1967/68: Upon starting the new professional basketball league, the ABA looked at placing teams where college basketball did well, and this included Louisville, Kentucky, where the Colonels were born. The Colonels had an ownership shift within their first season, as Don Regan who paid $30,000 to start the team sold it to Joseph Gregory, Mamie Gregory and William C. Boone. The Gregorys were a bit eccentric and used publicity stunts to draw attention to their team. One of them was to publically name their dog Ziggy as the team’s owner. Ziggy who was a prize-winning Brussels Griffon was included in the team’s first logo and watched games in his own front row seat, while attending league meetings. They also targeted local players, signing Kentucky star Louie Dampier and Darel Carrier of Western Kentucky. Coached by John Givens, the Colonels wearing an eye catching green uniform got off to a slow start losing a home and home series to the Indiana Pacers. They would win just five of their first 17 games, before Givens was replaced by Gene Rhodes. The Colonels would show improvement under Rhodes, as they played over .500 the rest of the season, and finished at 36-42 finishing tied with the New Jersey Americans for fourth place. The Colonels and Americans were set to play a one game playoff for a spot in the playoffs, but the Americans were unable to find a playable arena and were forced to forfeit. In the playoffs the Colonels would play solid basketball, but fall short as they were beaten by the Minnesota Muskies in a best of five series. In the decisive fifth game the Colonels would lose on the road 114-108 as the two teams alternated wins the entire series.
1968/69: In their second season, the Colonels continued to hold publicity stunts, as they gave a one day contract to Penny Ann Early, the first licensed female jockey in the United States. Wearing a miniskirt and a turtleneck sweater with a number 3 on the back, Early warmed up with the team and sat on the bench during the game against the Los Angeles Stars on November 27th. Despite not being a fan of the stunt Coach Gene Rhodes sent Early into the game in the first quarter as she made the inbound pass to Bobby Rascoe. Her time on the court would be short as Rascoe called timeout right away, allowing Rhodes to get her back on the bench as she received a standing ovation, as the Colonels lost the game in overtime 111-107. Before the season began the Colonels continued to pursue local stars. However, Louisville Center Wes Unseld chose to play in the NBA with the Baltimore Bullets. It would be an overall solid season for the Colonels who finished in third place with a record of 42-36. In the playoffs the Colonels got off to a quick start as they jumped out to a 3-1 lead against the Indiana Pacers. However, the Pacers would storm back to win three straight and take the series in seven games.
1969/70: Led by the play of Louie Dampier, Darel Carrier and Gene Moore the Colonels continue to be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference as they finish in second place with a record of 45-39. In the playoffs the Colonels would face the New York Nets in the first round as they sought to overcome their two previous playoff disappointments. It did not look good early, as they lost two home games and were down in the series 3-2 and facing elimination on the road. The Colonels would stay alive with a 116-113 win in Game 6. Back home for Game 7, they would win 112-101 to advance to the ABA semifinals. However, despite a 114-110 overtime win in Game 1, the Colonels would once again lose to the Indiana Pacers who took the next four games to win the series in seven games as they went on to win the ABA Championship. Following the season the Colonels would get new owners led by a group that included John Y. Brown Jr. the son of a prominent local business man and politician.
1970/71: After missing out on several big college stars, the Colonels finally strike gold as they acquire the rights to Kentucky Forward Dan Issel from the Dallas Chaps, and sign him to a ten year contract worth $1.4 million. To make Issel feel more comfortable, the Colonels changed their colors to blue and white. The Colonels also acquired Cincy Powell from the Chaps for Jim “Goose” Ligon, Gene Moore and Bud Olsen, as they moved from the Louisville Convention Center to Freedom Hall on the campus of University of Louisville. Despite getting off to a solid 10-5 start, Coach Gene Rhodes was fired on November 13th. The Colonels would win two games under the leadership of Alex Groza before former Kentucky start Frank Ramsey took over for the remainder of the season. Under Ramsey the Colonels would struggle, posting a 32-35 record as they finished with a record of 44-40 and finished in second place. Dan Issel would have a strong season, sharing Rookie of the Year honors with Charlie Scott of the Virginia Squires as the he led the ABA in scoring with 29.9 ppg. In the playoffs the Colonels would knock off The Floridians in six games. In the Eastern Finals the Colonels would need six games to upset the Virginia Squires and make it in the ABA Championship round for the first time in team history. In the Finals the Colonels and Utah Stars would square off in a classic seven game battle, with the home team taking the first six games. Game 7 would see a record crowd at the Salt Palace. Once again the home team would win as the Stars beat the Colonels 131-121.
1971/72: The Colonels once again landed a big star with a big contract, signing University of Jacksonville Center Artis Gilmore to a ten year deal worth $1.5 million. Under new Coach Joe Mullaney the Colonels had a big win for ABA pride in the pre-season beating the Baltimore Bullets on 111-85 on September 22nd. However, they would lose to the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks in their two other NBA showdowns. Gilmore would help the Colonels dominate the ABA, scoring 23.8 ppg, with 17.8 rebounds per game as he won both the Rookie of the Year and ABA MVP. Also helping the cause was Dan Issel, who had 30.6 ppg as the Colonels posted the best record in ABA history at 68-16. However, in the playoffs the Colonels would sputter as they were upset by the Rick Barry led New York Nets in six games.
1972/73: After their playoff letdown the Colonels looked to rebound, as they were once again one of the top teams in the ABA, posting a solid record of 56-28, finishing second in the Eastern Division, as Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore continued to lead the way. In the playoffs the Colonels would get off to a strong start, beating the Virginia Squires in five games. Facing the Carolina Cougars in the Eastern Finals, the Colonels would once again find themselves in a big Game 7 on the road. This time they would emerge victorious beating the Cougars, who they battled all season for first place 107-96 to reach the ABA Championship for the second time in three years. Facing the Indiana Pacers the Colonels would find themselves in another seven game war, as they won Game 6 in Indiana 109-93 to set themselves up with a chance to win the title at Freedom Hall. However, the Pacers would win a defensive battle 88-81 for their third title in four seasons.
1973/74: With Joe Mullaney leaving to coach the Utah Stars, Babe McCarthy became the new coach of the Colonels. Artis Gilmore and Dan Issel continued to be among the most dominant players in the league with the red, white and blue ball as the Colonels again finished in second place with a solid record of 53-31. In the playoffs the Colonels would sweep the Carolina Cougars to set up an Eastern Division Finals showdown with the New York Nets. However, the showdown would be over quickly as the Nets won the series in four straight games. Following the season Babe McCarthy would be fired, despite sharing Coach of the Year honors with Mullaney.
1974/75: Under new Coach Hubie Brown the Colonels fought the New York Nets all season for first place in the East. At the end of the regular season both teams were tied at 58-26, they would than win a one game tiebreaker 108-99 at Freedom Hall to win the Division title. In the playoffs the Colonels would have little trouble with the Memphis Sounds, winning in five games. However, the anticipated showdown with the Nets would not take place, as the defending champs were stunned by the Spirits of St. Louis. The Colonels would avoid the same fate as they cruised to a five game victory to reach the ABA Championship for another series against the Indiana Pacers. The Colonels who had lost two heartbreaking series to the Pacers in the past came out on fire, taking the first three games. After a 94-86 loss in Game 4, the Colonels came home and finally got the title that had eluded them for so long, winning 110-105 to claim the ABA Championship, as Artis Gilmore was named ABA Finals MVP. Many felt the Colonels were better than the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, leading Owner John Y. Brown to challenge the Warriors. However, their challenge went unanswered.
1975/76: As the Colonels prepared to defend their title the ABA was in deep trouble, as teams began folding due to financial troubles. The Colonels despite their success also some problems as they sold Dan Issel to the Baltimore Claws for $500,000. However, the Claws would fold as Issel went to the Denver Nuggets in the dispersal draft as the Colonels never received the money for one of their big star attractions. Hoping to get more fans and expand their fan base the Colonels played 14 games in Cincinnati at the Riverfront Coliseum. However, the league was clearly a sinking ship as two more teams folded during the season leaving the league with just seven teams. Player movement would be rapid as teams picked up players and traded players after the Utah Stars and San Diego Sails went under. One player who ended up in Kentucky was Maurice Lucas, who had average 15.3 ppg, as Bird Averitt and Artis Gilmore gave the Colonels a deep team that finished the season with a record of 46-38. In a meeting of the two ABA teams that made the playoffs in all nine seasons, the Colonels would win a best of three series against the Indiana Pacers. However, they would lose a heartbreaking seven game series to the Denver Nuggets. The 133-110 loss in Game 7 in Denver on April 28th would be the final game the Colonels ever played as they were not invited to join the NBA as the ABA folded.
After the Colonels: At the end of the regular season the Virginia Squires were forced to cease operations leaving the ABA with six teams. The NBA decided to accept four teams, as the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs lived on. Colonels Owner John Y. Brown Jr., would get a $3 million buyout to fold the team. He would take the money and buy the NBA’s Buffalo Braves. After a few seasons he would take over the Boston Celtics in a franchise swap with Irv Levin. Brown would later become Governor of Kentucky. Meanwhile, Artis Gilmore went on to have a Hall of Fame career after being taken in the ABA dispersal draft by the Chicago Bulls. In later years Louisville has been mentioned as a future home to a NBA team as both the Hornets and Grizzlies each considered Kentucky when looking for a new home. However, Louisville has yet to see a return of professional basketball.
©MMXV Tank Productions. Stats researched by Frank Fleming, all information, and team names are property of the American Basketball Association. This site is not affiliated with the Kentucky Colonels or the ABA. This site is maintained for research purposes only. All logos used on this page were from Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page.
Page created on June 28, 2012. Last updated on May 7, 2015 at 12:40 am ET.