The Kentucky Colonels
were a member of the
for all of the league's nine years. The Colonels
won the most games and had the highest winning percentage of any
franchise in the league's history, but the team did not join the
in the 1976 ABA-NBA merger
. The Colonels were
based in Freedom
Hall for their final six seasons beginning with the
1970-71 schedule, having played the previous three seasons at the
Convention Center (now known as The Gardens).
Overview and background
Louisville-based Colonels started their time in the ABA as a
colorful franchise, and not just because of their bright chartreuse
Among the things they were known for was
their "mascot" Ziggy, a prize-winning Brussels Griffon
dog that was owned by
original team owners Joe and Mamie Gregory. Some fans of the
Colonels believed Ziggy was the real owner of the club. Ziggy went
to owner's meetings and had a front row seat for games. The dog was
even part of the team's logo for their first seasons.
They were equally famous for publicity stunts, their most famous
coming in 1968 when Penny Ann Early
the first licensed female horse racing jockey
, was signed to appear in an ABA game (albeit
for a few seconds).
The team's performance on the court was understandably
overshadowed. Perhaps it was deserved, as they were mostly
an average team, but they did have a pair of good in-state talents,
Kentucky Wildcat Louie Dampier
Kentucky University star Darel
They were among the best long range shooters of
their time, and benefitted greatly from the ABA's three-point line.
Carrier spent 5 seasons with the club, while Dampier was a Colonel
for all of their years.
The early color of their franchise began to wane during the 1970-71
season, when they signed another Wildcat star in All-American Dan Issel
They also dropped the chartreuse green uniforms in favor of a Blue
and White scheme similar to that of the Wildcats. Another
abnormality to the Colonels uniform change was that the players'
last names on the back had only the first letter capitalized, as
opposed to all capital letters, which are almost universally
featured on the back of nearly every professional or collegiate
basketball uniform which names on the back of jerseys are featured.
Issel's signing helped the Colonels become well known as a
legitimate basketball team. In spite of an average record in the
regular season, they made a serious run at the 1971 ABA championship
. They fell just
short, however, and lost to the Utah
in 7 games.
They proved to be even better in 1971, with the signing of
ferocious big man Artis Gilmore
Gilmore's signing would help make the Colonels a legitimate
powerhouse for years to come. The Colonels won 68 games in his
rookie campaign under coach Joe
; their record turned out to be best in the league's
entire history. Yet, in the playoffs, they were upset by the
New York Nets
in the first round.
Kentucky recovered and made another championship run during the
, but lost a
physical series to the Indiana Pacers
in 7 games, 4 games to 3.
season, the franchise was nearly moved out-of-state to Cincinnati, but was purchased by John Y. Brown, Jr.
, a future Kentucky governor
who owned Kentucky Fried
for years. Brown helped increase interest in the team,
and looked to improve its on-court performance by hiring popular
ABA coach Babe McCarthy
. But after
they were swept in the second round of the playoffs by the Nets,
Brown gave McCarthy his walking papers.
For the 1974-75, Brown hired Hubie Brown
(no relation), a former NBA assistant coach, to give them that
championship. Unlike the past year, the Colonels would not be
denied. After a torrid finish to the regular season, which saw them
win 23 of 26 games, they ripped through the playoffs, and beat
their nemesis, the Indiana Pacers
a dominant 4 games to 1 victory to win the 1975 ABA championship
. Gilmore scored 28
points and grabbed an amazing 31 rebounds in the final game.
The celebration of the 1975 season ended when John Y. Brown, Jr.
dealt Dan Issel to the ABA's new Baltimore Claws
franchise (which folded
after a few preseason exhibition games, never taking the floor in
the regular season) for financial reasons. They acquired all-star
to replace him, but he
never gelled with the team. Jones was dealt mid-season for young
. Hubie managed to make
the team competitive, but they lost in the postseason to the
in 7 games.
Kentucky was one of the league's most talented teams, and had one
of its best fan bases, but during the ABA's talks of merging with
the NBA, the Colonels were not a favorite to change leagues. As a
result, John Y. Brown, Jr. was forced to fold the Colonels.
