Thursday, January 20, 2011

The best team that you never saw....

Is it possible to love a team that you NEVER saw play?
Really, not once.

Not the occasional once a year or two national game appearance or only when they played a game against your local team-NEVER.

Well, I am here to tell you that it is possible as I did and believe it or not at the ages of seven and eight.
I was a junkie from day one and my dad started and fed my addiction through the weekend games, to live games when we lived in Ohio, to the constant stream of magazines in the era before ESPN and sports radio and most important of all-trading cards.
I bought them all baseball, football, hockey and maybe best of all at that time-basketball.

The rural store in our area sold just about all of them and I vividly recall even before school age turning down Popsicles and other treats for walking to the store with either my mother or grandmother in favor of the latest pack of cards from whatever sport was available at that time from Topps as no other company could make cards.
Fleer made these game action NFL cards with team logo stickers, but they didn't have the NFLPA's approval to use names, so they were generally cool looking cards that lacked the trading ability of the Topps cards.

As much as I loved baseball and football at that age, I think I loved basketball the most.
In 1975, I hadn't truly discovered the Cavaliers yet and watched the NBA as a Kareem fan more than anything.
The NBA had a CBS TV contract (with that neat opening that I post here on YouTube occasionally and Brent Musberger screaming his lungs out), but the ABA had no contract at all.
However, I had a small radio that picked up pretty long distances for such a small radio.
I suppose at the time with fewer stations there were less interference and signals (especially AM ones) could travel a long way.
And one of the best signals to my room at that time (we would move across the street in 1978, literally and the signals that my new room grabbed were different than my old one) was 840 WHAS AM out of Louisville Kentucky and a gentleman named Van Vance and the Kentucky Colonels.
Vance was the "voice of the Colonels" and to me, Vance ranks right there behind Joe Tait as the elite of pro basketball radio announcers for the ability to create that "spoken word picture" of the game in the listener's eye.

As I have written before about other things as a child in a rural community (although size-wise calling it a community is a stretch), I always got a huge kick about feeling like I knew about this secret that few others knew about and the Colonels were one of those for those two years.
The only thing that I had to connect me to those teams were the basketball cards.
No ABA shirts, hats, etc nothing but those cards and the voice of Van Vance, first next to my bed and then under my pillow after the first radio broke.
Sidenote-the second radio I obtained by selling the most "booster tickets" for my little league team and a few years back, I was going through an Ohio flea marker and found the exact "Spirit of 76" radio in its box with original instructions.I bought and have it here, but haven't had the heart to fire her up...
I would use her for the next few years until my brother and I's first good stereo for better reception.

There was just one other child in the neighborhood that collected basketball cards, with the soon to be basketball famous name of Chris Mullin and for the two years that I was a Colonels fan, I would bet that I completed a Colonels team set for both seasons through packs and trades.
The best part was after the ABA/NBA Merger when he decided that he didn't want his basketball cards anymore and I traded for all his cards for doubles of baseball cards.
I also remember quite a few one on one games on his backyard hoop between the Colonels and the Capital/Washington Bullets where Dan Issel took on Elvin Hayes!
Another Colonels/Cavaliers memory for me was the old game BAS-KET which used levers to flip a ball through the net.
Amazingly this simple game is still available!
I cannot remember how many hours Shane and I spent with basketball cards sprawled out around this game playing it.

The Colonels also had one other thing in their favor for those two seasons-Dan Issel.
Issel (His forgotten superstars post can be found here) was my favorite Colonel and one day I wrote his name on a book cover or something and my gym teacher Brad Keller (what a great guy and influence on me as a child)  saw it and told me about seeing Issel play when he was at Kentucky.
Mr.Keller was cemented in my mind as a great guy then, I mean my gym teacher SAW Dan Issel play!!
Issel could score with the best of them as he showed after the merger with Denver.
Artis Gilmore was the dominant ABA post player of the league's existence and few could shoot with Louie Dampier, who spent the entire nine years of the league with the Colonels.
Hubie Brown, the noted NBA analyst, was the coach of the 74-75 Colonels and he insists that the title winners were the best team that he ever coached and that includes some pretty decent NBA clubs.
The Colonels were good in the 1975-76 season, but things weren't the same after John Y.Brown (yes, the KFC guy) sold Dan Issel to Baltimore and after the Claws went under to Denver.
John Y. somehow managed to parlay selling the Colonels (and the Colonel) into quite a career that saw him buy the Celtics after selling off the Colonels, become governor of Kentucky and marry Phyllis George.
The Colonels lacked the second scorer that the team truly needed to keep teams from sagging in on Gilmore and to keep bigger guards from swarming the smaller Dampier on the outside without Issel and after a seven-game semi-final series loss to ironically Issel and the Nuggets, the Colonels were history.
To this day, I have seen two Colonels games on NBA TV and they were quite a treat for this aging fan.

I realize this was more about my memories about the Colonels than the Colonels themselves at times and maybe down the road, we can write more about the team of my initial youth than about my memories.
They still are the best team that I never saw...

Photo Credits


1 comment:

Shawn said...

From Cherie:
Not much has would still turn down food in favor of a pack of cards :) As you always say-the cards will last-the food doesn't!