This is a picture of a red, white and blue ABA basketball. In front are the words: The Carolina Cougars

The Carolina Cougars: A Complete Franchise History

The Carolina Cougars were an ABA franchise that lasted for five seasons. The team moved from Houston in 1969 and eventually moved on to St. Louis in 1974. On the court, the Cougars were mostly average but had one very good season in ‘72-’73. Off the court, the team drew decent fan interest using a regional approach. 

Who Were the Carolina Cougars? 

The Carolina Cougars were an American Basketball Association team that played for five seasons starting in 1969. 

The team was originally called the Houston Mavericks. You can read more about the short history of the Houston Mavericks here.  

After their first season, the Mavericks owner decided to stop investing money in the team because of dismal attendance. 

The ABA took the team over and looked for a buyer. They found that buyer in Jim Gardner, the Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina. 

Garder agreed to let the Mavericks finish their season in Houston. When the team finished the 1968-1969 season, he moved them to North Carolina and re-named them the Cougars.

The Carolina Cougars played five seasons in North Carolina.

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1970 Carolina Cougars ABA Yearbook

With a lack of talent coming in from Houston, the team struggled in their first few seasons on the East Coast. 

The team was .500 in their first season but got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the powerhouse Indiana Pacers. 

The team was sold to North Carolina businessman Tedd Munchak following their first season as the Cougars. 

The next two seasons saw the team struggling with records below .500. Even with a lack of success on the court, the Cougars were mostly a hit at the box office. 

The team averaged over 6,000 fans per game in their first season and then held steady over 5,000 per game in their next two losing seasons.

Attendance grew to nearly 7,000 in the team’s magical 4th season in Carolina. The team signed Larry Brown as coach and managed to sign NBA All Star Billy Cunningham away from the Sixers. 

All the team’s offseason moves worked perfectly. The Cougars got out to a blazing fast start and continued winning all year finishing 57-27 in first place in the ABA’s Eastern Division.

Larry Brown was named Coach of the Year. Billy Cunningham was chosen as the ABA’s MVP. The man who brought both in, General Manager Carl Scheer, was chosen  as Executive of the Year. 

Mack Calvin and Joe Caldwell joined Cunningham at the ABA’s All Star game. Calvin was named 2nd team All-ABA, Cunningham made the 1st team and Caldwell made the All-Defensive team.

The only thing missing in the Cougars 1972-1973 season was a championship. 

The team cruised past the New York Nets in the first round of the playoffs. The Cougars then matched up with the Kentucky Colonels in the Eastern Division Finals. 

The Colonels featured Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore.

The series between the teams was a great one with the Cougars taking a 3-2 lead before the Colonels roared back to win games 6 & 7. 

The Colonels went on to lose a 7 game series in the Finals to the perennially powerful Indiana Pacers. 

Unfortunately, their 7 game loss to the Colonels was the highwater mark for the Cougars franchise. 

The team struggled the following season with Billy Cunningham missing extensive time due to illness. 

The team did make the playoffs, but were eliminated 4-0 by the Kentucky Colonels again in what would turn out to be the team’s last ever season. 

The Carolina Cougars were sold to a group of New York businessmen led by Ozzie and Daniel Silna. The Silna group moved the team to  St. Louis following the 1973-1974 ABA season. 

Where did the Carolina Cougars Play? 

The ABA was a league of innovations – they were known for starting the dunk contest and the 3-point line. One innovation that did not stick was the regional team approach.

When the Cougars moved to North Carolina from Houston in 1969, no city in the state was big enough to support major professional sports.

Instead, the Cougars took a regional approach having home games in three different cities in North Carolina. 

The Carolina Cougars 2nd Logo (Primary)

Their primary home was in Greensboro where they played 111 games at the Greensboro Coliseum. 

The team also played home games in Charlotte. There they played 71 games at the Charlotte Coliseum. 

Finally, the team also played home games in Raleigh where they split time between the Raleigh Coliseum and Dorton Arena. In their five seasons as the Cougars, the team played 37 games in Raleigh. 

