Americans Fan Memories (Page 1)

MEMORIES OF SPENCER ROSS (AMERICANS RADIO ANNOUNCER, 1967-68): "There are so many wonderful memories I have from that initial season. The jump start of my career . . .lifelong friendships . . . the trips to the Teaneck Armory . . . Hey it was fun...I will always remain thankful for Mr. Brown giving me the opportunity to become part of his organization.

For some reason no one can get the story right when it comes to what happened at the conclusion of that season. From out of nowhere and a seat deep on the bench, former Rutgers All-American Bobby Lloyd helped push the Americans into a tie for the final playoff spot in the east.

The plan was for the Americans and Kentucky Colonels to have a special one-game playoff to determine who would meet the Minnesota Muskies in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Americans were to be the home team, but there was a scheduling problem. The circus had come to town and New Jersey needed a new venue to play the game. One choice might have been Manhattan's 69th Regiment Armory, but Mr. Brown had already written them off. To digress for a moment, the team's original plan was to play at this New York facility with the name "New York Americans." But Mr. Brown could not come to financial agreement with arena management there, therefore the decision to play in New Jersey.

Back to the playoff game. The game was scheduled for a Saturday night in Commack. There was one problem. The arena was also home to the Long Island Ducks of the Eastern Hockey League. The basic floor was ice. If you want to lay a wooden basketball floor over ice you had better have some form of separation from the wood floor and the ice. Heavy industrial tar paper would have done the trick, keeping the moisture from leaking through the floorboards. There was no way the game could be played. The players were slipping and sliding during warmups. Calls to the league office ensued. Commissioner George Mikan - through his brother Ed - cancelled the game. But then it was decided that both the Americans and the Colonels would fly to Minneapolis on Sunday morning and play the game at 3 p.m. The winner would stay in Minnesota to open the playoffs two days later.

Everybody went home. The flight to Minneapolis was at 7am. I set my alarm for 5am. The phone rang just about that time. It was New Jersey's trainer, the legendary Dr. Charles Turner. He told me to stay in bed. The league had decided that the Americans were at fault for the previous night's problem and had forfeited the game to Kentucky.

The team of course never returned to Teaneck. The following year the team moved to, where else, Commack. There were no more forfeits. But there was the time when Lavern (Jelly) Tart was bumped driving to the basket and wound up ten feet off the playing surface onto the ice. He suffered an injury that had him out of action for more than a month. There was another time that the arena was left wide open throughout the day and the temperature dropped into the 40's in the building. The Denver Rockets came to town and threatened not to play. They finally did, with their bench players attired in overcoats, hats and gloves.

The Commack year is a story for another time. A 17 win season, nearly 30 players coming and going, playing before handfuls of fans. Was it still fun? You bet it was."

MEMORIES OF DICK LAWRENCE: " I spent the 1960's in New York City. For almost 3 of those years I worked as assistant to one of the Vice-Presidents at ABC Freight Forwarding Corp. (ABC=Arthur Brown Carloading), a nephew-in-law of Brown, and the primary coordinator of Brown's basketball ambitions. Brown relished association with well known athletes. Brown would hire on a part-time basis current players (Rick Burleson of the Mets -Dave Herman of the Jets) with the promise to teach them a trade that they could retire into. It was this pitch to some talented graduating college basketball players that created the first ABC Freighters basketball team in 1966. With players like Ed (Cornflakes) Johnson and Albie Grant from LIU, Bobby Duerr from St. Johns, Dexter Westbrook from Providence, Valentine Reid from Syracuse and Max Zaslofsky (he of the legendary two-hand set shot and strikingly deep voice) as coach, Brown fielded a team that was almost unbeatable in the New York City AAU and Capital leagues. I wrote newsletters on all of those games for distribution to our terminals which were as far west as Denver. It was not quite the compliment I would have liked it to be when Max called me "the Freighters greatest fan" -for most of the games I was the only non-player in the building. When the ABA was formed, Max and a couple of the Freighters became New Jersey Americans.

