MEMORIES OF JOHN BUDKE: "In the early years sometimes it seemed the Colonels didn't know if they should be a sideshow or concentrate on basketball. In their second year, I saw a show listed as coming on TV called "The Littlest Colonel." I thought to myself that I couldn't miss this, it must be a show about Louie Dampier. When I tuned in I was disappointed. It was a show about the Colonels' first radio announcer, Ed Kallay. The show went through Ed's becoming a new Kentucky Colonel. It showed him negotiating and signing a contact, going to practice, and then he actually played in an exhibition game. It was a publicity stunt. Later they signed a 23-year-old woman jockey. Someone might be able to say for sure, I think it was Penny Ann Early. Penny Ann actually played in a regular season game against the L.A. Stars --I saw the film clip on the news. She took the ball out of bounds, threw it in, stepped on the court and then they quickly called a time out and got her out of there. Penny wore a miniskirt and a turtleneck shirt with the number three on the back. This stunt drew a big crowd -- 5,345. When Kentucky hired Mike Storen away from the Pacers in their fourth year, I knew they were going to get more serious and they did with the signing of Dan Issel.
Jim "Goose" Ligon (#22, at right) was one of the players who was very solid in the Colonels' early days. Jim had been a star in high school at Kokomo, Indiana, taking them to the state title one year. Jim however ran into trouble, spent some time in prison, and never played in college. When the Pacers were forming he tried out but was cut because then-Pacer GM Storen worried about fan reaction. Still, Mike encouraged him to try out with the Colonels. He became a very good player who was very popular. He had a great little hook and could shoot well from 10 feet in. He was a very good defensive player and a great offensive rebounder, getting a lot of points that way. He was a hustler and played a lot of center in the early years even though only 6'7"."
MEMORIES OF J. SMITH: "A favorite memory was sitting through a doubleheader at the Convention Center in Louisville back in 1969. Besides the Colonels, the real draw that night was Spencer Haywood. As I recall, he was a rookie and we still had vivid memories of his Olympic Games play from 1968. I recall being very impressed with his game that night, but could not believe how smooth he was. I was amazed that his totals read something like 35 points and 25 rebounds. One other thing that amazed me during those early years had to do with media coverage. Uncle Ed Kallay was the radio voice of the Colonels the first couple of years. Kallay also was the sports anchor for WAVE-TV3. I was an aspiring broadcaster, so I spent a good amount of time watching and listening to Kallay. The amazing thing he did was while doing play-by-play, he often filmed the action for broadcast on the 11 o'clock news. I'm not certain if this was commonplace during this time, but I was amazed then (and now) as to how he did it. One other thing concerning Kallay was his description of the goings-on during the 1968 playoffs between the Colonels and the New Jersey Americans. Kallay was describing that workers were literally cutting boards to fit in the holes on the court at the Commack Arena. As key as Van Vance was to the Colonels in later years, Ed Kallay was his equal in the early years."
MEMORIES OF LOU SNYDER: "I fell in love with the Colonels when I attended my first game, during the '68-'69 season. But it wasn't until the following year that I regularly showed up at the downtown Convention Center. My friend Joel and I used to sit in section 14, and tickets...are you ready for this...were $1.50. For a couple bucks more I joined the Colonels fan club. I still have my photo ID. In those days, Louie and Goose were my big heroes (until Louie snapped at me when I tried talking to him before a game). But so were guys like Sam Smith, Gene Moore (who was forever fouling out), George Tinsley and Willie Murrell. The team seemed to lose something when they went "big time" in the '70-'71 year, and Uncle Ed Kallay was replaced briefly by Cawood Ledford (that's right!) and then Van Vance. Freedom Hall became the team's new home. Fortunately, the Coke and popcorn guys (and I can still see their faces) went with the team. There was nothing like the anticipation of a visit from those hated Pacers, and the games lived up to all their advance billing. Unfortunately, I remember too many times when a John Barnhill put in the winning shot at the buzzer. On a number of occasions I followed the team to the old Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. On my first visit, I was lost, and pulled into a gas station, wearing my Colonels jacket, asking for directions. The guy must've been a Pacers fan, because he sent me in the opposite direction, way out in the country, seemingly halfway to Bloomington. By an incredible stroke of luck, the following season, this same guy stopped me in downtown Louisville, on a day when the Pacers were in town, and asked for directions to Freedom Hall. He may still be riding around Cane Run Road, with the directions I gave him! My most pleasant youthful memories center around those cold winter nights spent with Dan and Artis and Louie. I'm 46 now, and it still hurts to think about how it all ended. I never got over the loss of the red, white and blue league. God, how I miss the 'thrill and excitement of professional basketball in the American Basketball Association.'"
