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Shouldn't Have Relocated: The Memphis Pros


Pau Gasol and Shane Battier in Memphis Pros Uniform
Credit: Joe Murphy / Getty Images

Before being known as the Memphis Pros, from 1967 to 1970, the Pros were known as the New Orleans Buccaneers. Initially, the Buccaneers planned on playing the 1970-71 ABA season and were going to change the team name to the 'Louisana Bucaneers' and play in different cities (ex: Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Monroe, etc.) throughout Louisanna as a way to increase sales.

However, these plans were never fulfilled. On August 21st, 1970, the team would be sold to P.W. Blake. I can't find any information about Blake besides the fact that he was a businessman. Ten days after purchasing the Buccaneers, Blake would move the franchise to Memphis. The Memphis Pros would be Memphis' first major professional basketball team.


Before the Memphis Pros' season would start, there were already problems. Blake renamed the Buccaneers the Pros because he already bought 'Bucs' uniforms. It would be cheaper for Blake to convert the 'Bucs' uniforms to 'Pros' uniforms. I'm assuming it's because they're both four-letter words?


There's nothing wrong with being cheap, but it's a red flag when an owner is so cheap that they sacrificed the franchise's most important element (i.e., the name/branding) to save some money.


Also, the owner of a basketball team has to spend lots of money to acquire the best players and succeed. You could also draft good players, but by the end of their rookie contracts, you'll still have to pay them big money.


To add the cherry on top, sportswriters nationwide considered the Memphis Pros to be the most 'unimaginative and boring' nicknames in all of sports. Oof.

Another problem was with the stadium the Memphis Pros were supposed to play at, the Mid-South Coliseum. The Pros weren't able to secure any good home dates for their games. The Pros ended up playing their home games on:

  • 9 Monday Nights

  • 10 Wednesday Afternoons

  • 1 Friday Afternoons

  • Two Sunday Afternoons

Firstly, none of these days or times are good. Most people on a Monday night are probably heading back home from work. On Wednesday and Friday afternoons, I'm assuming people are still at work. Sunday afternoon is perhaps the only good day and time.

Secondly, the Memphis Pros only had 22 home games at HOME. Assuming that home and away games are split 50/50, the Pros were supposed to have 42 home games. The rest of the Pros home games had to be held outside of Memphis.


As a result, the Memphis Pros would only sell 180 season packages.

The last problem isn't as determinantal as the previous two. The University of Memphis' basketball team, the Tigers, also played at the Mid-South Coliseum, so they had beef with the Memphis Pros.


We'll come back to the front-office mess-ups again later. Let's take a look at the Memphis Pros' first season in the ABA.

 

Table of Contents:

 

1970-71: First Season

In the Memphis Pros' first season in the ABA, they went 41-43 (48.8 W/L%) and finished third in the Western Conference. The Pros were horrible on offense, ranking dead last in offensive rating (101.2). On the other hand, they were spectacular on defense, ranking first in defensive rating (101.9).


Head Coach: Babe McCarthy

Before getting into the players, let's take a look at the coach. The coach of the Memphis Pros for both the 1970-71 and 1971-72 ABA season was Babe McCarthy. Before coaching the Pros, McCarthy was a college coach for Mississippi State (1955-65) and George Washington University (1966-67).


During the ten seasons that McCarthy was with Mississippi State, their overall record was 169-85. From 1961-63, McCarthy was named Coach of the Year every season! As for Mississippi State, they were the Southeastern Conference Regular Season Champions FOUR times! Their best regular-season record was in the 1958-59 and 1961-62 NCAA season, where they went 24-1.


In the 1958-59, 1960-61,1961-62, and 1962-63 NCAA season, the NCAA invited Mississippi State to the NCAA Tournament, but due to Jim Crow Laws in the South and the Mississippi Government, Mississippi State was denied from playing the tournaments since they were going against integrated teams.


Having had enough, in the 1962-63 NCAA season, McCarthy would sneak his team to Michigan to play against Loyola University, which had four black basketball players. If you want to know more about this, check out this documentary!