The regional approach had some positives. At the time, no single city was large enough to consistently support a major franchise, but the combination of the three cities seemed to provide enough support to keep the team going. 

At the same time, it is rumored that the costs of travel were an added expense to ownership and contributed to the decision to move the team. 

Were the Carolina Cougars Good? 

The Carolina Cougars were mostly an average team as discussed above. They had one great season in 1972-1973 where they finished in first place and lost a seven game series in the Eastern Division Finals. 

The team lost twice in the first round of the playoffs and did not make the playoffs two other years. 

You can find information about each of their seasons below. 


Coach: Bones McKinneyRegular Season Record: 42-42
Eastern Div. SemifinalsLost to Indiana Pacers 0-4


Coach: Bones McKinney & Jerry SteelRegular Season Record: 34-50
Did Not Qualify for the Playoffs


Coach: Tom MescheryRegular Season Record: 35-49
Did Not Qualify for the Playoffs


Coach:  Larry BrownRegular Season Record: 57-27 (1st Eastern Division)
Eastern Div. SemiFinalsDef. New York Nets 4-1
Eastern Div. FinalsLost to Kentucky Colonels 3-4


Coach: Larry BrownRegular Season Record: 47-37
Eastern Div. SemiFinalsLost to Kentucky Colonels 0-4

Who Were the Best Players for the Carolina Cougars?

Unlike the Houston Mavericks, the Carolina Cougars had some good players.  

The team had eight All Star selections in their five seasons and had three players make the ABA All-Time Team. 

Billy Cunningham.

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Billy Cunningham Hall of Fame Card

Billy Cunningham is the only Hall of Famer to play for the Carolina Cougars. The 6’6’ forward only played two seasons for the Cougars and was mostly out due to injury/illness in the second year. 

But he had a pretty amazing season in his one healthy year for the team. And that one great year, 1972-1973, was the best year in franchise history.

Known as the Kangaroo Kid for his leaping ability, Cunningham scored 24 points per game that year for the Cougars, grabbed 12 rebounds per game and dished out 6 assists. 

He was the league’s MVP and was chosen to the 1st Team All-ABA squad. He led the Cougars to their best season, winning 57 games and coming within one win of the ABA Finals.

Cunningham did about all you can do on a basketball court: he was an NBA Champion in 1967 with the Sixers, made the ABA All-Time team and the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team. 

He is clearly the most accomplished Cougars player and was their best player in the team’s best season. 

Mack Calvin

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Mack Calvin ABA All Star Card

Mack Calvin played the same two seasons in Carolina as Billy Cunningham. Calvin made the All-ABA 2nd Team in ‘73 and the 1st Team in ‘74. Hard to do much better than that. 

Calvin was a 6’0” point guard from California who kicked around the ABA playing for the LA Stars, and The Floridians before joining Carolina. 

Calvin scored around 18 points and 4 assists per game for his two seasons with the Cougars. He made the All Star team in both seasons. 

Again, those two seasons were the best in franchise history. 

He would go on to play two more seasons in the ABA and four more in the NBA. 

Calvin was selected for the All-Time ABA team. 

Joe Caldwell

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Joe Caldwell played with Mack Calvin and Billy Cunningham on the Cougars best team. 

Joe Caldwell Cougars Card

He had an even better season for the team before they arrived in ‘70-’71. That year he scored 23 points and grabbed 7 rebounds per game. He made the All-ABA 2nd team that season.

Caldwell was a 6’5” guard/small forward who played seven seasons in the NBA before joining the Cougars in 1970. He played four total seasons for the Cougars.

Caldwell made the All Star team in his first season in Carolina and then once again in his third season. That year when the Cougars made their run to the Division Finals, Caldwell was also chosen for the ABA’s All-Defensive team. 

By then he was in his thirties and was not quite scoring at the same pace as he had been at the beginning of his time in Carolina. 

Even still, Caldwell was a major contributor to those teams. 

  Bob Verga 

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Bob Verga Cougars Card

Bob Verga was a 6’1” guard nicknamed The Gun. He was a star at Duke before going pro. 