|In the Colonels' second year of existence, Sam Smith (left, #52) and Louie Dampier (right, #10) wore Kentucky's green and white uniforms.
(Photos Copyright © Robert Hurt and used with permission.)
MEMORIES OF FRANK OAKES: " I grew up about 100 miles from Louisville, so it was always a treat to get to go to a Colonels game. I remember seeing them the first season of the league in those awful green and white uniforms playing downtown at Louisville Gardens. The big draw then was Louie Dampier, who had starred at the University of Kentucky. "Goose" Ligon was a big fan favorite who you could count on to play all out, no matter what the score was. It was a lot of smaller players by professional standards, but the games were exciting and fast paced. Even if the game was sloppy, you would always see a couple of great fist fights. The Colonels became a great team when they got Dan Issel and changed to the almost "U.K." like blue and white. They moved to Freedom Hall and started drawing good crowds. Even though the crowds got bigger, the players were very accessible to the fans, especially us kids. I remember as the teams were coming out for their warmups before the second half of a game against the Virginia Squires, my best friend and I ran up to courtside to get a closer look at our heroes. The arena security guards let us go right up to Charlie Scott and Dan Issel and "give them five". Could you imagine any NBA arena allowing that?
As each season came, the talent level just got better. The 1975 Colonels, coached by Hubie Brown, remains the only time a team starting two centers ever won a title. The greatest game I ever saw was in November of '75 when the Nets were leading the Colonels by seven with a minute and a half to go. Kentucky held the Nets scoreless and forced overtime after an improbable three-pointer by "the Plumber" Ron Thomas. (As an aside, Thomas became a member of the Colonels when he was asked to practice with the team after several players sustained injuries. Ron was a former Louisville player selling cars at a local dealership.) After two overtimes, the Colonels prevailed. It was our common practice to look for empty seats during the games and move down when we got the chance. Since most of the faithful had left early, we were sitting with Ellie Brown and U.K. athletic director, Harry Lancaster, by the end of the game."
MEMORIES OF BRUCE MATTINGLY: "I started following the Colonels during their second season (1968-69). I listened to a lot of games on WAVE Radio with Ed Kallay. The first game I saw in person was a 1969 playoff game against the Indiana Pacers. What a thriller! It went into overtime. In the overtime, the Colonels were down 104-103 with 10 seconds to go. Darel Carrier was fouled, and the rule at the time was that he had 3 chances to make 2 shots. He hit the first, missed the second, and hit the third to win the game. Carrier was the only player that I can remember who would actually jump when he shot free throws. I remember my Dad commenting that the Colonels offense back then consisted mainly of Dampier and Carrier dribbling downcourt and shooting. I saw several games in the old downtown Convention Center (now Louisville Gardens). Marathon Oil had a large gong that someone would strike whenever a Colonel would make a 3-pointer. I remember going to one game and hearing the PA man (John Tong) announce that the gong had been stolen!
I once saw Cincy Powell reciting his original poetry(!) on a local talk show named "Omelet" hosted by Milton Metz and Faith Lyles. Another time I saw Cincy and his family in Kiddie Castle in the Gardiner Lane Shopping Center. It was just after he had been traded to the Dallas Chaparrals. Cincy and his wife were telling the salespeople how nice everyone had been, and how much they would miss Louisville. I also remember several of the Colonels (including Artis Gilmore) showing up and making donations during the Crusade for Children. What impressed me the most was that these Colonels players stood in line with all of the other firefighters, Boy Scouts and church members who were bringing in donations. Talk about being a part of the community!
