ABA Teams: San Diego Conquistadors/Sails


San Diego Consquistadors

Credit: Remember the ABA


Numerous NBA teams are based in California. The Los Angeles Lakers/Clippers (Los Angeles), Sacramento Kings (Sacramento), and the Golden State Warriors (San Francisco). All of these teams are based in some of the most populated cities in California:

  • Los Angeles: 3.9 Million

  • San Fransisco: 810,000

  • Sacramento: 470,000

NBA teams base their teams in more populated cities as the more people there are, the more tickets are being sold. However, San Diego, the second-most populated city in California, does not have an NBA team.


The last San Diego NBA team were the San Diego Rockets (1967-71) and the San Diego Clippers (1978-84). However, both teams are now in different cities (Houston and Los Angeles). Has there been a professional basketball team that stayed in San Diego for the team's lifespan?


Well... yes. Why else would I be writing this article? Besides the NBA, during the 1960-70s, another professional basketball league was up and running alongside the NBA, the American Basketball Association (ABA).

Of the twelve teams in the ABA, the San Diego Conquistadors/Sails were one. The San Diego Conquistadors/Sails were founded in 1972. From 1972-74, the ABA San Diego team would go by the San Diego Conquistadors. In the 1975 ABA season, they changed their names to the San Diego Sails, but after three years in the ABA (1972-75), the San Diego Conquistadors/Sails disbanded.


Although the San Diego Conquistadors/Sails were only in the league for three seasons, were they any good?

No.

Well, what about what was happening behind the scenes? How was the staff? They must have had many fans, considering they were in the second-most populated city in California!

Although filled with potential, almost nothing went well for the San Diego Conquistadors/Sails. They would make the playoffs twice but never made it that far. In addition, there was always something going wrong behind the scenes.

Want to know more about the trash fire that is the San Diego Conquistadors/Sails? Keep on reading!

 

Table of Contents:

 

The Start:

Leonard Bloom founded the San Diego Conquistadors in 1972. Before becoming the owner of the Conquistadors, Bloom was known for being a real estate developer. As a real estate developer, Bloom helped create:

  • Numerous sports facilities throughout California

  • Four NFL Stadiums

  • The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics Venue

Besides his real-estate ventures, Bloom was the owner of a ticketing company, Bass Tickets, and entertainment company, Marquee Entertainment Corporation.


That's not all. In addition to being the owner of the Conquistadors, Bloom was the owner of the Los Angeles Sharks, a hockey team, and the World Team Tennis League, a professional tennis league.


FINALLY, to add the cherry on top, Bloom also had a professional license in dental, orthodontic, and medical.


So yeah, he's stacked.


Bloom had to pay an entry fee of $1 million for an ABA team in San Diego. Taking account of inflation, that means that in 2021, Bloom would have to pay around $6.5 million.


Now, that sounds like a lot, and that's because it is! However, in 2021, the entry fee for an NBA team is MUCH higher than $6.5 million. The entry fee now is $2.5 BILLION!


Sidenote: I have no idea why Bloom named the team the San Diego Conquistadors/Sails. From research, Bloom might have named the team the Conquistadors due to the early California history. As for 'Sails,' that might have to do with San Diego being located next to the Pacific Ocean?


As said earlier, the San Diego Conquistadors were a trainwreck. Before they even started their debut, Bloom and the Conquistadors were in a rut. They wanted to play at the San Diego Sports Arena, where it held up to 14,400 seats, but how can you play at a stadium that you're temporarily banned from?

The operator of the stadium, Peter Graham, locked Bloom and the Conquistadors out of the stadium for two years!


Why, you may ask? It's because Graham was upset at Bloom being award the expansion ABA team. Graham also wanted the expansion team, so Graham locked out Bloom and the Conquistadors as any grown adult would.


As a result, the San Diego Conquistadors had to play at Peterson Gymnasium. The 'stadium' only had 3,200 seats. The average ticket price of a seat at an ABA game was $10-$30. Assuming that the Conquistadors sold out at both arenas, they would have made:

  • San Diego Sports Arena: $144,000 - $432,000

  • Peterson Gymnasium: $32,000 - $96,000

So even if the San Diego Conquistadors had sold out their seats at Peterson Gymnasium for $30 per seat, that still wouldn't be as much as if they had sold out their seats at San Diego Sports Arena for $10 per seat.

To add insult to injury, on average, the Conquistadors only sold 1840 seats. That means the average Conquistadors' game was only 57.5% full. The least they would make was $18,400, while the most was $55,200...

By the time the San Diego Conquistadors were permitted to use San Diego Sports Arena, it was already too late. Why? Well, you're just going to have to keep on reading to find out!