After ten seasons with Mississippi State, McCarthy would coach George Washington University for 24 games. They would go 6-18 within those 24 games.

From 1967-1974, McCarthy would coach four ABA teams:

  • New Orleans Buccaneers (1967-70)

  • Memphis Pros (1970-72)

  • Dallas Chaparrals (1972-73)

  • Kentucky Colonels (1973-74)

McCarthy would win the Coach of the Year in the 1973-74 ABA season alongside the Kentucky Colonels, where they would go 53-31 (63.1 W/L%).


The Players and Games

Now, onto the players! As said previously, the Memphis Pros had the highest defensive rating in the league. Unfortunately, defense-related awards were not yet given out, and blocks and steals were not recorded stats. However, we can still use Defensive Win Shares (DWS) to indicate how good the players were on defense.


Out of the 12 players on the team, TEN of them have a higher DWS than Offensive Win Shares (OWS). The only two players with higher OWS than DWS, Jimmy Jones and Steve Jones, still had high DWS:

  • Jimmy Jones - OWS: 5.8, DWS: 4.5 (3rd Most on Team)

  • Steve Jones - OWS: 5.3, DWS: 2.9 (5th Most on Team)

With 10/12 players that had a higher DWS than OWS, it made sense that the Memphis Pros had the highest defensive rating.

The Memphis Pros' 'Big 3' consisted of two players we just mentioned, Steve Jones, Jimmy Jones, and one more, Wendell Ladner. Steve Jones and Jimmy Jones were previously on the New Orleans Buccaneers. On the other hand, Ladner was only in his rookie season! The three averaged:


Steve Jones:

22.1 Points, 3.6 Rebounds, 2.2 Assists

47.0 FG%, 37.0 3P%, 83.0 FT%

35 Minutes

Jimmy Jones:

19.6 Points, 4.8 Rebounds, 5.9 Assists

48.6 FG%, 57.1 3P%, 77.8 FT%

38 Minutes


Wendell Ladner:

17.0 Points, 11.4 Rebounds, 2.1 Assists

43.7 FG%, 27.6 3P%, 70.3 FT%

33 Minutes


Having played as well as they did, Steve, Jimmy, and Ladner would make the All-Star game! You would think that a rookie that made the All-Star game was the obvious choice for Rookie of the Year, but Dan Issel and Charlie Scott were also rookies this season. However, rookies Issel and Scott came into the league averaging Hall of Fame numbers.


In his rookie season, Issel was averaging 30/13/2, and Scott was averaging 27/5/5. Although Ladner was impressive for a rookie, these two were phenomenal. Issel and Scott would end up being Co-Rookies of the Year. At least Ladner was third in Rookie of the Year voting!

Out of the Memphis Pros' Big 3, the best player in the All-Star game was Ladner. He scored 12 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and shot 54.5% from the field.


The Memphis Pros' best game was on January 28th, 1971, against the Texas Chaparrals. The Pros won 122-99, a 23 point win! Five players on the Pros scored more than ten points:

  • Wendell Ladner: 30 Points

  • Charlie Williams: 24 Points

  • Wil Jones: 18 Points

  • Steve Jones: 17 Points

  • Lee Davis: 12 Points

Sidenote: I just noticed that the Memphis Pros had three players with 'Jones' as their last name: Steve, Jimmy, and Wil Jones.

On the other hand, the Memphis Pros' worst game was on December 16th, 1970, against the Utah Stars. The Pros lost 101-145, a 41 POINT LOSS! Funnily enough, more players scored more than ten points in this game than in the Pros' best game:

  • Bob Warren: 18 Points

  • Jimmy Jones: 16 Points

  • Charlie Williams: 14 Points

  • Lee Davis: 13 Points

  • Wil Jones: 11 Points

  • Steve Jones: 10 Points

Basketball-Reference does not show the field goal percentage for each player, but I'm assuming that everybody shot horribly. The Big 3 all performed worse than usual, and Ladner isn't even on the above list. He only scored four points!

