"Superstar for a Second"
Penny Ann Early was the first woman to play in the ABA, or, for that matter, any men's professional basketball league. In 1968, Early created controversy in the Louisville area by becoming the nation's first licensed woman horse jockey. In a show of "male solidarity," the jockeys at Churchill Downs boycotted all three races that Early entered.
The Kentucky Colonels responded by signing the 110 pound, 5'3", 23 year old Early to a basketball contract, even though she had never played basketball in her life. Colonels' coach Gene Rhodes was not amused, and protested to management. However, the Colonels' owners not only kept Early on the roster, but also ordered Coach Rhodes to play her in a real game.
November 28, 1968 (against the Los Angeles Stars) was the big day. Early wore a miniskirt and a turtleneck sweater with the number 3 on the back (to represent the three boycotted races at Churchill Downs). She warmed up with Gene Moore, Louie Dampier, Darel Carrier, and the rest of the Kentucky players (photos at left and above left). During the game she sat on the bench with the team.
Early in the game, during a time out, Coach Rhodes reluctantly followed his orders from above. He sent Penny Ann to the scorer's table, where she checked into the game with Official Scorer Charles Ruter (photo above right). In the Kentucky backcourt, she took the ball out of bounds and inbounded it to a wide-open teammate, Bobby Rascoe. Rascoe immediately called a timeout and the Colonels removed Early from the game to a rousing standing ovation. After the game, she signed hundreds of autographs. She never "played" basketball again.
Even by ABA standards, Early's moment of fame with the Colonels was one of the most bizarre publicity stunts ever. (photos courtesy of Pinky Gardner)
|"Meet the (Canine) Owner of the Kentucky Colonels"
In the early years of the ABA, some misinformed basketball fans thought Joe and Mamie Gregory (above) owned the Kentucky Colonels franchise. They could not have been more wrong. The Gregory's dog "Ziggy" (also above) was the true owner of the team.
The Gregorys took Ziggy everywhere. He went to ABA owners' meetings. He had a special seat for home games. Colonels' season ticket holders who bought "The Ziggy Package" gained access to the "Ziggy Room," a hospitality suite. When the team flew by airplane to road games, the Gregorys always bought Ziggy a seat in first class. On one occasion, an usher in New York's Commack Arena refused to allow Ziggy to take a courtside seat, telling the Gregorys: "You can't bring that dog in here." Mrs. Gregory's response? "Young man, that dog owns this team."
The Colonels' game program put it best: "The Colonels had a mascot before they had ball players -- the Gregory's champion Brussels Griffon -- Ziggy. Ziggy will be in attendance at all of the Colonels' home games and most of the road games. He has 39 different uniforms for his home game appearances, including a tuxedo. Ziggy is shown in the Kentucky Colonel logo (left) chasing the Colonel dribbling the basketball. Ziggy's real name is Champion Gaystock Le Monsignor, but he doesn't answer to the latter appellation. In 1966 he was best of breed at the Madison Square Garden world championships. The same year he duplicated that feat at the Chicago International Show. Ziggy has won more than 150 best of breed titles in his career. The 7 year old was the top Griffon in both 1966 and 1967." (Colonels Publicity Photos)
|"Super Fan Boo Bird Bob Pearce"
Bob Pearce (above) was the ABA Floridians' version of Robin Ficker. Pearce, a Miami native, was originally a jai-alai fan. But he was ejected from various Miami jai-alai venues because of his loud booing. The jai-alai owners felt that Pearce's booing and heckling would incite a riot among excitable jai-alai fans.
Far from being annoyed with Pearce, Floridians management welcomed him with open arms. Pearce made his first appearance at a Floridians game on February 10, 1971 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. The fans loved him so much that the following night -- when the Floridians hosted Virginia -- about 50 other people joined him in a "boo-fest." Pearce and his section heckled the Squires bench and Virginia Coach Al Bianchi. The booing was so loud that immediately after Virginia won the game, the Virginia players all ran over to Pearce's section and booed Pearce and his friends.
The Floridians gave Pearce his own special seating area, dubbed the "Bob Pearce Cheering and Booing Section." They gave him a special nickname: "Super Fan Boo Bird Bob Pearce." They put a photo of Pearce on the cover of a Floridians game program, and distributed Pearce photos to national media outlets. The Floridians ballgirls even flirted with him (above right). When asked about his newfound celebrity status, Pearce said: "There's lots to boo here, but there's lots to cheer, too. I hadn't seen a pro basketball game until early February, but I like 'em. It's fun to boo, and when you're booing the other team, you're really cheering for our team." (Floridians publicity photos courtesy of Dennis Hafeli)
|"Hey, Look What I Won!"
Fans at Virginia Squires games had a lot to look forward to. Of course, Julius Erving and George Gervin were big draws. But the special prize drawings conducted by "Mr. Squire" were an attraction as well. From night to night, Squires fans never knew what would be given away. They only knew that whatever the prize, it would be interesting.
At left, a very lucky Squires fan shows her jubilation at winning a huge pile of exciting board games, including "Pivot Pool," "Class A Racing," and, everyone's favorite, "Ker-Plunk!"
It is not known whether she was able to carry all the games to the parking lot.