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Kansas City Professional Basketball
                  History
Excerpts from History Paper by Matt Fearing

Kansas City’s Bouncing Ball:
Professional Basketball in Kansas City
 

Matthew A. Fearing

December 9, 2002
 

    While Kansas City has not been able to sustain a professional basketball team for much more than a decade at a time, it has certainly managed to draw a variety of professional “roundball” teams for the city’s enjoyment over the years.  From the Stars, one of Abe Saperstein’s developmental teams for his Harlem Globetrotters in the 1940s and 1950s, to the current K.C. Knights, a team looking for affiliation after winning what was the newest addition of the ABA in 2002, Kansas City has put in a local entry for many professional basketball leagues that have appeared since the creation of basketball by Dr. James Naismith in 1891.
     There are some professional teams that are not covered by this work.  Some, like the Phillip 66 team, were not truly professional teams but were rather company traveling teams that played exhibition games against college teams and other company teams.  Kansas City has also hosted at least three women’s professional teams; the Kansas City Mustangs of the WBA in 1994-1995, the Kansas City Lightning of the WBA in 1997, and the Kansas City Legacy of the NWBL in 2001-2002.   These are important professional basketball teams, but are not included in this research.   A paper or article on professional basketball in Kansas City would be remiss if it didn’t at least mention those teams.  Their history, although shorter, is equally interesting.
     The Kansas City Stars, one of the earliest professional teams in Kansas City, were in existence since at least 1945.  A Langston University squad with Marques Haynes on the team defeated the Stars in that year.   In 1946, Haynes joined the Stars, playing with the Kansas City team for a short time before being promoted to the Harlem Globetrotters in January of 1947.   Haynes indicated in an interview about his role with the Globetrotters that it seemed odd that his first Globetrotter moment involved playing with them just a few nights after losing to them while a member of the Stars.
    A 1946 Stars team photo interestingly shows an integrated team with five black players, one white player, and a white coach posing with Jessie Owens.  The caption written on the photo indicates the photo was taken in, or at least against, a team from Mexico in December 1946.   Unfortunately, the players are not listed from the photograph.  Given the state of U.S. racial relations in the mid-1940s, it seems most probable that it was taken during play outside the United States.
    The Kansas City Stars were still in existence in 1953 as Meadowlark Lemon, having signed a contract with the Globetrotters, played his first season that year as a member of the Stars.   Further research is needed to trace when the Stars actually faded from existence, but it seems likely that the team folded prior to the mid-1960s as the Globetrotters became more of an entertainment team than a truly competitive team.  Other Kansas City teams were playing in the city during the Stars existence.
In 1947, the short-lived Professional Basketball League of America (PBLA) was formed as Maurice White took his Chicago Gears, the 1946 NBL champions, and attempted to put together a new league with sixteen teams.  Included in the new league were franchises located in St. Joseph and Kansas City, both part of the league’s Northern Division.   League play began in October 1947 with an ambitious 60 game schedule for each team.  The league folded November 13, 1947.  A league meeting four days later set up two weeks of exhibition games for the Kansas City franchise and five other teams in an attempt to keep the league going, but it finally folded after playing its last games on November 27, 1947.   Kansas City’s season in the league is well recorded.
    The Blues, Kansas City’s PBLA team, played their first game in Wichita, Kansas on October 28 against the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Division.  The Blues lost the opener 38-48.  Former Pepperdine University player Bob O’Brien led the Blues losing effort with nine points.  They played their home opener on Halloween of 1947, hosting the Tulsa Ranchers.  The result wasn’t much different.  The Blues lost 38-46 with former Marshall College player Al Mazza leading the team with 13 points.  Tulsa finished the abbreviated season with a 7-3 record and Atlanta finished with a 7-1 record placing both of those teams near the top of the league.
    On November 3, 1947 the St. Joseph Outlaws hosted the Blues and won their only game of their season 42-34.  Kansas City’s top scorer in the loss was Bob Nodler with 11 points. A small crowd of 300 attended the contest.  The Outlaws eventually ended with a 1-6 league record.  Kansas City’s only win of the season came at home against the St. Paul Saints on November 7.  Mazza and Hal Johnson, who played college basketball at Kansas Wesleyan, each scored ten points in the 52-47 victory.  St. Paul finished with a respectable 6-3 record.
