American Basketball Association (1967-1969)
Born: February 2, 1967 – ABA founding franchise.
Died:1969 – The Mavericks relocate to North Carolina (Carolina Cougars).
Arena: Sam Houston Coliseum
Owner: T.C. Morrow
The Houston Mavericks were a short-lived and spectacularly unpopular franchise in the iconic American Basketball Association (1967-1976). Awarded as one of the league’s founding franchises on February 2, 1967, the Mavs were owned by Texas oilman T.C. Morrow, one the new league’s wealthiest backers.
Things got off to a rough start when Mavs Head Coach & General Manager Slater Martin traveled to Oakland for the ABA’s first college draft in 1967 and discovered that Morrow and his partners had neglected to post the team’s $30,000 performance bond, which was required to participate in the draft. Slater, shut out of the draft room, desperately phoned bankers back in Texas to raise the money. By the time he satisfied ABA officials, the draft was in the 5th round. The club was cobbled together from journeymen and finished 29-49 in 1967-68.
Worse than the on-court mediocrity was the apathy of the Houston citizenry to their first professional basketball team. Houston had the worst attendance in the ABA. Regardless of what the team claimed, reporters often eye-balled crowds in the low triple digits at the 8,900-seat Sam Houston Coliseum.
In March 1968 the Mavericks sparked a feud with the National Basketball Association as both leagues courted University of Houston star Elvin Hayes. T.C. Morrow offered Hayes a two-year $500,000 contract to sign with the ABA, but Hayes declined to even negotiate with the Mavericks. He took less money to sign with the San Diego Rockets of the NBA, where he was the #1 overall selection in the 1968 draft. Stunned by the rejection, Morrow accused the Rockets of illegally paying Hayes under the table while he was still playing college basketball. The Mavericks also pursued Hayes’ University of Houston teammate Don Chaney, another NBA 1st round draft pick. Like Hayes, Chaney spurned the ABA in favor of the established league.
Morrow lost interest early in the ABA’s second season in 1968-69. He walked away and turned the franchise back to the league in late 1968. The ABA quietly operated the Mavs for several weeks as wards of the league.
Meanwhile, Commissioner George Mikan grew increasingly concerned about the abysmal support for the Mavericks in Houston and attempted to send players to Houston who might spark more fan interest. The only problem was that Mavs coach Slater Martin (Mikan’s former teammate on five NBA world championship teams with the Minneapolis Lakers) didn’t want the players Mikan was foisting on him. Martin quit midway through the season.
ABA soon officials found a new buyer for the Mavericks in former North Carolina congressman James Gardner. Gardner took over the club in January 1969 and agreed to finish out the season in Houston, but made it clear that the club would move to North Carolina for the 1969-70 season. This left the Mavs to finish the 1968-69 campaign as lame ducks.
The ABA’ brief two-year stay in Houston came to a merciful end on April 2, 1969, when the Mavs defeated the New York Nets 149-132 in the season finale at Sam Houston Coliseum. By this point, what was left of the Mavs’ staff no longer bothered to embellish the attendance figures. The official attendance for the game was 89 fans.
Houston Oilers AFL owner Bud Adams was a minority partner in the original Mavericks ownership group led by T.C. Morrow.
The Mavs franchise existed for the entire nine-season run of the ABA. The club became the Carolina Cougars from 1969-1974 and later moved again to become the Spirits of St. Louis from 1974 to 1976. The franchise folded when the ABA merged with the NBA in 1976.
Seven years after the Mavericks tried to sign him, Don Chaney would sign with the former Mavs franchise, playing the 1975-76 season with the Spirits of St. Louis.
Two years after the Mavs left town, Houston got an NBA franchise when the San Diego Rockets moved to town in 1971. The Rockets brought Elvin Hayes – the player most coveted by the Mavericks – with them.