The One Season ABA Team: New Jersey Americans


The New Jersey Americans

Credit: Remember the ABA


The New Jersey Americans were one of the eleven teams that were a part of the ABA's first season. The team was owned by Arthur Brown. Before owning the Americans, Brown organized various AAU teams and semi-professional basketball teams in New York City. As a result, the original organizers of the ABA thought that Brown was the perfect choice for the eventual New York-based ABA team.


Brown had already named the new ABA team the 'New York Americans' and was set to play at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan. However, the already existing and more famous New York-based basketball team, the New York Knicks, pressurized the Armory to back out from their deal with Brown and the New York Americans.


This was three months before the New York Americans' season opener.


As a result, Brown had to find another stadium to play at... fast. Unfortunately, Brown couldn't find a venue in New York that would host the New York Americans. Some stadiums were already completely booked. Others were scared of ruining their relationship with or angering the New York Knicks, so they didn't rent their venues to the Americans.


In the end, Brown chose a venue in New Jersey, the Teaneck Armory. Since the venue was in New Jersey, Brown also changed the team's name to the New Jersey Americans.


Now let's get into the New Jersey Americans' one season in the ABA.

 

1967-68: Forget the Playoffs

In the 1967-68 ABA season, the New Jersey Americans went 36-42 (46.2 W/L%) and finished fifth in the Eastern Conference. The team was above average on offense, ranking fourth in offensive rating (102.2). On the other hand, they were pretty horrible on defense, having the third-worst defensive rating (103.7).


In the 1967 ABA Draft, the Americans chose nine players, but none would play for the team. Out of the 17 players on the team, 13 of them were either former NBA players or drafted by an NBA team. The other four players (Al Beard, Barry Liebowitz, Johnny Mathis, and Walter Simon) were either out of college or probably from other professional basketball leagues.


The New Jersey Americans were coached by 4x All-NBA First Team and 1x All-Star Max Zaslofsky. He played in the NBA for ten seasons and played another two seasons in the Continental Basketball Association. While in the NBA, he played for the:

  • Chicago Stags: 1946-50

  • New York Knicks: 1950-53

  • Baltimore Bullets: 1953

  • Milwaukee Hawks: 1953

  • Fort Wayne Pistons: 1953-56

Zaslofsky also broke a couple of records while he played in the NBA. He was the youngest player to be selected to the All-NBA First Team (until LeBron in 2005-06) and the youngest player to lead in scoring (until Kevin Durant in 2010).

Zalofsky would have been perfect for the New Jersey Americans since the team never had a good shooting guard play the entire regular season. Their best shooting guard was Levern Tart, but he only played 37 games with the Americans.


As for his coaching career, Zaslofksy only coached the New Jersey Americans. He had no prior coaching experience. Now, back to the Americans!

The Americans 'Big 3" was Tony Jackson, Levern Tart, and Hank Whitney. Out of the three, the only player that played more than 50% of the regular season was their best player, Tony Jackson. The Big 3 averaged:


Tony Jackson:

19.4 Points, 6.8 Rebounds, 1.9 Assists

38.3 FG%, 30.1 3P%, 82.9 FT%

36 Minutes

Levern Tart:

19.0 Points, 3.9 Rebounds, 3.3 Assists

41.0 FG%, 82.9 FT%

35 Minutes


Hank Whitney:

16.0 Points, 12.9 Rebounds, 1.5 Assists

39.3 FG%, 71.4 FT%

31.3 Minutes


All three were drafted by NBA teams but never played in the NBA:

  • Tony Jackson: 24th Pick, New York Knicks

  • Hank Whitney: 37th Pick, Syracuse Nationals

  • Levern Tart: 54th Pick, Boston Celtics

I'm not sure why Hank Whitney and Levern Tart didn't play in the NBA, but Tony Jackson never played in the NBA because he was PERMANENTLY banned from the league! Jackson was involved in a point-shaving scandal in the 1962 NCAA season.


However, Jackson was never accused of taking bribes. In fact, Jackson had rejected the bribes. The only 'crime' he committed was failing to report that he was approached about these bribes. Nevertheless, the then NBA commissioner, Walter Kennedy, still banned Jackson from the NBA for life.