Colonels players were distributed to other teams in a dispersal
draft, with Artis Gilmore being drafted first by the Chicago Bulls
. Maurice Lucas went on to be an
all-star for the Portland Trail
and Louie Dampier, who ended up being the all-time
leader in points and assists, ended his career as a sixth man for
the San Antonio Spurs
went on to coach the
for five seasons after
the merger before being fired.
The Colonels won 448 games in the ABA, more than any other team or
franchise. The Colonels' overall regular season record was 448-296;
their .602 winning percentage is better than that of any ABA
franchise except for the Minnesota
who only played one season. (If the Utah Stars
' statistics are counted on their own,
excluding their seasons as the Anaheim Amigos and the Los Angeles
Stars, that team's winning percentage, .608, is slightly better
than the Colonels'.)
The Colonels' playoff record was 55-46 (.545). Only the Indiana Pacers
won more ABA playoff games
Year by year results
On March 6, 1967 the American Basketball Association awarded the
franchise that became the Kentucky Colonels to Don Regan for
$30,000. Later that year the franchise was bought by Joseph
Gregory, Mamie Gregory and William C. Boone.
John Givens was named as the first coach of the Colonels.
Colonels draft picks were used on University of Kentucky standout Louie
Dampier, who signed with the Colonels; Western Kentucky
University standout Clem Haskins,
who signed with the NBA's Chicago
Bulls; Bob Verga, who signed with
Dallas, and Randy Mahaffey, who
signed with the Colonels.
The team also signed Darel Carrier
. The Colonels' 1967-68 roster was rounded out
with Kendall Rhine, Stew Johnson, Rubin Russell, Bill Bradley,
, Bobby Rascoe, Howard Bayne,
Orbie Bowling and Tommy Woods.
Colonels played their home games at the Kentucky Fair and
Exposition Center and at the Louisville Convention Center (now Louisville Gardens).
The team only won
5 of their first 17 games, leading to Givens being fired as coach.
He was replaced by Gene Rhodes
November Stew Johnson was traded to the New Jersey Americans
for Jim Caldwell.
Darel Carrier, Randy Mahaffey and Louie Dampier played in the ABA
All Star game but the team finished with a record of 36 wins and 42
losses, tying New Jersey for fourth place in the Eastern Division.
For the season the Colonels averaged 3,225 fans per game.
The Colonels and Americans scheduled a one-game
game to determine who would get the playoff bid slated
for the Eastern Division's fourth place team. The game was
scheduled at New Jersey's Commack Arena but the facility was in
such poor condition that the game could not be played and the
Colonels won by forfeit. The Colonels then advanced to the Eastern
Division semifinals where they lost to the Minnesota Muskies
3 games to 2.
Colonels' draft picks was University of Louisville star Wes Unseld, who
opted to take a higher paying deal with the NBA's Baltimore
The Colonels also drafted Manny Leaks
and Gene Moore
, who signed with the
team. Sam Smith
was acquired from Minnesota and then Randy Mahaffey and Manny Leaks
were traded to the New York Nets
and Andy Anderson
The Colonels hosted the 1969 ABA
in Louisville. Kentucky coach Gene Rhodes was the
head coach for the East team, which lost to the West 133-127. Darel
Carrier and Louie Dampier repeated as ABA All Stars and were joined
by Kentucky's Jim "Goose" Ligon.
During this season the Colonels fielded the first ever female
professional basketball player when jockey Penny Ann Early
joined the team for pregame
warmups and appeared briefly during a game.
The Colonels finished in third place in the Eastern Division with a
42-36 record. Their average home attendance was 4,157.
In the Eastern Division semifinals the Colonels lost a tight series
to their rival the Indiana Pacers
games to 3.
The Colonels used their draft picks to select Bob Dandridge
, who joined the Milwaukee Bucks
of the NBA and Herm Gilliam
, who signed with the NBA's
Cincinnati franchise. Bud Olsen, former Kentucky Wesleyan College
, future Kentucky
Wesleyan coach Wayne Chapman
former University of Kentucky star Tommy
were added to the roster.
In April 1969 the Colonels were bought by a group of Louisville
investors that included H.
, Bill DeWitt,
J. David Grissom
, Stuart P. Jay, David A. Jones
John Y. Brown, Jr.
and Mike Storen
. Storen had previously been the
president and general manager of the Indiana Pacers. The group then
hired former University of Kentucky star Alex
as the team's business manager.
