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David Vance's Kentucky Colonels were the ABA's marquee franchise

For four seasons, the Colonels’ front line included Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore, both of whom became NBA stars after the 1976 merger and are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
BY BERRY TRAMEL Published: August 5, 2014
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The late great Kentucky Colonels, for whom David Vance worked for most of their nine-year existence, were quite the franchise.

For four seasons, the Colonels’ front line included Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore, both of whom became NBA stars after the 1976 merger and are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Colonels were the ABA’s marquee franchise, drawing solid crowds to Freedom Hall in Louisville. In the four years that Issel and Gilmore were together, the Colonels averaged 8,213 fans, which was more than many NBA franchises.

The Colonels went 68-16 in 1971-72 but were upset by the New York Nets in the Eastern Division semifinals.

The Colonels finally won the ABA title in 1975. But owner John Y. Brown sold Issel, a Kentucky college hero, to the Baltimore Claws for $500,000 in the offseason, and though the Colonels picked up Maurice Lucas from the Spirits of St. Louis, the Colonels lost momentum.

In 1975-76, three ABA teams failed to finish the season, merger talks heated up and Brown agreed to take $3 million to disband his franchise and not join the NBA.

The Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and New York Nets joined the NBA.

Brown took his money, bought the Buffalo Braves for $1.5 million and eventually traded that franchise for the Boston Celtics.

Louisville remains without a major league sports franchise. But those 1975 Colonels were the grand marshals of the 2005 Kentucky Derby Parade.


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