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The Surprisingly Good One Season ABA Team: The Minnesota Muskies

Mel Daniels in a Minnesota Muskies Jersey

Credit: NASL Jerseys

Joining the ABA in the 1967-68 season, the Minnesota Muskies were one of the first 11 teams that joined the league. It is not a surprise that there was a team located in Minnesota, considering that the ABA's then Commissioner, George Mikan, played for the Minneapolis Lakers during the entirety of his NBA career. The team was named the Muskies because it is a popular fish in the region.

Despite the owners, L.P. Shields and Fred Jefferson only having to pay $30,000 as a franchise fee, only 100 season tickets were sold, and the Muskies only averaged 2,800 people per game. In comparison, the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2021-22 NBA season have an average attendance of 15,630, 5.6x as much as the Muskies' attendance.


Head Coach: Jim Pollard

Even though the Minnesota Muskies did not have the best year when it came to finances, the team was terrific when it came to basketball. However, that does not mean everything was sunshine and rainbows for the Muskies. The team's head coach was Jim Pollard. Before becoming a coach, Pollard played in the NBA for seven seasons alongside George Mikan on the Minneapolis Lakers.

Pollard was the team's second-best player for most of those seven seasons. He averaged 13/8/3 (points, rebounds, assists) while shooting 36.0% from the field and 75.0% from the free-throw line. He was also a 4x All-Star, selected to 4x All-NBA Teams, won the NBA Championship five times, and is a Hall of Famer!

Despite all his accomplishments as a player, he was not the best coach. Pollard was a coach for five seasons. In those five seasons, his record was 130-165 (44.1 W/L%). His best season was actually with the Muskies, 50-28 (64.1 W/L%)! However, there was only one other season where he coached a team to a positive regular-season record; the 1968-69 Miami Floridians, 43-35 (55.1 W/L%). Every other season, Pollard had a negative regular-season record:

  • 1959-60 Minneapolis Lakers: 14-25 (35.9 W/L%)

  • 1961-62 Chicago Packers: 18-62 (22.5 W/L%)

  • 1969-70 Miami Floridians: 5-15 (25.0 W/L%)

The Big 3: Mel Daniels, Les Hunter, and Donnie Freeman

The Minnesota Muskies Big 3 consisted of Mel Daniels, Les Hunter, and Donnie Freeman. Mel Daniels, a 6'9" center, was by far the best player of the three. Daniels was also the one that stayed with the team for the least amount of time, only staying for his rookie season. Once the Muskies relocated to Miami and renamed themselves the Floridians the season after (1968-69), the team lost Daniels to the Indiana Pacers. He ended up winning two MVPs and three Championships with the Pacers.

Going back to Daniels' time on the Muskies, he averaged 22/16/1 while shooting 40.8 FG% from the field and 57.5% from the free-throw line. Besides his free-throw shooting, Daniels was elite. Although Daniels left the team after a season, the Muskies are lucky they even drafted him as he was also selected as the ninth pick in the 1967 NBA draft by the Cinncinati Royals (Sacramento Kings). Thankfully, Daniels chose the Muskies over the Royals.

By the end of the 1967-68 season, Daniels led the league eleven stats: total rebounds, rebounds per game, offensive rebounds per game, defensive rebounds per game, field goals, field goal attempts, two-point field goals, two-point field goal attempts, defensive win shares, usage percentage, and total rebound percentage.

He was also selected as an All-Star and into the All-ABA First Team while being the Rookie of the Year. In his first all-star appearance, he put up 22 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 50.0% from the field and 36.4% from the free-throw line.

Daniels' best game this season was on February 10th, 1968, against the New Orleans Buccaneers. The Muskies would lose, 100-126, but Daniels would put up:

37 Points and 25 Rebounds

15/28 FG and 7/11 FT

(Minutes Unknown)

The second-best player was Les Hunter. He was nowhere near as good as Mel Daniels but was still great. Hunter was a 6'7" power forward drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the 1964 NBA draft as the ninth pick. However, he would get traded to the Baltimore Bullets. He only played 24 games with the Bullets before playing in the North American Basketball League for two seasons with the Twin City Sailors.

After his short stint with the Bullets and two seasons with the Sailors, Hunter would find himself with the Minnesota Muskies in the 1967 season. In his season with the Muskies, Hunter averaged 18/10/2 while shooting 42.5% from the field and 62.0% from the free-throw line. This was his best season in the NBA, as his stats progressively decreased after this season.

Like Daniels, Hunter would be selected as an All-Star. Unlike Daniels, Hunter's All-Star game performance was not as good. He put up 7/8/1 while shooting 28.6% from the field and 60.0% from the free-throw line.

His best game this season was on February 8th, 1968, against the New Jersey Americans. He scored 41 points while shooting 17/30 from the field and 7/10 from the free-throw line.