Darel Carrier and Louie Dampier again appeared in the ABA All Star
Game and were joined by Gene Moore.
The Colonels finished the season with a record of 45-39 which was
good for second place in the Eastern Division.
The Colonels defeated the New York
4 games to 3 in the Eastern Division semifinals but lost
in the Eastern Division finals to the Indiana Pacers, 4 games to
In July the Colonels traded Jim "Goose" Ligon, Gene Moore and Bud
Olsen to Dallas for Cincy Powell
also signed University of Kentucky star Dan
. Issel was given a ten year contract worth $1.4 million.
The Colonels also traded a draft pick to the New York Nets for
. Mike Pratt joined the
Colonels' roster for the season.
The Colonels began the regular season with a 10-5 record, resulting
in coach Gene Rhodes being fired. Rhodes was briefly replaced by
Alex Groza, who won both games he coached. Groza was quickly
replaced as coach by Frank
, the former star for the University of Kentucky and the
Kentucky's Dan Issel and Cincy Powell played in the ABA All-Star
Game. Issel was named Co-Rookie of the Year, along with Charlie Scott
of the Virginia Squires
The Colonels finished the regular season with a record of 44-40 and
in second place in the Eastern Division. Their average home
attendance for the season was 7,375. Beginning with this
season the Colonels moved their home games from the Louisville
Convention Center (now Louisville Gardens) to Freedom
The Colonels defeated The Floridians
4 games to 2 in the Eastern Division semifinals and defeated the
4 games to 2 in
the Eastern Division finals. Facing the Utah
in the ABA championship, the Colonels and Stars each won
three games before Utah pulled out Game 7 at home in front of an
ABA record crowd. The Colonels finished as the league's runner
The Colonels' draft picks included Artis
, John Roche
and Mike Gale
, who all signed with Kentucky, and
and Larry Steele
, who signed with the Seattle
SuperSonics and Portland Trail
of the NBA, respectively. The Colonels then sold Roche
to the New York Nets. Gilmore, like Issel, signed a contract for
ten years and $1.5 million. Joe
was named coach of the Colonels.
On September 22, 1971 the Colonels played in the second ever ABA
vs. NBA preseason exhibition game. 13,821 fans watched the Colonels defeat
the Baltimore Bullets 111-85 in
It was the ABA's first win against the NBA,
as the ABA's Dallas Chaparrals
lost to the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks
106-103 the night before in the first ever matchup between the two
On October 8, 1971 the Colonels hosted the Milwaukee Bucks and
Hall in front of over 18,000 fans. Dan Issel scored 34 points and
Artis Gilmore posted 18 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
However, Abdul-Jabbar had 30 points, 20 rebounds and 3 blocked
shots and the Bucks edged the Colonels, 99-93. The very next night
the Colonels hosted the New York Knicks in Freedom Hall. The Knicks
won, 112-100, before 12,238 fans.
The Colonels had a terrific regular season. Mullaney coached in the
ABA All Star Game, heading up the East team which won 142-115. Dan
Issel, Louie Dampier and Artis Gilmore each played in the All Star
Game for the East team; Issel was the game's Most Valuable Player.
Gilmore ended up as the league's Most Valuable Player at the end of
the season and was also the league's Rookie of the Year. Gilmore's
impressive statistics included leading the league with 3,666
minutes in play, a field goal percentage of 59.8% and an average of
17.8 rebounds per game. Gilmore and Issel were both on the All-ABA
Kentucky finished the season with the best record ever posted in
ABA play, with 68 wins and 16 losses, a winning percentage of .810.
This secured the Colonels' first ever first place finish in the
Eastern Division. The Colonels' average home attendance was
Kentucky's remarkable season came to a surprising end when the
Colonels lost in the Eastern Division semifinals to the New York
Nets, 4 games to 2.