All-Star Coaches:

Although the San Diego Conquistadors were garbage, they had a lot of All-Star coaches. Now, I'm not saying that these coaches are up there with the likes of Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich. These coaches were all AMAZING NBA players:

  • K.C. Jones: 8x NBA Champion and Hall of Famer (1972-73)

  • Wilt Chamberlain: 13x All-Star, 4x MVP, Hall of Famer, and Many Other Awards (1973-74)

  • Alex Groza: 1x All-Star, 2x All-NBA, and ROTY (1974-75)

Although the above three were terrific players, none of them were good coaches. Not a single one of them was able to lead the Conquistadors to a positive record.


Wilt Chamberlain

The coach with the best regular-season record with the San Diego Conquistadors was Wilt Chamberlain in 1973-74. They ended up going 37-47 (44.0 W/L%) and were the fourth seed in the Western Conference (out of five). You wouldn't expect a 37-47 team to make it to the playoffs, but they did!

As long as you were not the worst team in your conference, you were guaranteed a playoff spot. The only team that didn't make the playoffs were the Memphis Tams, who went 21-63 (25.0 W/L%).

Even though Chamberlain led the Conquistadors to their best regular-season record and playoffs, he wasn't that good of a coach.


Initially, Chamberlain signed a three-year $1.8 million contract with the Conquistadors to serve as a 'player-coach.' As the title suggests, Chamberlain was supposed to be a player and the head coach for the Conquistadors.

However, Chamberlain still had to play his option year for the Los Angeles Lakers. As a result, the Lakers went to court and won, barring Wilt Chamberlain from playing for the Conquistadors. On the flip side, at least Chamberlain was still allowed to coach the Conquistadors.

Unfortunately, Chamberlain didn't care for coaching. He found the day-to-day things boring and was impatient. Chamberlain was more focused on promoting his autobiography than coaching. One day, Chamberlain skipped a game so that he could sign autographs for his book...


In the end, most of the coaching duties went to assistant coach Stan Albeck (who, in my opinion, was the real head coach).

The San Diego Conquistadors paid Chamberlain $1.8 million to essentially self-promote his book... There was still a light at the end of the tunnel. Although not related to the Conquistadors, Stan Albeck would continue coaching and would serve as a head coach for the:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers

  • San Antonio Spurs

  • New Jersey Nets

  • Chicago Bulls

  • Atlanta Hawks

K.C. Jones and Alex Groza

As for K.C. Jones and Alex Groza, I have no idea what their coaching situations were like. K.C. Jones only coached the San Diego Conquistadors for 84 games, while Alex Groza coached them for only 38!


It's ironic how the player with the third-most championships (K.C. Jones) couldn't take the Conquistadors past the first round of the playoffs. In addition, it's funny how the Conquistadors hired the player BANNED from the NBA for a point-shaving (i.e., gambling) controversy.


Beryl Shipley

Besides these All-Star coaches, the San Diego Conquistadors were also coached by Beryl Shipley and Bill Musselman. Shipley replaced Alex Groza as head coach for the remainder of the 1974-75 ABA season. For the remaining 46 games, Shipley led the Conquistadors to a 16-30 record.


Although this was Shipley's only coaching job in the ABA/NBA, he left behind a good legacy. I'll include his story under this paragraph as it would take up too much space.


Shipley's Legacy


The Big 3?

Now, you might be wondering, "how come there's a question mark?" Welp, that's because the San Diego Conquistadors never really had a Big 3.

What do you expect?

For the three-season that they were a team, they had a negative win record for each season. There's no way a team that had a negative win record every season had a Big 3. Instead, I'll choose the best player from each season. Since there were three seasons, there will be three different players, and therefore, a Big 3! Voila!

  • 1972-73: Stew Johnson

  • 1973-74: Bo Lamar

  • 1994-75: Travis Grant

Stew Johnson

As said previously, the San Diego Conquistadors were the ABA's first and only expansion team. To fill up their team, the Conquistadors had a special ABA expansion draft. In that expansion draft, they chose Stew Johnson.

When Johnson first entered the NBA, he was originally chosen by the New York Knicks as the 21st pick in the 1966 NBA Draft. However, Johnson ended up playing in the ABA for the Kentucky Colonels for his rookie season.

Before joining the Conquistadors, Johnson was always an above-average player. In the season before he joined the Conquistadors (1971-72), Johnson was on the Carolina Cougars and averaged:


12.6 Points, 5.4 Rebounds, 1.5 Assists

43.0 FG%, 32.5 3P%, 72.6 FT%

22.5 Minutes


Pretty decent numbers. However, once he joined the San Diego Conquistadors, Johnson went from being an above-average role player to an All-Star. In his first season with the Conquistadors, he averaged:


22.1 Points, 7.5 Rebounds, 2.2 Assists

44.0 FG%, 27.8 3P%, 81.9 FT%

36.9 Minutes


Besides three-point efficiency, Johnson improved in every stat! This is probably because he played 14.4 more minutes compared to his season with the Cougars.

Nevertheless, because of his outstanding regular-season performance, Johnson would be selected as a first-time All-Star. However, in the All-Star game, Johnson only played eleven minutes and scored two po