On a brighter note, Jackson and Tart were selected to be All-Stars this season due to their impressive performances! Tart would have a better All-Star performance, averaging:

13 Points, 3 Rebounds, 3 Assists

4/12 FG, 5/5 FT

27 Minutes


Out of the Big 3, the player with the most successful ABA career was, without a doubt, Tart. Whitney would only play three seasons while Jackson only played two seasons!

Going back to the New Jersey Americans, their best game was on November 8th, 1967, against the eventual 1967-68 ABA Champions, the Pittsburgh Pipers. In this game, the Americans beat the Pipers, 120-97!


Realistically speaking, the Americans would not have beat the Pipers by 23 points under normal circumstances. The Pipers were missing their top two players, Connie Hawkins and Charlie Williams. However, the Americans also did not have two of their best players, Levern Tart and Hank Whitney.


New Jersey Americans' Tony Jackson

Credit: NASL Jerseys


The reason for this massive blowout was due to Tony Jackson. In this game, Jackson scored 33 points and shot 75.0% from the free-throw line. Also, players like Johnny Austin and Jim Caldwell, who typically average less than eight points, scored 18 (Austin) and 14 (Caldwell) points this game!


The New Jersey Americans' longest winning streak was from January 7th, 1968, to January 20th, 1968. Within these thirteen days, the Americans won seven games in a row! 4/7 of the games were won by ten or more points!

  • vs. Anaheim Amigos: 121-102

  • vs. Minnesota Muskies: 110-96

  • vs. Indiana Pacers: 122-110

  • vs. Indiana Pacers: 106-96

As for the Americans' worst game, their worst game was on November 27th, 1967, against the Kentucky Colonels. In this game, the Americans lost 100-138. What makes this loss embarrassing is that the Colonels weren't even that good. The Colonels had the same record as the Americans.


Like the reason for the Americans' best game, this drastic loss was due to Tony Jackson. However, this time, it wasn't because of how well Jackson played, but how horribly he played. At first glance, it seemed like Jackson played well in this game. He had 31 points and five rebounds.

But then, you look at his shooting percentages; 3/18 (16.7%) from the field and 1/8 (12.5%) from the three-point line. Looking at those numbers makes me want to vomit.


The only reason Jackson was able to score 31 points was because he had 29 free throw attempts! He made 24/29 (82.8%), which is the record for the most free throws made in ABA history! 77% of Jackson's points were from free throws!


It wasn't just Jackson that was shooting badly. The entire team shot 30.7% from the field and 10.0% from the three-point line! Out of the 12 players who played for the Americans this game, eight shot less than 40.0% from the field! FOUR of them shot 0% from the field!

  • Al Beard and Johnny Mathis: 0/2 FG

  • Bobby Lloyd: 0/3 FG

  • Jim Caldwell: 0/4 FG

The New Jersey Americans' longest losing streak was from December 19th, 1967, to December 29th, 1967. Within these ten days, the Americans lost six games in a row. 4/6 games were lost by ten or more points:

  • vs. Pittsburgh Pipers: 124-146

  • vs. Indiana Pacers: 107-117

  • vs. Denver Rockets: 102-119

  • vs. Anaheim Amigos: 109-122

Continuing with the Kentuck Colonels and the New Jersey Americans, there was trouble between the two teams when the playoffs were around the corner. The Colonels and Americans went 36-42 and were tied for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. This wouldn't be a problem if either team were in the Western Conference, as even the 29-49 Houston Mavericks made the playoffs.

Since they were tied, the teams had to play a game for the last spot in the playoffs. The problem was that the New Jersey Americans were stuck finding a venue to play their tiebreaker game.

Their usual venue, the Teaneck Armory, was busy as a circus was booked for the entire week. As a result, the Americans would play in Long Island at the Commack Arena. However, once again, another problem arose. The court sucked. Here were some of the complaints:

  • Gaps and Holes in the Floor

  • Some Areas of the Court were Unstable

  • Height of the Baskets were Incorrect

  • Floor Markings are Wrong

  • Very Slippery

Due to the horrible conditions of the court, the then commissioner of the ABA, George Mikan, decided to forfeit the game in favor of the Colonels as Mikan didn't want anybody to get injured.


If the New Jersey Americans got to play the Kentucky Colonels, the Americans had a high probability of beating the Colonels and making the playoffs. In the regular season, in the 11 games that the Americans played the Colonels, the Americans won seven of them!


It seems like Brown really wanted to forget about this season as after this season, he would move the team to where they were supposed to originally play, New York, and renamed the team the New York Nets!