EPISODE #85: Houston’s Iconic Astrodome – With Bob Trumpbour

When it debuted to the public on April 9, 1965 (with an exhibition Major League Baseball game featuring the newly-renamed Houston Astros and Mickey Mantle’s New York Yankees), the Astrodome – audaciously dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by its builders – immediately captured the attention of the sports, entertainment and architectural worlds.  

It was a Texas-sized vision of the future – a seemingly unimaginable feat of engineering, replete with breakthrough innovations such as premium luxury suites, theater-style seating, and the world’s first-ever animated stadium scoreboard.  At the time, it was the biggest-ever indoor space ever made by man – an immense cylinder nearly half-a-mile around and with a flying-saucer-like roofline – that evoked a modern space age that the city of Houston and a reach-the-Moon-obsessed nation envisioned for itself.

Amidst the ambition, not all was perfect: baseball outfielders were initially unable to see fly balls through the stadium’s clear Plexiglas roof panels, and attempts to grow natural grass for its playing surface failed repeatedly (ultimately leading to the development of artificial “AstroTurf”).    

Yet, unquestionably, the arrival of the Astrodome changed the way people viewed sporting events and – putting casual fans at the center of the experience, that would soon become the expected standard for all facets of live communal entertainment.

Penn State University professor Rob Trumpbour (The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the life, impact and ongoing legacy of the Astrodome’s signature role in transforming Houston as a city – and some of the memorable (and not so memorable) pro franchises that called it home during its 43-year run, including the AFL/NFL football Oilers, the NASL soccer Stars and Hurricane, and challenger-league football’s Texans (WFL) and Gamblers (USFL). 

Plus, the backstory of Major League Baseball’s 1962 expansion Houston Colt .45’s – the original catalyst behind the dome’s conception and construction.

Our appreciation to OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, 503 Sports, Audible, and MyBookie for sponsoring this week’s episode!

The Eight Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome - buy here

Houston Astrodome-Related T-Shirts from OldSchoolShirts.com - click individual shirt photos or buy here

Houston Texans WFL & Gamblers USFL Sportswear from 503 Sports - click individual shirt photos or buy here

                

Cool Houston Oilers Stuff from New Era, ‘47, Cufflinks, Proline, and Mitchell & Ness - click photos or buy here

Astrodome & Hurricane NASL Items from SportsHistoryCollectibles.com - click individual photos or buy here

EPISODE #61: Sports Promoter Doug Verb

If someone ever decides to build an American sports promotion Hall of Fame, the inaugural class will undoubtedly be led by this week’s special guest, Doug Verb.  In a career spanning more than 40 years in professional sports management, Verb’s remarkable career has included spearheading marketing, promotion, publicity, and television for some of the most innovative and memorable leagues and franchises of the modern era. 

One of the founding executives of both the pioneering Major Indoor Soccer League (along with sports entrepreneurs Earl Foreman, Ed Tepper, and previous podcast guest Dr. Joe Machnik), and the frenetic Arena Football League (with the sport’s inventor [and past two-part guest] Jim Foster), Verb additionally  served as president of pro soccer’s legendary Chicago Sting from 1982-86 – which, incredibly, drifted between playing in two separate leagues during his tenure (for one year, simultaneously) – the outdoor North American Soccer League and the indoor MISL. 

In our longest and more anecdote-filled episode to date, Verb vividly recounts the highs and lows of launching new teams, leagues and even sports themselves from whole cloth – with nary an operational blueprint or career roadmap to be found.  Buckle up for a wild ride through the woeful 1976 NASL Philadelphia Atoms, the “Rocket Red” pinball-like MISL, soccer for all seasons in the Windy City, and birthing indoor football. 

PLUS:  Kiddie City to the rescue; Earl Foreman’s “Brother-in-Law Effect;” getting paid in soybeans; and the curious one-game history of the Liberty Basketball Association! 

AND:  Verb reveals plans for a first-ever Major Indoor Soccer League reunion later this year in Las Vegas!

Thanks Podfly, Audible and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for supporting the podcast!

Philadelphia Atoms apparel from Ultras - buy here

MISL apparel from Throwback Max - buy here

Chicago Sting apparel from Ultras - buy here

                                    

EPISODE #48: How the ABA’s Indiana Pacers Helped “Change the Game” – with Bob Netolicky & Robin Miller

Four-time American Basketball Association All-Star Bob Netolicky and former Indianapolis Star sportswriter Robin Miller join host Tim Hanlon to share some of their most memorable (and heretofore untold) first-person accounts of playing and traveling with the thrice-ABA-champion Indiana Pacers – and promote their upcoming book We Changed the Game, penned in partnership with original team co-founder/owner Dick Tinkham.

