The Oakland Oaks
The American Basketball Association changed the way that basketball is played. Before it was formed, the NBA had not yet adopted the 3-point line, nor had it fully embraced the talent that was in the southeast part of the country. For two years, the Oakland Oaks played before sparse crowds in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena in the ABA before moving to the nation’s capital. Though their time was short, they gave the city of Oakland one very memorable farewell season. This is their story.
A Humble Beginning
On February 2, 1967, Pat Boone, S Kenneth Davidson and Dennis A. Murphy earned a place in the ABA in exchange for $30,000. They immediately sought out talent and signed players such as Levern Tart, Jim Hadnot and Ira Harge. Led by coach Bruce Hale, the Oaks began their inaugural season by defeating the Anaheim Amigos 134-129 on October 13, 1967.
They started off with a 4-2 record but beginning with a 126-123 loss to the Amigos, they began a five game losing streak that foretold the way the season would go. Too few consecutive wins and too many losing streaks doomed the infant organization as it finished their first season with a 17 game losing streak, finishing their inaugural season 22-56. Changes needed to be made but they had a player who had been waiting an entire year to make his debut with the Oaks.
Determined to build a winner, Oakland had signed the Warrior’s Rick Barry before they had played their first game in the 1967-1968 season; he was unhappy with the way that he was being treated by owner Franklin Mieuli. Luring Barry away with a 15% stake in the team and 5% in ticket sales, the Oaks had the leader they needed to become instant contenders. Burdened with the reserve clause, Rick Barry was forced to sit out the Oak’s first season. In addition to Barry, the team also added his old coach from the Warriors, Alex Hannum.
One Great Farewell Season
The team began the 1968-1969 season by defeating the Indiana Pacers 144-133, the start of a 19-4 run to begin a special year. On December 10th, the team began a 16-game winning streak by defeating the Houston Mavericks 137-116. They lost Rick Barry in the middle of that streak when he tore ligaments in his knee against the Nets two days after Christmas. The team had to immediately pull itself together and continue their newfound winning ways if they wanted to have a chance at the ABA championship. The season defining winning streak would end on January 22, 1969 against the Los Angeles Stars when the Oaks lost 123-121. They recovered quickly and would end the regular season 60-18 after defeating the Stars in the last game of the season 111-109.
The Oaks faced a tough opponent in the Denver Rockets for the first round of the playoffs. After winning the first game by 30 points, the Oaks couldn’t put away the Rockets in the second game, losing to them 122-119. In a tough series, neither team was able to win two games in a row. Finally in the seventh game Oakland prevailed with Doug Moe (28 pts), Larry Brown (25 pts) and Warren Jabali (19 pts) leading the charge, the Oaks prevailed 115-102.
After sweeping the New Orleans Buccaneers in the semifinals the Oaks were headed to the ABA Finals where the Indiana Pacers stood in their way from a championship. They battled the Pacers in the ABA Finals, defeating them in five games. Warren Jabali led the Oaks in the fifth and final game of the franchise’s existence with 39 points and Doug Moe was close behind him with 22 of his own.
When the season ended on May 7, 1969, so did the Oaks who had been losing money since very beginning. They were sold and moved to Washington D.C., becoming the Capitals for the 1969-1970 season. After their lone season in the nation’s capital, they moved to Norfolk, Virginia to become the Squires. They remained in Virginia until the ABA’s demise in 1976 at which point they were not a part of the merger agreement. When the ABA folded, so did the Squires. Though the Oaks are no more their memory lives on, particularly in their two most valuable players, Rick Barry and Larry Brown; each of whom would enjoy long career in the NBA which would earn them a place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.