That first year with the Americans (and my last with ABC Freight) was really wild. I spent a lot of time at the Armory; saw a number of games; wrote and distributed press releases; wrote pieces for the programs; helped run contests and give-a-ways at the games; and wrote the "Booster Rooster" (a publication for a kids fan club they were trying in vain to organize). One afternoon at the end of the season, I accompanied my boss, Brown and his daughter (the head of ABC Air Freight) to Central Park West to see Benny Davis, the composer of "Margie", who had just written a theme song for the soon to be New York Nets called "Official Theme Song of the New York Nets". It was not another "Margie". Davis and his partner Lou Alter had written a fight song for the Americans, but aside from being printed in the program, it doesn't seem to have been recorded. My boss had a special mailing prepared which included a little plastic recording of the new song and we sent it all over the place and, as I recall, gave it out at some of the games.

The team itself, though it lacked a center (Dan Anderson had come over from the Freighters and had the height but not the hands) and could have used a coach a little better than Max, was really enjoyable. Tony Jackson was a class act with as beautiful an outside shot as I've ever seen and guards Walt Simon and Bobby Lloyd were terrific, although for some reason Max didn't like Lloyd all that much and didn't start him until very late in the season, but when he did, Bobby really put on a show. Bringing in Levern Tart didn't hurt matters either.

I was at the famous playoff forfeit at the Commack Arena. It was a dank, rainy night and the combination of water dripping from the roof and ice melting under the floor made the playing surface impossible. There were no loose boards or nails sticking up through the playing floor as has been reported --I know because I walked the floor and helped put the tape down marking the 3-point line."

MEMORIES OF PAT COSGROVE: "I was in the eighth grade during the ABA's initial season and attended about 25 New Jersey Americans home games at the Teaneck Armory. It was a great deal at their grammar-school rate of $1 per game. The Americans were actually on the verge of building a fairly significant youth fan base. Kids loved the fact that the players were fan-friendly, making a neat atmosphere. If the Americans could have held on for another year, they might have made it in New Jersey as the ABA talent became more recognizable. Contrary to popular belief, the Teaneck Armory was not a bad place to watch a game. The sight lines were good and more importantly it was extremely accessible. It wasn't unusual to spot a celebrity at a game. Among those I saw were Wilt Chamberlain, Joe Namath and even the great hypocrite Red Auerbach. As for the New Jersey players, Walt Simon was a pleasure to watch. He was a pro's pro, playing with tireless enthusiasm night after night. Tony Jackson had a sweet stroke. When he was hot his range was limitless. He quickly became a real fan favorite. Dan Anderson was a big man who could score -- as evidenced by his opening night explosion against Connie Hawkins and the Pittsburgh Pipers. He would have lasted a lot longer in the league if he could have held up physically. His ideal role would have been as a backup center on a good ABA team. The Americans actually made a pretty good run at a playoff spot. The late season acquisitions of high-scoring Levern Tart and muscleman Hank Whitney significantly improved the squad. It was a shame that the one-game playoff with Kentucky had to be moved, since the game would have attracted a decent crowd. One final memory involves Stew Johnson. The Americans obtained him from Kentucky during the season. For the first couple weeks he seldom left the bench. However, his pre-game shooting started to open some eyes. Johnson simply did not miss from long range. Finally one night against Houston, coach Max Zaslofsky inserted him into the lineup with 2 seconds remaining and the Americans down 3. Recall that the 3-point shot was still a novelty, and teams weren't really trained to run plays specifically designed for the 3. When Stew got the call, he gave a wink to the crowd from the scorer's table. Everybody in the Armory knew Stew was getting the ball even though he hadn't played all night. He wound up taking an off balance 3 as he fell out of bounds on the baseline. The ball rimmed out as the buzzer sounded. Anyone who witnessed that couldn't have been surprised as Stew later became one of the top shooting big men in all of basketball."

