San Diego Sails
Year of existence: 1975-76
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In June 1975, Frank Goldberg bought the San Diego Conquistadors after selling his ownership interest in the Denver Nuggets. Goldberg hired Irv Kaze as his General Manager and brought in Bill Musselman (from the University of Minnesota) to coach. The new management team junked the "Conquistadors" nickname, and picked "Sails" as the replacement. For the 1975-76 season the Sails adopted brand new colors, a classy logo (above), and a revised marketing campaign. The idea was that Goldberg's purchase of the team, plus a complete overhaul of the team's management and image, would accomplish the same type of miraculous turnaround that the Denver Nuggets had enjoyed during during the previous season.
The outlook actually seemed promising because the team had some talent: holdover All-Star center Caldwell Jones, center Dave Robisch (obtained in the special Baltimore Claws dispersal draft), promising young guard Dwight "Bo" Lamar, veteran sharpshooting forward Stew Johnson, rookie forward Mark Olberding (who had somehow followed Bill Musselman to the Sails from Minnesota), and even a mellowed-out Warren Jabali. The Sails also had Kevin Joyce (a former Indiana Pacer), Pat McFarland (a former Denver Nugget), and Lee Davis (another holdover Conquistador).
However, mostly due to an unfavorable early schedule, the Sails sputtered out of the gate in October/November 1975. On October 24, 1975, the Sails opened at home against the powerful Denver Nuggets. In front of only 3,060 semi-curious fans at the San Diego Sports Arena, the new-look Sails hung with the Nuggets for most of the game (due to 26 unexpected points from Pat McFarland), but eventually succumbed by the score of 120-108.
The next night, the Sails traveled to Salt Lake City and eked out a 99-97 victory over the Stars behind 29 points from Bo Lamar. The Sails then proceeded to lose three consecutive games at St. Louis, Indianapolis and San Antonio, before finally returning home for games against Virginia (November 1) and San Antonio (November 2). San Diego lost to the lowly Squires and upset the favored Spurs for a disappointing overall record of 2-5. But the swiftly-declining attendance for both of these home games was even more ominous: 2,396 for the Squires, and only 1,670 for the Spurs.
|The Sails played only 11 regular season games (3 at home) before vanishing into the depths of basketball history. As a result, Sails action photos are almost impossible to locate (even the San Diego newspapers gave the Sails very limited coverage; the San Diego Union gave the Sails their first and only headline the day after the team folded).
Above are some of the few Sails photos that exist -- they come from the game programs and publicity materials of other ABA teams. In the photo above left, the Sails' Caldwell Jones and Dave Robsich(#25) defend a layup by Johnny Neumann of the Virginia Squires, as Bobby Warren (#21) looks on from a distance. In the photo above middle, Jones (#3) skies to block a shot by the Squires' Mike Jackson. Finally, in the photo above right, Jones (#3) tangles with Marvin Barnes of the Spirits of St. Louis.
At this point in time, owner Goldberg learned from reliable sources that San Diego would never be considered for inclusion in a merger with the NBA. Basketball Weekly reported that the source of the "thumbs-down" verdict on the Sails was Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Lakers. Cooke didn't want competition for the Lakers in the Southern California market, and was apparently worried that an NBA Sails franchise would hurt his cable television empire in Southern California (a network which carried most of the Lakers' games).
The Sails played four more games, all on the road (winning only the game played at Virginia on November 5). All during this road trip, Goldberg considered the futility of pouring more money into his new franchise, given the discouraging home attendance figures and the unlikelihood of the Sails ever joining the NBA. Finally Goldberg reached a difficult decision. On November 12, 1975, with a record of 3-8, and on a day when the team had finally returned home to play the Indiana Pacers at the Sports Arena, the Sails closed their offices, folded, and went out of business.
Several Sails players were picked up by other ABA teams. Dave Robisch went to Indiana (his third team of the 1975-76 season). Stew Johnson and Mark Olberding went to San Antonio. Kevin Joyce went to Kentucky. Interestingly, the ABA attempted to auction Caldwell Jones (San Diego's best player) to the NBA, willing to forget the two years remaining on his contract in exchange for some badly needed cash. After the Philadelphia 76ers balked at the selling price, the Kentucky Colonels finally obtained his rights. Coach Bill Musselman landed with the Virginia Squires, after the Squires fired their popular and longtime coach Al Bianchi.
After the league schedule was revised, hardly anyone noticed the absence of the San Diego Sails.
|You might wonder why these blurry photos are shown here. They are included not for their quality, but for their incredible rarity. These are the only color photos known to exist from a San Diego Sails home game.
On October 24, 1975, Don Kennedy went to the Sails' home opener against the Denver Nuggets. The game was the first game of the season for both teams. Being an avid fan of the Nuggets, Don naturally brought his trusty Kodak Instamatic camera to the game. He bought cheap tickets, but snuck down to a courtside seat, where he was able to snap these pictures. On the left, Nuggets' rookie David Thomspon skies for a windmill dunk during pre-game warmups. On the right, Thompson (#33) floats in for dunk during the game itself, with the Sails' Mark Olberding (#53) watching helplessly from behind.
Don was only able to stay in the courtside seats for the first few minutes of the 1st quarter (an usher caught him and forced Don to move to up to the cheap seats printed on his ticket). Therefore, it is very possible that the photo on the right shows the very first pro basket of Thompson's Hall of Fame career.
The Sails only played two more home games before going belly-up on November 12, 1975 (thanks to Don Kennedy for contributing these photos to Remember the ABA).
Folded on November 12, 1975