    On November 10, 1947 the Blues came up on the short end at home against the Grand Rapids Rangers, 58-62.  O’Brien and Nodler each scored 15 points for Kansas City while Mazza added ten points.  That game was followed by a final loss to the Birmingham Skyhawks on November 12.  Kansas City fell in overtime, 55-59 to the host Skyhawks.  O’Brien provided the Blues’ highest individual scoring output with 18 points in that outing.  Grand Rapids completed league play with a 3-3 record and Birmingham finished at 5-2.
    During their short season, Chuck Hyatt coached the Blues and Dr. Joseph A. Reilly served as the team’s general manager.  Along with O’Brien, Mazza, Nodler, and Johnson, Hal Brown from Evansville College, Herb Gregg from Missouri, John Simmons from NYU, Bill Hall from Washington & Jefferson, Joe Patanelli, Del Loranger from Western Michigan, and Keith Thomas from Kansas State were on the roster.  O’Brien led the team with a 9.8 scoring average.  The team only averaged 45.8 points per game while giving up 50.7.  Municipal Auditorium served as the Blues’home court.
While there appears to have been another Kansas City basketball team in operation during the 1947-1948 season called the Hi-Spots, little is available about the team other than they played in the ABC league.   The Hi-Spots reappeared for the 1950-1951 season of the National Professional Basketball League (NPBL).  Unfortunately, the Hi-Spots disbanded during the season, as did teams from Louisville, Grand Rapids, and St. Paul.  By the time they folded, the Hi-Spots had compiled a last place, 4-19 record with one win over the eventual Western Division champion Waterloo Hawks and three wins against the Eastern Division’s worst team, the Grand Rapid Hornets.  Other teams in the league included the Eastern Division winning Sheboygan Redskins, the Anderson Packers, the Louisville Alumnites, the Denver Refiners who became the Evansville Agogans during the season, and the St. Paul Lights.
    The Hi-Spots played their home games in Kansas City’s seven thousand seat Pla-Mor Arena.  Paul Cloyd coached the team until he resigned on December 4, 1950 and Gene Eurash picked up the reins of the club.  The president of the ball club was Sewall Wilson.  While the team averaged 74.0 points a game over their 23 contests, they gave up 90.4 points per game.  One of the highlights for the Hi-Spots was a thirty point outing by Hal Hutcheson against Denver on January 21, 1951.  The 30 points was the fifth highest posted in the league for the season.
    Paul Cloyd, from the University of Wisconsin, played in all 23 games for the Hi-Spots.  Cloyd led the team in total points with 243.  Both Bob Tough, who was out of St. John’s, and Jerry Fowler from Missouri played 22 games.  Tough tallied 240 points and Fowler tossed in 232.  Hutcheson, who had the highest single game scoring for the Hi-Spots, only played in two games for Kansas City.  Other notable team members included Don McMillan from Missouri, Stan Patrick and Walton Kirk from Illinois, Hal England from Kansas, Guy Mitchell from Pittsburg State (Kansas), Ralph Hamilton from Indiana, Al Henningsen who, like Hutcheson, was from Maryville State, and Joe Graboski, who in 15 games scored 207 points.
    Kansas City is not without its championships in these abbreviated leagues and success was experienced by Kansas City’s contribution to the American Basketball League (ABL) of the early 1960s.  During the ABL’s inaugural season of 1961-1962, the Kansas City Steers posted the league’s best record at 54-25.  The Steers finished atop the Western Division, ahead of the San Francisco Saints who had a 38-38 record, the Hawaii Chiefs at 29-53, and the Los Angeles Jets who were 24-15 when that team folded.  The Eastern Division of the league was led by the Cleveland Pipers at 45-36, the 41-40 Pittsburgh Rens, the 39-44 Chicago Majors, and the Washington (later New York) Tapers at 31-50.
    Bill Bridges was Kansas City’s top scorer at 21.4 points per game during the first season.  That average placed him fifth in the league, which was led by eventual ABA and NBA All-Star Connie Hawkins of Pittsburgh at 27.5 points per game.  Hawkins was named the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) for its first season.
    Due to Kansas City’s record, the Steers received a bye to the finals.  Both Pittsburgh and Cleveland received first round byes because of their second best and third best league records.  The New York Tapers knocked off the Pittsburgh Rens in one of the quarterfinal games, but Cleveland held off New York in the only semi-final game.  The championship was a best of five series in which the Cleveland Pipers bested the Steers 3 games to 2.  The Steers won the first two games at home, beating the Pipers 126 to 101 and 118 to 82.  Cleveland won the next two games in Cleveland, 130-114 and 100 to 98, leaving the final game to be played in Kansas City.  The Pipers took the final game with a 106 to 102 score.  Cleveland folded before the start of the 1962-1963 season  leaving Kansas City in excellent position to claim the next year’s championship.
