The Utah Stars were an ABA team that moved from Los Angeles in 1970. The team won the ABA championship in 1971, their first year in Salt Lake City. They played five full seasons in Utah before folding. The Stars’ best players were Zelmo Beaty, Willie Wise, Ron Boone and Moses Malone.
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Who Were the Utah Stars?
The Utah Stars were an ABA team that began playing in Salt Lake City in the 1970-1971 season. They won the ABA title their first year in Utah.
The team started out as the Anaheim Amigos then moved after one season and became the Los Angeles Stars for two seasons. In their second and last season in LA the Stars made a run to the ABA Finals.
After moving to Salt Lake City, the Stars continued to have success on the court and finally found success off the court as well. Their first season in Utah, the Stars averaged more than 6,000 fans per game at the Salt Palace, a then-record for the ABA.
They won their first and only ABA title by defeating the Kentucky Colonels 4-3.
Several seasons of playoff contention followed their ABA title. Season recaps are in the section below about how good they were.
The Stars made two runs to the Western Conference Finals in 1972 & 1973 and one to the ABA Finals in 1974. In their 2nd ABA Finals appearance in Utah, and 3rd as a franchise, the Stars lost to Julius Erving’s New York Nets in the 1974 ABA Finals.
Before the next season, the Stars started to experience some of the financial woes that would lead to their demise. Owner Bill Daniels was broke and briefly sold the team to Utah businessman James Collier. Collier had to return the team to Daniels in a matter of weeks after missing a payment.
The financial issues started impacting the team when head coach Joe Mullaney left after being told the team could not live up to his contract. The team did make a major positive move at this point, however.
The Stars signed the man who is no doubt the best player to ever play for them: Moses Malone. Big Mo was signed out of high school and would go on to have a Hall of Fame career mostly for other teams.
The ‘74-’75 season saw the Utah Stars make the playoffs again but they were eliminated in the first round.
The Stars financial woes grew in the off season. Daniels again tried to sell – this time to Snellen and Lyle Johnson. But the team reverted once again to Daniels right before the start of the season when the Johnsons missed payments as well.
Daniels was still broke and could not make payroll. The team played its first 16 games, but the ABA canceled their franchise in early December.
Moses Malone and several other players were sold off to the St. Louis Spirits. To Daniels’ credit, he eventually repaid season ticket holders with interest.
How Did the Utah Stars Get Started?
The franchise that became the Utah Stars started out as one of the original eleven ABA franchises. The Stars joined the ABA in its first season as the Anaheim Amigos.
The American Basketball Association was an upstart competitor to the NBA. Four NBA teams were merged into the NBA in 1976.
The league is known for several basketball innovations including the three point shot and the dunk contest and for using red, white and blue basketballs.
The Amigos had no success on the court nor could they draw much fan interest in their single season in Anaheim. You can read all about that season here.
The Amigos’ owners sold after one season. The new owner, Los Angeles businessman James Kirst, moved the team to LA and changed the name to the Stars.
The LA Stars struggled in their first season but made a magical run to the ABA Finals in their second season. They lost to the Indiana Pacers in those finals, but were well set up for future success on the court.
But the Stars only lasted two seasons in LA. You can catch up on those two seasons here
Off the court, Kirst lost money due to relatively poor attendance and sold the team to Colorado businessman Bill Daniels who promptly moved the team to Utah.
Who Were the Best Players for the Utah Stars?
The Stars had many players obviously in their five plus seasons in Utah. Below are the best players in Stars history. You can also see the entire roster for the team’s 1971 championship team in the section below on that magical season.
Moses Malone is far and away the best player to ever play on the Utah Stars. But that is not entirely fair.
Malone played one season for the Stars – his rookie year in 1974-1975. He made the ABA All Rookie Team while scoring 17.5 points per game and grabbing 13.6 rebounds.
He would go on to become one of the greatest players in history. Malone accomplished nearly everything anyone could on a basketball court.
He was a 13x All Star, 8x All NBA Selection, 3x MVP, 1983 NBA Champion and a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.
But all of this would come later. In Utah, he was a straight-from-high-school rookie. And he was on the last Stars team to play a full season.
They were not quite the same team they had been in their first four years in Utah.
Moses Malone is the best player to ever play for the Utah Stars but he is not the best Utah Stars player. He did not contribute to the Stars franchise in the same way the three players listed below did.
Zelmo “Big Z” Beaty
Zelmo “Big Z” Beaty, like Big Mo, is a Hall of Fame center. But Beaty got into the Hall in large part for what he did with the Utah Stars. Beaty played seven seasons in the NBA and made two All Star games there before joining the Stars.
A physical center with the most experience on the team, Beaty was the leader of the 1971 ABA Championship squad. He averaged 23 points and almost 16 rebounds for that team while leading the league in field goal percentage.
Big Z was chosen as the ABA Playoff MVP in the Stars ‘71 championship season. He was one of two Stars’ players carried off the court by fans after winning the title.
Beaty played 5 total seasons for the Stars. He averaged 19 points per game and 11.6 rebounds. He made two All ABA 2nd teams and was chosen to the ABA All-Time Team.
Big Z is the best Stars player of all time, if not the best player to ever play for the Stars.
Willie Wise is probably the 2nd best Stars player of all time. Wise was a 6’6” undrafted rookie for the LA Stars ‘69-’70 team that made a run to the ABA Finals.
