Warren Armstrong/Jabali

Ht. 6-2
Wt. 200
College - Wichita State
ABA Teams: Oakland (1968-69), Washington (1969-70), Indiana (1970-71), The Floridians (1971-72), Denver (1972-73 to 1973-74), San Diego (1974-75)

ABA Rookie of the Year & Member of All-Rookie Team in 1969. 4-Time ABA All-Star. Member of 72-73 ABA All-Pro Team. MVP of 72-73 ABA All-Star Game. Member of 68-69 Oakland Oaks Championship Team. Had reputation as one of the most feared defenders in all of basketball.

From Jim O'Brien's 1972-73 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball:
One of the ABA's "bad boys" . . . Quarterbacked Floridians with fine hand, scoring nearly 20 a game while finishing sixth in assists with 6.1 average . . . Sometimes forces shots, but is an excellent passer and can make the play . . . Attempted more three-pointers (285) than anyone in ABA, and will add element to Rockets' arsenal that was lacking last season . . . He's fast, strong and jumps well - even if he can't get as high as he did before knee injury robbed him of super-spring . . . Worked out well for Floridians last year. "He's the biggest 6-2 guy I've ever seen," said Bob Bass, his coach in Miami . . . Can swing. "I have an advantage at both positions," says Jabali, whose Swahili name means Rock. "I can overpower the guards and I'm quicker than the forwards," . . . Called current Rockets teammate Ralph Simpson the best one-on-one player in ABA last year. "There really isn't any way to stop him," said Jabali . . . Made ABA All-Star Game last year . . . Phenomenal ball control, often switches hands in air on layups . . . Before knee injury, regularly stuffed ball over 6-8's . . . "He can defend a forward or a guard better than anyone in the league," said Coach Bass. "What guy can defend Rick Barry fairly decent one night and Ralph Simpson the next night?"
Career ABA Totals 447 15264 2663 6182 .431 322 1011 .318 2017 2669 .756 2985 2389 1544 9 7665 6.7 5.3 17.1
ABA Playoff Totals 36 1209 221 532 .415 11 66 .167 198 282 .702 306 115 111 1 651 8.5 3.2 18.1
ABA All-Star Totals 4 87 13 38 .342 1 7 .143 3 6 .500 17 12 10 - 30 4.3 3.0 7.5

From 1968 to 1975, Warren Jabali (Armstrong) was an enigmatic force in the ABA. In 1973, when he played for the Denver Rockets, Jabali was voted MVP of the ABA All-Star Game, over players like Artis Gilmore, Julius Erving, and George McGinnis. In August 1997, Dave Thomas posted his "Tribute to Warren Jabali" on this web site. Dave recently spoke with Jabali, who now lives in Miami, Florida. Since then, Dave has revised his article, and has also added a postscript: a letter written by Jabali in May 1998 to the Kansas City Star newspaper.

On January 23, 2004, the Oakland Tribune newspaper published an article detailing the history of one of the ABA's most memorable teams, the 1968-69 Oakland Oaks. The Oaks were coached by Hall-of-Fame coach Alex Hannum, and boasted players like Jabali, Rick Barry, Doug Moe and Larry Brown. They won the ABA title after an incredible 60-18 season. In the article, former ABA and NBA superstar Barry is quoted as saying that: "I had [an Oaks] teammate who wouldn't pass me the ball because I was white." The article's author, Dave Newhouse, specifically notes this as a reference to Jabali. Upon reading the article and Barry's quote, Jabali was moved to explain his perception of race relations and issues in the late 1960's. Jabali penned this essay in March 2004. The piece addresses Barry's quote and Jabali's own attitude in the ABA. It also examines some larger issues of race in American society.

MEMORIES OF REGINALD MARSHALL: "The 1969-70 season, when I was 20 years old, was the year I got hooked on pro basketball. I lived in Washington, where the Caps played. I watched Warren Armstrong very closely. I have an indelible memory of literally the first minute I ever saw Armstrong play. The Denver Rockets (with rookie Spencer Haywood) controlled the opening tap in one of the first games of the season, and their point guard Lonnie Wright (who was also a defensive back for the Denver Broncos) was guarded by Warren. Wright attempted what he thought would be an uncontested pass into the high post, but cat-quick Warren got a hand on it and the ball shot a good twenty feet straight up in the air. Lonnie was directly under it but Warren got behind him, jumped, reached back and snatched the ball with one hand, then glided downcourt and threw down one of the wickedest slam dunks I'd ever seen (left-handed, of course--even though he was right-handed he always dunked left-handed). Twenty seconds later, with the teams back down at the other end, I looked back and the backboard was still quivering. I was awestruck.

