American Basketball League (1961-1962)
Born: 1960 – ABL founding franchise.
Folded: January 18, 1962
Arena: Olympic Auditorium
Owners: Vito Guarino & Len Corbosiero
ABL Championships: None
The Los Angeles Jets were one of six original franchises in Abe Saperstein’s American Basketball League, which planned to debut in the fall of 1960 and take on the National Basketball Association for bragging rights as the country’s premier pro basketball circuit. Saperstein was the founder and promoter of the Harlem Globetrotters. His Los Angeles investors were Vito Guarino and his stepson Len Corbosiero.
Guarino promoted the first NBA game in Los Angeles, a 1959 exhibition game between the Philadelphia Warriors and the St. Louis Hawks which also happened to be Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA debut. But Guarino’s dream of securing an NBA franchise for L.A. was dashed when Minneapolis Lakers owner Bob Short gained approval to move his franchise to the city in the fall of 1960. Guarino ended up with the Jets franchise in Saperstein’s new league instead, but found himself shut out of L.A.’s new Memorial Sports Arena by the transplanted Lakers. The Jets considered a move to Long Beach for the 1960-61 season, but instead the ABL decided to postpone its debut for a year as other cities also struggled to secure arena agreements..
When the ABL finally tipped off in the autumn of 1961, the Jets were still in Los Angeles and struck a deal to play at the city’s Grand Olympic Auditorium on Grand Avenue. The Jets’ big name was player-coach Bill Sharman, the perennial All-Star guard for the Boston Celtics who left the NBA because he did not want to be exposed to the league’s expansion draft. Celtics owner Walter Brown vowed to prevent Sharman from playing for the ABL, but Sharman defied the Celtics’ intimidation and Brown gave up his crusade in November 1961.
But Sharman’s reprieve in L.A. didn’t last long. The Jets made their home debut on November 6, 1961 against the San Francisco Saints. In a bad omen, only 1,634 souls showed up at Olympic Auditorium to witness a close contest (won by the Saints 116-113) which also included a first half brawl sparked by NBA veterans George Yardley of the Jets and Whitey Bell of the Saints.
The ABL split its 1961-62 season into two halves. The Jets played their final game of the first half on January 10, 1962, defeating the Hawaii Chiefs 123-122 in San Francisco to run their record to 24-15. But despite the winning record, the Jets were out of money or hope (or both) and elected not to continue with the season’s second half. They became the first ABL franchise to fold on January 17, 1962. At the time, the league claimed the team was just taking the rest of the season off to re-organize and would likely re-appear in Long Beach for the 1962-62. The ABL would have a team in Long Beach the following autumn, but it would be the relocated the Hawaii Chiefs rather than the Jets, who were never heard from again.
The ABL itself folded midway through its second season on December 31, 1962. The role of chief antagonist and rival to the National Basketball Association would fall to the far more successful American Basketball Association, which launched five years later in 1967 and ultimately forced a partial merger in 1976.
Bill Sharman would later championships as a coach in both the American Basketball Association and the NBA. He would enter the Basketball Hall of Fame twice, enshrined as both a player (1976) and a coach (2004).
Jets owner Vito Guarino died on July 24, 1991 at age 77.
Jets player and NBA veteran George Yardley passed away at age 75 on August 12, 2004.
Jets player-coach Bill Sharman passed away October 25, 2013. He was 87 years old.
American Basketball League Programs