American Basketball League (1961-1963)
Sport Basketball
Founded 1961
Number of teams 8
Country United States
Current champions Cleveland Pipers
Folded 1963

The American Basketball League played one full season, 1961-1962, and part of 1962-1963. The league actually folded on December 31, 1962. The ABL was the first basketball league to have a three point shot for baskets scored far away from the goal.


The league was formed when basketball mogul Abe Saperstein did not get the Los Angeles National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise he felt he had been promised in return for his years of supporting the NBA with doubleheader games featuring his Harlem Globetrotters. When Minneapolis Lakers owner Bob Short was permitted to move the Lakers to Los Angeles, Saperstein reacted by convincing National Alliance of Basketball Leagues (NABL) team owner Paul Cohen (Tuck Tapers) and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) National Champion Cleveland Pipers owner George Steinbrenner to take the top NABL and AAU teams and players and form a rival league. Saperstein and Cohen each secretly made arrangements with local promoters in the other cities to finance those teams so there would be an eight-team league. Saperstein's ego led him to place the Los Angeles Jets to take on the transplanted Lakers. He got Bill Sharman as coach and signed former NBA players Larry Friend and George Yardley to give the team instant credibility. The idea backfired; the Jets did not last the season.

George Steinbrenner

In Cleveland, Steinbrenner's coach was the legendary John McLendon, who became the first African-American coach of a major pro basketball team. McLendon had several of his star players from Tennessee State such as John Barnhill and Ben Warley, plus several former Akron Wingfoots, such as Johnny Cox and Jimmy Darrow, who had won the AAU National Championship the year before. In a game against the Hawaii Chiefs, Steinbrenner sold player Grady McCollum to the Chiefs at halftime.[1] McLendon chafed at Steinbrenner's interference and quit in midseason. Steinbrenner immediately named Sharman, from the recently defunct Jets, as his coach, and the Pipers won the 1961 ABL title. The Tuck Tapers were placed in Washington after years in New York as an NABL team, but soon returned to New York in midseason. Despite good attendance in several cities, the league had more problems prior to year two.

Steinbrenner's fame became cemented as owner of the New York Yankees MLB franchise from 1973 until his death in 2010.

Jerry Lucas

Steinbrenner signed All-American Jerry Lucas to a contract worth $40,000.[2] With the Lucas signing, Steinbrenner had a secret deal with NBA commissioner Maurice Podoloff. The Pipers would merge with the Kansas City Steers and join the NBA. A schedule was printed for the 1963-64 NBA season with the Pipers playing the New York Knicks in the first game.[3] The gambit worked, but the ABL sued to block the move, and as a result Steinbrenner had a team and no league. Instead of returning to the ABL, Steinbrenner folded his tent. This chicanery masked a series of other ABL moves.


The Hawaii Chiefs drew well, but other teams felt the air travel was prohibitive. The Chiefs relocated in Long Beach, California, as Saperstein was determined to create havoc for the Lakers. San Francisco escaped head-to-head competition with the newly relocated Warriors by heading to Oakland. Paul Cohen, who secretly owned the Pittsburgh team as well as officially owning the Tapers, moved the Tapers again from New York, where they had been an NABL powerhouse for years, to Philadelphia, where he hoped to fill the void of the shocking move of the Warriors (with Wilt Chamberlain) from Philadelphia to San Francisco.

The multiple radical changes, combined with uneven attendance (although some teams, such as the Kansas City Steers, drew well), and no fresh capital from new owners, caused Saperstein and Cohen to decide to throw in the towel with the close of 1962 on December 31. The league that pioneered the three-point shot and the wider foul line (both eventually adopted by the rest of the basketball world) was gone. After the ABL folded, Steinbrenner had $125,000 in debts and personal losses of $2 million.[4]

Top players

ABL players included the following:


The Philadelphia Tapers, Kansas City Steers, Hawaii Chiefs, Cleveland Pipers, and the Los Angeles Jets eventually returned to their NABL roots, where they continue as AAU Elite teams.

Complete team list

Year Winner Result Runner-up


  1. Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.39, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
  2. Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.42, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
  3. Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.42, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
  4. Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.43, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0

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