As for the Utah Stars, NINE players scored more than ten points. They also had two other players that were two points shy of ten points and had a player score 20+ points.


The Playoffs

The Memphis Pros' first playoff appearance did not end well. The Pros were against the best team in the league, the Indiana Pacers. In their playoff series, the Pros would be swept by the Pacers, 0-4. Although it seems like the Pros were no match, that wasn't the case.

In Game 1, the Pros lost horrendously. They were blown out, 98-114. Outside of Jimmy Jones, Wil Jones, and Charlie Williams, everybody on the Pros shot less than 35.0% from the field. Wendell Ladner shot 3/15 (20.0%), while Steve Jones shot 7/20 (35.0%). As for the Indiana Pacers, everybody besides Rick Mount and Warren Jabali shot more than 44.4% from the field.


Games 2, 3, and 4 were much more competitive. The Memphis Pros played a lot better, only losing by two points at most.

  • Game 2: 104-106

  • Game 3: 90-91

  • Game 4: 101-102

The main reason the Memphis Pros didn't get blown out in each game following Game 1 is due to Steve Jones. Out of the Big 3, Steve Jones was the only player that played up to expectations. Throughout the playoffs, he averaged:


22.8 Points, 5.3 Rebounds, 2.3 Assists

44.3 FG%, 28.6 3P%, 100.0 FT%

41 Minutes


As for Jimmy Jones and especially Wendell Ladner, they played atrociously. They averaged:


Jimmy Jones:

16.3 Points, 6.0 Rebounds, 3.8 Assists

50.0 FG%, 68.0 FT%

33 Minutes


Wendell Ladner:

10.3 Points, 10.0 Rebounds, 3.5 Assists

26.4 FG%, 37.5 FT%

36 Minutes

Typically, during a player's first playoff appearance, they play worse than normal. However, Ladner looked like a completely different player during the playoffs. It was like he didn't know how to shoot. If I were Coach McCarthy, I would have played Ladner for fewer than 25 minutes after Game 2. Here were Ladner's shooting percentages in each game:

  • Game 1: 20.0 FG%

  • Game 2: 26.9 FG%, 33.3 3P%

  • Game 3: 27.3 FG%, 100.0 FT%

  • Game 4: 30.0 FG%, 0 FT%

I would give Ladner a pass since he was a rookie this season and was guarded by 4x All-Star Roger Brown, but Ladner would make three other playoff appearances, and in each one besides the 1972-73 season, Ladner always shot extremely inefficient. His playoff career shooting percentages are:

  • 36.5 FG%

  • 26.7 3P%

  • 60.6 FT%

Let's get back to the good. Although Steve Jones was a massive reason for the Memphis Pros not being completely humiliated, other players like Charlie Williams and Wil Jones stepped up during the playoffs.

In the regular season, Williams averaged 14/2/2 and shot 40.6% from the field. In the playoffs, he averaged 19/2/4 and shot 41.9% from the field. As for Wil Jones, he averaged 11/8/2 and shot 48.1% from the field in the regular season. In the playoffs, he averaged 15/12/3 and shot 50.0% from the field.


Behind the Scenes

Things weren't looking good for the Memphis Pros behind the scenes. Two months into the regular season, P.W. Blake gave up on the team, claiming that he had already lost $200,000 due to the Memphis Pros. The ABA would have to manage the Pros on a minuscule budget while looking for a new general manager to fill in Blake's footsteps.


The general manager that ended up replacing Blake, Charlie Cavagnaro, was just as bad. Before becoming the general manager of the Memphis Pros, Cavagnaro was a sportswriter. Like Blake, Cavagnaro was a cheapskate and cut costs whenever he could.


Although the Memphis Pros found a new general manager, the ABA still had trouble finding individuals interested in owning the team.


