|Founded||1969 (as Carolina Cougars)|
Spirits of St. Louis
J.S. Dorton Arena (Raleigh)
|Location||Greensboro, North Carolina
Charlotte, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina
|Team colors||Carolina Blue
and Cardinal Red (1969-71)|
Green and Blue
|Head coach||Bones McKinney 1970-1971
Jerry Steele 1971
Tom Meschery 1971-72
Larry Brown 1972-1974
|Ownership||Southern Sports Corporation|
|Conference titles||no conference play in ABA|
|Division titles||1 (1972-73)|
The Carolina Cougars were a basketball franchise in the former American Basketball Association that existed from late 1969 through 1974. The Cougars were originally a charter member of the ABA as the Houston Mavericks in 1967. The Mavericks moved to North Carolina in late 1969 after two unsuccessful seasons in Houston at the Sam Houston Coliseum. The Cougars' colors were green, blue, and white.
The Carolina Cougars franchise began when future Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina Jim Gardner bought the Houston Mavericks and moved them to North Carolina in 1969. At the time, none of North Carolina's large metropolitan areas--Charlotte, the Piedmont Triad and the Triangle—was large enough to support a professional team on its own. With this in mind, Gardner decided to brand the Cougars as a "regional" team. The Cougars were based in Greensboro and played most of their home games at the Greensboro Coliseum, the state's largest arena at the time. However, some games were also played in Charlotte at the (original) Charlotte Coliseum, Raleigh at Dorton Arena and Reynolds Coliseum, and in Winston-Salem at the Winston-Salem Memorial Coliseum.
Early on, the Cougars were not especially successful on the court, posting a 42-42 record in the 1969-'70 season, a 34-50 record in '70-'71, and a 35-49 record in '71-'72. Only the '69-'70 Cougars managed to make the ABA playoffs but lost in the Eastern Division Semifinals (first round) to a much stronger Indiana Pacers team. In spite of this, the Cougars had a good fan following, particularly in Greensboro.
Gardner sold the team after one season to Tedd Munchak, who poured significant resources into the team. In 1972-1973, the Cougars hired retired ABA players Larry Brown and former Cougar Doug Moe as coaches. The '72-'73 Cougars were fairly talented and featured players Billy Cunningham, Joe Caldwell, and Mack Calvin. All three appeared in the ABA All-Star Game that season, and Cunningham was named the league's Most Valuable Player. Carolina went on to post a 57-27 record, which was the best in the ABA. The Cougars beat the New York Nets in their first-round playoff series 4-1, but lost a close series to the Kentucky Colonels 4-3 in the Eastern Division finals. There were many upset and disappointed fans in Greensboro when the Cougars decided to hold game 7 of the series in Charlotte. Of the 42 scheduled regular season home games, 25 were usually scheduled for Greensboro while only 12 were played in Charlotte. With Cougar management having the choice of city to play game 7, it mystified its Greensboro area fans with the choice to play such a pivotal game on a less familiar court. Game 7 was hotly contested but Kentucky prevailed, much to Cougar fans dismay.
Move to St. Louis
Due to injuries and internal squabbles, the '73-'74 Cougars posted a 47-37 record but was swept in the Eastern Division semifinals 4-0 by the Kentucky Colonels.
It turned out to be the Cougars' last season in North Carolina. Although they were moderately successful overall and had one of the most loyal fan bases in the ABA, talks toward a ABA-NBA merger were in the final stages, and it had become apparent that a "regional" franchise would not be viable in the NBA. Although the Charlotte/Greensboro/Raleigh axis (the Piedmont Crescent or I-85 Corridor) was beginning an unprecedented period of growth that still continues to this day, neither city was big enough at the time to support an NBA team on its own. Additionally, several persons quoted in the book Loose Balls by Terry Pluto say the added travel expenses incurred by the regional concept ultimately proved insurmountable. Munchak sold the Cougars to a consortium of New York businessmen who moved to St. Louis as the Spirits of St. Louis. The Spirits were one of two teams that lasted until the very end of the league but not join the NBA; the other was the Kentucky Colonels. (The Virginia Squires folded after the final ABA regular season ended but before the ABA-NBA merger due to their inability to meet a league-mandated financial assessment after the season ended.) At the time of the ABA-NBA merger the Spirits' owners planned to move the team to Salt Lake City, Utah to play as the Utah Rockies.
Professional basketball would return to North Carolina in 1988 when the Charlotte Hornets entered the NBA. They suspended operations in 2002, but returned two years later as the Bobcats in 2004-2005. The Hornets name was brought back in 2014.
Since 2012, the Cougars' uniforms are often used by the Bobcats/Hornets under the NBA Hardwood Classics moniker.