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: The Memphis Pros' First Season

1971-72: The Memphis Pros' Last Season

 

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: </