Warren went on to have a great game and for the next couple of months every game I saw him play was more impressive than the previous one. When healthy he truly was one of the great all-around players of all time -- a great shooter, great passer, great rebounder (that year he was a unanimous selection to the all-star team as a 6'2" forward!), great defender -- with a style that was a perfect blend of grace and power. Alas, he hurt his knee and a week after he scored a career high 46 points he went under the knife and his season was over.

Of course the Caps moved after their only season, and I moved to a non-ABA city. I thought I might never see him play again, although I followed his career closely in the newspapers, through several teams and a name change. In 1973 he was 1st-team all-ABA for the Denver Rockets, as well as MVP of the All-Star game. The next season he was also a Western Conference starter in the All-Star game, and then something happened which to my knowledge has never happened before or since in the history of professional sports: the day after the All-Star game Jabali was placed on waivers, and no team picked him up. I was aware of his reputation as a black militant and a troublemaker but this was incredible. I remember reading that he'd done something during All-Star weekend that embarrassed and enraged the (white) owners, and they'd obviously blacklisted him. Shortly after that I read that he'd moved to Africa, and it seemed his career was over.

Then, in the fall of 1974 I moved to Los Angeles. Around that time, the San Diego Conquistadors were desperate for a point guard. They tracked Warren down in Tanzania and signed him. I drove down and saw him play several times that season. In the five years since I'd seen him in DC he'd put on weight, and knee and back problems had robbed him of his leaping ability, but he had his moments, and was still a great floor general. I went down for a Nets game in February, looking forward to seeing Dr.J for the first time since his rookie year with the Squires. Going in the "Q's" had a seven-game losing streak, and the Nets had an eight-game winning streak. The only memorable thing about this game's regulation play was that Dr. J scored 45 on a dazzling assortment of moves and shots. In spite of this about half the crowd filed out with several minutes to play and the Nets comfortably ahead. Then the Conquistadors came to life. Travis Grant and Dwight "Bo" Lamar started filling it up from outside, and Jabali started taking it to the hole. I'd long since resigned myself to never again seeing Warren dunk like he used to, but to my amazement, with about 30 seconds left and the Q's down five he drove the lane, took the ball in his left hand, lifted off like a great bird of prey, and threw down a thunderous dunk, getting fouled in the process. That cut the lead to two and a Grant jumper from the corner at the buzzer sent the game into OT.

Dr. J scored 12 more in the 1st OT period, giving him 57, but the Q's hung in there and another buzzer-beater sent it into OT #2. With two minutes left in that period, Doc had 61 and climbing. At this point Warren was in the groove and they decided to switch him onto Erving. The 2nd overtime period ended with another last second shot to tie, as did the 3rd. In the 4th OT the Q's finally pulled away. The final score was 176-166, at that time the highest scoring game in the history of pro basketball. But Dr. J finished with "only" (a career high) 63. In the last 12 minutes of the game, with Jabali guarding him, he managed only a meaningless dunk shot in the final seconds with the game out of reach. Warren scored 19 of his 23 points at the end of regulation and in overtime.

That was Warren's last season. My final memory of him, from the last game I saw him play, is him walking off the court, his tiny son next to him holding his hand. He didn't look like the angry young man anymore. He looked more mature, more at peace with himself and the world. After his career ended I had no idea what happened to him, and I was glad to see that he is alive and was able to come to the Reunion in Indianapolis. I wish I could have been there. Certainly he deserves the honor of being named one of the top 30 players in the league. I'm still an avid NBA fan, but I'm not as impressionable as I was when I was younger. Yeah, I know Michael is the greatest player who ever lived, but Hakeem is the only player to crack my all-time favorite five in the last quarter-century. The rest of the team consists of the idols of my youth -- Honeycomb, The Pearl, Doc, and The Rock -- Warren Jabali."

Thanks to Warren Jabali, Dan Roumbanis, Reginald Marshall, David Thomas and Robert Hurt for their contributions to this tribute page.

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