The 1975 championship season was very special. I thought that the key to that team was the point guard, Bird Averitt. I remember taking a transistor radio to a high school dance so that I could keep up with the Colonels-Nets one game playoff. I got to see some of the later playoff games in person, but I listened to the final championship game on WHAS radio. A couple of years earlier, I had attended Game 7 of the 1973 ABA Finals at Freedom Hall. That was the game that Indiana won 88-81. I can distinctly recall the look of frustration on Artis Gilmore's face after a pass from Wendell Ladner sailed out of bounds late in the game. In 1975, it was great to finally win the championship after all of those years.
Not so good memories include news of a kid getting hurt when he fell through the Freedom Hall roof (trying to sneak into a game), the Issel trade fiasco, and of course the disbanding of the team when the other ABA teams were absorbed into the NBA."
MEMORIES OF GEORGE ZALEUKE: "I was a big Kentucky Colonels fan when I was growing up in Louisville in the 1970's. As a matter of fact, when I turned 15 years old, I got a job with Brantly Ushering Service just so I could watch the Colonels at every home game; consequently, I was the envy of all my friends. Louie Dampier, Dan Issel, Darel Carrier, Artis Gilmore, Wendell Ladner, and Goose Ligon were just some of my heroes. In the early days, the Colonels would try anything to put people in the stands. For instance, if you could get your dad to stop by Kentucky Fried Chicken before the game, you could get a coupon good for a chance to win an "official" plastic red,white and blue basketball. All you had to do was make a layup on the court at halftime. They must have given away thousands of those things. I often think about the ABA, and I often speak to my 10 year old about it. But how can you explain that Julius Erving was really the first Michael Jordan? That Louie Dampier was knocking down those three pointers long before John Stockton or Steve Kerr? The slam dunk contest was old hat in the ABA long before it ever got to the ABA. And Kobe Bryant was not the first player to go right from high school to the pros. Doesn't anyone remember Moses Malone? I am now a grown man, but I would still love to meet Louie Dampier, or perhaps Dan Issel. I treasure my Colonels pennants, and my old (signed) programs. I even have a real game ball that was used by the team during the 1974-75 season. These items now belong to my son. God, I miss the ABA."
MEMORIES OF GEORGE RORRER: "I covered the Kentucky Colonels for the Louisville Times and they're as much a part of my happiest days as my family. One memory that stands out: One night at Freedom Hall, Maurice Lucas of the Spirits of St. Louis got under Artis Gilmore's skin. Artis, normally the most gentle of giants, started trying to punch Lucas. Artis had superhuman strength, but he wasn't much of a boxer. His blows were almost slaps. Lucas, one of the league's most feared fighters, backpedaled the length of the court. When he got to the baseline, he planted his feet and hit Artis with a straight right to the jaw. Artis went down in sections. First his knees crumpled, then his waist folded, then his arms flailed and then his trunk and head found the floor. By then, teammates had broken up the fight. Those who knew Artis were shocked and saddened, not that Artis had lost a fight but that he had even been in one. His agent, Herb Rudoy, flew in from Chicago to soothe the big guy's psyche. You know the rest. The Big A got over it and Lucas eventually became a Colonel, too."
MEMORIES OF BUCK BUCHANAN: "Our local college teams have been very successful since the ABA dissolved. But still, nothing can compare to a 15 foot bank shot by Issel, a left-handed hook by Artis, or a high-arcing three pointer by Louie. Some of my favorite Colonel memories are:
1. Riding a Greyhound bus to Indianapolis to watch Game 4 of the '75 Finals at Market Square Arena -- it was the only loss of the series for the Colonels.
2. The 1972 All-Star game in Louisville -- Issel was named MVP. I remember that he made an outstanding play when he saved the ball in front of the East bench with a no look alley-oop to Jim McDaniels. Rick Barry scored under ten points but played one of the best floor games I've ever seen.
3. When Dr. J. played with the Squires, I watched him dominate a game against Kentucky. Afterwards, my then girlfriend (and future wife) asked: "Which medical school did Dr. Erving attend?"
