Memories of Miami Floridians of The American Basketball Association

The Floridians Logo

In the late 1960’s an alternative league to the established National Basketball Association started up called the American Basketball Association. Imported to South Florida from ill fated beginnings as the Minnesota Muskies, a struggling semi pro b-ball team was rebranded as The Miami Floridians to enliven offerings in a resort and retirement area where golf, and gambling on jai alai and horse racing were the preferred past times. The Miami Dolphins NFL team were the dominant champion level pro sports phenomena in town and there was seemingly little demand for basketball and ticket sales seemed to show this.

After two years playing with lousy lineups in ill suited venues like Dade Junior College, and an old aircraft hanger called Dinner Key Auditorium, the bleak experience and team’s stale image helped doom attendance. A new vision would be required at the dawning of the age of Aquarius to get the team off the ground.

old Dinner key Auditorium from a 1970 Miami News photo

Fortunately, a new owner had been bought in by 1970 named Ned Doyle, one of the original imaginative literal “Mad Men” of Madison Ave giants Doyle, Dane & Bernbach, who had overseen and help create memorable campaigns like Avis “We Try Harder”, he’d stuffed Wilt The Stilt into a Volkswagen beetle, and had made Sara Lee seem like a member of the family, so how hard could it be for him to sell sweaty men in shorts?

Floridians ABA Basketball
a Floridians trading card
Doyle arranged for more colorful uniforms, gave away youth tickets and brought in sponsors to help get the nascent team more notoriety

Doyle had done so well from the advertising business, that upon retirement, he invested a spare million bucks into the novel idea of launching his revamped version of a pro basketball team in Miami Florida. One of Doyle’s first attempts to bolster the floundering, but potentially successful, teams’ image was move the games to the more respectable and comfortable downtown seaside environs of the Miami Convention Center, where national political parties held conventions. He redesigned and added magenta, black and orange to the team color scheme on the uniforms, and created a new contemporary sans serif logo. Most importantly, aside from getting ‘ball girls’ in skimpy bikinis to attract eyeballs, Doyle tried to improve the product by investing in new talent. By bringing in some experienced ball players, Doyle saw every single member of the previous year’s roster either traded, sold or released, even local hero and crowd fave Al Cueto aka “the world’s tallest Cuban”. The Floridians bold advertising slogan that year was, ‘We didn’t fire the coach, we fired the team.’ The next year they fired the coach…

Ned Doyle's plans for the Floridians at time of purchase did not include failure
Ned Doyle’s ambitious and innovative ideas for the Floridians at time of purchase did not include failure

Despite putting new athletes on the court, there were still other obstacles to overcome… one strategy attempted was getting the whole state to embrace the team, so they soon scratched “Miami” from the name and went with the brash desperate idea of barnstorming the team around statewide to various smaller less media saturated towns like Jacksonville, Palm Beach, Key West and Tampa to truly earn the name Floridians.

Tampa Bay Times newspaper story about an October 1971 Floridians  game in St. Pete that was ill attended
Tampa Bay Times newspaper story about a 1971 Floridians game in St. Pete that seemed notable to local press only for how ill attended it was

Despite a winning record, and even making the playoffs, the team failed to win enough fans to break even. They still had some great fun in the front office creating what buzz they could, not only bringing in those beautiful body painted dancers in short shorts to entertain fans courtside, but put on stunts like alligator wrestlers on the court at half time, and tossing bagels and promotional pumpkin pies to fans, or giving away concession stand items like Ice Cream & free T-shirts or even Flying Dutchman record LPs out to attendees. One game featured Dolphins infamous All Pro placekicker Garo Yepremian attempting to kick a football through the basket ball hoop from a spot way behind the portable bleachers in the Convention hall…

According to Arthur Hundhausen‘s great RememberTheABA website: “Other Floridians promotions included these creative giveaways: live turkeys for Thanksgiving, 15 pounds of smoked fish (to one lucky fan!), 57 pounds of Irish potatoes (on “Irish Night,” also to one lucky fan), 53 pumpkin pies, vats of gefilte fish, kegs of beer” and those memorable red, white & blue ABA basketballs. My father was the PR director for the team and recalls many stunts and foibles while attempting to fill seats in a relatively sleepy jewish retiree community, back in the days when South Beach was mostly run down old deco vacation motels and across the causeway were some English as a second language Cuban enclaves like Little Havana.

So while Doyle eventually lost all his invested money on the venture, and folded the team a little over a year later, they have gone down in history if at least for some of the promotional stunts. Miami would not have another Pro Basketball team until 1988, when the NBA brought “The Heat“.

Click To Watch The Video Below For More Insights…

1970 Miami Floridian Ball Girls

When all was said and done in the spring of 1972, my Dad one day was on the phone trying to arrange a buyer for the team in Omaha, when he was told to pack up his desk as team promotional director, and literally had to help carry the heavy wooden beast of a desk to another office, that was up a flight of stairs. In a last ditch effort to recoup, The GM sold the office furniture to new tenants in the building. Turns out one of the long haired buyers in tattered denim was Jerry Rubin of the Yippies who were moving into the same office building to make a HQ for their upcoming protests of the 1972 Democratic Political Convention at the same Convention Center in town the team had just abandoned.

Column from Cocoa Beach Today newspaper by Jerry Green on why the Floridians never caught on

Thus ended The Floridians ABA Franchise…

I was so little back then that I barely have memories of the games, but can recall the warm weather, the empty arena seats and kinda faintly recall those ball girls in short shorts actually 🙂

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