ONE-YEAR WONDERS : The Anaheim Amigos Expired Before Most People Knew They Existed
Twenty years ago, the Anaheim Amigos ceased to exist. As deaths go, this one was painless. No one cried for the Amigos.
Not the public. The Amigos didn’t have a public. Not the folks who owned the Amigos’ home arena. The Amigos didn’t really have a home arena; just a hall where they squeezed in home games between RV shows and electronics conventions.
The players? They were just happy whenever they got paid. The owner was busy managing another basketball team before the ink was dry on the check that bought and killed his Amigos.
After one season--78 games--in a fledgling organization known as the American Basketball Assn., the Amigos were gone. All that’s left are the memories, and there are very few of those.
The Amigos seemed to be a good idea at the time. But looking back, well, the sentiment is best summed up by former owner Art Kim, who, when informed that a story was in the works about his old team, cut to the marrow of the matter.
The Anaheim Amigos, a team for the ages. The ages seem to be the only region where they’re welcomed.
There are people who actually saw the Amigos play basketball at the Anaheim Convention Center. There aren’t many; the team averaged about 500 a game in its one season, although it regularly announced its attendance at more than 1,000.
“That was including about 500 people dressed as seats,” said Larry Robinson, the convention center ticket office manager.
Robinson attended every game at the Convention Center--it was his job--but when asked for his most vivid memory of the team, his only recollection was of watching the smoke from a fire burning in Corona during a game.
“It really doesn’t have anything to do with the team,” he said. “But it’s the only thing I remember that’s even remotely related to them.”
Tom Liegler, who was the general manager of Anaheim Stadium and Convention Center at the time, also saw a lot of games.
“Oh, I think they were a very interesting team to watch,” he said. “I used to see as many games as I could. I really enjoyed them.”
Liegler said he even had a favorite player, though he can’t remember the player’s name or the position he played.
From all accounts, this was a running team. A running team that couldn’t rebound, which accounts for its 25-53 record during the 1967-68 season, the ABA’s first.
Kim’s basketball experience extended back to World War II, when he ran leagues for servicemen stationed in Hawaii. He had latched on with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1946, organizing games and running the hapless teams (Hawaiian Surfriders, New York Nationals, Washington Generals) that regularly lost to the Trotters in the most demeaning ways.
A basketball on a rubber band! Who would have thought that would happen . . . . . again.
Kim became owner of the Hawaii Chiefs of the American Basketball League in 1961 . The team moved to Long Beach in 1962, and it began the season at 10-0, but the league went belly-up.
Kim jumped back with the Globe trotters until he was contacted by ABA officials, who, he said, offered him the pick of any franchise because “I was the only prospective owner who was connected with basketball.” He points out that Pat Boone owned the Oakland Oaks.
He chose the Anaheim franchise because “Orange County was really coming of age.” Enthusiastic about the support the California Angels were given by the county, Kim quickly cut a radio deal with KEZY and an 11-game television deal with KTTV.
The Convention Center, which had opened in July, 1967, had a seating capacity of only 7,000, but it was far from small by ABA standards. Five teams had smaller arenas; the New Jersey Americans played in the 5,500-seat Teaneck Armory.
The problem with the Convention Center was that it had none. The Amigos needed the Convention Center far more than the Convention Center needed the Amigos. Located across the street from Disneyland in a town full of hotels and open arms for the American businessman, it was an immediate smash.
According to Ed Stotereau, the Convention Center’s manager at the time, the building was enlarged by 120,000 square feet from the original 400,000 just a few years after it opened to keep up with the demand.
“We were doing very well,” he said.
So well that when the Amigos asked for more than 30 guaranteed home dates in the months of January and February, they were given just three.
“They were a tenant and we worked closely with them,” Liegler said. “But, as a local team, they just weren’t faring well in drawing people. We had to follow those things that did well--conventions, trade shows--and give them (the Amigos) the dates left over.”
The final indignity came when the Amigos’ final home game was moved from Friday to Sunday to make way for a closed-circuit telecast of the NCAA semifinal game between UCLA and Houston.
“We never got the support I thought we would,” Kim said. “I thought they would welcome us like the Angels. They didn’t.”
The Times’ Dave Distel, who covered some Amigo game for The Orange County Register, observes: “The Clippers have been treated like kings, compared to the Amigos.”
Bill Crow and Paul Scranton played for the Amigos. After very respectable college careers, each did time in basketball’s netherworld. Scranton, who had been a small-college All-American at Cal Poly Pomona, played a few years in the Eastern League, a collection of farm teams that fed players to the NBA. He was even called up for a couple of stints with the Boston Celtics.
Crow, who played at Brigham Young and Westminster College (Utah), was a member of Kim’s traveling band of dupes for the Globetrotters.
Scranton and Crow jumped at the chance the ABA’s 11 teams offered. They weren’t the only ones.
“There were hundreds of guys coming out for tryouts,” Scranton said. “It was a last chance for a lot of them.”
Being a basketball player in the late ‘60s meant being the raw material for a sport that was less than a growth industry. The NBA had only 12 teams. There was no Continental Basketball Assn. or United States Basketball League. Playing in Europe wasn’t common.
“Not if you wanted to play and eat,” Crow said.
In the ABA’s first game program, the league proclaimed itself “the vibrant new professional basketball league that suddenly has blossomed on the vast American sports scene.”
