Spirits of St. Louis Fan Memories

MEMORIES OF TOM MARCUS: "I have fond memories of watching the Spirits play the San Diego Conquistadors on Easter Sunday, 1975. There must have been no more than 100 people at the Arena (the "Checkerdome," as I think it was called then). For whatever reason, the crowd was announced as several thousand. Those of us in the stands got a good laugh out of it. I recall that I sneaked into the owners' box for that game. Harry Weltman was nowhere within a thousand miles.

I looked at the Spirits history page on the web site. As long as we're talking about great nicknames, how about "Goo" Kennedy? And Marvin's preferred nickname was "News" Barnes, not "Bad News" Barnes, and definitely not "Movin' Marvin." He was an incredible talent, Marvin was, but most of the world never saw it. Despite his problems, I truly believe that Marvin had a good heart.

And I think there's a very significant (well, perhaps to three people in the world) factual error in your description of the Spirits' loss in Game 1 of the 1975 Eastern Division Finals . You correctly recount the Spirits' incredible upset of the Nets in the previous series, including Freddie Lewis' top of the key jumper with 3 seconds remaining in Game 5 (after pushing off Brian Taylor, not unlike Michael Jordan pushing off Utah's Bryon Russell before his "final" shot several years ago). But the Spirit who gave away Game 1 of the Kentucky series was not Don Adams, as recounted on the website. It was Steve "Snapper" Jones. Louie Dampier stole the ball from Jones and won the game for the Colonels. [Ed. note - this has been corrected in the history text above]. Other than the outright theft of the 1985 World Series by umpire Don Denkinger, this was one of the lowest moments in St. Louis postseason sports history. We know where Steve Jones is these days; no idea what happened to Don Adams, who was a very bright fellow (graduate of Northwestern)."

The 1974-75 Spirits of St. Louis had a couple of "characters" on the team, like Marvin Barnes and Fly Williams. Both of these players disdained the conventional, and requested "special" uniforms to reflect their personalities (above).

(Barnes uniform courtesy of Rich Russek, Williams uniform courtesy of Michael Murphy)

FROM THE FEBRUARY 1975 ABA FAN CLUB NEWSLETTER (by Scott Haebich): "St. Louis held a 'Beat the Nets' night on February 6, in the hopes of ending a six game losing streak to the defending ABA Champion Nets. Some 2,500 clickers were handed out to fans, the Nets were forced to run under a ladder in order to get from the locker room to the court, and Julius Erving was hanged in effigy. Marvin Barnes, the Spirits' rookie All Star, even wrote the following poems just for the occasion:

Gather up close and hear what I say,
On Feb. 6 we'll be ready to play.
The New York Nets are going to be here,
And we need ALL our fans to come out and cheer,
Because the Nets are rough when they come to play,
With Kenon and Paultz and the bad Dr. J.,
But our time has come and WE ARE READY,
With Fly and Gus and Goo and Freddie.
So gather your money and place your bets,
Because on the night of the 6th,
We're going to beat the Nets.

AND . . .

There once was a doctor named Erving,
Whose slam dunks were especially unnerving,
But when Marvin gets movin',
And the crowd gets to groovin',
For the doctor a hospital bed they'll be reserving.

The final score of the game? NEW YORK 113, ST. LOUIS 92."

MEMORIES OF PETE KESSEL: "A couple of years after Marvin Barnes retired from the NBA he saw me speaking to some players at a Pro-Am summer league game in New York. I was there to recruit players for an Israeli team. He approached me and asked if I was a scout. I said not really, but I was helping a friend get some players for his team in Israel. Marvin then said he would like to play in Israel. I told him that they couldn't afford him. He told me to ask anyway. After telling my Israeli friend who Marvin Barnes was, he told me to offer Marvin $3,000 a month for six months. I was reluctant to convey this figure because I didn't want to embarrass myself or Marvin. After a couple minutes of arguing, I finally made the offer to Marvin. He waited a couple of seconds, lowered his sunglasses and said, "That's how much my phone bill is every month.""

MEMORIES OF KEITH ATKINSON: "I was 13 and 14 years old when the Spirits played in St. Louis. It was very cheap and easy to go to the games. I have several general Spirits memories. I remember the crowds being so small. You could really hear the coaches yelling at the players. I can still hear the Spirits coach hollering at Gus Gerard, "Gus! Gus!" The Spirits had these pretty burnt orange warmup jackets with black and "glittery" silver trim. The silver trim was so silver it almost looked like a light sky blue color on the Spirits' logo. I have several memories of particular games. One game, I saw Marvin Barnes score 50 points against the Memphis Sounds. I believe that was his first 50-point game. Another time, I saw the Spirits play Julius Erving and the New York Nets. In my opinion, the Nets had the nicest red, white and blue road uniforms. There are great photos on the ABA page of the Nets' road jerseys, but live and in person they seemed prettier. At the time, television coverage was very sporadic. So I had heard descriptions of Erving's game. But no words can describe the exhibition Dr. J put on that night. He scored about 37 points in this meaningless game. He had that big afro, plus the beard and goatee, and that menacing "game face" scowl. It seemed that whenever the Spirits would rally to make the score close, the Nets would give the Doctor the ball. He had so many different one-on-one moves, and he could slam the ball in people's faces at will. It was one of those rare times when the home crowd (including me) rooted for an opposing player. Every time Dr. J got the ball and started a move, the crowd would start anticipating. If he made a spectacular slam, you would hear a collective "oooh!" out of the Arena crowd. I had never seen a person fly so high, and seemingly dunk at will against five other so-called "defenders." It is said that you can divide basketball fans into two categories: those who saw Dr. J play in the ABA, and those that did not. People who saw Dr. J in the NBA saw a player bound and gagged by the NBA's structured play and packed-in-the-paint defense (due to the lack of a three-point line). I have some co-workers who are too young to remember the ABA, and they only remember the Dr. J of the Sixers. They are fascinated of my tales of a league with players with names such as Dr. J, the "Ice Man", Mr. K, the "Whopper," "Super John" Williamson, and Marvin "Bad News" Barnes."