Despite three championships, five finals appearances and the strongest fan base in the league, the Pacers – and by extension, the ABA itself – barely survived a number of remarkably close calls and dire financial situations during their collective nine-year pre-NBA-merger existence that nearly sank both the franchise and the league more than once. 

Yet, in the end, the team and the city improbably (and inspirationally) rallied together to keep the team (and the league) afloat – to ultimately become one of the four surviving franchises in the landmark merger with the National Basketball Association in 1976, as well as a source of deep, lasting and transformational civic pride for the city of Indianapolis that lasts to this day.

In this revealing, eyebrow-raising conversation, Miller and “Neto” set the record straight on numerous Pacer and ABA mythologies, and wax nostalgically authoritative on what really happened during the first nine years of the team’s pre-NBA existence.

We appreciate SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Podfly and Audible for their support of this episode!

We Changed the Game - buy book here

EPISODE #45: The ABA’s Indiana Pacers with Sportswriter Mark Montieth – Part Two

Veteran sportswriter Mark Montieth (Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis) returns to the podcast (Episode #41) to help complete the story of the Indiana Pacers’ nine-year sojourn through the American Basketball Association – including its shaky transition into a merger-expanded NBA in 1976.  

Arguably the most stable and successful franchise in the ABA’s short but colorful history, the franchise nearly collapsed under its own weight after its inaugural National Basketball Association campaign – if not for a hastily arranged 1977 Independence Day weekend telethon fundraiser devised by head coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard and his wife Nancy, that miraculously saved the team and cemented its place in the Indianapolis cultural landscape.

Along the way, however, the ABA Pacers made indelible marks on both the city and the basketball establishment, including: barn-burning rivalries (especially with the Kentucky Colonels and Utah Stars); stellar local collegiate talent signings (including Purdue All-American and Sports Illustrated high school cover boy Rick Mount, and Indiana University standout and eventual Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer George McGinnis); a downtown-revitalizing, franchise-stabilizing, state-of-the-art Market Square Arena; and the acrobatic, yet distinctively ‘fro’ed Darnell “Dr. Dunk” Hillman, who just may have been able to leap high enough to nab quarters off the top of backboards, according to sportswriter legend.

Plus: Pacers general manager Mike Storen answers his own letter; Bob Netolicky secures a trade, then begs to come back; the WHA hockey Racers nearly sink the franchise; and why Indianapolis' Pacers made the NBA cut - but Louisville's Colonels did not.

Thank you Podfly, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com and Audible for supporting the show!

Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis - buy book here

EPISODE #42: Entertainer Pat Boone and the ABA’s Oakland Oaks

We usher in the holidays and round out our debut season with the inimitable Pat Boone – an American entertainment legend and inveterate business entrepreneur, with a life-long passion for the sport of basketball.  In a career spanning over six decades (and counting!), the incomparable Boone has just about done it all in the fields of music, film, television, and stage, as well as the pursuit of a wide variety of business interests – including being the majority owner of the American Basketball Association’s charter Bay Area franchise, the Oakland Oaks.

Denied the ability to play its NBA All-Star marquee signing (and cross-town San Francisco Warriors star) Rick Barry for the inaugural 1967-68 ABA season, Boone’s Oaks endured a league-worst 22-56 record, amid dismally low crowds at the brand-new Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena.  Barry’s official arrival the next season (despite a knee injury that curtailed his play after only 35 games), paired with the hiring of two-time NBA champion head coach Alex Hannum, and an influx of future perennial All-Star talent like Doug Moe and Larry Brown, instantly rejuvenated the club’s competitive profile, as the Oaks zoomed to a league-leading 60-18 “worst-to-first” regular season record and a dominating run in the playoffs to capture the 1968-89 league championship.

Despite the reversal of fortune on the hardwood, Boone lost a fortune at the box office (in excess of $2 million in just two seasons), as neither Barry nor a title provided any significant lift in ticket sales – or visible hope of near-term future improvement in the competitive Bay Area market.  Former Baltimore Bullets NBA owner (and later Major Indoor Soccer League co-founder) Earl Foreman purchased the franchise (and its debts) from Boone for $2.6 million in August of 1969 and moved them to the Nation’s Capital, where they became the one-year Washington Caps, replete with a reluctant Barry in tow.