Thankfully, the people of Memphis came to lift the Pros off their feet. 4,000+ Tennessee citizens bought the "Save Our Pros" stock. The purpose of the stock seems self-explanatory. In the end, the Pros and the thousands of shareholders raised $700,000-$800,000!


The Memphis Pros were back for the 1971-72 ABA season!


1971-72: Last Season

Steve Jones, Memphis Pros' Guard
Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Imaages

In the 1971-72 ABA season, the Memphis Pros went 26-58 (31.0 W/L%) and finished as the worst team in the Western Conference and the second-worst team in the entire league. Like last season, the Pros had the worst offensive rating (94.3) and the third-best defensive rating (99.1).

The Memphis Pros were mediocre. They weren't bad. They weren't good. However, this season... they were just downright horrible. The Pros' star player, Steve Jones, left the team to join the Dallas Chaparrals. Jones was the only player in the Memphis Pros' two-year history that averaged more than 20 points!


With Steve Jones out of the picture, the new star player was Johnny Neumann. Neumann had a lot to carry on his back, especially being a rookie. He averaged:


18.3 Points, 4.2 Rebounds, 1.9 Assists

41.0 FG%, 20.3 3P%, 76.1 FT%

25.6 Minutes

Within the number of minutes that he played, these are pretty impressive stats. Obviously, being the star player of a team as a rookie warrants an All-ABA Rookie Teams selection, which Neumann got! However, he was not selected for the All-Star game.

It's not weird that Neumann wasn't a part of the All-Star game because he was a rookie. What was weird was that the other two players of the 1971-72 Memphis Pros' Big 3 (if you can even call it that) were part of the All-Star game, Wendell Ladner and Wil Jones. They averaged:

Wendell Ladner:

16.5 Points, 10.5 Rebounds, 2.0 Assists

38.6 FG%, 27.8 3P%, 74.0 FT%

32 Minutes

Wil Jones:

14.9 Points, 10.4 Rebounds, 1.8 Assists

46.9 FG%, 12.5 3P%, 75.0 FT%

37 Minutes


Don't get me wrong, Ladner and Jones played fine, but if they get to be a part of the All-Star game, even though they played worse than Neumann, then Neumann should also be an All-Star this season! I'm assuming that Ladner and Jones were selected as All-Stars over Neumann due to their rebounding numbers.

What sucks the most is that this was Neumann's highest probability of becoming an All-Star. After this season, his career just went downhill.


Between the two that played in the All-Star game, the better performance was by Wendell Ladner. He put up:


4 Points, 6 Rebounds, 1 Assist

2/5 FG, 0/2 3P

14 Minute

If THIS was the better performance, then that just shows how awful Wil Jones performed during the All-Star game.

As for the Memphis Pros' regular-season games, their best game was on December 8th, 1971, against the Denver Rockets. The Pros won, 109-91. Everybody on the Pros besides Tom Owens and Lee Davis scored more than ten points:

  • Johnny Neumann: 18 Points

  • Wendell Ladner: 17 Points

  • Charles Williams: 15 Points

  • Larry Cannon: 14 Points

  • Bob Warren: 14 Points

  • Gerald Govan: 12 Points

  • Wil Jones: 11 Points

The Memphis Pros' worst game was on March 1st, 1972, against the Dallas Chaparrals. The Pros lost, 86-125. They lost by 39 POINTS! What makes this even worse is that the Pros were against the former best player of the Pros, Steve Jones.


While the Chaparrals had two players score more than 20 points and four other players score more than ten points, the Pros only had four players score more than ten points:

  • Johnny Neumann: 18 Points

  • Wil Jones: 13 Points

  • Donald Sidle: 10 Points

  • Charles Williams: 10 Points

Although the citizens of Tennessee invested $700,000+ into the Memphis Pros, it wasn't enough. The team was once again having financial problems. Following Steve Jones' footsteps, Coach McCarthy would resign from the team to join the Dallas Chaparrals.

After a mere two seasons, Charlie Finley would buy the Memphis Pros and rename the Memphis Pros to the Memphis Tams.


 

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