Denver Rockets Team History
In 1967, one of the ABA’s charter franchises was awarded to a group in Kansas City, Missouri headed by Southern California businessman James Trindle. However, Trindle was unable to find a suitable arena in the Kansas City area. League commissioner George Mikan suggested moving the team to Denver. After agreeing to name Denver native and former NBA player Vince Boryla as general manager, Trindle moved his team to Denver as the Denver Larks, named after the Colorado state bird. The Trindle group was severely undercapitalized, leading Mikan to order the Larks to post a $100,000 performance bond or lose the franchise. Hours before the deadline, Trindle sold a two-thirds controlling interest to Denver trucking magnate Bill Ringsby for $350,000. Ringsby then renamed the team the Rockets, after his company’s long-haul trucks.
The Rockets’ front office tried bring the franchise back to respectability by hiring venerable Alex Hannum (left) as head coach (and General Manager) for the 1971 – 1972 season. Hannum immediately overhauled the team’s entire image: the team colors (and uniforms) were changed from orange and black to columbine blue and yellow (the colors of the columbine, Colorado’s state flower). Hannum signed two more promising rookies, Dave Robisch an All-American center out of Kansas) and Marv Roberts (an All-American forward out of Utah State). The Rockets’ new slogan was “New in ’72.” With Hannum’s structured offensive patterns (and stingy defense), the Rockets were certainly new, but they weren’t much better (at least during the regular season). They showed some promise, but finished 16 games below .500 (at 34-50). Simpson had a career-best year scoring-wise, averaging 27.4 points per game. He was named Second Team All-ABA. Guard Larry Brown, who had been acquired from the Squires the year before, was the team’s capable ball-handler. Brown finished third in the league in assists, with 7.2 per game.
The team’s first year on the court (1967 – 1968) had to be considered a successful one, especially attendance-wise. Unlike other ABA teams, Denver started out very slow at the gate. Only 2,748 fans attended the Rockets’ first home game against the Anaheim Amigos. But, attendance picked up over the course of the season, as Denver residents gradually warmed up to their new pro team. In their inaugural season, the Rockets averaged a healthy 4,128 fans per game. This figure encouraged the Ringsbys and confirmed that Denver could, indeed, support a pro basketball franchise.
On the court, the Rockets were good, but not great. The Rockets had two powerful offensive weapons. Larry Jones (from Wilkes-Barre of the Eastern League) soon served notice that he was one of the quickest, deadliest guards in the ABA. At times, he was a scoring machine. On November 28, 1967, he scored 52 points at home against the Oakland Oaks. He averaged 22.8 points per game that first year, and was named First-Team All-ABA. Despite Jones’ spectacular play, Willie Murrell (also from the Eastern League) was voted the team’s MVP. Murrell averaged 16.4 points and 9.0 rebounds for the season. Other original Rockets were Byron Beck (out of Denver University), Wayne Hightower (from the Detroit Pistons of the NBA), Lefty Thomas (from the Harlem Clowns), Julian Hammond (out of Tulsa), and Tom “Whammy” Bowens (a great leaper, out of Grambling).
After Denver’s playoff defeat at the hands of the Oaks, Denver’s front office knew it had to improve the team’s talent level. The Ringsbys contented themselves (and shocked the basketball world) by signing an undergraduate phenom from the University of Detroit: Spencer Haywood. The 6’9″ Haywood had played only one year of junior college ball (at Trinidad Junior College in Colorado), and one year of Division I basketball at Detroit. But, having averaged 32.2 points per game at Detroit (he was an All-America choice as a sophomore), and having sparked the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team to a gold medal performance at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Games, Haywood was bored with college ball. Despite protests from the NCAA and the NBA (and even some ABA owners), Haywood was allowed to play for the Rockets, even though he had not completed his four years of college eligibility. Haywood was the very first pro player to take this route. The Rockets publicly explained it as a “hardship” exception, designed to allow Haywood to provide for his large family (including his mother and nine brothers and sisters). Haywood’s presence made a huge impact on the 1969 – 1970 Rockets.
Haywood’s spectacular 1969 – 1970 rookie season gave Rockets fans cause for optimism for the 1970 – 1971 season . But, the season turned out to be a disaster for the franchise. In the fall of 1970, Haywood played only two exhibition games for the Rockets (scoring over 40 points in each). After those two games, he bolted the team because of a contract dispute. Haywood was upset because much of his salary was in the form of deferred (future) payments. The Rockets refused to restructure his contract, and Haywood decided to jump to the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA. The Rockets filed several lawsuits to keep Haywood in Denver. For months, the Rockets stubbornly held out hope that Haywood would return to the team (for much of the 1970 – 1971 season, Rockets game programs still contained Haywood’s name in the lineup section). Denver eventually relented, and Haywood played 33 games for the Sonics in the spring of 1971.
The team was founded as the Denver Larks in 1967 as a charter franchise of the American Basketball Association (ABA), but changed its name to Rockets before the first season. It changed its name again to the Nuggets in 1974.
1976 – Present / National Basketball Association
1967 – 1976 / American Basketball Association
1974 – Present / Denver Nuggets
1967 – 1974 / Denver Rockets
Rockets – In 1967, one of the ABA’s charter franchises was awarded to a group in Kansas City, Missouri headed by Southern California businessman James Trindle. However, Trindle was unable to find a suitable arena in the Kansas City area. League commissioner George Mikan suggested moving the team to Denver, Trindle moved his team to Denver as the Denver Larks, named after the Colorado state bird. Trindle sold a two-thirds controlling interest to Denver trucking magnate Bill Ringsby for $350,000. New owner Ringsby then renamed the team the Rockets, after his company’s long-haul trucks.
NBA Championships: 0
ABA Championships: 0
1999 – Present / Pepsi Center
1975 – 1999 / McNichols Sports Arena
1967 – 1975 / Denver Auditorium Arena
2014 – Present / Ann Walton Kroenke
2000 – 2014 / Stan Kroenke
1997 – 2000 / Liberty Media
1989 – 1997 / Peter Bynoe, Bertram Lee, and Comsat Video Enterprises
1985 – 1989 / Sidney Shlenker
1978 – 1985 / Red McCombs
1972 – 1978 / Frank Goldberg and Bud Fischer
1967 – 1972 / James Trindle and Bill Ringsby
2 Alex English
12 Lafayette “Fat” Lever
33 David Thompson
40 Byron Beck
44 Dan Issel
55 Dikembe Mutombo
432 Doug Moe
1990 – Present / Rocky the Mountain Lion
*Blue is this team’s history