New Jersey Americans (ABA)
The definitive history...
The New Jersey Americans were one of the original 11 teams in the American Basketball Association during its inaugural 1967–68 season. The team had originally been earmarked for New York City, but owner Arthur Brown was unable to find an arena operator willing to make an enemy of the NBA and the long-established Knicks. Brown owned a trucking company and had been quite generous in sponsoring AAU teams in the five boroughs during the 1960s, but eventually he had to locate his team in the Teaneck Armory.
Brown convinced former NBA superstar Max Zaslofsky to coach the Americans. He was already on Brown’s payroll coaching some of the amateur teams he supported. Zaslofsky recruited Dan Anderson from one of these clubs to play center for the Americans. Other "locals" included Tony Jackson of St. John’s, Bobby Lloyd of Rutgers, and Art Heyman, a New York basketball legend who had flamed out in the NBA with the Knicks. Rounding out the lineup were Mel Nowell and Walt Simon, who went on to enjoy a long career as a power forward in the ABA.
The Americans lost their opener in Teaneck to Connie Hawkins and the Pittsburgh Pipers. The star of the game, however, was Anderson, who netted 41 points. Scoring was not an issue for the Americans. Jackson, in particular, found the ABA’s lackluster defenses to his liking, firing up 300-plus 3-pointers during the season and averaging 19.4 points per game. He was the team’s lone representative at the first ABA All-Star Game.
Heyman and Zaslofsky were at each others throats from the start of the season and he was soon traded for former LIU star Barry Leibowitz. A couple of months later, Leibowitz was dealt to the Oakland Oaks for high-scoring Levern Tart, who finished a hair behind Jackson at 19.0 a game. Tart was actually among the ABA scoring leaders when he joined the Americans; for the year he averaged 23.5, which was third-best in the league. Another player who joined New Jersey during the season was Stew Johnson, another long-distance specialist. The Americans also picked up journeyman Hank Whitney, the former Iowa State forward.
The remade Americans began playing decent ball in the second half. They won 9 of 11 games during one stretch in January, coming within one win of a .500 record. As the season wound down, the team won its final two regular-season games at home, over two good teams, the Pipers and Denver Rockets. The 96–87 victory over Denver would turn out to be the franchise’s final game in New Jersey as the Americans.
After losing their last two games on the road, the Americans finished tied with the Kentucky Colonels for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East at 36–42. League rules dictated that the clubs face off in a one-game playoff to determine who would earn that honor. The game was scheduled to be played in Teaneck, but the Armory was already booked for a circus performance. Brown moved the game to Long Island’s Commack Arena, but the arena was ill-equipped to host the event.
Arena workers had little experience assembling a basketball court, and the panels had gaps and soft spots that made dribbling a challenge and play in general hazardous. The three-point line was made of tape and there was some question as to whether the baskets were the same height. To make matters worse, condensation from the ice rink below made some parts of the floor slippery. The Colonels decided they to protest the game. ABA commissioner George Mikan spoke to the coaches by phone and decided that the Americans should forfeit.
Arthur Brown had some choice words for the Commack Arena afterwards. But over the summer, he came to the conclusion that New Jersey could not support his team, and that he had to return to the New York market. Still unable to secure a home court in Manhattan, he signed a lease with—who else?—the Commack Arena and renamed his team the New York Nets.