Oakland Oaks Fan Memories

MEMORIES OF JOHN BUDKE: "I saw the playoff games on TV that were played in Oakland against the Pacers in 68-69. The Oaks were the runningest team I have ever seen. If you made a basket, the Oaks saw that as a fast-break opportunity. If you hesitated or were a little slow they beat you down the floor. Ira Harge was a great role player. He would score a few points but his forte was rebounding and blocking shots. He was very strong and good leaper who really went after the rebounds. When anyone came down the lane, he was there and I saw him block away many shots."

The Oaks had plenty of potent scorers, but they also had significant role players, like Ira Harge (above). Harge's priority on the court was not to score, but to block shots, rebound, and dive for loose balls on the floor. Many Oakland fast breaks (and easy baskets) were ignited by Harge's defense.

Photos copyright John Oznick and used with permission.

MEMORIES OF KIRK MANAHAN: "I remember Game Two of the 1968-69 ABA Championship Series between the Oakland Oaks and Indiana Pacers. The Oakland Coliseum was nearly empty for the game. There might have been a couple thousand people there, tops. We bought the cheapest seats and ended up taking open seats behind the Pacers' bench. I can tell you that Bob Netolicky taught me a few swear words. All he did was swear. At halftime Rick Barry (injured Oaks player) was broadcasting courtside. I waited a few minutes, until a commercial kicked in. When I asked for an autograph, he said "Take a hike, kid, can't you see I'm busy?" The Oaks won. The Oaks had Larry Brown, Doug Moe and the injured Barry. The Pacers had Roger Brown and Netolicky. Good memories."

MEMORIES OF MARK MURPHY: "I still cherish my memories of the Oaks games at the Oakland Coliseum and Oakland Auditorium. I wish I still had my replica ABA ball acquired at "ball night" during the 1968-1969 season. I do still have an Oakland Oaks 1968-1969 schedule autographed by the players. I was nine years old when the Oaks won the championship in 1969. That championship will always mean more to me than the Warriors' championship in 1975."

MEMORIES OF MICHAEL CUSORTELLI: "I currently live in Amarillo, Texas, but I was born and raised in Oakland. My favorite ABA memory is scoring a basket at halftime of a game between the Oakland Oaks and New Orleans Buccaneers at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. I was a member of the "Junior Oaks Club," and there was a short five-minute game between members of the club. I remember the Junior Oaks Club well -- membership cost one dollar, and members received admission to selected games for 50 cents, as well as lots of great souvenirs, including a red, white and blue ABA basketball. I have several other ABA memories. I remember sitting with my cousin behind the Houston Mavericks bench at the Oakland Auditorium and getting autographs from Willie Somerset and Leary Lentz. I remember listening to the radio voice of the Oaks -- Chuck Hinkle -- call the games with his gravely voice. I remember visiting "Jumbo" Jim Hadnot at his liquor store in Oakland, and getting his autograph. "

MEMORIES OF FRED SCHWARTZ: "I was a young sportswriter on the Modesto (CA) Bee newspaper when the Oakland Oaks came to town to play the Denver Rockets on Saturday, Sept. 31, 1967 -- about two weeks before the opening of the ABA's first regular season. About 500 curious spectators showed up to watch the exhibition. I'm not sure how much preparation went into the game. But when I arrived about a half an hour before the game, there was no official scorer. Johnny Rodrigues, the Oaks publicity director (and himself a former sportswriter) asked if I'd do the duties. I respectfully declined, since I wasn't too sure of all the rules (the three-point shot, the 30-second clock and the 12-foot lane to limit the big men around the basket were all new to me). Rodrigues finally ended up doing double duty as the scorer and team publicist. He was also the guy who handed out nicknames way before they were an ESPN staple. Guard Levern Tart was called "Jelly", 7-foot center Mike Dablich was called "Frankie" (short for Frankenstein), and forward Willie Porter was dubbed "Fang" because he had lost all of his front teeth in a scrimmage. The game itself was pretty well received by the fans who paid up to $3 for the top seats. Students got in for $1. It was a see-saw affair with the Oaks finally coming out on top, 129-119, thanks to a 68-point second half. Tart led all scorers with 31 points and his violent collision with Tom Hoover sent Denver's 6-10 center out of the game with a lacerated scalp and a big headache. The Oaks did not have a particularly good team during the 1967-68 season, but they had the distinction of playing the ABA's first game. On October 13, 1967, they beat the Anaheim Amigos, 134-129 in the Oakland Coliseum Arena. Their fortunes changed the next year when they won the ABA title. But their lack of fan support prompted the eventual exodus to Washington, D.C. It was a fun time in my life."

MEMORIES OF STEVE SCHAER: "Here's some little-known history behind the Oaks logo. It was designed by a local cartoonist named Lee Susman, who did sports-commentary cartoons for the Oakland Tribune. Susman designed the cartoon mule - "Charlie O" - used for the Oakland A's Booster Club back in the 70s. If the A's won, there would be a cartoon in the paper of the mule in a pleasant situation, such as riding a skyrocket. Or he'd be in a sad condition when they lost. If they split a doubleheader, it might be something like the mule standing on a drawbridge that was opening, so that the mule was being forced to do the splits. Susman also did some cartoons about the start of the USFL Oakland Invaders franchise (another defunct team/league). The Oaks logo is actually an adaptation of the acorn character logo that Susman originally designed for the old Pacific Coast League baseball Oakland Oaks, who left Oakland in 1955. I met Susman at a PCL old-timers reunion, and got his signature on an Oaks basketball pin that I still have."

MEMORIES OF DARREN LATHROP: "I watched the Oakland Oaks during their two year existence. I went to a number of games with friends when we were 17-18 years old, many during the championship season. We tried to go to as many Denver Rockets at Oaks games as possible. I met Byron Beck because I was going to go to the University of Denver. I also met Walt Piatkowski (whose son Eric played in the NBA recently). I think Piatkowski once got in a fight with Oakland's Gary Bradds, who was our least favorite Oak. We adopted him as our favorite Rocket after that. We started to hold up signs as the "Walt Piatkowski Fan Club," and once got noticed and interviewed by the Denver radio announcer. We also once sat with some of the wives of the Rockets.

You could always buy tickets to Oaks games and get down very close to the court. There was very little security in the Oakland Coliseum. After one game with the Rockets, a friend and I snuck into the Oaks locker room and stood next to a wall while the players dressed, etc. Some players were really well-dressed. I still remember that Jim Eakins wore blue jeans, a tee shirt, and his college letter jacket. While we were in the locker room, Nate Thurmond, then with the Warriors, came into the locker room to talk with some of the guys on the team. He may have been at the game to see Piatkowski since they both went to Bowling Green. Or, maybe he was there to support his former Warrior teammate, Rick Barry. We eventually just walked out of the locker room. No one ever told us to leave.

The Oaks were great to watch in the championship year: Barry (before getting hurt), Doug Moe, Warren Armstrong, Larry Brown, etc. And I had seen Alex Hannum coach the Warriors in the early 1960s. It was a great time."

MEMORIES OF GREG HERRICK: "I was a basketball player at Bishop O'Dowd High School in those days and my memory of the Oakland Oaks included Oaks' players handing out tickets to students and players after school on numerous occasions. Since Rick Barry's former brother-in-law, Alan Hale was a senior member of the O'Dowd Varsity team and the son of Bruce Hale, many of the Oaks' players would work out in our school gym. It was the "access" to professional basketball players I will never forget. You could talk to them one-on-one and then, a few hours later, see them playing at the Coliseum. My favorite Oaks' player was Levern "Jelly" Tart. Anybody named "Jelly" had to be sweet!"

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