    The 1962-1963 campaign began with the Hawaii Chiefs moving to Long Beach, the San Francisco Saints moving to Oakland to become the Oaks, and the New York Tapers moving to Philadelphia.  The Pittsburgh Rens and the Chicago Majors returned along with Kansas City in their original cities.  Unfortunately, the season did not last beyond the end of 1962.  When the league disbanded on December 31, the Steers were leading the league with a 22-9 record and were declared the league champions.  Long Beach trailed the Steers with a 16-8 record followed by Pittsburgh at 12-10, Oakland at 11-14, Philadelphia at 10-18, and Chicago at 8-20.
    Connie Hawkins increased his scoring average to 27.9 for the second season, but Kansas City’s Bill Bridges topped the league with 29.2 points per game.  Larry Staverman provided 20.9 points per game for the Steers.  That placed Staverman as the fourth leading scorer in the league.  With his scoring average and collecting 15 rebounds per game over the shortened season, Bridges was considered the league’s MVP during for the final year.
    Over the two seasons, Kansas City players were among the ABL’s best in many categories.  Kansas City, which played in both Municipal Auditorium on the Missouri side and Memorial Hall on the Kansas side, had Bill Bridges whose combined ABL career scoring average of 23.6 put him second behind Pittsburgh’s Connie Hawkins.  Staverman sustained an 18.5 scoring average over the two years, good for fourth best in league history.  The Steers placed three other players in the top 25 for scoring.  Gene Tormohlen was fifteenth with 13.0 points per game, Nick Mantis was twenty-first with a 14.6 average, and Maury King was twenty-fourth with a 9.8 scoring clip.  Bridges led the league in average rebounds with 13.9 caroms per game.  Tormohlen was third at 11.9 and Staverman was fifth at 8.7.  King’s assist average of 3.9 per game was good for second in the league with Win Wilfong’s 3.2 assists placing him seventh and Staverman’s 2.8 average making him ninth.
    Jack McMahon coached the 1961-1962 edition of the Steers.  Along with Bridges, Staverman, Mantis, Wilfong, Tormohlen, and King, the Kansas City roster included George Pruitt, Bryce Vann, Larry Comley, Charlie Henke, Bob McDonald, and George Patterson who played part of the year with Pittsburgh.  The 1962-1963 Steers were coached by John Dee.  Bridges, Staverman, King, Tormohlen, Pruitt, and Vann returned for the second year. They were joined by John Windsor, John Ritter, and Jack Ardon.
    Kansas City nearly had an American Basketball Association (ABA) team when that league started in 1967.   The original franchise that was to be put in Kansas City was owned by James Trindle, but he was unable to get enough playing dates in a Kansas City arena.  Trindle then looked to Denver.  Before the season actually started, Trindle sold the team to Rocket Truck Lines owner, Bill Ringsby.  Ringsby decided to call the team the Rockets.   The original ABA team that almost belonged to Kansas City became the Denver Rockets, yet Kansas City was about to step up to the big leagues of professional basketball, the National Basketball Association or NBA.
    The Kings, who currently reside in Sacramento, California have passed through a few cities during the team’s NBA existence.  Actually beginning, rather ironically, as the Royals in two NBA predecessor leagues, the team’s host city was Rochester, New York.  Playing in the National Basketball League (NBL) in 1945 through 1948 and the Basketball Association of America (BAA) during the 1948-1949 season, the Rochester Royals entered the NBA in 1949.  The team remained there until 1957 when it moved to Cincinnati, but retained the name “Royals.”  The franchise moved to Kansas City in 1972 where it split time in Kansas City and Omaha, Nebraska and changed their name to the “Kings.”  Omaha was dropped as a home venue beginning in 1975, yet the Kings remained in Kansas City until after the 1984-85 season.  In 1985 the team moved to Sacramento where it still plays as the Kings today.
    The Kansas City-Omaha Kings and the Kansas City Kings played in the Midwest Division of the Western Conference of the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, and Detroit Pistons.  With the merger of the ABA and NBA for the 1976-1977 season, the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets were added to the division.  Indiana and Detroit were pulled out of the Division in 1979 while the New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah and into the Midwest Division.  Milwaukee and Chicago were bumped from the Division in 1980 while the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets, and the expansion Dallas Mavericks were added.    The Kings played in Municipal Auditorium from 1972 to 1974,  and Kemper Memorial Arena from 1974 to 1985.   During the years Kansas City shared the team with Omaha, the Kings also played home games in the Omaha Civic Auditorium.
