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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

The Times' Dave Distel, who covered some Amigo games for The Orange County Register, observes: "The Clippers have been treated like kings, compared to the Amigos."

Bill Crow and Paul Scranton played for the Amigos. After very respectable college careers, each did time in basketball's netherworld. Scranton, who had been a small-college All-American at Cal Poly Pomona, played a few years in the Eastern League, a collection of farm teams that fed players to the National Basketball Assn. He was even called up for a couple of stints with the Boston Celtics.

Crow, who played at Brigham Young and Westminster College (Utah), was a member of Kim's traveling band of straight men for the Globetrotters.

Scranton and Crow jumped at the chance the ABA's 11 teams offered. They weren't the only ones.

"There were hundreds of guys coming out for tryouts," Scranton said. "It was a last chance for a lot of them."

Being a basketball player in the late '60s meant being the raw material for a sport that was less than a growth industry. The NBA had only 12 teams. There was no Continental Basketball Assn. or United States Basketball League. Playing in Europe wasn't common.

"Not if you wanted to play and eat," Crow said.

In the ABA's first game program, the league proclaimed itself "the vibrant new professional basketball league that suddenly has blossomed on the vast American sports scene."

Players such as playground legend and eventual NBA star Connie Hawkins (Pittsburgh Pipers) and University of Kentucky and St. Louis Hawks great Cliff Hagan (player-coach, Dallas Chaparrals) joined on. But for every one of them, there were a half-dozen Frank Stronczeks or DeWitt Menyards.

Who were they?

Exactly.

Still, it was an opportunity, and, as Scranton said, "things looked great on paper."

Things seemed less great a few days later, when the laundryman made a mistake in the chemicals with which he treated the uniforms and "gave the entire team jock itch," Scranton said.

Things got worse when the players themselves were made responsible for washing their own clothes.

"I hadn't done that since high school," Crow said.

Kim had hired Al Brightman, who had coached the Long Beach Chiefs, as coach. Brightman played with the Celtics in the late '40s and had recruited and coached Elgin Baylor for one season (1958-59) at Seattle University.

But Brightman wouldn't make it through the season. He was fired when the losses kept mounting and was replaced by Harry Dinnel, who had been cut from the team as a player.

What hurt Brightman as a coach was the fact that he had a running team that couldn't get its hands on the ball. Larry Bunce, a 7-footer from Riverside College, was described by Brightman as having all the tools to be "the next real great superstar of professional basketball."

What he turned out to be was "the biggest disappointment we had," Kim said.

"Larry was all right," Scranton said. "But he had to play at his own pace."

Brightman considered the 6-foot 5-inch Scranton to be a smaller version of Baylor. He did lead the team in scoring and rebounding during the preseason, but played in only five regular-season games because of an ankle injury. He ended up having to sue the team for more than $6,000 in wages.

Crow was on the scout team for half the season, then got his big break in a game against New Jersey. He went 1 for 9 from the floor, making an 18-foot jump shot.

The next day, he was in the starting lineup at practice. A few days later he was cut, though he didn't know it.

Sitting on the bench before the Amigos' next home game, with a few of his friends just a few rows behind, Crow was approached by Lauren Proctor, Kim's administrative assistant.

"He walked by and did a double take," Crow said. "Then he points his finger at me and yells, 'Crow, what are you doing in that uniform? We cut you a couple of days ago.'

"I felt about 3 inches tall. My friends were right there. I asked Lauren if I could sit on the bench until halftime and then I could figure out an excuse to tell my friends. I turned in my uniform, and that was it.

"I really don't have any great memories of the team. It was hard to get close to anyone because there were so many players coming and going. There were more players coming through the turnstile than fans."

So what went wrong?

Some blame Kim's frugal ways, others say the team was bad, and others think Orange County wasn't ready for professional basketball.

Art Kim admits he was tight with a dollar. He calls himself a tough but fair negotiator. Crow called him something else when he said he never got paid.

Scranton did, but he had to go to court to get it.

The Amigos lost more than $500,000 that season. But losses are to be expected in any new venture. Kim tried promotions to get people into the Convention Center--high school bands before the game, combined dinner-game tickets--but says he never really liked having to drum up support.

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