Verga had kicked around the ABA a bit before landing with the Houston Mavericks for 33 games in their last season.  He filled it up for the Mavericks in those 33 games. 

That continued after the team moved to Carolina. He averaged nearly 28 points per game in the team’s first season as the Cougars. 

Verga made the All-ABA 1st team that season. He played only one more year in Carolina, where he was once again solid but dropped to 18 points per game.

Verga left Carolina after two years and moved around the ABA before retiring at 28. 

Doug Moe

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Doug Moe ABA Card

Doug Moe sure had an interesting basketball career. He only played five seasons in the ABA, and only one with Carolina, but he still made the All-Time All-ABA team. 

Moe, a 6’5” small forward/shooting guard, got into trouble over alleged gambling contacts in college and had to start his professional basketball career in Italy,

Upon his return, he joined the ABA. He played for New Orleans and Oakland before joining Carolina for a single season in 1969-1970.

He was good in that one season, scoring 17 points per game. Moe made All-ABA teams his first two seasons in the league, but did not while playing for the Cougars.

Moe also made the All-Time ABA Team. 

Ultimately, Moe’s biggest connection to the Cougars is as a coach. He returned to Carolina after retiring and joined Larry Brown to coach the Cougars to their best record in ‘72-’73. 

What happened to the Carolina Cougars?

The end of the Carolina Cougars was somewhat of a surprise. The team was doing well with attendance still and had just come off two pretty good seasons on the court.

But the ABA was a league full of surprises.

Despite a lot of good things happening in Carolina, the Cougars were sold to a New York based ownership group and moved to St. Louis where they were renamed the Spirit. 

It has been reported that the regional approach of the team was one of the factors in the decision to sell the team. The costs associated with playing home games in three cities drove up the cost of ownership and made the team less profitable. 

Carolina Cougars 2nd Logo (Alternate)

The new ownership group featured Ozzie and Daniel Silna. The Silnas had attempted to buy an NBA franchise but had been unsuccessful. 

They turned to the ABA as a backdoor way of gaining access to NBA ownership. They decided to buy an ABA franchise with the hope that a future merger between the two leagues would materialize. 

By the end of the Cougars last season in 1974, a merger with the NBA was on everyone’s thoughts. 

It was widely believed that the NBA would not accept a team playing regionally as the Cougars were, therefore something had to be done. 

The Silnas decided to move the team to St. Louis because it was the biggest American city at the time without an NBA franchise. 

The move did not result in the team joining the NBA, however.

The Spirits of St. Louis played two seasons until the ABA ceased operating. Every team in the ABA at that time merged with the NBA except for two. 

The Spirits and the Cougars’ old rivals the Kentucky Colonels were the only two teams who made it to the end of the ABA but did not join the NBA. 

Don’t cry for the Silnas, however. The Spirits’ owner negotiated an unbelievable deal with the NBA that gave them valuable television rights to the league in perpetuity. 

It is believed that the Silnas were paid a total of nearly $800 million over the next 40 years! This for owning a team in the ABA for two years. Nice deal. 

Four other ABA teams did join the NBA: The Indiana Pacers, the Denver Nuggets, the San Antonio Spurs and the New York Nets. 

The NBA came to North Carolina in 1988 with the Charlotte Hornets. 

Two future professional sports franchises in the state would use the name Carolina. Neither is a regional team like the Cougars. 

The Carolina Panthers of the NFL play in Charlotte while the Carolina Hurricanes of the NFL play in Raleigh. 

Check Out My Other ABA Posts

If you enjoy reading about the ABA, check out my other articles on the upstart league.

The Amigos/Stars

The Dallas/Texas Chaparrals

Read about the Mostly Dallas/Briefly Texas Chaparrals here.

The Mavericks/Cougars/Spirits

Read about the disastrous Houston Mavericks here.

Read about the Carolina Cougars here.

Summary: The Carolina Cougars

The Carolina Cougars were an ABA franchise that played home games in three cities using a regional approach. The team moved to Carolina from Houston in 1969 and then moved to St. Louis in 1974. The Cougars had one really good season under Larry Brown but were mostly an average team on the court.

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