The American Basketball Association had franchises for two seasons at Met Center. They were extremely interesting, although not to the sporting public, which embraced the arrival of the NHL with the North Stars and ignored the fledgling basketball league.
The ABA started as a rival to the NBA in the fall of 1967, at the same time the NHL was doubling in size with a six-team expansion to Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
The first ABA team was the Muskies. They went 50-28, finished second in the East, won a best-of-5 playoff series against the Kentucky Colonels, and then lost 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Pipers in the semifinals. The official average attendance in the regular season was 2,473, and that was exaggerated.
How do I know this? Well, I’m a sighted individual, and also my friend Bob Fowler was the public relations director. He told me of the night that he handed a sheet of paper with an attendance figure in the hundreds to General Manager Eddie Holman.
Eddie, a former cabdriver, studied it for a minute, put a 2 with a comma in front of the number and said, “Announce this.’’
The Muskies were sold at season’s end and went to Miami. They were named the Floridians. Most everyone thought that was it for the ABA in Bloomington, but then it was announced that the champion Pipers would be moving to Minnesota for the 1968-69 season.
The Pipers had the great Connie Hawkins, the irrepressible Artie Heyman, and the veteran backcourt of Chico Vaughn and Charlie Williams. They all had big personalities and not a great appreciation for discipline.
Vince Cazzetta had resigned as the Pipers coach because he didn’t want to move to Minnesota. The hard-nosed Jim Harding was hired to coach the Minnesota Pipers. By all accounts, he liked to drink, and could be quick to anger when doing so.
Evidence of this occurred at the All-Star Game, when Harding got into an argument with Pipers owner Gabe Rubin and punched him. Harding coached 33 games for the Pipers, Vern Mikkelsen stepped in from the front office for 12 games, and finally, Gus Young was transferred from team promotions to serve as coach.
Gus had been a successful coach at Gustavus Adolphus, but this was a bit more of a challenge when it came to personalities. The Pipers were plagued by both injuries and indifference, and went 10-23 with Young as coach.
The Pipers squezed into the playoffs as a No. 4 seed and then lost a seven-game series to the Floridians. Rubin quickly moved the franchise back to Pittsburgh at the end of the season.
Late in the schedule, the chaos on the Met Center court and sideline was obvious. After another loss, a couple of local sportswriters headed for the home locker room. Gus Young came out, answered a few questions, and then the reporters made a move to enter the locker room.
Showing spryness, Gus darted in front of the door, stretched out his arms and said loudly: “You can’t go in there. We have dissension in there.’’
And more than four decades later, Rick Adelman, an NBA coach of long-standing and excellent reputation, appears to have the same problem in the locker room of his floundering collection of underachievers at Target Center.
The Timberwolves have dissension in there, with Kevin Love in the role of Artie Heyman and J.J. Barea as ... let's say Chico Vaughn. On the court, there’s also Ricky Rubio in the role of Charlie Williams, a point guard shooting 37 percent.
OK, Ricky’s not quite there, but maybe he’ll make a couple of layups on Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Yup. The 2013-14 Timberwolves might remind many of those cohesive units that featured J.R. Rider and Christian Laettner.
Not here. They remind me of the Minnesota Pipers, coached by a guy who punched his owner, and then by a nice older gent from the promotions department.