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.
"Dan's a great one," explained Big Z, who almost matched him point for point, with 36. "He had a great series, but I got more help from my teammates. That's why I'm on a championship team, and he isn't."
Colonel guard Darel Carrier almost ruined the Stars' party and kept their corks from popping.
Carrier smoked the Stars in the fourth quarter, with three consecutive three-pointers. His effort cut the Stars' margin to five points, 95-90, with 8:45 remaining.
But Wise (22 points), Red Robbins (13 points), Combs , Merv Jackson (19 points), and Big Z always had an answer.
The big key for the Stars, too, was that they dominated the boards, 71-57.
Wise pulled down 20 rebounds, while Beaty contributed 16, Robbins hauled in 15, and Jackson had seven.
Another key for the Stars came in the second quarter. They outscored the Colonels, behind Combs' and Beaty's shooting, 33-22.
The Stars ran. They hit the open man. It was an unselfish effort. The same effort, which the Stars established early on this season.
"This is the most unselfish team I've ever known," said Sharman, the former Boston Celtic star. "Every man searched for the hot shooter, and then, fed him the ball. Never has one of the players sought glory for himself in the game."
Everytime, the Colonels staged a comeback, it was like a boxing match. The Stars had a counter punch. Finally, trying to overcome the Stars' second quarter effort, the Colonels were spent in the fourth quarter.
The Stars showed their hearts. The hearts of champions.
As far as Jackson, the former Utah All-American (1968), George Stone, trainer Buddy Taylor, and Sharman are concerned, the Stars' championship story started three years ago in Los Angeles.
"This is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me," said Jackson, while laying on the training table getting help for his injured knee from Taylor.
"We came close last year. But this capped it off. You should've seen us three years ago. We were nothing. Coach Sharman has brought us a long way and I know George, Buddy, and I are grateful for what he has done."
"This put the icing on the cake," smiled Taylor, while administering Jackson's injured knee in the mist of the celebrating. "It took us three years. But we finally got there."
Red Robbins, who was in an ABA championship series for the second time (the first time was the first year of the ABA, when he played for New Orleans and the Pittsburgh Pipers won), was all smiles, but he was also flat worn out.
"It was a good series," Redbird pointed out. "It was as good a series as the one with Indiana. But Kentucky doesn't have the big name players except Issel.
"Everybody thought this series was going to be anticlimatic after the Indiana series. But it was tough," added Red. "I'm just glad it's over. It's been a long season. I'm exhausted."
Then, Robbins broke out, with a huge ear-to-ear grin, and laughed, "I can remember when I was traded and showed up here for training camp last September without any shoes."
Robbins wore big shoes Tuesday night.
Second guessers questioned president-general manager Boryla on many of his trades, including the one with Dallas, which brought Ron Boone and Combs to their roster in January.Comment on this story
But those second guessers joined him in congratulating the Utah Stars on bringing the Beehive State its first major league championship.
Kentucky's general manager, Mike Storen, coach Frank Ramsey, and players Louie Dampier, Cincy Powell, and Dan Hester also came into the Stars' locker room to honor Utah's ABA Champions.
Said Big Z, "No matter what happens in the years to come. No one can ever take this championship away from us."
Indeed, the Stars gave Utah a night to remember. It was one for the ages.