    Kansas City-Omaha made the NBA playoffs once; the final season Kansas City shared the team with Omaha.  The 1972-73 season ended with the Kings in last place in the Midwest Division with a 36-46 record.  There were six teams with worse records in the league, though.  The following 1973-74 season found the Kings still in the division cellar with a 33-49 record and only five teams with a worse record.  It was the 1974-75 season when the Kings catapulted past Detroit and Milwaukee to finish second in the Midwest Division with a 44-38 record, just three games behind division leading Chicago.  That year, only five teams posted a better record than the Kings.  Along with Chicago, the Golden State Warriors, Washington Bullets, Buffalo Braves, and Boston Celtics had superior winning percentages over the season.   Unfortunately, after receiving a first round bye in the playoffs, the Kings fell to Chicago 4 games to 2 in the Western Conference Semifinals.
    The 1975-76 season saw the Kansas City Kings drop to third in the division and out of the playoffs with a 31-51 record.  The Kings failed to make the playoffs the next year when the ABA merged with the league; finishing ahead of ABA addition Indiana by 4 games, but trailing ABA addition and division leader Denver by 10.  The Kings did not improve on their 40-42 record during the 1977-78 season as they dropped to a Western Conference worst record of 31-51.  The complete turn around occurred in the 1978-79 season as Kansas City finished on top of the Midwest Division with a 48-34 record, one game ahead of the Denver Nuggets.   Despite receiving a first round bye again in the 1979 NBA Playoffs, the Kings didn’t fare any better than they had in their previous appearance.  The Phoenix Suns downed Kansas City 4 games to 1.
    Over the next two seasons the Kings continued to make the playoffs.  Kansas City’s 47-35 record during the 1979-80 campaign left them just 2 games behind Milwaukee in the Midwest Division and seventeen games ahead of third place Denver.  The 1980-81 Kings finished in second for the Division as well, despite a 40-42 record.   The Kings had to play a first round game in the 1980 Playoffs and lost to Phoenix again two games to one in the best of three series.  The 1981 Playoffs saw the Kings win their first playoff series.  Kansas City opened the playoffs with two first round wins at Portland to beat the Trailblazers two games to one.  The Kings followed that series victory by defeating Phoenix 4 games to 3 with the final game played in Phoenix.   Houston proved too much for the Kings as Kansas City lost the Western Conference Finals 4 to1.
    The Kings made the NBA Playoffs just one more time before leaving Kansas City for Sacramento.  The 1981-82 Kings finished in a dismal fourth place with a 30-52 record, the Kings’ worst record while playing in Kansas City.  The 1982-83 team tied Denver for second in the Division with a 45-37 record, but missed out on the playoffs as Denver won under the tie-breaker formula.  The Eastern Conference’s New York Knicks made the playoffs with a 44-38 record as did the Atlanta Hawks with a 43-39 record since those two teams were among the six best in the East.  The Kings’ 1983-84 team made the playoffs with a 38-44 season record,  but lost to the eventual Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers 3 games to none.   The Kings’ final season in Kansas City, 1984-85, witnessed their drop to the bottom of the division with a 31-51 record.
    The Kansas City Kings had several outstanding basketball players “do time” with the team.  Nate “Tiny” Archibald’s first season with Kansas City in 1972-73 was one in which he led the league in scoring (30.4 points per game) and assists (11.4) per game, the only player in NBA history to do so.   By the time the Kings moved out of Kansas City, Archibald was ranked the third best point guard in NBA history by assists per minutes played, behind Oscar Robertson and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.  He was also ranked number seven in scoring as a percentage of a team’s score for his 30.8% of the Kings’ points during the 1972-73 season, a category led by Wilt Chamberlain for his 1961-62 season with the Philadelphia Warriors.
    Also considered among the best for his performance on the Kings’ 1972-73 team was Matt Guokas.  Guokas was number two on the list as best shootist (sic) based on points per shots taken as of the end of the 1980s.  Guokas’ 1.096 points per shot taken trailed only Boston’s Kevin McHale, who managed a season with 1.104 points per shot and was slightly ahead of the Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 1.092.
