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Stars gave Utah a night to remember

Published: Monday, May 21 2001 1:49 p.m. MDT

For the 30th anniversary of the Utah Stars' ABA championship, the game story that appeared May 19, 1971, written by Dan Pattison is reprinted here. Pattison, the only Stars beat writer the Deseret News had, died earlier this month.

Stars 131, Colonels 121

The greatest sports story that the state of Utah has known unfolded in the Salt Palace arena and the Utah Stars' dressing room Tuesday night.

It was the locker room of champions. It was the Utah Stars' locker room.

Amid the bedlam of a champaigne shower, the Stars were crowned American Basketball Association Champions, ousting Kentucky, 131-121, Tuesday night before 13,260 fans (700 fans above capacity, 12,224), who jumped into hysteria with :37 remaining in the game.

It was a "Miracle on West Temple Street."

The Stars' mission wasn't impossible. It was accomplished. And it was time to celebrate.

The actions of Stars' forward Willie Wise, who approached super-star status during the playoffs, were typical of the rest of his teammates in the locker room.

"Do you want to see what I think and feel?" questioned Wise as he walked into the shower room, with his uniform on. "This is how I feel. I want to wear this uniform forever."

Veteran center Zelmo Beaty has been at the professional basketball game for eight years and has never known what it is to win a title.

Beaty was enjoying the fruits of his first championship.

"Nine months is a long time," said Beaty, who came to the Stars after jumping from the NBA Atlanta Hawks. "But right now, I feel like I'm on top of the world. It took eight years of playing for me to do something like this. I've played with some great guys before, but not like these guys. We just couldn't let the fans down. It was a pleasure to play in Utah this season."

Speaking of the fan response, ABA Commissioner Jack Dolph said, "I can remember when the franchise was moved from Los Angeles. Bill (Daniels) and Vince (Boryla) were worried about how the fan response would be coming here with a professional basketball team."

They (Daniels and Boryla) got their answer Saturday, when the seventh game was sold out in two hours. It has to be one of the greatest sports stories in the country.

"After all," Dolph continued, "Utah is the only franchise to win a major league sports championship in its first year of operation."

That excludes, of course, the ABA's first year of operation when Pittsburgh won the title.

It wasn't an easy task for the Stars to defeat the Colonels. The proud Colonels battled the Stars to a seventh game. But they were lost amid the fans' celebration, charging the court to hoist their champions, in the Salt Palace arena.

The Stars won it for their fans.

"I can't remember anytime as a player or coach, when the fans gave every player a standing ovation when they were introduced at the start of the game," said Stars' coach Bill Sharman, who was named to the Silver Anniversary All-National Basketball Association team during the season.

The Stars played in spurts.

They would gain an advantage and then let up. But, when it counted, Utah responded to the pressure.

The Stars held a 61-54 margin at the half. Glen Combs and Beaty paced their attack with 20, and 18 points.

Kentucky's story was Dan Issel. Big Dan (6-foot-9, 245-pounds) netted 21 points at the half, and 41 points for the game.

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