MEMORIES OF DENNIS POPE: "I was a college student -- 19 years old -- my dad would drive me from Secaucus to Teaneck and drop me off. After the game, I'd wait for a bus to New York Port Authority. From there I'd take a bus back to Secaucus. As I recall, I attended about ten games and followed this rather difficult trip to get home. But the Americans were Jersey's only professional team!

Dan Anderson could score, but his hands were so bad! After more than thirty-two years, I'll always remember his crewcut and balls slipping through his hands. When they traded for Levern Tart things must have been pretty bad. I remember one game in particular. Tart's shirt was very tight, and the name "Tart" appeared to be stitched on the back. Halfway through the game the stitching came loose and under the flap of "Tart" you could see the letters that spelled out "Leibowitz" -- the player for whom Levern was traded. One thing I will always remember was seeing Connie Hawkins play twice when Pittsburgh came to visit. What a shame he was screwed and only came to the NBA after his prime. Seeing him was like seeing Mantle or Ruth! Most old Americans fans will talk about Tart, Tony Jackson, Walt Simon or even Dan Anderson, but I had two favorites who didn't get enough playing time in the back court. As a Rutgers student, Bobby Lloyd had a special place in my heart. He was a great ball handler with a fine outside shot. But my favorite player was Mel Nowell from Ohio State -- he played on that championship team with Hondo, Lucas, and Bobby Knight! Mel was an aggressive defender who played hard and had good skills. But, he never got enough time."

MEMORIES OF AGUSTIN TORRES: "My brother Denis and I went to (if memory serves me right) the Nets' first game at the Teaneck Armory. Of course they were the New Jersey Americans and their uniforms looked very All-American. The two things I remember about that game was that their center Dan Anderson scored 41 points and the half-time show was this young lady, slightly overweight, baton twirling for a very unappreciative crowd. She constantly dropped the baton including the one she set ablaze -- to the applause and jeers of the customers. It was great walking around in the Armory and seeing ball players like Art Heyman, the Duke All-American, then playing with Pittsburgh."

MEMORIES OF STEVE JOYCE: "I have 2 ticket stubs from when my dad took me to the Teaneck Armory to see the Amerks play the Pittsburgh Pipers and Connie Hawkins. I can remember Big Dan Anderson pouring in something like 40 points. I thought we had a star until his average after 2 games was about 21 ppg, his average after 4 games was 10.5, and, well, you get the picture."

MEMORIES OF GARY GREEN: "I grew up in New Jersey and the first basketball game I ever attended live and in person was the New Jersey Americans against the Pittsburgh Pipers at the old Teaneck Armory. I was only 10 years old and I remember getting wet because the roof leaked. But the main thing was that there were so few people there that my friend and I could run around the place. Towards the end of the game, we went down to the benches and asked some of the players for their autographs. This was during the game! They happily obliged us. We were especially thrilled to get Levern Tart, then the Americans' star player. We also got some of the Pittsburgh players, but later threw those away because we didn't recognize any of them. Of course, we later realized who Connie Hawkins was and were embarrassed to realize that we had thrown his autograph in the trash! We were lucky we weren't condemned to everlasting basketball hell for that transgression, but we were only 10 years old. As I got older and the Americans moved to New York, I used to take 3 subways and a bus to get to places like Commack and Hempstead to see the Nets play. I even went to the first exhibition game that Julius Erving played in a Nets uniform. I loved the ABA and was sorry to see it go."

MEMORIES OF TOM ZOWNIR: "I can still remember wandering around the Teaneck Armory looking for someone - anyone - who could sell me a ticket for opening night. Pittsburgh was the opponent, if I recall correctly. The Record (NJ newspaper I had delivered for many years as a kid) had run an article that New Jersey Americans tickets were going on sale that day. Naively, I thought there would be long lines. No. I was very alone and it was at least ten minutes until I found someone who even seemed to know what I was talking about. As a college student at the time (FDU), I didn't have a lot of cash in my pocket. But a front row seat at the end of the court only went for about $5, give or take a buck or two. Based on this experience, I'm pretty sure I wound up buying the first ticket in Jersey Americans history, or at least the first non-season ticket. I think it would be fair to say the management wasn't exactly 100% organized just yet.