    ABA stand out Ron Boone played guard for the Kansas City Kings among other professional basketball teams.  He actually played in more consecutive games than recognized NBA “Iron Man” A.C. Green of Los Angeles.  Boone played in 1041 straight games beginning with his rookie season.  The problem for Boone was that his first 662 games were played in the ABA, a part of his career not recognized by the NBA.
    Kansas City tried to fill the void created by the Kings’ absence in 1985-86 with a Continental Basketball Association (CBA) expansion entry that played home contests at Municipal Auditorium.   The Kansas City Sizzlers played in the Western Division and finished in fifth place with a 25-23 record and 169.0 “playoff” points.  Ahead of the Sizzlers were the division winning Cincinnati Slammers (33-15), the Evansville Thunder (25-23), the Detroit Spirits (24-24), and the La Crosse Catbirds (24-24).  The Wyoming Wildcatters with a 21-27 record and the Wisconsin Flyers at 16-32 did not make the divisional playoffs.   The Sizzlers’ roster included Tony Brown, Joe Binion, Tommy Collier, Clay Johnson, Mark Petteway, and a seven foot, two inch center, Peter Gudmundsson.
Kansas City played Cincinnati in the divisional quarterfinals.  After losing big in the first two games, 113-140 and 103-129, the Sizzlers took the Slammers into overtime in game three.  Unfortunately, K.C. came up short, losing 133-136.  Cincinnati completed the sweep in the fourth game with a 124-114 victory.
    The Sizzlers moved to Topeka after just one season in Kansas City.  During the 1986-87 season, the Sizzlers finished 24-24 and lost to Cincinnati again in the playoffs.  The 1987-88 version of the team posted a 21-33 record, the 1988-89 team went 14-40, and the 1989-90 team finished 10-46.  The Sizzlers did not make the playoffs during their last three seasons in Topeka  and eventually became the Yakima Sun Kings.
    When the ABA2000 opened with the 2000-2001 season, Kansas City was represented in the league by the Knights.  Playing at Kemper Arena at the American Royal Complex, the Knights finished the initial season with a third place finish in the West.  Their record, 24-17, was better than the East Division leaders, the Detroit Dogs, who had compiled a 24-20 record.  The Chicago Skyliners had the best record in the league with a 31-12 mark followed by the Los Angeles Stars at 28-13.  The fourth team in the West, the San Diego Wild Fire, had the worst league record (8-33).  The East Division’s other three teams were the Indiana Legends, the Memphis HounDawgs, and the Tampa Bay Thunderdawgs.  Kansas faced Los Angeles in the inaugural year playoffs and defeated the Stars 132-112.  Unfortunately, they lost their semifinal game with Chicago, 106-107.
    Returning for the second season with the Knights were Detroit and Indiana.  The “new” teams to the league were the Las Vegas Slam, the Southern California Surf, the Phoenix Eclipse, and the Kentucky Pro Cats.  The final standings for the 2001-2002 season had Kansas City leading the league with a 32-5 record followed by the Surf (21-14), Phoenix (18-14), Detroit (10-17), Kentucky (12-21), Indiana (10-20), and the Slam (7-19).  In the playoffs, Kansas City received a first round bye and then defeated Las Vegas in one of the semifinal games, 110-101.  The Knights claimed the ABA Championship with a 118-113 victory over the Southern California Surf.   A tournament earned league championship had finally arrived in Kansas City.
    The ABA did not continue operations for the 2002-2003 season and, according to Knights’ Director of Operations Chad Buchanan, the team was unable to get into another acceptable league.  Mr. Buchanan indicated that the Knights felt it would be better to try and rebuild the ABA and stay with the larger markets that are not covered by leagues like the CBA and USBL.  To help keep the league alive, Knights’ owner Jim Clark has been selected to be league president.   Clark’s role as ABA President and Chief Operations Officer was announced November 2, 2002.   The league is looking to have a minimum of 6-7 teams to start in 2003-2004, but ideally it would have 8.
    Kansas City continues to host professional basketball attempts.  Many of the major basketball leagues have tried to base their operations in Kansas City.  The Kansas City Knights appear to be in the city for at least another year.  Area teams such as the St. Joseph Express and the Kansas Cagerz in Salina, Kansas are able to operate in the United States Basketball League (USBL), but the USBL is a league that operates during the non-traditional basketball months of late spring and early summer.  With quality college teams in the Kansas Jayhawks, the Missouri Tigers, and Kansas City’s own NCAA Division I contribution, the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) Kangaroos performing in the area, it may be even more difficult for a professional basketball team to develop the large fan base that is often necessary for financial success.
 
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