4. The "Kentucky Colonel Invitational" -- two nights of exhibition games in 1971. Each night had a Virginia-Memphis game as an opener. On the first night, the opener was followed by a Colonels vs. Milwaukee Bucks game. It was as intense as a playoff game. The Colonels ended up being outmatched 99-93. Artis Gilmore was a rookie and he made the mistake of showing up a veteran. Artis grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem didn't like it because on the very next possession the Big O gave Kareem the ball at the free throw line. After giving one head fake he drove to the basket in one huge step and slam dunked over Artis. That quieted both the rookie and the crowd. I watched Kareem his entire pro career and never saw him take the ball to the hoop like that again. The second night featured a Colonels vs. New York Knicks game. Watching Louie Dampier checking Walt Frazier was a sight I'll never forget."
MEMORIES OF KEN HENDERSON: "I grew up with the Kentucky Colonels. They began in 1967, the year I first started following basketball. All of my friends were either Louisville Cardinal or Kentucky Wildcat fans, so I latched on to the Colonels, just to be a bit of a rebel (which was fashionable in the late 60's!). My Dad and I would go to the downtown Convention Center about 15 - 20 times a season in the early years. It was easy to get good seats at the door, but the crowds - by early ABA standards - weren't small at all, usually 3-4,000 per game (other than Indiana and Denver, the rest of the league was lucky to draw over 2,000 in those days). Of course my idol and hero was Louie Dampier. The "everyman," he was about as tall as the average guy (funny thing is, I grew up to be 6-foot even - the same as Louie! I couldn't hit the "3's" though). Ironically, I worked at a Louisville television station (in marketing) for a few years in the late 80's and early 90's. I was responsible for purchasing video tape for my department, and our vendor was - you guessed it - Dampier Tape Distributing, Inc. Louie even serviced our account himself, personally. Of course we talked about his days in the ABA. This was when Terry Pluto's book was just coming out. I told Louie that I read it and asked him about those days. I didn't have the nerve to tell him that he was my favorite player, and that I spent many nights waiting by the Colonels' dressing room door just to get his autograph (which he readily signed, time after time). I was worried that it wouldn't be a "professional" thing to say. But now I regret not telling him. As I grew up, so did the Colonels - signing big name talent like Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore, moving to the huge Freedom Hall, and airing their games on WHAS Radio (and TV). The Colonels' last season was my freshman year in college and I was moving away from the things of my adolescence. I was saddened, but not heartbroken, when the team folded. I had nine years of memories to cherish, and no so-called "merger" (or even John Y. Brown, Jr. himself) could take those away from me. They'll be alive as long as I am."
MEMORIES OF SAM LAWRENCE: "I grew up in Orlando, Florida. In early February 1972, I happened to come across 840 AM on the radio dial and picked up game two of the incredible playoff series between the Colonels and the New York Nets. The signal from WHAS in Louisville faded in and out, but it was strong enough to hear most of the game. From that day on, I became a Colonels fan even though I never saw them in person. In fact, I saw the Colonels play on TV only once -- Game 7 of the 1973 ABA Championship series against the Indiana Pacers was nationally televised on CBS.
Some of my fondest memories of the radio broadcasts on WHAS were:
1. Wendell Ladner and Van Vance chatting about tortilla chips.
2. Van Vance's play-by-play, e.g. "And Artis Gilmore dunks the basketball."
3. The clutch play of Louie Dampier.
4. Julius Erving hitting a shot at the buzzer to put the Colonels down 0-3 in the 1974 Eastern Division Finals.
5. The 1975 championship run in which the Colonels beat Memphis, St. Louis, and Indiana in succession.
6. The 1975-76 preseason during which Dan Issel was sold to Baltimore and the Colonels beat the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
(streaming RealAudio File -- copyright Van Vance/WHAS-AM and used with permission)
When the Colonels were left out of the merger with the NBA, it was a very sad day indeed. I was happy to see Artis, Dan, Louie, and the other ABA stars do so well in their first NBA season and beyond. When I picked up my copy of Terry Pluto's Loose Balls, I was gratified to see Hubie Brown identify the 1975 Kentucky Colonels as far and away the best team he ever coached. I will always remember those days in 1972-1976 when I listened intently, with my ear pressed against the radio, rooting the Colonels on to victory."