He was one of the leaders of the next year’s Utah Stars who took it one step farther by winning the title. He averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds for the team that year. Like Big Z, he was carried off the floor by fans after winning the title.
Wise was known for his defense as well. He was a 2x All ABA Defensive Team selection in addition to making two All ABA Teams.
For his Stars career, Wise averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. He too made the ABA All-Time Team.
The Utah Stars made a trade in January of 1971 that brought back a key player for their championship team and the 3rd best player in the history of the team: Ron Boone.
After being acquired, Boone played in every game in franchise history until its demise. He averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds for the title team – not bad for a 6’2” guard.
In his seasons with the Stars, he averaged 18.6 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game.
Boone had played for the Chaparrals in the ABA before the Stars and went on to play for St. Louis when the team folded. He had a good NBA career after that playing for the Lakers and eventually for the Utah Jazz.
He set the then-record for consecutive games played in a career without a miss: 1,041.
When did the Utah Stars win the ABA?
The Stars won the ABA title in the 1970-1971 season.
1970-1971 Utah Stars
|Coach: Bill Sharman||Regular Season Record: 57-27 (2nd Western Div.)|
|Western Division Semi-Finals||Defeated Texas Chaparrals 4-0|
|Western Division Finals||Defeated Indiana Pacers 4-3|
|ABA Championship Finals||Defeated Kentucky Colonels 4-3|
1971 ABA Champions! Zelmo Beaty Playoff MVP
The team was led by the trio of Zelmo Beaty, Willie Wise and Ron Boone. You can read more about those three Stars’ greats in the above section on the team’s best players. The entire roster is below.
|31||Zelmo Beaty||C||6-9||Prairie View A&M University|
|24||Ron Boone||SG||6-2||Idaho State University|
|40||Glen Combs||SG||6-2||Virginia Tech|
|54||Sam Smith||SF||6-7||Kentucky Wesleyan College|
|42||Willie Wise||SF||6-5||Drake University|
|22||Tom Workman||F-C||6-7||Seattle University|
They were coached by Hall of Fame player and coach Bill Sharman. Sharman led the team in their two seasons in Los Angeles. He took them to the finals in their last season in LA.
In the ‘70-’71 season they had a strong regular season in Utah going 57-27. They finished 2nd in the Western Division regular season to their rivals the Indiana Pacers who had switched out West after playing in the Eastern Division the prior year.
In the playoffs, the Stars beat the Texas Chaparrals 4-0 in the Western Division semi-finals. Next, they snuck by the Pacers in the Western Division Finals 4-3.
In the ABA Finals, the Stars beat the Kentucky Colonels in a 7 game series that ended with Wise and Beaty being carried off the floor by the overjoyed Utah fans.
Were the Utah Stars Good?
In addition to their 1970-1971 title team, the Utah Stars had many good seasons.
|Coach: LaDell Andersen||Regular Season Record: 60-24(1st Western Div.)|
|Western Division Semi-Finals||Defeated Texas Chaparrals 4-0|
|Western Division Finals||Lost to the Indiana Pacers 3-4|
|Coach: LaDell Andersen||Regular Season Record: 55-29 (1st Western Div.)|
|Western Division Semi-Finals||Defeated San Diego Conquistadors 4-0|
|Western Division Finals||Lost to the Indiana Pacers 2-4|
|Coach: Joe Mullaney||Regular Season Record: 51-33 (1st Western Div.)|
|Western Division Semi-Finals||Defeated San Diego Conquistadors 4-2|
|Western Division Finals||Defeated the Indiana Pacers 4-3|
|ABA Championship||Lost to New York Nets 1-4|
|Coach: Bucky Buckwalter & Tom Nissalke||Regular Season Record: 38-46 (4th Western Div.)|
|Western Division Semi-Finals||Lost to Denver Nuggets 2-4|
What happened to the Utah Stars?
Team owner Bill Daniels struggled financially in his last several years owning the team. He made several attempts to sell to Utah businessmen, but those attempts failed when the new owners missed payments.
The last attempt to do so happened after the 1974-1975 season. Daniels sold to Snellen & Lyle Johnson, who owned the team for several months.
But before the start of the ‘75-’76 season, Daniels once again got the team back due to missed payments. Daniels was broke from several failing business ventures and a failed statewide political run in his home state of Colorado.
Daniels could no longer make payroll and things looked grim. The season began and looked like this.
|Coach: Tom Nissalke||Regular Season Record: 4-12|
|Team Folded December 2, 1975|
The ABA stepped in 16 games into the 1975 season and folded the franchise due to Daniels’ inability to make payroll.
The players were sold off, mostly to the St. Louis Spirits – that is where Moses Malone went. One player’s contract was sold to the Virginia Squires.
The Spirts of St. Louis actually announced that they’d be moving their team to Utah for the ‘76-’77 season and renaming them the Utah Rockies. But that never happened because of the ABA-NBA merger that summer.
The reason the Spirits’ owners wanted to move to Salt Lake was because the fans had shown they’d support a basketball team and turn out for the games.
That knowledge was not lost on NBA owners and the Jazz moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake in 1979, where they have remained ever since.
Summary: The Utah Stars
The Utah Stars were an ABA team that moved from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City in 1970. They went on to win the ABA championship in their first season in Utah. The team lasted five full seasons in Utah. They had to fold in their sixth season because the owner could no longer meet payroll. The Stars had many great players including Zelmo Beaty, Willie Wise, Ron Boone and Moses Malone.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.