In this revealing conversation, Boone recounts: the events that led him to become a pro basketball owner; the tortuous journey of landing Rick Barry; the thrill of winning an ABA championship; the unwitting blank check that kept the Oaks financially afloat, but nearly sank Boone personally and professionally; and why, despite his continued passion for the sport, he never pursued another professional basketball ownership opportunity in the decidedly more stable NBA in later years. 

Plus: a ring more expensive Elizabeth Taylor's; dunking over Bill Russell; comparing pro titles with Mark Cuban; and our quest for footage of the 1978 CBS/NBA Three-on-Three Tournament!

This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Podfly, Audible and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com !

EPISODE #41: ABA Basketball’s Indiana Pacers with Sportswriter Mark Montieth

Long-time Indianapolis pro hoops beat reporter Mark Montieth (Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis) joins host Tim Hanlon to delve into the intriguing story behind the efforts of late-1960s civic leaders to re-establish a top-tier professional franchise in the capital city of basketball-mad Indiana after a curious 14-year absence.   

One of eleven charter franchises in 1967’s upstart American Basketball Association, the Indiana Pacers literally and figuratively “set the pace” early and often during the league’s nine-year existence – amassing three ABA championships, five finals appearances, and a dazzling array of All-Star talent including the likes of Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, Billy Knight, and future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees Roger Brown, Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, and head coach Bob “Slick” Leonard.

In a league synonymous with wild games, outsized personalities and vagabond franchises, the Pacers were a uniquely steady constant on the court, in the stands and with the local Indianapolis community – which later rewarded them with a downtown-transforming arena of their own in 1974, and ultimately, helped bolster their case to become one of only four ABA clubs to be included in the post-merger National Basketball Association in 1976.

Our thanks to SportsHistoryCollectibles.com , Audible and Podfly for their sponsorship of this week’s episode!

Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis - buy book here

EPISODE #34: The National Basketball League with Author Murry Nelson

Basketball historian and Penn State professor emeritus Murry Nelson (The National Basketball League: A History) returns to the podcast – this time to dive into the deep end of one of the modern-day NBA’s  most important formative tributaries. 

The National Basketball League was forged out of an industrial collective of independent “company teams” that dotted the Midwest in the mid-1930s – and through the corporate patronage of firms like Goodyear, Firestone and General Electric, became a full-time pro hoops circuit that eventually stretched from Syracuse to Denver – with a hefty dollop of smaller markets in between.   Teams like the Oshkosh (WI) All-Stars, Anderson (IN) Duffy Packers, Tri-Cities (IA)  Blackhawks, and Toledo (OH)-based Jim White Chevrolets – along with star players like the lane-dominating Leroy “Cowboy” Edwards, long-range shooting ace Bobby McDermott, and the pro game’s first true “big man” George Mikan – broke new ground,  and spawned the launch of an even bigger-market competitor (the Basketball Association of America, in 1946) that ultimately resulted in a 1949 merger that yielded what we now know as the National Basketball Association.

Today’s Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, and Philadelphia 76ers all emanated directly from the NBL – although you might not know it, given the NBA’s tilted version of basketball history, as Nelson tells host Tim Hanlon in this enlightening episode.

Out thanks to Podfly and Audible for their support of the show! 

The National Basketball League: A History, 1935-1949 - buy book here

EPISODE #28: Women’s Pro Basketball’s "Machine Gun" Molly Kazmer

The history of women’s professional basketball in the US pre-dates the modern-day WNBA by at least two decades, when inveterate pro sports entrepreneur Bill Byrne launched the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) in 1978.  Taking cultural cues from the Equal Rights Amendment movement, the adoption of Title IX, Billie Jean King’s landmark victory in tennis’ “Battle of the Sexes,” and a surprisingly strong showing by the US women’s squad in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, Byrne hustled his way into forming an odds-defying circuit that ultimately lasted three seasons with franchises that stretched from New York to San Francisco.  The first person to sign with the fledgling league also became its most prolific scorer and reliable public relations attraction – “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin.  Nicknamed by a reporter for her dazzling shooting ability (with multiple records that still stand today), the since-remarried Molly Kazmer lit up the WBL both on and off the court with equal parts athletic prowess and sexy femininity – becoming one of the true pioneers of the women’s professional game in the process.

