Los Angeles Stars Fan Memories (Page 1)

MEMORIES OF BRUCE MARSHALL: "In all of my years watching basketball, I'm not sure I've ever been as captivated by a team as I was by the 1969-70 L.A. Stars and their improbable run through the playoffs. Growing up in Southern California, I followed the Lakers and UCLA closely, like most kids. But I was fascinated by the entire concept of the ABA. I never saw the Anaheim Amigos in person, but I followed them nonetheless, as they had a local TV contract with KTTV-Channel 11 in Los Angeles. Their play-by-play announcer, Dick Schad, was the last person other than Chick Hearn to do play-by-play on the Laker network (in November of 1965). So in L.A. we followed the Amigos and continued to watch the franchise when it moved to the L.A. Sports Arena for the 1968-69 season. The Amigos and Stars didn't exist in a vacuum, as some would lead you to believe. L.A. sports fans knew about the team, but I don't think anybody took it seriously until the famous playoff run in the spring of 1970. It was very exciting, following the team during its late-season charge as it barely squeezed into the playoffs.

Game 6 of the Stars' first-round matchup against the Dallas Chaparrals was played at the Long Beach Arena, and, since we lived in Long Beach, it was a chance for me to finally see the Stars in person! I convinced my brother, my cousin, and my uncle to go to the game. It was a Sunday night, and the attendance was only about 3000, but it was a raucous sort of atmosphere because the game was so electric. The Chaparrals were tough, with Cincy Powell and Manny Leaks on their frontline, but the Stars dueled them bucket for bucket. It may have been the best game I ever witnessed in person. In the final seconds, Stars center Craig Raymond blocked a Leaks shot in the key, saving a 124-123 win for Los Angeles. And believe me, there was more energy in that crowd than many Laker crowds I have seen over the years! The Stars' reward was passage into the Western Finals vs. the heavily-favored, Spencer Haywood-led Denver Rockets. The Stars won Game 2 in Denver to get an important split in Colorado. Game 3 was at Anaheim, won by the Stars, and Game 4 was back at Long Beach, and this time I convinced my dad and younger brother to go, too. The Stars won, 114-110, with a crowd of over 4000, just as raucous as it was a week and a half earlier vs. Dallas. We got some big news during the that game: the P.A. announcer informed the crowd that Game 5, Saturday afternoon at Denver, would be nationally televised by CBS! Don Criqui did play-by-play, and the Stars won the game (and the series) on a last-second Merv Jackson bucket. 109-107. It was magical stuff! The Stars were now attracting a local following, getting front-page sports coverage in the L.A. Times. They also got significant spots on the nightly TV sports segments. For me, I felt vindicated after telling my friends for so long about how good the Stars were. Now, most believed me because they could see them live on TV. Two of the Finals games against the powerful Pacers were also televised by CBS, including Game 5 at Indianapolis, when the Stars staved off elimination with a 117-113 win (I always found it interesting that the Pacers wore their "road" blue uniforms at home during those playoffs). Indiana was awfully strong, though -- Roger Brown scored over 50 points when the Pacers won game 4 at Anaheim. With that win, Indiana took a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series lead, only to see the Stars spoil their championship party in Game 5. Back to California, where the Stars fought valiantly in Game 6. It was their first game at their L.A. Sports Arena "home" since the opening round against Dallas. But they lost by 3 points.

The crowd was almost 9000 for that last game, and the talk around the southland was that the team would relocate to Anaheim, since the support had been especially good at the Convention Center during the playoffs. Apparently, ownership was unable to swing the deal at Anaheim, so the team was moved to Salt Lake City. Sadly for L.A. Stars fans, the team became a viable sports entity in the L.A. market just at the time it was to be moved to Utah. We'll never know if the Stars could have remained, and flourished, in Los Angeles. They were clearly on their way to the top (remember that the Utah Stars, with Zelmo Beaty in tow, won the '71 ABA crown, and would have been very warmly received in L.A. if they were still in town). All we're left with is memories of Bill Sharman's battling club, the playoff thrills, the likes of Willie Wise, Mack Calvin, Larry Miller, Merv Jackson, Craig Raymond and Tom Washington, And what might have been if the Stars stayed in L.A. or Anaheim."

MEMORIES OF RICHARD A. MACALES: "I attended my first Los Angeles Stars game in December 1969. It was at the L.A. Sports Arena against the Indiana Pacers. The game was a Bar Mitzvah present from my dad and brother and I cherish the game to this day. I remember that just before tip-off, the turnstiles at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Area seemingly began showing that lots of people were rushing in at the last minute to see the game. I was very excited that there were lots of other Stars fans out there. In those days, the scoreboard at the Sports Arena was hooked up to the turnstiles and you could see the attendance as people were going through the turnstiles. The only thing missing was the people! While the Stars lost to the Pacers that night, I still saw flashes of greatness to be in the form of two hard-working rookies, guard Mack Calvin and forward Willie Wise. Calvin had a brilliant game. Thought to be too small for the NBA, Calvin proved his critics wrong years later when he landed with the Los Angeles Lakers. Coach Bill Sharman said of Calvin that he was the best all-around athlete in sports. Wise was very thin, but also proved to be a durable all-star in future years.