Prior to the season the Colonels traded Cincy Powell to the Utah
Stars for a draft pick and cash, and bought Rick Mount
from the Indiana Pacers for $250,000.
joined the Colonels'
roster for the season.
preseason play, on September 23, 1972 the Colonels hosted the NBA's
Atlanta Hawks for an exhibition game
Kentucky. Julius Erving
played for the Hawks, posting 28 points and 18 rebounds in 42
minutes. The Hawks prevailed, 112-99. On September 30, 1972
the Colonels traveled to Phoenix, Arizona for an exhibition game against the Phoenix Suns.
The Colonels won, 120-118.
On October 1, 1972 the Milwaukee Bucks returned to Freedom Hall.
Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar each scored 20 points as
the Bucks beat the Colonels 131-100. On October 6, 1972 the Phoenix
Suns played the Colonels at Freedom Hall. The Suns won, 103-91. The
next night the Colonels lost a close game to the Baltimore Bullets,
Louie Dampier, Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore returned to the ABA
All-Star Game. Gilmore was again First Team All-ABA and posted a
55.9% field goal percentage and averaged 17.6 rebounds per game.
Issel led the league in minutes played with 3,531.
The Colonels finished in second place in the Eastern Division with
a record of 56 wins and 28 losses. Their average home attendance
The Colonels beat the Virginia Squires 4 games to 1 in the Eastern
Division Semifinals and beat the Carolina Cougars
4 games to 3 in the
Eastern Division finals. The Colonels then lost a very close ABA
Championship Series to the Indiana Pacers, 4 games to 3.
Prior to the Colonels' 1973-74
the Colonels drafted M.L.
; Carr stayed in college and Behagen signed with the
NBA's Kansas City-Omaha
. The Colonels also selected Ernie DiGregorio
in a special circumstance
draft but he signed with the NBA's Buffalo Braves
In July 1973 the franchise was bought by a group headed by John Y. Brown, Jr.
and his wife Ellie Brown.
Ellie Brown was later named Chairman of the Board of the team; the
board itself was made up of ten women. Legendary former University
of Kentucky head coach Adolph Rupp
named as Vice President of the Board. Mike Storen left the team; he
later surfaced with the ABA's Memphis franchise. Former head coach
Gene Rhodes became general manager of the team.
Head coach Joe Mullaney departed to become head coach of the Utah
Stars. Mullaney was succeeded by Babe
In preseason play against the NBA the Colonels defeated the Houston
Rockets 110-102 at Freedom Hall on September 21, 1973 and defeated
the Kansas City-Omaha Kings 110-99 the following night.
In January 1974 the Colonels traded Jim O'Brien
and a first
round draft pick to the San
for Red Robbins
and Chuck Williams
same month Kentucky dealt Rick Mount to the Utah Stars for a draft
pick and cash, and then sent Mike Gale and Wendell Ladner
to the New York Nets for
former Colonel John Roche.
Louie Dampier, Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore again played in the ABA
All-Star Game, and Babe McCarthy coached the East team. Gilmore was
again named the game's Most Valuable Player. Gilmore again posted
remarkable statistics including 3,502 minutes played (tops in the
league) and 18.3 rebounds per game (Gilmore grabbed 40 rebounds in
one game against the New York Nets that season). Louie Dampier
posted a league high 38.7% percentage in three point shots. Babe
McCarthy and his Colonels predecessor Joe Mullaney were named ABA
Co-Coaches of the Year.
The Colonels posted a regular season record of 53 wins and 31
losses, clinching second place in the Eastern Division. Kentucky's
average home attendance for the season was 8,201.
In the playoffs Kentucky defeated the Carolina Cougars
4 games to none in the
Eastern Division semifinals but then lost the Eastern Division
finals to the New York Nets 4 games to none. Despite being named
ABA Coach of the Year, Babe McCarthy was fired at the end of the
The Colonels took Jim Price, Greg Smith, Rowland Garrett, Herm
Gilliam and Larry Steele in a draft of NBA players, bought Ted McClain
from the Carolina Cougars, signed
, and traded a draft pick and
cash to the San Antonio Spurs
. The Colonels also sent
to the Denver Nuggets
in exchange for Marv Roberts
and sent Red Robbins to the
Virginia Squires for cash. John Roche was sold to the Utah Stars in
the midst of the season. Gene Littles was added to the Colonels
roster for the season.
was named the new head coach
of the Colonels.
preseason play against the NBA the Colonels lost a game in Lincoln,
Nebraska to the Kansas City-Omaha Kings 102-91 on September
29, 1974; beat the Washington Bullets 118-95 at Freedom Hall on
October 1, 1974; lost by one point on the road to the Houston
Rockets on October 5, 1974, 96-95; beat the Detroit Pistons 109-100 at Freedom Hall on
October 8, 1974 and on October 12, 1974 defeated the Chicago Bulls
at Freedom Hall 93-75.
