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    Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Colonels ABA Basketball Facebook Page
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    Forty years ago Friday, Louisville was celebrating a championship.

    On May 22, 1975 the Kentucky Colonels proved they were the best professional basketball team in the American Basketball Association (and maybe the world) when they captured their first - and only - ABA title with a 110-105 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the championship series. Seven-foot-two center Artis Gilmore capped off his playoff MVP performance with an incredible effort - 28 points, 31 rebounds and five assists - in the clinching game.

    The title completed a very special season for the Colonels, who were one of the most successful franchises in the fledgling ABA.

    Kentucky, which was coached by Hubie Brown, went 58-26 (winning 22 of its final 25) during the 1975-76 regular season. However the New York Nets (the defending ABA champs who were led by some guy named Julius Erving) tied the Colonels for the best record in the ABA’s Eastern Division, so the two teams had a one-game playoff to determine which one would be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

    On April 4 Gilmore tallied 28 points to lead five in double figures - and offset Dr. J’s 34 - in the Colonels’ 108-99 win in Freedom Hall.

    Top-seeded Kentucky then beat the fourth-seeded Memphis Sounds 4-1 in the division semifinal series before topping the third-seeded Spirits of St. Louis, who had upset the Nets in the other division semi, by the same series score in the division finals to reach the ABA Finals for the third time in its eight seasons. In the finals the Colonels faced their old nemesis, the Pacers.

    Indiana, a three-time ABA champion, had outlasted the Colonels 4-3 in the ‘73 finals. That was just two years after the Utah Stars had beaten Kentucky 4-3 in the ‘71 finals.  

    On May 13, 1975 the Colonels clobbered the Pacers 120-94 in Game 1 of the series in Freedom Hall led by Gilmore’s double-double (26 points, 13 rebounds). But the big man, who was probably 7-6 with the Afro (like Fletch), didn’t do it alone. Former University of Kentucky standout Louie Dampier added 22 points and five assists while fellow former UK star Dan Issel added 18 points and 19 rebounds to offset 35 points by Indiana star center George McGinnis.

    Two days later the Colonels edged the Pacers 95-93 behind 22 points from Issel and 16 from Marv Roberts while Dampier finished with 15 and Gilmore tallied 12 & 15.

    The series shifted to Indy for Game 3, but it didn’t matter. Gilmore had an insane game - 41 points and 28 rebounds - while Issel added 26 & 12 as the Kentucky outscored Indiana 36-20 in the fourth quarter for a 109-101 triumph May 17 in Market Square Arena.

    Two days later the Pacers picked up their only victory of the series, rallying for a 94-86 victory. McGinnis tallied 22 points, 21 rebounds and six assists to lead Indiana while Issel scored 26 and Gilmore added 18 & 18 in a losing effort.

    Maybe the Colonels were just waiting to clinch the series on their home court, because three days later that’s exactly what they did in front of more than 16,000 fans at Freedom Hall. In addition to Gilmore’s great game, Issel added 16 & 12, Dampier tallied 12 points and 12 assists and Ted McClain, a shooting guard out of Tennessee State, had a very good all-around game (19 points, seven assists, six rebounds and six steals) to help cancel out game games by Billy Knight (40 points) and McGinnis (31 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists).

    After the series victory Colonels owner, and future Kentucky Governor, John Y. Brown Jr. offered the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who had surprisingly swept the Washington Bullets (which were led by former University of Louisville star Wes Unseld) in the NBA finals, $1 million to play a world title game. However the NBA, and the Warriors, declined.

    A few months later, prior to the ‘75-76 season, the Colonels and ABA commish Dave DeBusschere again challenged the NBA and the Warriors, this time to a championship series between Kentucky and Golden State with the winner receiving $1 million. But it never happened either. 

    The teams eventually played a preseason exhibition game (one of many pitting NBA teams vs. ABA teams) - but without the big pay day. In October of 1975 the Colonels (who had traded Issel in the offseason) topped the Warriors 93-90 in Freedom Hall.

    That subsequent season would be the Colonels’ last. They folded in July of 1976 as part of the ABA-NBA merger. Since then several attempts have been made to return pro basketball to Louisville, but they’ve all been unsuccessful.

    Forty years ago, though, Louisville was home to one of the best - if not the best - pro basketball team.

    Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Colonels ABA Basketball Facebook Page

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