Today’s Pro Basketball Stathead email mentioned that today is the 78th birthday of Indiana Pacers legend Freddie Lewis, so I clicked into the basketball-reference website to scan through Lewis’s stats.
My day goes like that once in a while when I have some free time. The sports reference sites are endlessly entertaining and provide an infinite amount of interesting facts to consume about professional and college sports history.
What caught my eye today was Lewis’s presence on a fascinating ABA team. It wasn’t the three championship teams of the ABA Pacers for whom he played, but the 1975-1976 Spirits of St. Louis – a group that finished 35-49 and did not qualify for the playoffs.
This was the final season for the Spirits and the ABA, and St. Louis fans cheered for a team that featured a fascinating array of familiar names:
- Rod Thorn was the Spirits coach for the first 47 games of the season. You might remember his as the general manager of the Chicago Bulls when they drafted Michael Jordan. Thorn also served as the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations under David Stern. He likely had more fun than any basketball executive in history as the chairman of USA Basketball’s Men’s National Team Selection Committee in 1992 – the group that assembled the first and only true Dream Team.
- Marvin Barnes was a very talented basketball player out of Providence, but more famous as the principle figure in a story Bob Costas has told 47,389 times. The Spirit were at Standiford Field in Louisville about to board a commercial jet to St. Louis after a game against the Kentucky Colonels. Barnes told Costas, who was a team broadcaster at the time, “I’m driving back to St. Louis!” Costas asked why he wouldn’t fly. Barnes pointed to the sign at the gate that said the flight would land five minutes before it departed. This was due to St. Louis being in the Central Time Zone while Louisville was in the Eastern Time Zone. He told Costas, “I ain’t getting in no time machine!”
- Steve Green was a rookie after graduating from Indiana University where he played for Bob Knight‘s first four teams. He is Indianapolis’s most famous dentist and an IU Basketball booster.
- Mike D’Antoni was a Spirit guard who averaged 3.5 points per game in the 1975-1976 season before becoming one of the most respected coaches in basketball and a recent candidate for the Pacers gig after the firing of Nate Bjorkgren.
- Moses Malone was a second-year player who bounced to the ABA straight out of high school. Not quite the dominating Hall of Famer who played in 12 straight NBA All-Star Games, Malone averaged 14.3 points and 9.6 points per game as a 20-year-old for the Spirits before blossoming with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers.
- Maurice Lucas became The Enforcer for the Portland Trailblazers after he spent the first 28 games of the 1975-1976 season as a Spirit. He famously said about Portland teammate Bill Walton, “Bill’s a gorilla until the fight starts. Then he goes in hiding while I straighten things out,” Lucas’s #20 has long been retired by the Blazers.
- Caldwell Jones was a stalwart for the Philadelphia 76ers and four other NBA teams until 1990 after the ABA folded.
Nothing like 20 minutes spent clicking through Freddy Lewis’s bio page to kill 20 minutes on a rainy Thursday morning while we wait for Colts Camp, the NBA Finals, and Big 10 Football!
Hard to believe the Spirits lost so many games with this well-known group. It’s also hard to imagine what I might learn if the rain doesn’t stop as the clicking may never end.