I have two memories of that game. First, Dan Anderson going nuts for something like 41 points. Also, Art Heyman getting a non-call on a drive to the hoop, and yelling "f*** you" to the ref. He got tossed. For some reason I was shocked at the time. Later that year, perhaps halfway into the season, I wound up working for the team along with my friend (and intramural basketball teammate) Paul Darby. We sold red, white and blue basketballs and "ushered" fans in the lobby before and after the game, and at halftime. We got 10 bucks in cash each game. Also, we got to sit in the stands in between our job duties.

The team muddled along and made the playoffs. Or, at least a special home playoff game for the last playoff spot. But the Armory wasn't available for the date of the game. They moved the out to Long Island. Sort of, that is. The roof leaked and the Americans forfeited to the Kentucky Colonels. The Americans were history."

MEMORIES OF FRANK C. CARDONE: "I listened to New Jersey Americans games on AM radio. I believe (although I am not certain) that Spencer Ross did the play-by-play from the Teaneck, NJ Armory. I may be one of the few people who can remember the melody (and almost all of the words) of the official New Jersey Americans theme song. They played the song at the beginning and end of each radio broadcast:

We're the Americans, Jersey Americans, and we're so proud of the name;
The whistle blows, we're on our toes, shootin' baskets is our aim.
We're the Americans, Jersey Americans, on our way to glory and fame;
We never, never give in, we're the Americans and we're out to win.
Jersey Americans and we're out to win.

I can't believe that more than 30 years have passed since that inaugural season. Unfortunately, I was a high school student without a car, and I was unable to make game trips to Teaneck. I learned, thanks to those radio broadcasts and sparse newspaper coverage, that Dan Anderson was the New Jersey center, and that the team included Levern Tart, Tony Jackson, and Bobby Lloyd.

[July 1999 update from Frank Cardone] It took me thirty-two years, but I finally made it! In July 1999, personal business brought me to Teaneck for the very first time. How could I pass up the opportunity to visit an original ABA arena? The Teaneck Armory (below) is an impressive, fortress-like structure, with a surprisingly large amount of open space around it. The cornerstone reads 1936. The day of my visit, workers were cleaning up the "arena" portion of the building. One day earlier, workers had finished painting the ceiling (and its supporting metalwork) with an off-white color. One worker commented that the arena is now much brighter. Today, about ten rows of original stadium-type seating run along both sides of the arena, reaching down to the floor. The wall along the "front" side of the armory has about ten rows of similar seating, but these seats are "elevated," with the first row some fifteen feet above the floor. The opposite wall has no seating. Beyond that wall is the Armory's outdoor, rear storage area. I was informed by a NJ National Guard member/historian that the Armory now hosts a variety of events, including indoor soccer tournaments. Interestingly enough, it also is a favorite with Hollywood filmmakers. It seems that the large interior is ideal for movie sets. Recent movies filmed here include "You've Got Mail" and "Sleepy Hollow".

I'll say this: based on this one visit to Teaneck, and what I have heard about Commack Arena, I can't help but wonder why Nets ownership (was it still Arthur Brown at that point?) abandoned Teaneck. The Armory was a far superior building, and Teaneck was a much better location. The tiny crowds that the Nets attracted at Commack verify this."

MEMORIES OF BRUCE REUTLINGER: "I grew up on Hudson Avenue in Englewood, New Jersey - perhaps a mile-and-a-half from the Teaneck Armory. The New Jersey Americans gave a group of young kids the opportunity of a lifetime. One of our JCC games was the half-time entertainment at the Armory! For a nine-year old, this was the experience of a lifetime. I recall the players were amazingly gracious (I was too nervous to remember much else). I was devastated when the team abandoned the Armory for a new home."

Americans Fan Memories (Page 2)

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