The Day the NBA Came to Springfield, Mo.

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Front Cover Featuring an autograph from Hall of Famer Bob Pettit

On October 7, 1963, something that would be unheard of today happened in Springfield, Mo.  And I, along with my friend, Ronnie Potter, was there.

The NBA World Champion Boston Celtics and the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks played an exhibition game in the Parkview High School gym in Springfield.  I still have the program from that game.

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The Back Page of the Progam which is autographed by Hall of Famer Cliff Hagen

The Celtics won 134-116 in front of a packed house.

By 1963, Celtic’s future Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell had been named NBA MVP six times and had led the Boston Celtics to six World Championships.  The Hawks were led by 10-time All-Star and future Hall-of-Famer, Bob Pettit.  The Celtics would go on to win another NBA Championship that year, while the Hawks were runners-up in the Western Division.

Can you imagine the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors coming to Springfield, Mo. and playing an exhibition game in a high school gym?

Me neither.  But things have changed a lot since 1963.

The highest salary Bill Russell ever made in the NBA was $100,000.   That equals about $600,000 adjusted for inflation today.  Stephen Curry of the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors will earn $37,157,154 for the upcoming season.  The average salary in the NBA is now $7.1 million per year.  One of my favorite quotes about players salaries came from Babe Ruth.  When a reporter asked him how it felt to make more money than the President of the United States, the Babe responded “I had a better year than him.”

The most memorable thing for me about attending that game in 1963 was not the game.  It was what happened after the game.  Programs in hand, Ronnie & I sneaked into  the Parkview Boy’s locker room where both teams were showering and getting dressed after the game.  Just walking around in there was memorable enough, but I took advantage of my good fortune by securing 20 autographs on my program from players in various stages of dress – or “undress” in some cases.  Five autographs on my program are from players who are now in the NBA Hall of Fame.

The memorable night did not end there.

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Ronnie’s dad picked us up after the game and before he dropped me off at home, I heard my very first Beatles song on the radio.  Later that month, the Beatles came to the attention of  variety show host Ed Sullivan when the plane he was on was delayed at London’s Heathrow Airport by screaming teens welcoming the Beatles.  On February 9, 1964, 73 million viewers tuned in to the Ed Sullivan Show to watch the Beatles perform five songs: “All My Loving”, “‘Til There Was You”,  “She Loves You”,  “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

The music world was changed forever.

Something else that would be life-altering for teenage males was brewing in October of 1963 totally unbeknownst to Ronnie Potter and me.  When that game was played, there were already 16,732 American troops in a little known place in Southeast Asia by the name of Vietnam.   Five years later that number had grown to 536,100 American troops  in Vietnam.  Ronnie Potter joined the Marines.  He spent over a year in Vietnam, much of it in combat.

He survived, thankfully, though I’m sure he had some close calls.

Eleven months and two days after that game – on the very day I turned 16 – I got my driver’s license.

I have since survived 54+ years and a couple of million miles behind the wheel, thankfully, though I’ve had some close calls.  Occasionally my passengers from the 60’s still remind me.

And my autographed program from October 7, 1963, the one and only time the St. Louis Hawks and the Boston Celtics ever visited Springfield, Mo. has survived the last 55 years as well.

I wish I could say the same thing about my baseball card collection.

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Here is my record of first half scoring.  Basketball fans, especially old ones like me, should recognize quite a few stars from the 1963 Celtics and Hawks.

 

There Go the Beetles

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VW Beetle that has seen better days near Hermann, Mo.

Before there were Honda’s and Toyota’s and  Datsun’s (known today as “Nissan’s”), there were VW Beetles roaming the streets of Springfield, Mo. where I grew up.

Or, at least, where I grew older.  The jury is still out on whether I ever grew up.

I had a family tie to the proliferation of Beetles.  My Dad helped populate the streets of Springfield with VW Beetles and VW busses and VW Karmann Ghias.  He was a salesman for McAllister VW in Springfield in the 60’s when VW beetles were a novelty, sometimes referred to as “pregnant roller skates”.

But they still sold like hotcakes.

Rather than the Beetles arriving at the dealership on an 18-wheel car hauler, salesmen from McAllister VW carpooled from Springfield to New Orleans.  There they would pick up a VW straight off the boat from Germany and drive it back to Springfield where it was cleaned up and sold.  Here is a postcard my Dad sent from New Orleans on such a trip.  It is postmarked June 19, 1962:

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My Dad never got rich selling VW’s, but our family always enjoyed the “Demo” vehicle he was furnished as a perk.  In the summer of 1962,  maybe ’63, we went on the only 2 week vacation our family ever took.  We rode in style in a brand-new VW Bus.  My brother and I each had our own row.  Along with two other families, we visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Mt. Rushmore, camping out 12 of 14 nights along the way.

After graduating from high school in 1966 and getting a job while deciding between Vietnam & college, I became the proud owner of a 1964 VW Karmann Ghia.  It already had 35,000 miles on it and cost me $1300.  Though it ended up being a great car, the engine went out the first weekend I owned it.  The dealership stood behind it and replaced it with a rebuilt engine.  It was a fun, stylish car with 2 bucket seats up front and an “emergency” back seat suitable only for small children, contortionists, or luggage.

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A faded Picture of my 1964 VW Karmann Ghia taken in the Smoky Mountains Jan. 3, 1967

Karmann Ghia’s weren’t all that plentiful or well-known, but I loved mine.  The engine – which featured a whopping 1.2 liters, 40-horsepower, & four-cylinders – was in the rear.  Maximum speed was around 80 mph.  To fill the gas tank required raising the hood.  In 1967, somewhere in the deep South, I pulled into a gas station, popped the hood, and waited for the attendant. In those days I could fill up the Ghia’s 10-gallon gas tank and get my windshield washed for  under three bucks.  Standing back to take a puzzled look at my car, the attendant asked “What the heck kind of car is this?  A Studebaker?”

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In the days before email I kept in touch with home via postcards & a 4 cent stamp. This postmark on this card is January 3, 1967

I explored 15 states in the 2 years I owned that Karmann Ghia.   It got 30 mpg and had AM radio.  It had no air conditioning and the worst heater of any car I’ve ever owned.  On an 11-state roadtrip I took in January of 1967, I drove 3000 miles and spent $32 on gas.  I could drive a hundred miles for about a buck.  What more could an 18-year old ask?

I sold mine and bought a Ford Mustang in 1968.  VW stopped making Karmann Ghia’s after 1974.  They were discontinued to make VW Sirocco’s.  Scirocco’s were discontinued in October, 2017.  And now VW has announced that the iconic VW Beetle will be discontinued after the 2019 model year.

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This 1959 VW ad was once recognized by Advertising Age as being the greatest ad of all time

In 1968 I heard the siren song of the Ford Mustang and said goodbye to my Karmann Ghia.  I replaced it with a blue-gray 1965 Ford Mustang with wheel covers modeled after the wheels on the Roman chariots in the movie Ben Hur.

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LOOK AT THOSE WHEELS!

Though the last VW I owned was during the Nixon Administration, I am sorry to see the Beetle go the way of the Studebaker.  The only good thing about that news for me is that it reduces the odds of me hearing the words “SLUG BUG!” followed by a whack on the arm.

Maybe they’ll be back.  There are lot’s of new cars on the road today that have been resurrected from the 1960’s.  Think Challenger and Charger and Camaro.  When asked if there was a chance that VW might one day produce Beetles again, a spokesperson replied “Never say never!”

As someone who grew up with Beetle’s in the 60’s, I’ll paraphrase Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart:  “They may take our Beetles, but they’ll never take our memories!”