Louie Dampier, Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore again played in the ABA
All Star Game. Gilmore again was First Team All ABA and led the
league with 3,493 minutes played.
The Colonels claimed first place in the Eastern Division with a
record of 58 wins and 26 losses, but tied with the New York Nets
for the division crown. The Colonels' average home attendance was
The Colonels began the playoffs with a one game matchup against the
New York Nets to determine who would be first place in the Eastern
Division. The Colonels won that game in Louisville 108-99. The
Colonels then defeated the Memphis
4 games to 1 in the Eastern Division semifinals and
defeated the Spirits of St.
4 games to 1 in the Eastern Division finals. The Colonels
met their rivals the Indiana Pacers for the ABA Championship and
the Colonels prevailed, 4 games to 1, winning their first ABA
Prior to the season the Colonels and the ABA's commissioner,
, challenged the
NBA to have its champion, the Golden State Warriors
, face the
Colonels in a championship series, the winner of which would get $1
million. The NBA declined. Interest in ABA vs. NBA play extended
beyond the two leagues' management. In 1976, CBS
sought to establish a postseason playoff between the ABA and NBA,
and to win the rights to broadcast those games.
To the dismay of Colonels fans and players, owner John Y. Brown,
Jr. dealt star Dan Issel to the Baltimore Claws
prior to the season for
$500,000; the cash was not forthcoming from the struggling
Baltimore franchise and Issel ended up with the Denver Nuggets
shortly before the Claws were shut down by the league.
Gene Rhodes was named vice president of operations and David Vance
was named general manager for the team.
preseason play the Colonels defeated the Chicago Bulls 95-86 in
Cincinnati, Ohio on October 1, 1975; lost to the New York Knicks in
Maryland at the Capital Centre 107-102 on October 4, 1975; defeated the Detroit
Pistons 114-113 on October 5, 1975 in Cincinnati; defeated the
Milwaukee Bucks 96-91 in Freedom Hall on October 10, 1975; lost an
overtime game to the Detroit Pistons in Detroit on October 12,
1975, 115-107; defeated the Buffalo Braves 120-116 in Freedom Hall
on October 14, 1975; defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 112-110 in Cincinnati,
Ohio on October 17, 1975; and won another ABA vs. NBA exhibition on
October 19, 1975 with a 121-111 victory over the Washington Bullets
in Lexington, Kentucky.
The game against the Bullets was the
penultimate ABA vs. NBA contest; two nights later in the final ABA
vs. NBA matchup the Utah Stars defeated the Milwaukee Bucks
One other Colonels preseason game deserves special mention. The
prior year, the NBA declined the ABA champion Colonels' challenge
against the NBA champion Golden State Warriors for a $1 million
payout. However, the two teams did meet on October 8, 1975 at
Freedom Hall. The Colonels won the matchup of the league champions,
The Colonels finished the 1975-76 preseason with a record of 7 wins
and 2 losses against NBA teams. The Colonels, like the ABA as a
whole, had a winning overall record against the NBA over the course
of their existence.
Shortly after the regular season began the San Diego Sails
folded and the Colonels
picked up Caldwell Jones
roster. Kentucky then traded Jones to the Spirits of St. Louis for
. The Colonels also
traded Marv Roberts to the Virginia Squires during the season in
exchange for Johnny Neumann
Jan van Breda Kolff
move in the middle of the season sent Ted
to the New York Nets in exchange for $150,000. Allen
Murphy, Jimmy Dan Connor, Johnny
, Jimmy Baker, Kevin Joyce and Jim McDaniels
joined the Colonels' roster for
the 1975-76 season.
Artis Gilmore returned to the ABA All-Star Game and once again was
named First Team All ABA. Dampier, after eight straight appearances
in that game, was not chosen.
