MEMORIES OF JIM GRASSO (reprinted with permission from May 1976 ABA Fan Club Newsletter): "Exit the Virginia Squires, a victim of mismanagement and bad luck. Born in 1970 as a "regional franchise," based in Richmond, Norfolk, Hampton Roads, and Roanoke, Earl Foreman's Squires won the Eastern Division title that season. The Squires' attendance peaked in 1973 but from then on it was downhill. Foreman wrecked the franchise by selling the team's best players during his 4-year ownership in the Tidewater. What little remained was bought by a large group of local investors. The last two Squire teams were badly hurt by injuries and came up with back-to-back 15 and 69 seasons. Although Norfolk continued to give good support to the team, interest in Hampton Roads and Richmond tailed off badly the last two years. The Squires leave behind a lot of memories: Mike "Birdman" Barrett, all arms and legs, scrambling for a loose ball; Norfolk fans cheering their new team at the Old Dominion University fieldhouse while the Squires' shiny new home, Norfolk Scope, was receiving its finishing touches; "Dr. J" as a rookie, confounding the Floridians one night by taking off from the free throw line and slam-dunking the multi-colored ball; the guy dressed in Colonial attire, complete with powdered wig, mingling with the fans during halftime; red muttonchopped Neil Johnson crashing into a Detroit Piston in retaliation for the roughing up of a teammate; "Red" Kerr meeting the fans at the Richmond Coliseum tying to build up local support for the Norfolk-based team; the Virginia front office touting the team as "Built for Speed" after Julius Erving jumped to the Atlanta Hawks; the beautiful grounds around the Hampton Roads Coliseum and the building itself, looking at night like a multi-colored cupcake cup; and a disgusted Willie Wise, grimacing as the Squires fell further and further behind (as an ex-Utah Star, Wise wasn't used to lackadaisical play by his team). But most of all, the Squires were Al Bianchi kneeling by the bench, his team around him, earnestly diagramming a play, not knowing whether his star players would still be wearing Virginia uniforms for the next game. That Bianchi is bitter about the folding of the Squires franchise is easily understood, for Bianchi and the trainer/travelling secretary, "Chopper" Travaglini, were the heart and soul of the Virginia Squires."
|Virginia's long-time coach, Al Bianchi (middle), was always caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side was the owner of the franchise, Earl Foreman (left). Over the years, Foreman sold virtually all of the Squires' best players to other ABA teams for cash in order to keep the team afloat. On the other side was All-Star Charlie Scott (right), who abandoned the Squires with only a few weeks left in the 1971-72 season. Scott was averaging an incredible 34.6 points per game when he jumped ship. (ABA publicity photos courtesy of Jon Singer)|
MEMORIES OF AL COLTON: "I was on the original stat crew for the Virginia Squires. During our first year, we played all our home games at ODU Field House. We featured Charlie Scott from North Carolina, Fatty Taylor from LaSalle, Ray Scott from the NBA Baltimore Bullets, and Jim Eakins from BYU. Al Bianchi (from the NBA Syracuse Nats) was the coach. We were very competitive and finished first in our division, ahead of Dan Issel and the Kentucky Colonels. The second year we moved into Scope in downtown Norfolk. We were all really impressed with a tall kid with a big afro by the name of Julius Erving. He was fantastic -- what shots and leaping ability. He just was everything you dreamed about. We wondered what he could do in the NBA. With Charlie and Julius we finished in second place in the division, and might have made it to the ABA Finals. But then Charlie jumped to the NBA Phoenix Suns. And a year later, Julius was traded to New York."
