While most people think of fried chicken, the folks in Kentucky enjoyed having a professional basketball franchise in the American Basketball Association (ABA) from 1967-1976. The Colonels won the most games (448) and had the highest winning percentage (.602) of any other team in the league during their existence.
On March 6, 1967, the American Basketball Association awarded the franchise that became the Kentucky Colonels to Don Regan for $30,000. Later that year the franchise was bought by Joseph Gregory, Mamie Gregory and William C. Boone. John Givens was named as the first coach of the Colonels.
The Colonels won their only championship in 1975 when they defeated the Indiana Pacers in five games. They were one of the ABA’s most consistent team as they won four division titles and qualified for the playoffs each season.
The most notable players for the Colonels were Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore and Louie Dampier. Issel played six seasons for the Colonels (1970-1975) then played for the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1975-1985. He coached from 1992-1994 and then 1999-2001. Gilmore played for the Colonels from 1971-1976 and then played 12 seasons in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics. Dampier played 10 seasons with the Colonels (1967-1976) before finish his career with the San Antonio Spurs (1976-1979).
Kentucky Colonel seasons:
- 36 wins, 42 losses
- Lost to Minnesota Muskies in Eastern Division Semifinals (3 games to 2)
- 42 wins, 26 losses
- Lost to Indiana Pacers in Eastern Division Semifinals (4 games to 3)
- 45 wins, 39 losses
- Lost to Indiana Pacers in Eastern Division Finals (4 games to 1)
- 44 wins, 40 losses
- Lost to Utah Stars in ABA Finals (4 games to 3)
- 68 wins, 16 losses
- Lost to New York Nets in Eastern Division Semifinals (4 games to 2)
- 56 wins, 28 losses
- Lost to Indiana Pacers in ABA Finals (4 games to 3)
- 53 wins, 31 losses
- Lost to New York Nets in Eastern Division Finals (4 games to 0)
- 58 wins, 26 losses
- Defeated Indiana Pacers in ABA Finals (4 games to 1)
- 46 wins, 38 losses
- Lost to Denver Nuggets in ABA Semifinals (4 games to 3)
The Colonels played their last game on April 26, 1976 when they lost in Game 7 of the ABA semifinals to the Denver Nuggets, 133-110.
After the 1976 season, the ABA and NBA were deciding on a merger and which ABA teams would go over to the NBA. It was clear to everyone that the Colonels had the talent and the fan support to join the NBA for the 1976-77 season. However, during the merger negotiations in June 1976, the NBA made it clear that it would accept only four ABA teams, not five. With Denver, San Antonio, New York and Indiana being the clear front-runners to make the cut, Colonels’ owner John Y. Brown decided that it was better to fold the team for cash, instead of continuing to fight. To the great disappointment of long-time Colonels fans, Kentucky was left out of the merger.
Fans in Louisville would like to bring back the Colonels. The website #ColonelsComeBack is a grassroots effort organized to promote the return of the Kentucky Colonels to professional basketball. Supporters are passionate about basketball in this area, and wish to have their own team in the NBA.
For more reading and stories about the Kentucky Colonels, check out this book: