Years of existence: 1967-68 through 1968-69
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The Oakland Oaks only existed during the ABA's first two seasons. Despite their short life, the Oaks remain one of the ABA's most memorable teams. The majority owner of the Oaks was singer Pat Boone, a self-avowed basketball nut. Before Boone owned the Oaks, he had a team in the Hollywood Studio League called the "Cooga Moogas" that included Bill Cosby, Rafer Johnson, Gardner McKay, Don Murray, and Denny "Tarzan" Miller. Boone poured a lot of money and effort into the Oaks franchise during its two years, most of which paid off during its second year.
In the early years of the ABA, the Oaks were the only ABA franchise in "direct" geographic competition with an NBA team: the San Francisco Warriors. In the summer of 1967, the Oaks made national headlines by signing 23 year old Warriors superstar Rick Barry to a multi year contract. Barry was willing to jump to the Oaks from the Warriors because the Oaks offered him an impressive six-figure salary, plus 15 percent ownership of the franchise. The Warriors refused to match the Oaks' offer. In addition, Bruce Hale, Barry's father-in-law and former college coach at the University of Miami (FL), was hired as the Oaks' coach. Barry thought it would be fun to play for his friend and mentor. However, after Barry signed with the Oaks, the Warriors filed suit to prevent Barry from jumping leagues. A California court upheld the Warriors' contention that Barry belonged to them, at least through the 1967-68 season, and issued an injunction which prevented Barry from playing in the ABA's first season.
As a result, the Oaks' first year was dismal. Hale's 67-68 roster included several AAU and Eastern League "veterans" (Steve Jones, Levern Tart, and Jim Hadnot) with a few real rookies (Ron Franz, Andy Anderson, Wes Bialosuknia) thrown in. For the first half of the 1967-68 season, guard/forward Levern "Jelly" Tart was the club's anchor and high scorer. Tart had been a late cut of the Boston Celtics a few seasons earlier. Tart had absolutely no conscience shooting-wise. While he was with the Oaks, he averaged a league-best 26.7 points per game. However, he had a personality conflict with Coach Hale and was traded to the New Jersey Americans in January 1968 for Barry Leibowitz, cash, and a high 1968 draft choice.
Steve "Snapper" Jones played well with Oakland, averaging 10.1 points per game that first year. Andy Anderson from Canisius was a strong double figure scorer for the team. Wes Bialosuknia out of Connecticut (also known as "Mr. B") was the Oaks "mad bomber." At one point during the 1967-68 season, Bialosuknia hit nine straight three-pointers over the course of five games. Despite the presence of these players, the Oaks were one of the ABA's worst teams, and lost approximately $750,000 during the 1967-68 season.
The Oaks' second year was a complete turnaround success for several reasons. Alex Hannum left the Philadelphia 76ers and became the Oaks' new coach. Hannum engineered a significant off-season trade with the New Orleans Buccaneers. The Oaks gave up Steve Jones and Ron Franz and got Larry Brown and Doug Moe in return. Former NBA All-Star Rick Barry was finally eligible to play for the team. Finally, the Oaks drafted and signed talented rookies like Warren Armstrong, Jim Eakins, Mike Barrett, and Henry Logan.
This combination of players proved to be deadly to the rest of the ABA. The young Oaks dominated their competition, prompting some basketball writers to speculate that the Oaks were building an "ABA dynasty." During the first few months of the season, Barry was spectacular and averaged 35.1 points per game. On December 27, during the final stages of a 131-116 win over the New York Nets, Barry collided with Nets' forward Kenny Wilburn and tore knee ligaments. Barry attempted a comeback in late January, but he re-injured the knee and was lost for the season. In only 35 games with the Oaks, he averaged 34 points per game.
When he actually played during the 1968-69 campaign, Rick Barry (#24, above left) was devastating. When Barry was out (which was most of the season), the Oaks still dominated their opponents with pesky defense and an outstanding fast break. Guard Larry Brown (#11, above right) was the ringleader most nights.
Photos copyright John Oznick and used with permission.
During the times that Barry was injured, the Oaks continued to steamroll through the ABA. Through December and January, the Oaks won 16 games in a row. The streak was broken in a memorable game against Bill Sharman's Los Angeles Stars on January 22. The Stars won the game on a last second jumper by George Stone. But what people really remembered was the Oaks' Warren Armstrong clubbing Stars center Jim Jarvis on the back, and then intentionally stepping on Jarvis's head while Jarvis was prone on the floor. The incident occurred in the second quarter and was caught on tape. Armstrong was suspended for several games and gained the reputation as a thug.
Barry, Brown and Moe were elected to the ABA All-Star team. Hannum was the coach of the West squad, and became the first man to coach All-Star teams in both leagues. The year before, while with the 76ers, he had coached the NBA's East All-Star team. The Oaks finished at 60-18, 14 games ahead of New Orleans in the Western Division. After surviving a first round scare with the pesky Denver Rockets (the series went the full seven games), the Oaks cruised past New Orleans into the ABA Championship. Without Barry, the Oaks bested the Indiana Pacers in 5 games for the ABA Championship.
While the Oaks were successful on the court in the second season, they never drew well. During the 1968-69 season, they averaged only about 2,800 fans per game. This meant that owner Pat Boone was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. During the summer of 1969, a frustrated Boone sold his championship team to businessman Earl Foreman, who moved the team 2,500 miles to the east, to Washington D.C.
Record: 22-56, Sixth Place in Western Division
Record: 60-18, First Place in Western Division
1969 Playoff Results:
Western Division Semifinals vs. Denver Rockets (44-34)
Oaks won series, 4-3
Western Division Finals vs. New Orleans Buccaneers (46-32)
Oaks won series, 4-0
ABA Finals vs. Indiana Pacers (44-34)
Oaks won ABA Championship, 4-1