The Sports Lounge presents… REMEMBER THEM: New Orleans Buccaneers
The Crescent City saw its first big time basketball team arrive in 1967. The New Orleans Buccaneers came into the city as a charter member of the ABA, the American Basketball Association. The team was owned by a group of investors, one of whom was Morton Downey, Jr. The team was in the Western Division and played their home games at the Loyola University Fieldhouse for the first two seasons.
The Bucs were coached by Babe McCarthy and featured some great players in their first season, including Doug Moe, Gerald Govan, Jimmy Jones, Red Robbins, and Larry Brown. The first season was a huge success in New Orleans. The Bucs finished 1st in the West and advanced to the playoffs, where they defeated the Denver Rockets and Dallas Chaparrals to advance to the ABA Finals. The Buccaneers played the Pittsburgh Pipers in a competitive finals match-up that saw the Pipers win the series in the decisive Game 7. The Bucs had 4 All-Stars that season. McCarthy coached the West All-Stars. Larry Brown was the league’s MVP and led the league in assist. Jimmy Jones was named to the ABA All-Rookie Team. And the team won the Western Division title and almost the ABA championship. Basketball was big in the “Big Easy”.
The second season came around and despite the performance the prior year, the Bucs traded Larry Brown and Doug Moe to the Oakland Oaks. But despite losing some of the players that helped them advance to the ABA Finals, the Bucs finished 46-32, good enough for 2nd in the west. They again defeated Dallas in the playoffs, but then were swept in the Western Division finals by the Oaks, with their former star Larry Brown.
After the 1968-69 season, changes were coming. The team decided to move their home games from the Loyola University Fieldhouse to Tulane Gym, now known as Devlin Fieldhouse, for the 1969-70 season. The team finished the season 42-42, 5th place in the west, and missed the playoffs. If they had played in the Eastern Division, they would have finished 3rd and made the playoffs, but in the competitive west, they were watching the postseason at home.
With the 1970-71 season approaching, the team renamed themselves the Louisiana Buccaneers to reach out to fans in the entire state, not just in New Orleans. To assist in this, ownership thought it would be beneficial (for support and finances) to play “home” games throughout the state of Louisiana. Plans were put into place to play in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lafayette, and Monroe. However, this plan never happened. Due to financial strains, the franchise was sold and moved to Memphis, TN shortly after the sale was complete. The franchise played as few more seasons as the Memphis Pros/Tams/Sounds and then the Baltimore Hustlers/Claws (Baltimore only played 3 exhibition games before the ABA folded). But, in the end, the ABA in New Orleans, was over.
As stated, the Buccaneers had a great existence in New Orleans and had its share of great players, but none as popular in the basketball world as Larry Brown. Brown played in the ABA in New Orleans, Oakland, Washington, Virginia, and Denver. But as good as a player he was, Brown is best remembered for his coaching career. He coached in the ABA, NCAA, and NBA. He is the only coach to win a NCAA Championship and an NBA Finals Championship, with the Kansas Jayhawks and Detroit Pistons, respectively. He is also the only coach in NBA history to lead 8 different franchises to the NBA playoffs. He is still coaching today, as the head coach of the SMU Mustangs.
The Buccaneers had a short, but great stay in New Orleans. But, if you have read any of my other REMEMBER THEM blogs, well, you know they did not last in the long run. The New Orleans Hornets brought back a piece of history for fans during the 2008-09 season, wearing the Buccaneers uniforms in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. The cheerleaders also wore Bucs gear and Bucs videos were played during stoppages in play. The players and coaches of the Bucs were also honored. It was great to see the Hornets organization show respect to the original basketball team in New Orleans. However, I think that will be last time the Bucs uniforms are seen on the court.
Today, the people of New Orleans and surrounding areas are more used to booing the Bucs. Of course, I’m talking about the New Orleans Saints rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But at one time, the Bucs were our team. And we celebrated a Bucs win like we do a Hornets, now Pelicans, win.