Despite these promising players, it seemed as if the season was over for the Stars only halfway through the campaign. They were doing poorly. They had just traded their "high priced" second-year guard, Larry Miller, to the Carolina Cougars. And a few weeks later, the Stars traded Warren Davis (another pricey veteran and the last of the original Anaheim Amigos still on the team) to the Pittsburgh Pipers. But that trade with Pittsburgh was be the turning point of the season for the Stars. They received two valuable big men for their stretch run: 7-foot center Craig Raymond (Wilt Chamberlain's seldom-used backup on the 1968-69 Philadelphia 76ers) and power forward Tom Washington (an ABA original).

The Stars had more or less been dumped by owner Jim Kirst, and league took them over. That's why the Stars lowered their payroll by getting rid of Bill "The Hill" McGill, Wayne Hightower, Warren Davis and Larry Miller. The ABA wanted to find a new owner for the team, so the league lowered the overhead and hyped the attendance to attract an appropriate suitor (or is that sucker?). What was left of team management decided to make the crowds seem as if they were over 2,000 people. In those days, 2,000 was a great crowd for an ABA game in most cities. In March 1970, Bill Daniels (a close friend and business associate of Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke) finally bought the team. Daniels, who was in the cable TV business with Cooke, quietly agreed to move the "competition" Stars out of town at the end of the season.

One thing I wish to clarify. Many people have claimed that during the 1970 playoffs the Stars had to move their games to the Anaheim Convention Center and Long Beach Arena because the Sports Arena was booked...and no one thought the Stars would make the playoffs, let alone go to the ABA Finals. The reality is that L.A. played its first home playoff game (vs. the Dallas Chaparrals in the first round) at the Sports Arena in front of an announced crowd of about 800 people. After that, Daniels wanted to punish the small but loyal L.A. fan base for their non-support by moving later home playoff games to other cities in Southern California. Daniels later relented and chose to play the Stars last game in Los Angeles at the Sports Arena to give the team some Hollywood glitz. More than 8,000 people, by far the largest crowd in L.A. Stars history, turned out. Jerry West, whose Lakers had earlier lost to the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals, was on hand, as were a few celebrities. Billy Crystal was not one of them. He waited to root for the Clippers at the Sports Arena years later. I remember in the 1970s going to Los Angeles Sharks World Hockey Association games and Los Angeles Strings World Team Tennis matches at the Sports Arena. I vividly recall seeing a team picture of the 1969-70 Los Angeles Stars proudly hanging on the wall of the ticket booth. The guy selling the ducats for all of these now-defunct Dennis Murphy/Gary Davidson teams was most proud of his former L.A. Stars. I wonder if that picture is still at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, a wonderful place to watch basketball?"

MEMORIES OF BRET STEVENS, J.D.: "When sports fans think of wealthy owners for upstart leagues with lots of political and business connections, that is where the early ABA was thought to be weak. In Los Angeles the opposite proved to be true. The Los Angeles Stars' original owner, Jim Kirst – the man who moved the team to L.A. from neighboring Anaheim - was arguably the most qualified area executive who could compete with the Lakers' Jack Kent Cooke in the board room, if not on the hardwood. Kirst represented the old moneyed establishment of Southern California. Cooke was the dreamy newcomer from Toronto looking to "go" Hollywood. A major power in "downtown L.A." political corridors, Mr. Kirst was the largest builder of freeways and suburban neighborhood streets and sidewalks in Southern California after World War II (he will probably be best-remembered for building the San Fernando-Simi Valley Freeway, otherwise known as the Ronald Reagan Freeway).

When the ABA first began operations in the fall of 1967 the Lakers were still playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena; Cooke's "Fabulous" Forum had not been completed until early '68. That relegated the Stars' to play in the Anaheim Convention Center for the ABA's first year as the Anaheim Amigos. Art Kim was the principal owner of the Amigos, but ABA co-founder Dennis Murphy (immediate past mayor of neighboring Buena Park) shrewdly "recruited" Mr. Kirst to be a member of the Amigos' board of directors. Murphy's ultimate goal for the franchise was Los Angeles-proper.