MEMORIES OF JAY JENNINGS: "Ah, the Spirits of St. Louis. I can remember as a 17-year-old, we piled a carload of buddies into my car for the one-hour ride to Oakland Avenue in St. Louis. We were going to see the Spirits take on Dr. J and the Nets in the 1975 playoffs. It was Game Four.

Once we arrived at the Arena, we headed straight to the ticket window. We asked the lady at the window for the best seats available. She initially suggested some seats in the stands at midcourt. Then she said, "I actually have some seats that are closer to the court, but they're just in folding chairs. They may not be very good. Would you be interested in those?" Folding chairs! Near the court! And the kicker is that they were only about $8 apiece.

Sure enough, they were right on the baseline right underneath the basket. We felt like we had hit the mother lode. But the night was far from over. We had a front row seat for the Spirits' victory that gave them a 3-1 lead in the series. I'll never forget the sight at the end of the game...a VERY young Bob Costas standing behind the press table with his hands raised over his head when the victory was in the bag."

MEMORIES OF JERRY KOTZMAN: "I was in high school when the Carolina Cougars relocated to St. Louis. I remember Fly Williams, "Movin'" Marvin Barnes, Gus Gerard, Don Chaney, Maurice Lucas, Don Adams and even Moses Malone (after the merger with the Utah Stars). I saw two games the first year of the team, against Indiana and San Antonio. I remember seeing George McGinnis, George Gervin and Swen Nater.

My favorite memory was the first round of the playoffs in their first year. Dr. J and the New York Nets swept the season series something like 11-0. The playoffs were different. After narrowly losing Game 1, the Spirit swept the next 4 games of the series, knocking out the defending ABA champs and advancing to play the Kentucky Colonels. Too bad the Spirits were not absorbed into the NBA."

MEMORIES OF GEORGE CARDOZA: "The Spirits had problems during the 1975-76 season for several reasons.

First, there were constant personnel shuffles. The Spirits had 2 coaches during the 1975-76 season, Rod Thorn and Joe Mullaney. Mullaney replaced Thorn in mid-season, after management became impatient with Thorn. In December, the Spirits practically gave Gus Gerard away to Denver. Marvin Barnes, Freddie Lewis and Moses Malone all suffered injuries that resulted in numerous missed games.

Second, there was basic franchise uncertainty. In November, there were constant rumors that the Spirits would be merging with the Utah Stars. After the Stars folded in early December, there were persistent rumors that the franchise would be moving to Utah (months later, these rumors were confirmed). The franchise was a model of instability during the final season and this affected the team's performance on the court.

Finally, the weaker ABA teams were gone in 1975-76 (except Virginia). Every game was a tough one during that last year as the Spirits had to play the Nuggets, Nets, Spurs, Colonels and Pacers on a regular basis."

MEMORIES OF DAVID ROHLFING: "The only time that I saw the Spirits of St. Louis was in a very strange venue.

I was working in Utah in 1976, and arrived there after the Stars had folded. There was a lot of bad feelings in Utah about the Stars having folded. But people still loved the Stars and, in fact, the outside of the Salt Palace still had the Utah Stars' emblem affixed to it. There were a number of ex-Stars on the Spirits' roster (Ron Boone comes to immediate mind). As a result, there had been some sort of talk about a Stars-Spirits merger that never happened. Utah had a pretty good ABA fan base, and this, coupled with a near total lack of crowds at Spirits games in St. Louis, led to new rumors that there would be a shift of the Spirits to Salt Lake City for the 1976-77 season. I believe that this was actually announced sometime in May of 1976 on KSL-TV by their sports director, Paul James. The new team was, indeed, to be called the "Utah Rockies." A short while later came the ABA/NBA merger, the demise of the Spirits franchise, and the end of all that.

But back to March of 1976. Because of the heavy presence of former Stars on the Spirits roster, it was decided that, to showcase a possible move, a regular season game would be played at the Salt Palace between the Spirits and the San Antonio Spurs. I don't know how many neutral-court ABA games were played that season, but this lure was impossible to pass up. The game was announced about 10 days before it was played. There was next to no publicity, and thus there were next to no fans in attendance. I think that a crowd of around 3,000 was announced, but this figure was clearly padded. There was general admission seating (at $4 per ticket), a 4-page pamphlet for a game program (I still have the thing), and Marvin Barnes played wearing a uniform with no number on it. There was an award of some kind given to Ron Boone. The Spirits played with the "precision" that one would have expected of them in that year, at that particular event, and lost by about 25 points. But it was actually a wonderful event and the last ABA game that I witnessed. Over the years, I saw ABA games in New York, Denver, and, of course, Salt Lake. I regret that I was never a part of the "big" crowds at places like Pittsburgh, Memphis, and Virginia. Oh, well, at least I really WAS at a number of ABA games. I think that by the end the league was pretty good. Any organization that Red Auerbach despised had to have something worthwhile about it."

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