The American Basketball Association’s New Orleans Buccaneers played a pair of seasons at Loyola Fieldhouse (1967-69), then took up residence at the Tulane arena (1969-70) before eventually landing at the Municipal Auditorium. Their next move was to Memphis.
It all began in 1967, by a group headed by future television talk show host Morton Downey, Jr. , who obtained the team’s rights for a paltry $ 1,000.
Former Mississippi State head basketball coach Babe McCarthy was the first head coach. The original roster was sprinkled with a mixture of talent, some hoping to make a name and a few real characters.
Current SMU head coach Larry Brown was a 27-year old out of North Carolina. The 5-foot-9, 160 pounder played one season with Bucs, claiming MVP honors in the inaugural ABA Allstar game. The point guard also paced the league in assists. Brown was sent to the Oakland Oaks the next season.
A 29 year old small forward, Doug Moe was a 6-foot-5 ex-Tar Heel like teammate Brown. Moe had been chosen by the Chicago Packers in the 1961 NBA draft in the 2nd round.
Brown’s backcourt mate was sharpshooting Jimmy Jones (6-4, 188) out of Grambling State. He lasted seven seasons in the ABA and NBA, averaging 16.3 points for his career. Jones made the all-rookie squad.
The post was manned by 23-year former Tennessee standout Austin “Red” Robbins (6-8, 190), who played three seasons with the Buccaneers and made his permanent home in the Crescent City following his retirement.
Jackie Moreland (6-7, 215) was a native of Minden, La, who shined at Louisiana Tech in college. He played three seasons here and ended up as a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He had also played for Detroit Pistons from 1960-65.
Off the bench…
Gerald “Go Go” Govan (6’10-220), a bespectacled kangaroo leaper out of St. Mary’s of the Plains College, was a fan favorite during his tenure.
Shooting guard Malbert Pradd was a key role player out of Chicag. The marksman played at Dilliard University.
Forward Leland Mitchell played one season. A native of Kiln, the 6-foot-4 wing played college ball at Miss. State.
Jesse Branson was a 6-7 swingman out of Elon College.
John Comeaux (6’5-193) played one season after starring at Grambling with Jimmy Jones.
Ron Widby was an intriguing athlete, good enough to suit up for the Buccaneeers. The 6-foot-4 talent ended up punting for the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys when basketball ended.
The Buccaneers lost the ABA championship finals their initial campaign to Connie Hawkins and the Pittsburgh Pipers in seven games.
The eye-catching ABA red, white and blue basketball was a fan favorite. Every kid including myself wanted one. The ABA invented the 3-point shot, later adopted by the NBA and NCAA.
The original commissioner was former NBA star big man George Mikan.
Some of the original franchises:
-Anaheim Amigos (became the L.A. Stars)
-New Orleans Buccaneers
-New Jersey Americans (renamed the Nets in year two)
The former players were like rock stars in the Big Easy. Many parlayed their playing careers into a basketball life.
What’s become of those Buccaneers?
Doug Moe coached 15 NBA seasons before retiring. The now 75-year old Larry Brown has been coaching in the college and pro ranks since 1972, winning 1,000 games in ABA and NBA as a coach.
Jackie Moreland passed away Dec. 19, 1971 due to pancreatic cancer. Red Robbins succumbed to cancer in Metairie on Nov. 18, 2009.
Gerald Govan is one of only six players to have participated in each of the first nine seasons of the ABA. He served as a mentor to Moses Malone and averaged 10.5 rebounds per game in 661 games played. Govan is now 73 years old.
Malbert Pradd passed away a few years ago. Leland Mitchell died July 6, 2013 at age 72.
Ron Widby was a four-year letterman at Tennessee in football, basketball, baseball and golf. He was a .400 hitter on the diamond and twice named All-American for the Volunteers as a punter. He was the fourth round draft pick of the Saints in the ’67 draft. He sent four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and two with the Packers, making one Pro Bowl appearance.
On the hardwood at Tennessee, Widby was an All-American averaging 22 points and 8.7 boards.
Widby retired from both professional sports to become a club golf pro at a country club in Texas. When he reached age 50 in 1990, he entered the qualifying school for the Senior PGA tour twice, just missing on his second attempt. He now lives in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Jesse Branson died at age 72 years Nov. 12, 2014. He participated in 78 ABA games.
John Comeaux still lives in Lafayette, La.
Wendell Ladner was chosen by the Buccaneers in the 1970 draft prior to the team moving to Tennessee to become the Memphis Tams. The former Southern Miss star was aboard the ill-fated Eastern Airlines Flight 66 which crashed in New York City June 24, 1975, an accident that killed 124 passengers. He was identified by the ABA ring that he was wearing.
Although many of the players are no longer with us and time has moved on, the memories of what the New Orleans Buccaneers brought to the Crescent City will last a lifetime for those who saw the play.
The salaries were no where near that of the current NBA stars of today, but the excitement and enthusiasm that team generated was every bit the caliber of entertainment that the New Orleans Pelicans display at the Smoothie King.
The Bucs were the Big Easy pioneers of basketball.