[After the last ABA franchises standing consolidated with the NBA in the summer of 1976, Stan Albeck received a sorry and a pink slip. The San Antonio assistant coach wouldn’t be accompanying the Spurs into the NBA.
Albeck’s wife Phyllis, a $75-a-week deli clerk at the local Kroger’s supermarket, was now the family of seven’s sole bread (and salami) winner. Weighing his options, the 45-year-old Albeck decided to quit coaching. At his age, he needed to find a more stable paycheck. He decided to his best option was to try the hamburger business.
But before Albeck could take his first order, he got a call from NBA great Jerry West, now head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. “I never dreamed Jerry would call me, but he did,” said Albeck. “He said he wanted a guy who knew the ABA.” Albeck joined West in Los Angeles for a few seasons and shared his insights into all the ABA greats . . . Julius Erving, John Williamson, George Gervin, David Thompson, Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore . . . and even Louie Dampier.
Yes, Little Louie, the heart and soul of the now-defunct Kentucky Colonels, landed on his 32-year-old feet with Albeck’s former team in San Antonio. There, he would spend three amaziingly productive seasons in the NBA. For Albeck and anyone familiar with the ABA, who would have expected otherwise? No matter the challenge, the 6-foot Dampier rose to meet it. Always. If West or any of the NBA guys needed any convincing, they could just grab the April 1975 issue of Basketball Digest and read this brief story about Little Louie from Bob Phillips, then the sports editor with the Memphis Press-Scimitar. The story first ran in Phillips’ newspaper on December 10, 1974.]
Twenty years from now, when Moses Malone decides he’s too old and tired to play basketball anymore, he’ll sit in the stands and watch Louie Dampier play 38 minutes, score 26 points, and make five assists. An exaggeration? Not in the case of Louie Dampier, all-star guard of the Kentucky Colonels.
He was in the starting lineup when the ABA threw up its first red, white, and blue ball eight seasons go, and at the rate he’s going, he’ll be around for another 20 years.
Although he’s reaching an age where many folks begin reaching for the Geritol, Little Louie doesn’t have an ounce of tired blood in his body. He isn’t getting older; he’s getting better, as they say.
Dampier knocked the eyes out of Kentucky’s new coach, Hubie Brown, a former assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks. “Louie Dampier is probably the most underrated basketball player in either pro league,” Brown declared.
Dave Vance, the Colonels’ assistant general manager, darn near swoons when Dampier’s name is mentioned. “Since he’s been with the Colonels, Dampier has done everything he’s been asked to do,” Vance begins. “When he first got here, he was asked to supply about a third of the offense, so he did. When we got Dan (Issel) and Artis (Gilmore), he was asked to become more of a playmaker, and he went out and set an ABA record for assists that still stands. Louie is the league’s top career scorer and the top career assist-man. Let that soak in.”
Yeah, and after you let that soak in, consider this:
Knowing Brown’s passion for defense, Dampier made up his mind to concentrate on defense this season. He lost 17 pounds during the summer, which made him about a step faster and most likely gave him another inch when jumping.
It paid off. Through the first half of the season, he led the team in steals and was the Colonels’ second-leading shot blocker. At six feet, the only thing Dampier should be blocking is a fan’s view.
Little Louie, who appropriately lives in Pee Wee, Kentucky, hasn’t lost anything on the other end of the court. He is averaging 18-plus points and usually more than five assists. He consistently hits on better than 50 percent of his shots, which isn’t bad when you consider most of his shooting is from the outer stratosphere.
His record of 57 straight free throws made still stands—in both the NBA and ABA. There was a rumor last summer that Dampier may be part of a big trade. That followed an earlier trade rumor. “Not true, not true,” Vance says. “Teams make offers for him, but we reject them all. How could we trade a guy like that? There are a lot of people who just don’t know how much he means to us. Every year, writers are talking about a new guard who is going to replace Louie. They say, ‘Louie is too slow’; ‘Louie is too old’; and every year, Louie is right there at the starting spot when the season opens.
“In eight years, he’s missed six games. He and (Gerald) Govan (of Utah) lead the league in career minutes played. But he’s still just as humble and plays just as hungry as he was when he first came here.”
Indeed, Louie is still hungry. Despite the honors (an MVP award and eight All-Star games) and records, he still despises sitting on the bench. He said recently: “I hate not playing. I hate sitting on the bench. I don’t even like to come out of a scrimmage.”
Memphis coach Joe Mullaney, who once coached the Colonels, is also a Dampier fan. “He’s a great pressure player,” Mullaney said. “Late in the game, when it’s close, Dampier will destroy you. He uses everything he has every time he plays. His physical limitations are offset because he works so hard.”
Off the floor, Dampier doesn’t attract a lot of attention. He drives a two-year-old brown Volkswagen, and his tastes don’t run toward flashy clothes.
On the floor, the former University of Kentucky star isn’t a flashy new model either. He’s more like a vintage Rolls Royce. And that’s a lot more valuable.