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AFTER ONLY ONE YEAR . . . ADIOS, AMIGOS : Anaheim's Days in ABA Were So Forgettable, They Weren't Painful

July 14, 1988|STEVE LOWERY | Times Staff Writer

Twenty years ago, the Anaheim Amigos ceased to exist. As deaths go, this one was painless. No one cried for the Amigos.

Not the public. The Amigos didn't have a public. Not the folks who owned the Amigos' home arena. The Amigos didn't really have a home arena, just a hall where they squeezed in home games between RV shows and electronics conventions.

The players? They were just happy whenever they were paid. The owner was busy managing another basketball team seemingly before the ink was dry on the check that bought and killed his Amigos.

After one season--78 games--in a fledgling organization known as the American Basketball Assn., the Amigos were gone. All that's left are the memories, and there are very few of those.

The Amigos seemed to be a good idea at the time. But looking back, the sentiment is best summed up by former owner Art Kim, who when informed that a story was in the works about his old team, cut to the marrow of the matter:

"Why?"

The Anaheim Amigos, a team for the ages. The ages seem to be the only region where they're welcomed.

There are people who actually saw the Amigos play basketball at the Anaheim Convention Center. There aren't many; the team averaged about 500 a game in its one season, although it regularly announced attendance as more than 1,000.

"That was including about 500 people dressed as seats," said Larry Robinson, the convention center ticket office manager.

Robinson attended every game at the Convention Center--it was his job--but when asked for his most vivid memory of the team, his only recollection was of watching the smoke from a fire burning in Corona during a game.

"It really doesn't have anything to do with the team," he said. "But it's the only thing I remember that's even remotely related to them."

Tom Liegler, who was the general manager of Anaheim Stadium and Convention Center at the time, also saw a lot of games.

"Oh, I think they were a very interesting team to watch," he said. "I used to see as many games as I could. I really enjoyed them."

Liegler said he even had a favorite player, though he can't remember the player's name or the position he played.

From all accounts, this was a running team. A running team that couldn't rebound, which accounts for its 25-53 record during the 1967-68 season, the ABA's first.

Kim's basketball experience extended back to World War II, when he ran leagues for servicemen stationed in Hawaii. He had latched on with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1946, organizing games and running the hapless teams (Hawaiian Surfriders, New York Nationals, Washington Generals) that regularly lost to the Trotters in the most demeaning ways.

A basketball on a rubber band! Who would have thought that would happen . . . again. Kim became owner of the Hawaii Chiefs of the American Basketball League in 1961 . The team moved to Long Beach in 1962, and it began the season at 10-0, but the league went belly-up.

Kim jumped back with the Globetrotters until he was contacted by ABA officials, who, he said, offered him the pick of any franchise because "I was the only prospective owner who was connected with basketball." He points out that Pat Boone owned the Oakland Oaks.

He chose the Anaheim franchise because "Orange County was really coming of age." Enthusiastic about the support the California Angels were given by the county, Kim quickly made a deal with radio station KEZY and an 11-game television deal with KTTV.

The Convention Center, which had opened in July, 1967, had a seating capacity of only 7,000, but it was far from small by ABA standards. Five teams had smaller arenas; the New Jersey Americans played in the 5,500-seat Teaneck Armory.

The problem with the Convention Center was that it had none. The Amigos needed the Convention Center far more than the Convention Center needed the Amigos. Located across the street from Disneyland in a town full of hotels and open arms for the American businessman, it was an immediate smash.

According to Ed Stotereau, the Convention Center's manager at the time, the building was enlarged by 120,000 square feet from the original 400,000 just a few years after it opened to keep up with the demand.

"We were doing very well," he said.

So well that when the Amigos asked for more than 30 guaranteed home dates in the months of January and February, they were given just 3.

"They were a tenant and we worked closely with them," Liegler said. "But, as a local team, they just weren't faring well in drawing people. We had to follow those things that did well--conventions, trade shows--and give them (the Amigos) the dates left over."

The final indignity came when the Amigos' final home game was moved from Friday to Sunday to make way for a closed-circuit telecast of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. semifinal game between UCLA and Houston.

"We never got the support I thought we would," Kim said. "I thought they would welcome us like the Angels. They didn't."

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