The strategy of the L.A. City Fathers was to retaliate against Cooke for abandoning the LA Sports Arena (he took away not only the Lakers, but also his expansion NHL Kings). As a result, Kirst received very generous incentives to place his ABA team in L.A., and the City Hall spinmeisters henceforth derogatorily referred to the NBA team as the "Inglewood Lakers." The bulk of Mr. Kirst's Stars' budget that first season in L.A. (1968-69) found him raiding the NBA of one of its outstanding coaches, Bill Sharman, from the San Francisco Warriors. The former University of Southern California multi-sport star proved to be most popular and well-known, liked and respected in L.A. basketball circles for a number of reasons: his years as an outstanding collegiate athlete, as coach of Cal State Los Angeles, and as a player-coach of the American Basketball League's Los Angeles Jets. Sharman's days as a player for the Dodgers (albeit in Brooklyn) were always touted by Dodger season ticket holder Jim Kirst. With the Stars, Sharman taught basketball skills at "free throw" clinics to junior high and high school students throughout the L.A. area. (Could you imagine Phil Jackson doing that?) Attendance at a Sharman clinic enabled you to complimentary Stars' tickets. In the front office Kirst brought in Jim Hardy, the former "star" USC and LA Rams quarterback. After he left the Stars, Hardy became the general manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, which operated the adjacent Sports Arena. Hardy actually came close to landing a second L.A. ABA team at the Sports Arena in 1974 when he attempted to line up a group of wealthy UCLA boosters to sign Bill Walton. For the second season in L.A.'s broadcast booth, Kirst brought in Sam Balter, a former UCLA all-America and Olympic basketball gold medalist who had a popular syndicated radio show and sports column originating from Los Angeles. (He was also a Major League Baseball announcer in Cincinnati.) Another key executive was public relations man Hank Ives. Ives knew everyone at the sports desk at the Los Angeles Times and Herald Examiner, as well as The Sporting News. Usually the Stars received a lot of favorable ink. In 1968, when Rick Barry first came to play, most of the glitzy ABA press conferences were held in L.A. and included Jim Kirst and Oakland Oaks' co-owner Pat Boone.

On the marketing side, Kirst used his best design team to create the L.A. Stars' uniforms. The attractive red, white, and blue home uniforms coordinated well with the ABA ball. If you look at the design for the word "Stars" you will notice that it was written to look like the winding L.A. freeway system that Kirst built. Clever! The freeway design was also used as the team's logo in 1968-69 and became very well recognized around L.A.. When the Stars moved to Utah, they redesigned the uniforms and the New York Nets adopted many features of the L.A. uniform design in their later Rick Barry/Julius Erving years. Photographers from Kirst Construction took team pictures and action shots as if he was competing for yet another multi-million-dollar government contract – they were that stirring, and ahead of their time.

On the playing court, Kirst realized he could not compete against West, Baylor, Chamberlain & Company so he opted for young, largely rookie teams. And Sharman, being a "teacher-coach," ala Larry Brown, was ideally suited for the job. In two years in Los Angeles the Stars had three first-team all-rookie selections – Larry Miller, Mack Calvin and Willie Wise. There was some talk of Rick Barry coming to play in L.A. after the Oakland Oaks abruptly moved to Washington just prior to 1969-70 season. Barry very much wanted to pursue a career in acting and television. Plus his lawyer/agent lived in the San Fernando Valley. With the Lakers' Elgin Baylor nearing the end of the line and Chamberlain out of action with injuries much of the time and thought to be questionable in future years, Barry and West would have created an interesting media and fan rivalry in L.A. Two stumbling blocks prevented Barry from coming to L.A. with the ABA: his dislike of Sharman's intense practice sessions while with the Warriors, and Sharman's favorable feeling that the Stars could be a winner with veteran workhorse Zelmo Beaty at the pivot - even if Beatty lacked L.A.'s lust for marquee "name" athletes. Kirst opened up his wallet and signed Beaty to a then-hefty personal services contract in October 1969. Additionally ABA Commissioner Jack Dolph very much wanted Barry to play near his league office in New York. Dolph was pushing hard for a merger with the NBA. Two teams in L.A. did not fit into the plans of Jack Kent Cooke or the ABA commissioner. He let it be known to Kirst that no other teams were planned for the West Coast. Kirst realized he would probably not be back after the Oaks move to Washington

As mentioned in another fan memory, it is correct that Jack Kent Cooke arranged (behind the scenes, of course) for his friend and business associate, Bill Daniels, to take over the team and move it to Salt Lake City at season's end. Anaheim was only hinted at as a possible future home during the playoffs to increase attendance and fan confidence. When the Stars surprisingly made it to the finals I remember ABA officialdom complaining that the "wrong" team made it to the finals against Indiana. They loudly moaned that the final should have featured Spencer Haywood and the Denver Rockets vs. Indiana. Sadly, by the summer of 1970 both L.A. and Haywood were gone from the ABA."

L.A. Stars Fan Memories (Page 2)

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