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Kaiser starred in forgotten pro league

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By LARRY GOFFINET
Sports Editor

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Former Dale basketball star Roger Kaiser’s Wikipedia biography notes that he scored 1,549 points in high school “without a three-point shot.”
But unlike most stars of his era, he did get to prove later how well he could hit three-pointers.
He graduated from Dale in 1957 after leading the Golden Aces to two Tell City sectional titles. They beat a Cannelton team led by Marvin Sturgeon for the 1956 title and beat Tell City 40-38 in triple overtime for the 1957 crown.
He then played for Georgia Tech, leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring his junior and senior seasons. He was named an All-American both those years and the SEC Player of the Year as a senior in 1961.
He led the Yellow Jackets to their first NCAA tourney appearance in 1960.
He finished his Yellow Jacket career with 1,628 points and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1966.
But of course there was no three-point shot in college in those days either.
And the Official NBA Encyclopedia and Basketball-Reference.com, both of which carry complete records of anyone who ever played in the NBA or American Basketball Association, show no record of his ever playing professional basketball.
The ABA, which most believe was the first league to use the three-point shot, did not start until 1967.
But the American Basketball League was actually first with the three-pointer. It was formed by Harlem Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein in 1961 to battle the NBA.
Kaiser, a 6-foot-2 guard, did play in the ABL, and starred in it.
In the 1961-62 season he averaged 19.2 points per game, sixth in the league. He was second in the league in free-throw shooting at 89.0 percent and hit 42.0 percent from three-point range.
The following year he was ninth in the league in scoring at 17.2 ppg and again second in free-throw shooting at 85.5 percent. And he led the league in three-point shooting at 44.6 percent.
All those statistics come from Bob Lieb’s fascinating new book, “Shooting Threes and Shaking the Basketball Establishment: The Short, Chaotic Run of the American Basketball League.” Published by St. Johann Press, it is available from Amazon.com for $26.99.
Not surprisingly considering his success shooting threes in the ABL, Kaiser said Wednesday, “I’d loved to have had it in college. It was way back there in the ABL—25 feet (about 4 feet farther from the basket than the current college three-point line). A lot of guys couldn’t shoot jump shots from that far.”
When Kaiser graduated from Georgia Tech, he and future NBA all-stars Walt Bellamy and Bill Bridges were drafted by the NBA’s Chicago Packers. Kaiser was drafted in the fourth round but was the 41st pick overall, as there were only nine teams in the NBA then.
But he and Bridges signed instead with the rival ABL.
Kaiser said he thinks he made “$11,000 or $12,000 a year and I got a bonus for signing. I think it was $1,000 or $1,500—not what it is today. But I was still making twice as much as I could have using my degree (in industrial management) from Georgia Tech.”
He said he planned to play pro ball only three years because he didn’t like the constant travel. “But the ABL didn’t even last that long (it folded in its second season).”
He noted that he “played in three different cities in 11⁄2 years and I never was traded.” His Tapers team started the 1961-62 season based in Washington, D.C., but moved to New York at midseason and then to Philadelphia for the 1962-63 season.
As for the away games, “I went on a 19-day road trip once,” he said.
The far-flung ABL included a Honolulu team for a while and “it’s kind of hard to play basketball in Hawaii,” said Kaiser. “Some guys would get sunburned there and then that uniform wouldn’t feel too good.”
Still Kaiser managed to score a team-record 51 points in a 123-117 triple overtime win at Hawaii Dec. 4, 1961.
Despite some ABL teams’ moving or folding at midseason, Kaiser was surprised when the league itself folded. Unlike some players, he had never had any problems with paychecks bouncing because “our owner was pretty wealthy.”
Though he had no idea the league was going to fold, he ended up with the game ball as a nice souvenir from his final ABL game.
“We won a close game in Philadelphia and I had the ball at the end of the game,” he said. “The referees had run off the floor, so I was going to give the ball to the official scorer but he was already gone too. So I just kept walking with it and took it home, and I still have it.”
He has been told that he is one of only two people to still have an ABL game ball.
When the ABL folded, Kaiser had an offer from the NBA but he asked for a no-cut contract and “they said they didn’t do that. They wouldn’t even give Bill Bridges a no-cut contract (after he averaged 29.2 points and 15.1 rebounds per game in his second ABL season).”
Kaiser went to work as a salesman for the Tapers owner in Atlanta and eventually got into coaching, winning four NAIA national titles at West Georgia College and Life University.
When the ABA was formed in 1967, Kaiser, then 28, had an offer to play in it.
But he was already into coaching and “they were offering less than I made in the ABL,” he said.
After retiring from college coaching 11 years ago, he became boys basketball coach and athletic director at Mount Bethel Christian Academy in Marietta, Ga., positions he still holds at age 75.
“I don’t teach much, so this is about as close as you can come to retiring,” he said.
He has been married to his high school sweetheart, former Dale cheerleader Beverly Hevron, 54 years.
He is working on his autobiography with Georgia sportswriter Richard Hyatt and expects it to be published next year.