American Basketball Association (1970-1972)
Born: Summer 1970 – The Pittsburgh Pipers/Pioneers are re-branded as the Pittsburgh Condors.
Died: June 13, 1972 - The ABA disbands the Condors franchise.
Arena: Pittsburgh Civic Arena
Owners: Haven Industries (represented by Don Bezahler)
Western Pennsylvania sports fans didn’t care much for the Pittsburgh Condors of the American Basketball Association. But this odd little team has become a cult favorite of ABA collectors and nostalgists thanks to its short life span, deeply weird storylines and some great-looking-but-very-rare memorabilia.
Case in point: a very scarce 1970-71 Condors media guide (like the one above right) is currently selling for $500.00 on e-Bay. That’s John Brisker on the cover pictured in sombrero and six shooters. Brisker was a sensational scorer and also a volatile, heat-packing brawler who terrified opponents and teammates alike. No one has seen Brisker since 1978. The most popular theory is that he died in Uganda fighting as a mercenary for Idi Amin.
The Condors were a continuation of the ABA’s Pittsburgh Pipers franchise, which was an equally strange operation. The Condors were one of the ABA’s original eleven franchises in 1967. They were the best team in the league that first season (54-24) and won the inaugural championship, thanks in large part to future Hall-of-Famer Connie Hawkins. But after that first ABA season, Condors owner Gabe Rubin moved the franchise to Minneapolis, where another ABA club had just failed. When the Pipers failed to generate any interest in the Twin Cities, Rubin dragged the club back to Pittsburgh, of all places, for the ABA’s third season in 1969-70. Pittsburgh fans were not in a forgiving mood. The 1969-70 Pipers played to a near-empty Civic Arena on most nights. Compounding matters, Hawkins had left for the NBA and the team was a terrible (29-55), a shell of its championship form two winters earlier.
In April 1970 Gabe Rubin unloaded the Pipers on a New York conglomerate named Haven Industries that ran businesses ranging from sugar refining to livery services. Remarkably, the new owners decided to keep the team in Pittsburgh, despite the monolithic apathy of the locals. They decided the problem was the Pipers identity and set about holding a Name The Team contest to re-brand the team. The prize for the winning entry was $500.00 cash.
Law student Don Seymour proposed the name “Pittsburgh Pioneers”, taking 57 words to explain why. Club officials dug Seymour’s concept and named him the winner. Trouble was, a woman named Angela Weaver also submitted the name “Pioneers” and, unlike Seymour, she kept her submission within the 25-word limit stated in the contest rules. And Angela Weaver’s husband was an attorney. And besides that a small downtown Pittsburgh college already used the name Pioneers and threatened to litigate. And so the Pipers abandoned their bungled Name The Team contest and became the “Pittsburgh Condors” for no special reason.
On the court, the new management hired former Cincinnati Royals and San Diego Rockets (NBA) head man Jack McMahon to turn around the Condors’ fortunes. Although Brisker and Mike Lewis were named to the 1971 ABA All-Star Game, the Condors struggled to a 36-48 finish and missed the playoffs. Attendance was terrible a 2,806 per game, a figure inflated by massive ticket giveaways, if not outright deception, according to the ABA’s premier historian Arthur Hundhausen of RememberTheABA.com.
The Condors’ second and final campaign in the winter of 1971-72 was worst still. GM Mark Binstein canned Jack McMahon after a 4-6 start and named himself Head Coach, despite no previous experience. Attendance plummeted further, fueling rumors that the Condors would disband or relocate while the season was still in progress. After the New Year, the Condors started moving games all over the country rather than play to empty seats in Pittsburgh. There were rumors the Condors could end up in Cincinnati, El Paso, New Haven or San Diego for the 1972-73 season. Pittsburgh’s final “home” game of the 1971-72 season was played in Tucson, Arizona, of all places, on March 28, 1972. In typical fashion, the Condors lost to the Kentucky Colonels in a high scoring shootout 134-132. The club would never play in Pittsburgh again.
The Condors had the worst record in the ABA in 1971-72 at 25-59. The various rumored relocations fell through and the ABA terminated the Condors franchise on June 13, 1972.
==Pittsburgh Condors Games on Fun While It Lasted==
Forward John Brisker disappeared in Uganda in April 1978 and was never heard from again. Brisker was declared legally dead in 1985.
Condors Head Coach Jack McMahon passed away at age 60 on June 11, 1989.