Spirits of St. Louis
|Arena||Sam Houston Coliseum|
|Team colors||Black and Gold
|Head coach||Slater Martin (1967–68)
Art Becker (interim, 1968–69)
Jim Weaver (1969)
|Ownership||T. C. Morrow|
|Conference titles||no conference play in ABA|
The Houston Mavericks were a charter member of the American Basketball Association. They played in the upstart league's first two seasons, from 1967 to 1969. Their home arena was the Sam Houston Coliseum. In 1947–48, there was an unrelated Mavericks franchise based in Houston as part of the Professional Basketball League of America.
The Mavericks were one of the first ABA franchises, announced on February 2, 1967 when the ABA was formed. They were owned by businessman T. C. Morrow. One of the minority partners was Bud Adams, who owned the Houston Oilers of the American Football League. Houston native and former NBA great Slater Martin was hired as general manager and head coach.
The Mavericks got off to an inauspicious start during the first ABA draft. Martin arrived in Oakland to represent the team, only to find out that Morrow and his group hadn't sent the required $30,000 bond. By the time Martin was able to get the money through other channels, he'd missed the first four rounds and was forced to recruit players from the Eastern Basketball Association (now the Continental Basketball Association).
Not surprisingly given the rough start, the Mavericks had a somewhat mediocre season, finishing 29–49, good for fourth place in the Western Division. However, this was actually enough to make the playoffs. They went down rather meekly to the Dallas Chaparrals in the Western Division semifinals 3 games to none.
Houstonians viewed the Mavericks largely with indifference. Average attendance was listed as 1,543, easily the worst in the league. It took some effort to get even to that low figure; the team was lucky to attract 500 fans on most nights.
Morrow made a considerable effort in the offseason to improve the team, aggressively pursuing Houston Cougars stars Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney. However, when they both opted for the NBA instead, Morrow turned the team back over to the league.
ABA commissioner George Mikan was concerned enough about the situation in Houston that he sent the Mavericks several players in hopes of making them more attractive to fans. Martin, who had teamed with Mikan on the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1940s and 1950s, didn't appreciate this intervention from the league office and resigned a month into the season. Becker served as player-coach for a few games until Jim Weaver took over for the rest of the campaign.
The team's already dreadful attendance dropped even further. Average attendance was officially reported as 1,147, the worst in the league. However, it was almost certainly lower than that; many observers reported seeing "crowds" in double digits. According to most reliable sources, the Mavericks padded the gate for most of the early-season games to make the attendance figures look more respectable than they actually were. As the season wore on, however, the Mavericks were less willing to embellish their attendance. During the last three months of the season, they attracted well under 400 fans per game.
Not surprisingly, the Mavericks were wretched on the court, finishing with a record of 23–55, second-worst in the league. However, the season was not without individual highlights. Willie Somerset again played in the ABA All Star Game. The Houston Mavericks played their final game on April 2, 1969 before only 89 fans (announced attendance), defeating the New York Nets 149–132. The 149 points was an all-time high for the Mavericks; the 89 fans was an all-time low. Another notable mark during the season was the Mavericks hitting 43 consecutive free throws in a row. The streak began with 7 straight in a double overtime victory over the Minnesota Pipers on January 16, 1969. The next night on the road against the New York Nets the Mavericks went 36 of 36 from the line. The streak ended with the team's first free throw against the Kentucky Colonels on January 18, 1969. The free throw streak and mark for a single game remain to this day as unbroken professional basketball records.
During the 1968–69 season, the league sold the team to a group led by Jim Gardner, who intended to move the team to North Carolina. However, he agreed to finish the season in Houston. Shortly after the season ended, Gardner moved the team to North Carolina as the Carolina Cougars. After a few years in North Carolina the team moved to St. Louis and competed as the Spirits of St. Louis. After the 1975–76 season the team was moving to Salt Lake City to play as the Utah Rockies but the ABA–NBA merger did not include the Spirits/Rockies or the Kentucky Colonels and the franchise disbanded, its players put into a dispersal draft.
Houston would have a somewhat more successful attempt at big-time basketball when the NBA's Rockets arrived from San Diego. However, the Rockets were consigned to vagabond status for their first four years in Houston after declaring Sam Houston Coliseum unsuitable even for temporary use. They finally moved into their new arena, The Summit (later known as the Compaq Center) in 1975.
Note: W = Wins, L = Losses, % = Win–Loss %
|1967–68||29||49||.372||Lost Division Semifinals||Dallas 3, Houston 0|
|1968–69||23||55||.295||Did not qualify|