Kazmer joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss some of the more memorable moments in her remarkable career in the WBL and beyond, including:

  • The unique playing style of Iowa high school basketball that uniquely prepared her for breakout success in the collegiate and pro ranks;
  • The public relations spectacle of signing her first pro contract in the Iowa governor’s office;
  • The wild ride (often on a bus nicknamed the “Corn Dog”) of the Iowa Cornets;
  • Life as the “poster child” of the WBL;
  • The double-standard of being a female athlete in modern society; AND
  • How the success of today’s WNBA sends mixed signals to the original WBL pioneers whose work set the stage for the modern pro game.

We love Audible and Podfly for their support of the podcast – and you should too!

EPISODE #20: George Steinbrenner’s Cleveland Pipers with Sportswriter Bill Livingston

Award-winning Cleveland Plain Dealer sports columnist Bill Livingston (George Steinbrenner’s Pipe Dream: The ABL Champion Cleveland Pipers) joins Tim Hanlon to delve deeper into the history of the ill-fated 1960s American Basketball League – this time through the lens of one of its (and ultimately, one of pro sports’) most combustible figures.  Livingston describes how Pipers owner (and future New York Yankees “Boss”) George Steinbrenner:  

  • Retooled a local Cleveland industrial amateur team into a fledgling pro club with NBA ambitions;
  • Traded a player at halftime of a league game, and fired his collegiate hall-of-fame coach in mid-season – and still won a championship;
  • Convinced a risk-averse college star named Jerry Lucas to spurn surefire NBA stardom with the Cincinnati Royals for partial ownership/oversight of an ambitious, yet financially wobbly ABL franchise; AND
  • Outmaneuvered a similarly-aspirant Abe Saperstein in the race to secure a coveted NBA franchise, only to hasten the demise of the ABL and the financial viability of the Pipers in the process.

Thank you Audible for sponsoring this week’s episode!

George Steinbrenner's Pipe Dream: The ABL Champion Cleveland Pipers - buy book here

EPISODE #17: Abe Saperstein & the American Basketball League with Author Murry Nelson

Penn State University professor emeritus Murry Nelson (Abe Saperstein and the American Basketball League: The Upstarts Who Shot for Three and Lost to the NBA) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the oft-forgotten second incarnation of the ABL – and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer who willed it into being.  In this hidden gem of an episode, Nelson describes:

  • How the master promoter of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters attempted to parlay his influence in pro basketball circles into securing his own West Coast NBA franchise, only to be rebuffed;
  • How the advent of reliable and speedy commercial air travel encouraged Saperstein to not only launch the upstart ABL, but with franchises in virgin pro basketball territories like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu, Hawaii;
  • The peripatetic Washington-to-New York-to-Philadelphia Tapers, whose owner also secretly owned the relatively stable Pittsburgh Rens, featuring league superstar and future Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins;
  • Why the ABL’s (and Saperstein-owned) Chicago Majors outdrew the more-established NBA’s cross-town Packers; AND
  • How an ambitious young shipbuilding scion named George Steinbrenner engineered a championship for his Cleveland Pipers franchise, only to sink the ABL the following season with an ill-fated plot to secretly bolt to the NBA. 

This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Audible!

Abe Saperstein and the American Basketball League: The Upstarts Who Shot for Three and Lost to the NBA - buy book here

EPISODE #08: Documentarian Dan Forer & the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis

Emmy Award-winning TV producer and ESPN Films 30 For 30 sports documentarian Dan Forer (Free Spirits; Mike and the Mad Dog) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the curious two-year odyssey of the American Basketball Association’s colorful Spirits of St. Louis franchise, whose impact still continues to haunt the modern-day NBA, forty years after the team’s demise.  Forer describes the importance of mercurial star forward Marvin “Bad News” Barnes to both the club’s success and the making of the Free Spirits documentary; why Spirits brother-owners Dan and Ozzie Silna declined to participate in the making of the film; how a baby-faced kid out of Syracuse named Bob Costas got his first professional sportscasting gig; and how three of the team’s most talented players effectively lost their careers to the evils of drug addiction. 

ESPN Films 30 For 30: Free Spirits (DVD) - buy DVD here

ESPN Films 30 For 30: Volume 2 (including Free Spirits) - buy digital video here