The Colonels finished in fourth place in the Eastern Division with
a record of 46 wins and 38 losses. Their average home attendance
The Colonels defeated their rivals, the Indiana Pacers, 2 games to
1 in the first round of the playoffs. In the league semifinals, the
Colonels and the Denver Nuggets each won three games apiece before
Denver claimed Game 7 133-110 at Denver on April 28, 1976. It was
the Kentucky Colonels' final game.
The ABA had entered the 1975-1976 preseason with ten teams. After
three preseason games, the Baltimore
were shut down by the league due to financial problems
and unpaid bills. The San Diego
and the Utah Stars
shortly after the season began, the Sails after eleven games and
the Stars after 16. The ABA was reduced to seven teams for the
remainder of the season. Shortly after the regular season ended,
the Virginia Squires were forced to fold because they could not
meet a league-mandated financial assessment. The six remaining ABA
teams began negotiations for the eventual ABA-NBA merger
In the end, the NBA agreed to take in four teams—but the Colonels
weren't among them. Although it has never been confirmed, it is
likely that the NBA selected the Pacers over the Colonels because
Indianapolis was a more lucrative market.
Colonels were on far stronger financial footing than the
On July 17, 1976 the Kentucky Colonels ceased to exist as John Y.
Brown, Jr. agreed to fold the Colonels in exchange for $3 million.
Brown used the money to purchase the Buffalo Braves
of the NBA.
The Colonels players were put into a dispersal draft. The Chicago Bulls
took Artis Gilmore for $1.1
million. The Portland Trail
took Maurice Lucas for $300,000. The Buffalo Braves
took Bird Averitt for $125,000. The Indiana Pacers took Wil Jones
for $50,000. The New York Nets took Jan Van Breda Kolff for
$60,000. The San Antonio Spurs took Louie Dampier for
In contrast to Brown receiving $3 million in cash for the Colonels,
the Spirits of St. Louis' owners received $2.2 million in cash
along with a 1/7 share of each of the four remaining teams'
television income in perpetuity. That deal has been estimated to
have generated over $250 million in the years since.
Unsuccessful efforts were made to bring the NBA's relocating
and Vancouver Grizzlies
to Louisville, along
with the Houston Rockets
at a time
that they were demanding a new arena. However, professional
basketball has not returned to Louisville since the demise of the
Colonels except in minor leagues such as the Louisville Catbirds
of the Continental Basketball
, the Louisville
of the Global
and the Kentucky Colonels
New ABA, New Kentucky Colonels
In 2004, the ABA
brought Louisville a new team with the same name, the
||Won 1968 Eastern Division
Lost 1968 Eastern Division
|Kentucky Colonels 1, New Jersey
Minnesota Muskies 3, Kentucky
||Lost 1969 Eastern Division
||Indiana Pacers 4, Kentucky
||Won 1970 Eastern Division
Lost 1970 Eastern Division
|Kentucky Colonels 4, New York Nets
Indiana Pacers 4, Kentucky Colonels
||Won 1971 Eastern Division
Won 1971 Eastern Division
Lost 1971 Eastern ABA Finals
|Kentucky Colonels 4, The
Kentucky Colonels 4, Virginia
Utah Stars 4, Kentucky Colonels 3
||Lost 1972 Eastern Division
||New York Nets 4, Kentucky Colonels
||Won 1973 Eastern Division
Won 1973 Eastern Division
Lost ABA Finals
|Kentucky Colonels 4, Virginia
Kentucky Colonels 4, Carolina
Indiana Pacers 4, Kentucky Colonels
||Won 1974 Eastern Division
Lost 1974 Eastern Division
|Kentucky Colonels 4, Carolina
New York Nets 4, Kentucky Colonels
||Won 1975 Eastern Division First
Won 1975 Eastern Division
Won 1975 Eastern Division
Won 1975 ABA
|Kentucky Colonels 1, New York Nets
Kentucky Colonels 4, Memphis Sounds
Kentucky Colonels 4, Spirits of St.
Kentucky Colonels 4, Indiana Pacers
||Won 1976 First Round
Lost 1976 ABA
|Kentucky Colonels 2, Indiana
Denver Nuggets 4, Kentucky Colonels