NBA history is filled with examples of owners purchasing franchises which are based in one city and then relocating them. Often, the driving force behind these shifts is simply to make the owner’s game day commute more convenient. But what is an NBA owner to do when he goes on vacation in the middle of the season?
By Mick Minas
Relocating to a new city to shorten the distance between where an owner lives and the team’s home arena is as much a part of Clipper history as untimely injuries. The Clippers were born in 1978, when Irv Levin moved the Buffalo Braves to San Diego and one of the primary motivations for this shift was to make attending games easier for the Clippers owner. Levin was working as a movie producer and thus spent much of his time in Los Angeles, making it difficult for him to show up at games on the opposite side of the country. When the Clippers moved to Los Angeles in 1984, it was for a similar reason, with new owner Donald Sterling not overly keen on the 150 mile drive from his Malibu home to the San Diego Sports Arena.
However, perhaps the most extravagant example of an NBA owner relocating home games to fit in with his private life is that of Fred Zollner and the Fort Wayne Pistons. Zollner shared a similar outlook to Levin’s and Sterling’s when it came to travelling long distances to watch his team play- all three men thought that this was not good use of their time. While this led to Levin and Sterling relocating their franchises to new locations, Zollner faced no such problem, as the Pistons played in Fort Wayne, Indiana- the city where Zollner was living at the time. There was, however, the small matter of what Zollner should do when he visited his luxury home in Coral Gables, Florida, for his annual vacation- which took place in the middle of the NBA season.
Luckily, Zollner came up with the perfect solution.
Beginning in the 1953-54 season, the Fort Wayne Pistons began playing a portion of their home schedule at the Miami Beach Auditorium. This allowed Zollner to spend time sunning himself in Florida without having to miss out on attending any Piston home games. However, while this arrangement worked well for Zollner, it was clearly not in the best interests of the team or its fans. The Pistons lost 60% of the games they played in Florida over the next three seasons, despite being one of the NBA’s strongest teams during this time. In the summer of 1956, the Miami experiment was permanently shelved, after the Pistons lost all three games they played during the previous season, and 12 months later, the franchise was relocated to Detroit.
In 1974, Fred Zollner sold the Pistons to William Davidson for $7 million. Zollner passed away in 1982, at the age of 81. Seventeen years later, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to professional basketball and the NBA’s Western Conference Champions trophy is named in his honor.
To read more about Mick Minas' new book The Curse: The Colorful & Chaotic History of the LA Clippers click here. To purchase a copy click here.
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