack Calvin, Larry Jones and a few Squires (including Doug Moe and current Detroit Piston head coach George Irvine). Still have it."

MEMORIES OF RANDY ILES: "I was one of only several hundred people who attended a Pittsburgh Condors at Floridians game in Miami. I was on spring break there. My fraternity brothers from Penn State dragged me to the game because they were all from Pittsburgh. As far as details, I can only remember the great ball girls."

MEMORIES OF STEVEN HERBERT: "I had the pleasure of attending five Floridians games at the Miami Beach Convention Center during the 1970-71 and 1971-72 seasons while visiting my paternal grandparents. They owned a hotel on Collins Avenue, only two blocks from the Convention Center. The only time I ever had a birthday party was at a New York Nets at Floridians game. I still have the red-white-and-blue ABA ball I received from the Floridians as a party gift 30 years ago.

The Floridians gave me so many wonderful memories, perhaps more than any other professional sports team. I thought their advertising slogan for the 1970-71 season was better than any other professional team I can remember. They were 23-61 the previous season, the worst record among all 25 professional basketball teams. Their advertising slogan was, 'We didn't fire the coach, we fired the team.' I remember the advertising copy acknowledging that the Floridians had professional basketball's worst record the previous season. It then declared that most teams would have fired the coach, but the Floridians did not. They fired the team. Every player from the previous season's team was traded, cut or retired.

To me, that was such an innovative approach. I wish another team would try that to see what would happen. The likeliest place would be the NBA, but salary cap considerations, and the probability that every team has at least one player it would want to keep, make that unlikely. The Floridians had such innovative ownership. Their owner the final two seasons was Ned Doyle of the famed New York City-based advertising agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, best known for its Volkswagen, Avis ('We Try Harder') and Alka-Seltzer ('Mama mia, that's a spicy meatball') campaigns. Ned Doyle knew businesses like the Floridians had to be innovative to succeed and he made certain the Floridians would be as innovative as possible.

I also remember that for a game in Madison Square Garden on St. Patrick's Day, 1971, the Floridians decided to wear uniforms with O' preceding every player's name, so there was O'Jones, O'Calvin, O'Harge, etc. At the time, the Floridians actually had a guard named Fran O'Hanlon. There was a concern before the game that the MSG official scorer would just remove the O' from O'Hanlon's name and he would come out 'Hanlon' in the box score. I do not think that happened though."

MEMORIES OF BRIAN GADINSKY: "As a kid living in Miami Beach, I loved the Floridians. They played many of their games at the Miami Beach Convention Hall. Three great memories:

• When the team was owned by ad mogul Ned Doyle, the promotions were very creative. I once won a vat of gefilte fish in a ticket raffle. And it came with horseradish!

• Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian was on hand one day. He tried to kick a football from behind the stands into the basket.

• I'll never forget hanging out after the game and watching the Kentucky Colonels (Darel Carrier, Louie Dampier, Goose Ligon, etc.) jog out the front door of The Convention Center (still in uniform) to their hotel across the street."

MEMORIES OF MIKE FULLER: "The Floridians had the coolest uniforms and I was sure that Mack Calvin would have kicked Calvin Murphy's butt if they ever met head-to-head. The really attractive thing to me about the ABA -- apart from the very cool red, white and blue ball and the three-point shot -- was the fact that it was just a little more dangerous than the NBA. None of my friends got it, but being an ABA fan was kind of like being in a secret society."

MEMORIES OF DON BAKER: "I was fortunate (living in New Mexico) to see the Floridians play once here at the University Arena in Albuquerque. It was before the start of the 1971-72 season (an exhibition game) between the Denver Rockets and the Floridians. The game drew well here with some 5000 plus fans because two ex-UNM Lobos were coming back to town -- Willie Long and of course Ira Harge. Denver also brought in ex-WAC player Marv Roberts. For a knowledgeable ABA fan though, it was a rare chance to see that high scoring guard combo of Larry Jones and Mack Calvin. I can't remember why but it turned out Warren Jabali and Mack Calvin were the starting guards that night. In any event, Jabali was no disappointment. Denver had a pretty good guard tandem as well -- Larry Cannon and Ralph Simpson. The game itself was rather bland with the players somewhat lethargic. But what did standout were the beautiful, colorful uniforms the teams brought to town that night. This was the year the Rockets were showing-off their new light purple uniforms (they had sported orange in previous years) while the Floridians sported their usual colorful outfits. In fact, I'd have to say, this happened to be the one ABA game I witnessed where the uniforms out performed the players!"

MEMORIES OF DAVE MIGDAL: "The year is sketchy, but the memory isn't. I was down in Florida one of the last years the Floridians were in existence, visiting my grandparents in Miami Beach. There was a park on Lincoln Road, and I decided to buy a plastic/rubber ABA ball to shoot some baskets there. I was dribbling down the street to the park, and I saw a tall guy wearing a dashiki. It was Warren Jabali, and he was with his wife and baby. I knew that Jabali had a bad-ass reputation, but sheepishly asked for his autograph. He signed my brand new ball (his wife providing the pen) and I dribbled away, happy and surprised. It got better. My mother Edith and I were headed to Parrot Jungle and we saw a sign for the Dinner Key Auditorium (one of the many arenas the Floridians had played in over the years). Of course, we pulled our rental car into the parking lot to check if anything was happening. The parking lot was empty, but THE ARENA DOORS WERE OPEN. I spent the next 20 minutes running up and down the court, shooting 3-pointers with my ABA ball. If this wasn't heaven on earth for an ABA fan, heaven simply didn't exist."

MEMORIES OF STEPHEN J. JONES: "In early April of 1972, the Floridians played the very last game in their history. It was a playoff game at Miami-Dade Community College, North Campus. They had to play at the gym there instead of their usual home court at the Miami Beach Convention Center. I think it was because the Convention Center had been booked, as nobody expected the Floridians to make the playoffs. The Floridians did make the playoffs, just barely, and had to play the top seeded Virginia Squires (with guess who -- Dr. J). The Squires beat up my beloved Floridians pretty badly, and the franchise went out on a sour note. Mack Calvin was my absolute favorite player. He was a short, feisty point guard, and would just rip the place apart if you gave him an inch. But against Dr. J, he was just no match. I just wish I had kept the ticket stub from that last game -- it would surely be framed by now."

Floridians Fan Memories (Page 2)

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