Players such as playground legend Connie Hawkins (Pittsburgh Pipers) and University of Kentucky and St. Louis Hawk great Cliff Hagan (player-coach, Dallas Chaparrals) joined on. But for every one of them, there were a half-dozen Frank Stronczeks or DeWitt Menyards.
Who were they?
Still, it was an opportunity, and, as Scranton said, “things looked great on paper.”
Things seemed a lot less great a few days later, when the laundry man made a mistake in the chemicals with which he treated the uniforms and “gave the entire team jock itch,” Scranton said.
Things got worse when the players themselves were made responsible for washing them.
“I hadn’t done that since high school,” Crow said.
Kim had hired Al Brightman, who had coached the Long Beach Chiefs, as coach. Brightman had played with the Celtics in the late ‘40s and had recruited and coached Elgin Baylor for one season (1958-59) at Seattle University.
But Brightman wouldn’t make it through the season. He was fired when the losses kept mounting and was replaced by Harry Dinnel, who had been cut from the team as a player.
What hurt Brightman as a coach was the fact that he had a running team that couldn’t get its hands on the ball. Larry Bunce, a 7-footer from Riverside College, was described by Brightman as having all the tools to be “the next real great superstar of professional basketball.”
What he turned out to be was “ the biggest disappointment we had,” Kim said.
“Larry was all right,” Scranton said. “But he had to play at his own pace.”
Brightman considered Scranton (6-feet 5-inches) to be a smaller version of Baylor. He did lead the team in scoring and rebounding during the preseason, but he never played in a regular-season game because of an ankle injury. He ended up having to sue the team for more than $6,000 in wages.
Crow hung around on the scout team for half the season, then got his big break in a game against New Jersey. He went 1 for 9 from the floor, making an 18-foot jump shot.
The next day, he was in the starting lineup at practice. A few days later he was cut, though he didn’t know it.
Sitting on the bench before the Amigos’ next home game, with a few of his friends just a few rows behind, Crow was approached by Lauren Proctor, Kim’s administrative assistant.
“He walked by and did a double take,” Crow said. “Then he points his finger at me and yells, ‘Crow, what are you doing in that uniform? We cut you a couple of days ago.’
“I felt about 3 inches tall. My friends were right there. I asked Lauren if I could sit on the bench until halftime and then I could figure out an excuse to tell my friends. I turned in my uniform, and that was it.
“I really don’t have any great memories of the team. It was hard to get close to anyone because there were so many players coming and going. There were more players coming through the turnstile than fans.”
So what went wrong?
Some blame Kim’s frugal ways, others say the team was bad, and others think Orange County wasn’t ready for professional basketball.
Art Kim admits he was tight with a dollar. He calls himself a tough but fair negotiator. Crow called him something else when he said he never got paid.
Scranton did, but he had to go to court to get it.
The Amigos lost well over $500,000 that season. But losses are to be expected in any new venture. Kim tried promotions to get people into the Convention Center--high school bands before the game, combined dinner-game tickets--but says he never really liked having to drum up support.
“The team never really did anything to promote itself,” said Robinson. “They just kind of showed up and said, ‘Here we are. Come watch us play.’ You can’t do that in this market. Not when you’re playing across the street from Disneyland. But I never felt like the owner wanted to put out the money he needed to properly promote the team.”
Kim said: “I didn’t like having to go after publicity or trying to make promotions. I thought if you put a good team on the floor, people would come and watch.”
Proctor, who lives in Long Beach, blames the Amigos’ failure on “Orange County farmers who knew nothing about professional sports.”
High school basketball was outdrawing the Amigos by a large margin, so much so that Proctor tried in vain to have Kim book a high school game before an Amigo game.
“He couldn’t understand how someone would prefer to see kids play when they could see professionals,” Proctor said. “I told him it was the way this county was, but he didn’t understand.”
The Amigos didn’t even draw crowds when teams with big-name players came to town.
“The fans (in Orange County) didn’t know who the visitors were, either,” Distel said.
Scranton said: “The people in Orange County didn’t know what a Connie Hawkins was.”
Kim sold the team to Jim Kirst and went back with the Globetrotters. Kim said he sold the team with the understanding that it would remain in Orange County.
“There were so many possibilities in the area, if they just would have been willing to stick it out for one more season,” he said.
But Kirst moved the team to the Los Angeles Sports Arena, which recently had been vacated by the Lakers.
“The Lakers are now the Inglewood Lakers,” said Gilbert Lindsay, then the president of the Coliseum Commission. “Los Angeles now has a team of its own. The Los Angeles Stars.”
Kirst changed the team name and fired everyone, including the players.
“He wanted no trace of the Amigos on his team,” Crow said. “The Amigos had done so poorly, he didn’t want anything to do with them.”
Crow said he tried out for the team and the new coach, Bill Sharman, but was told that his chances of making the team weren’t good because he had played with the Amigos.
Jim Hardy, the Stars’ general manager, put it succinctly.
“This is a brand-new franchise. We will have new players, new uniforms, new management, as well as a new home. The Amigos have been buried, and we burned their uniforms after the final game.”
The Stars did have success. They reached the ABA final once and then moved on to Utah.
The Amigos went their separate ways.
Kim is 75 and lives in La Verne. Scranton lives in Monrovia and has been a teacher for 15 years. Crow started a rental business in El Toro and did so well that, at 47, he was able to retire. He recently moved from El Toro to Provo, Utah.
They say they rarely hear anything about the team or from the people involved with it.
“We kind of faded and disappeared,” Scranton said.
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