#TBT: Pro basketball underwhelms in its Sarasota debut 47 years ago

Pro basketball made its Sarasota debut on Oct. 15, 1969 when the New Orleans Buccaneers and Miami Floridians of the American Basketball Association met at Robarts Arena.

The contest was third in a three-game exhibition series between the two teams, which was promoted by Mitchell Mick of Tampa. The Buccaneers won the first game before 1,500 fans in Fort Lauderdale two nights earlier by a score of 106-102, while the Floridians evened the series in front of approximately 1,100 in Tampa with a 110-101 victory on Oct. 14.

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An article in the October 16 edition of the Sarasota Journal claimed “a very disappointing crowd of less than 500” took in the third game of the series, a 109-97 New Orleans victory. The article, which does not have a byline, also stated that Mitchell “did not have a handkerchief to his eyes the entire night, but could not help but feel pretty sick.”

Pro basketball in Sarasota was not “born and buried in the same evening” as the nameless author thought as the Pittsburgh Condors of the ABA played Sarasota’s Howard Porter and the Chicago Bulls in an exhibition game at Robarts Arena two years later. (note: the particulars for that exhibition game are quite involved, and were documented in a great article by the Herald-Tribune’s Chris Anderson more than 11 years ago.)

When the Herald-Tribune’s John Brockmann wrote about the prospect of a Condors-Bulls exhibition game in August of 1971, he explained that the low attendance for pro basketball’s debut in Sarasota was possibly the result of the ABA just starting to ascend to the same level as the NBA and the lack of star players on the New Orleans and Miami rosters.

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