Count Dracula Has Struck (column written in January 1976)

Baltimore Claws:
October 20, 1975
San Diego Sails:
November 12, 1975
Utah Stars:
December 2, 1975
Spirits of St. Louis:
1975-76 Season

SALT LAKE CITY -- For four ABA coaches -- Joe Mullaney, Bill Musselman, Tom Nissalke and Rod Thorn -- the new season brought new hopes and dreams. The lights were shining brightly, and hopefully a pot of gold stood at the end of the rainbow.

But for all four coaches, this 1975-76 ABA season has been a nightmare, nothing short of Count Dracula sucking the blood from their flesh.

First, Mullaney didn't even get a shot at starting the ABA season with his Baltimore franchise. As always, Joe was going about his business the best he could, which had brought him success in the past with the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Stars and Kentucky Colonels. The league had moved Mullaney's old club, Memphis, to Baltimore before the season began. But poof, Joe's dreams evaporated before the season started.

Musselman was moved off the Minnesota campus to coach the San Diego Sails. But maybe fate was just catching up with Musselman, who left the Gophers in a big hole with the NCAA. Sails owner Frank Goldberg folded up his franchise just after the start of the season. Goldberg didn't think he'd be part of the consolidation with the senior circuit, the NBA. He was right. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke wanted a monopoly in the Southern California television market. Exit Goldberg.

Stars owner Bill Daniels was next to pack up his tent. Ironically, Daniels, though, made a swift move with four of his players -- Moses Malone, Ron Boone, Randy Denton and Steve Green -- sending them to the Spirits of St. Louis, and emerging a 10% owner of that club.

This didn't set right with Stars season ticket holders (3,100) left holding the bag. They thought Daniels had sold them out.

"I was personally crushed when the team was disbanded," offered Nissalke, who later took a talent scout job with the Milwaukee Bucks. "The team was just starting to come together and was getting very popular.

"The fans understood what we were doing. That's what made it a super situation, because Stars fans are knowledgeable basketball people. The thing that spoke well for Salt Lake City is that not one player wanted to leave. And that included Moses Malone, which kind of surprised me. I thought he might want to go back East and play. But his remarks to me were: "I'm a Utah Star."

Malone, who is still nursing a fractured right foot, has not shown with the St. Louis club. His agent, Lee Fentress, sent Daniels and the rest of the St. Louis ownership a telegram saying that his contract was defunct. So Moses' picture was still cloudy as this was written.

The chain reaction collapse of the three ABA franchises -- one followed the other -- leads to what? The ABA trustees remaining with the seven clubs seem to think that the NBA wants a neat, tidy package with six clubs before the consolidation. So how is Virginia going to survive?

But how can St. Louis survive with its less-than-2,000 attendance and its bank-roll -- Marvin Barnes, Gus Gerard, Don Chaney, Maurice Lucas, Freddie Lewis and now the four ex-Stars? There is one thing in the Spirits' favor -- their market. That's the excuse of the ABA fathers for not liking Utah's smaller market quality.

Of course, Spirits owners attempted a merger with the Stars, which could have been a hoax, too, to let Daniels off the hook with the Salt Lake City people.

With all the off court activity going on, it hasn't made Thorn's St. Louis job all ice cream and cake. Anyone left with the position of coaching Barnes might need a shrink before the season is over. Barnes has already missed about five games for his trial for clubbing an ex-Providence teammate with a tire iron.

Barnes has been nothing but a problem child for Thorn, who doesn't know whether to count on him or not. He is late for practices and games, and now sometimes even misses them entirely. Barnes was offered around the loop, but no one wanted him. Other ABA teams should be given the grade of "A" for not messing with Barnes. Barnes is not only presenting problems for Thorn, but he is also debt-ridden himself.

Thorn took the Spirits' job after assisting Kevin Loughery at New York, with all the expectations of getting a winner. Remember that Thorn was on the other end of the Spirits' great upset of the Nets in last year's Eastern Division playoffs. But in coaching St. Louis, Thorn might need to partake of some spirits to get him through this season. It's a nightmare for him, too, to get the ex-Stars to blend in with their new mates.

And how about Chaney? He gave up a secure position of having everything laid out for him with the Boston Celtics for more loot with the Spirits. Now from day to day, Chaney doesn't know what to expect. It can't be too settling for him.

This ABA season started with great expectations after Denver signed David Thompson and Marvin Webster away from the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. But when Denver's Carl Scheer and New York's Roy Boe applied for membership in the NBA during the pre-season campaign, it signaled the beginning of the end for the red, white and blue ball league.

And for San Diego, Baltimore, Utah and maybe Virginia, the season has been a nightmare. Count Dracula has struck.

Note: DAN PATTISON was an ABA columnist for Basketball Weekly, The Sporting News, and The Deseret News. Dan was also the vice-president of the ABA Sports Writer's Association for two years.

Dan passed away in June 2001 after a brave battle with bone marrow cancer. He will always be remembered for his longtime support of his "magnificent obsession": the ABA.

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