Spirits of St. Louis

Spirits of St. Louis
Spirits of St. Louis logo
ConferenceEastern Conference
DivisionEast Division
Founded1967
HistoryHouston Mavericks
1967–1969
Carolina Cougars
1969–1974
Spirits of St. Louis
1974–1976
Utah Rockies
(proposed)
ArenaSt. Louis Arena
LocationSt. Louis, Missouri
Team colorsBurnt orange, silver, black, white
                   
Team managerHarry Weltman
Head coachBob MacKinnon
(1974–1975)
Rod Thorn
(1975)
Joe Mullaney
(1976)
OwnershipOzzie and Daniel Silna
ChampionshipsNone

The Spirits of St. Louis were one of two teams still in existence at the end of the American Basketball Association (ABA) that did not survive the ABA–NBA merger. They were a member of the ABA in its last two seasons, 1974–75 and 1975–76, while playing their home games at the St. Louis Arena.

History

The Spirits (who took their name from the Atlantic Ocean-crossing plane flown by Charles Lindbergh) were the third incarnation of a franchise that began as the Houston Mavericks and later the Carolina Cougars. However, only a few players from the 1973–74 Cougars followed the team to St. Louis, so the Spirits were essentially an expansion team.

The Spirits were a colorful team featuring a number of players, both on and off the court, who were fairly successful in their basketball careers. Among them were Moses Malone, acquired during their second and final season, who went on to a long and successful career in the NBA, culminating in enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Maurice Lucas spent most of his time in the ABA as a Spirit, then later became an all-star in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers. Other well-known players that played for the team included former Boston Celtics sixth man Don Chaney, future Celtics head coach M.L. Carr, and Ron Boone, who held the record for consecutive games played in pro basketball for many years. One of the most colorful players on the team was forward Marvin Barnes, famous for stories about his off-court behavior and lack of understanding of time zones.

A couple of off-court personalities from the team became well known as well. One of the coaches in 1975 was former NBA player Rod Thorn, who became the NBA's vice president of basketball operations (in essence, the league's chief disciplinarian and the number-two man behind commissioner David Stern) for a number of years. On radio, the team featured Bob Costas as its play-by-play announcer on KMOX. Costas would go on to a highly successful career working for NBC television and radio.

After a slow start in their inaugural season, 1974–75, the Spirits reached the playoffs with a late rush, then upset the defending ABA champion New York Nets in the first round of the playoffs. But the team squandered this good start the following year. Despite inheriting several players (including Malone) from the Utah Stars after that franchise failed in the middle of the season, the Spirits finished well out of playoff contention in 1975–76. Attendance in St. Louis fell through the floor; they were lucky to draw crowds of more than 1,000 people in an 18,000-seat arena, and frequently drew "crowds" in the hundreds. At season's end, negotiations were under way to move the franchise to Salt Lake City, Utah as the Utah Rockies.