Forty five years ago, a Pittsburgh team brought the city its first and only professional basketball championship.
The Pittsburgh Pipers joined the fledgling American Basketball Association for the 1967-68 season as one of 11 inaugural franchises, along with such teams as the Kentucky Colonels, Anaheim Amigos and Houston Mavericks. The ABA's flashy style of offensive play and colorful red, white and blue ball provided competition for the more established National Basketball Association.
During the ABA's first season, Pipers forward Connie Hawkins led the league in scoring by averaging 26.8 points per game. The imposing 6-foot-8 Hawkins, a New York City playground legend, began his professional career with the Pittsburgh Renaissance of the American Basketball League in 1961 and later played for the Harlem Globetrotters. Mr. Hawkins earned the league's regular season and playoff most valuable player honors in 1967-68 and the Pipers posted the league's best record during the regular season, going 54-24.
After sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Division semifinals and defeating the Minnesota Muskies in the Eastern Division finals, the Pipers earned a trip to the first ABA Championship against the New Orleans Buccaneers. The Pipers defeated the Buccaneers 122-113 in the final game to earn the team's first and only ABA championship.
The Pipers shared their Civic Arena home court with the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team and averaged 3,200 fans per game throughout the season. Despite winning a championship with respectable crowds, the Pipers moved to Minnesota later that year before returning to Pittsburgh for the 1969-70 season.
The team couldn't replicate the on-court or box office success from its first season and eventually changed its name to the Pittsburgh Condors. After two lackluster seasons as the Condors, the team folded in the summer of 1972.
The ABA merged with the NBA in 1976 and Pittsburgh was left without a professional basketball team until the Pittsburgh Piranhas in the 1990s and the Pittsburgh Xplosion from 2004-2008.
Visitors to the Heinz History Center's new exhibition, 1968: The Year That Rocked America, can learn more about Pittsburgh's contributions to sports, culture and politics during the decade-defining year of 1968. Visitors can also see the first ABA Championship trophy won by the Pittsburgh Pipers at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.