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 Sports History Collectibles!