MEMORIES OF ZEKE MANFREDINI: "In the early to mid 1970's, I lived in Norfolk. My Dad was in the Navy, and he was stationed there. In November 1971, we went to opening night at Scope (it was the Squires vs. the Carolina Cougars). We were excited to see what Charlie Scott and the crew were going to do for the 71-72 season. During warm-ups I noticed a new guy out there with a big afro. I'll never forget the first time he touched the ball in warm ups. He dribbled down the lane, palmed the ball in his left hand, and threw it up scoop-style off the left side of the backboard. Then he came around to the other side of the rim, capped the ball with his right hand (it was at the level of the top of the backboard) and slammed it! I was 14 at the time and my jaw dropped. My adrenaline went up 2000 percent! The name on the back of the jersey said "ERVING". I grabbed my program (still have it!) and read about how he had come to the Squires from UMass (after his sophomore season).
I played high school basketball in Norfolk (even had a game against Moses Malone in 1974). In 1973, we played a "preliminary" high school game at Scope right before a Squires game (against the Memphis Tams). I walked into the arena with a little bit of a limp -- due to a sore ankle. We got to dress next to the Squires' locker room. Shortly after I arrived, a middle-aged gentleman with a really scruffy voice asked if I needed any help in the way of wrapping. I said "Yes, sir," and that's how I met Chopper Travaglini. Chopper taped my ankle so well, I forgot I was injured. After the game, my team got to meet some of the Squires in their locker room. I think I met everyone except for Neil Johnson -- who just mumbled something and went out to warm up. Doc was nice and I remember shaking his huge right hand. The other guys who were cool were Jim Eakins, Fatty Taylor and George Irvine. The Squires played the Memphis Tams after our game, and we had great seats behind one of the baskets. To this day, the Squires are my team!"
MEMORIES OF JEB HOCKMAN: "While a student at the University of Richmond from 1969-73, I attended a number of Virginia Squires games. The first year, the Squires played at the Richmond Arena. The Arena was an old bus barn that had been converted in the 1950s. As soon as the new Richmond Coliseum was completed, games moved there and the Arena was torn down years ago. I am not sure what tickets cost, but I am sure they were $10 or less as we college students didn't have much money, and what we had we kept to spend on beer. Whatever people who never saw the ABA may think, it was exciting basketball – especially when Dr. J was leading the Squires. No one ever dunked like Dr. J until Michael Jordan came around."
MEMORIES OF JOSEPH BUGG: "As a youngster, I was a devoted fan of the Virginia Squires. I listened to many of their radio broadcasts with play-by-play man Marty Brennaman (and color commentary from perpetually injured player Mike Barrett). However, I wasn't able to attend a game in person until my father took me to a game a few days before a birthday. We went to the Richmond Coliseum to see the Squires play the Denver Rockets on October 26, 1972. The Squires won 155-111. I recall that Alex Hannum had his Rockets squad foul the Squires on every trip down the court in the 4th quarter. The Rockets had only 3 or 4 players on the court by game's end as everyone else had fouled out. I believe I recall Claude Terry tackling someone towards the end of the game. Needless to say, my father didn't take me to any more games. I don't know what set Hannum off, to order his team to make a mockery of the game. But it was a disappointment. I do still have my Squires pennant from that game. I have very fond memories of Squires players such as Roland "Fatty" Taylor, George "Hawkeye" Irvine (who I hope will keep the Pistons job), "Jumbo" Jim Eakins, Bernie Williams, Neil Johnson, and of course the Doctor and the Iceman. Al Bianchi could have certainly won a championship if he had been able to hold onto those guys along with Charlie Scott and Swen Nater. I always remembered how Al Bianchi referred to Dr. J as "Julie". It's just a shame the Squires could never be run as a first class organization. Or second class for that manner!"
MEMORIES OF HARVEY LIPSKY: "The only ABA vs. NBA exhibition game I ever saw was the Virginia Squires vs. Buffalo Braves game played in Buffalo on September 22, 1972. The game itself really isn't the story so much as the reason why the game was played. The story began the day of the 1972 NBA draft. On that day I opened the Buffalo News, and the sports page headline read "Braves' Dilemma - McAdoo or McAdon't." The story mentioned that even though the Braves knew that Bob McAdoo had already signed a contract with the ABA Virginia Squires, the Braves believed that they could draft McAdoo, find a loophole in his Squires contract, and sign him. Obviously, that's exactly what happened. This story is similar to the events that happened a year earlier when Howard Porter signed with the Pittsburgh Condors, yet never played for the Condors. Instead, Porter was "traded" to the Chicago Bulls after he had signed contracts with both teams. As far as I know, Paul Ruffner (the player sent by the Bulls to the Condors) was the only player ever to be willingly sent to a team in the rival league -- as compensation for the right to keep another player. That made Ruffner the only player to be "traded" from the NBA to the ABA. The McAdoo case was different in that no player was sent by the Braves to the Squires. However, there was a settlement between the two teams that permitted McAdoo to join the Braves. As part of that settlement, the Braves and Squires agreed to play home-and-home exhibition games against each other before the 1972-73 regular season began. The final twist in this story occurred one year later. More than a year after the demise of the Pittsburgh Condors an ex-Condor player signed with the Braves, and made the team -- his name was Paul Ruffner."
MEMORIES OF FRANKLIN H. SULLIVAN: "Growing up in the early 70's, one of my older brothers used to take me to Virginia Squires home games in Norfolk and Hampton, Virginia. I was in awe of the players and their fantastic moves. People can't appreciate the majesty of the game the way it was played then. Before the 1973-74 season, Virginia traded Dr. J to New York. Early that season, Dr. J returned to Virginia with the Nets and we went to the game. This was a rare occasion because I remember the lowly Squires actually beat the Nets in the Scope that evening! Anyway, all of us fans, young and old alike, had lined the walkway where the players would go from the court to the locker room. I saw the Doctor and was mesmerized! I couldn't move, speak, blink, think, anything. I was but a few feet from the man I considered to be the best player of all time. He was giving everyone an autograph who wanted one. I just couldn't step up. I was in the fourth or fifth grade, all of five feet tall, and here he was, all six foot seven of him with those massive hands, the big afro, and that red, white, and blue Nets uniform. I just couldn't speak or move. He was walking away after minutes (I mean maybe 20 or 30 minutes) of signing autographs and it didn't even bother me that I didn't get one. Well, at that point my older brother hollered out, "Hey Doc, you forgot one!" Knowing that the man must have been tired after signing all those autographs (and let's not forget, losing to the cellar-dweller Virginia Squires), I didn't expect what came next. He turned around, saw this little guy standing there clutching a Street & Smith's magazine that he so artfully graced with one of his "fleezoting" moves, walked back, and signed my magazine! I remember his huge hand, grasping the pen I was holding, and signing the front, "Julius Dr. J Erving". I don't remember if he said anything or not. And even if he did, I could not have heard him over the beating of my heart. I've lost track of that magazine over the past 25 years. One day, I might go looking for that magazine, but if I don't find it, it doesn't matter. Twenty-five years have not aged that one memorable night."
MEMORIES OF RICK BELL: "I saw George Gervin in his rookie year with the Squires. The Dallas Chaps hosted Virginia on March 20, 1973. I went to the game to see Julius Erving. But Erving was hurt and didn't play. There were less than a thousand people at the game. The Chaps had a huge lead going into the fourth quarter, and then this skinny kid comes in for Virginia. He scored 20 points in the quarter and almost led the Squires to a victory (the Chaps won, 122-120). From that night on, I was an "Iceman" fan."
MEMORIES OF GENE SMITH: "I was a big Squires fan. In the beginning, they were talented contenders. But they got progressively worse every year. During 1975-76, the team teetered on the brink of folding for the entire season. Sometimes the audience at the Norfolk Scope was under 1,000. But in the last year of the ABA's existence, they did give us fans a little excitement. They were playing the Nuggets at Denver (the Nuggets were in first place with David Thompson). The Squires were getting blown out. By halftime the Nuggets led 81-48. And in the middle of the 3rd quarter, the Squires fell behind by 46 points. But, strangely, something happened -- the Squires started shooting the lights out. They scored an ABA record 53 points in the 4th quarter. Amazing, but they were still the Squires. They lost 155-128."