Years Active: 1968 – 1979
Regular Season Stats: 960 games, 33.5 mpg
15.9 ppg, 4.9 apg, 2.6 rpg, 0.8 spg, 44.4% FG, 82% FT, 35.8% 3PT
Postseason Stats: 109 games, 37.1 mpg
15.1 ppg, 6.0 apg, 2.8 rpg, 0.9 spg, 43.6% FG, 78.1% FT
Accolades: 7x ABA All-Star (1968-70, ’72-’75), 4x All-ABA 2nd Team (1968-70, ’74), ABA All-Rookie 1st Team (1968), ABA Champion (1975)
“God taught Louie how to shoot, and I took credit for it.” – Adolph Rupp, University of Kentucky head coach
If the Lord Almighty taught any ball player how to shoot, Louie Dampier is indeed a fine candidate. His release was divine. The stroke heavenly. The touch transcendent. Dampier’s jumper wasn’t just long-range, it was fluent from downtown. His early years in the ABA were a prophetic oracle of what was to come in the NBA 25 years later.
Although drafted by the Cincinnati Royals, Dampier took to the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels during that league’s inaugural season, 1967-68. His rookie campaign was solid: 21 points, 3.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game. Just good enough for an All-Star appearance and placement on the All-Rookie 1st team. Pretty good. But the next two seasons really saw Dampier go to town.
Downtown to be precise. Dampier only made 38 threes (on 27% shooting) his rookie year. In 1968 and 1969, Dampier hit 199 and 198 threes, respectively, on 36% shooting. This was truly a revelation of the power of the 3-point shot. Dampier’s 199 made 3-pointers would stand as the single season record until 1995 when John Starks made 217. Dampier’s career total of 794 would also remain untouched into the 90s. Dale Ellis, Michael Adams and Danny Ainge all broke past his total in the 1992-93 season.
These were, on the aggregate, Dampier’s most astonishing seasons as he and backcourt mate Darel Carrier were basically all that kept the Colonels afloat. Dampier’s scoring average rose from 21 to 25 to 26 and was known for scoring eruptions like this one in 1968:
“Louie Dampier set a league record of 54 points and kept alive the hopes of the Kentucky Colonels for a spot in the American Basketball Association playoffs. Showing the form that made him an All-American for the University of Kentucky in 1966, Dampier got his single-game ABA record in leading the Colonels to a 119-106 victory over Indiana… Dampier got his record 54 points on 23 field goals and four of five free throws. Four of his 23 FGs were three-pointers from beyond the 25-foot circle.”
However, Kentucky was drawing too much water from that well. Dampier, and Carrier, took so many threes and averaged so many points because there was no other option but to do so. The Colonels surely improved (36 to 42 to 45 wins) during these years, but it wasn’t a recipe for long-term success as they won only one playoff series.
That all changed with the arrival of Dan Issel in 1971 which immediately propelled Kentucky into the ABA Finals, where they lost in 7 games to the Utah Stars. Then in 1972, Artis Gilmore came aboard and thus was born one of the great teams in professional basketball history. In their 4 seasons together, the Gilmore-Issel-Dampier troika averaged 59 wins a year (including a monster 68-win campaign in 1972), won the 1975 title and fell just short in 1973.
As often happens, team success puts a damper on an individual’s lavish stats. Ostensibly, that’s the case with Dampier. He never again averaged over 20 points in his career and his three-point FGs made tailed off to more reasonable levels. However, it’s always important to look beyond just what a player produces. How they get theirs is just as important. Louie may have scored less, but he was becoming ever more efficient thanks to the presence of Gilmore and Issel.
In the late 60s Dampier was routinely averaging 40+ minutes a game. Steadily his minutes dropped to around 38 then to 34, but his assists totals remained in the 5.5 to 6.5 range the entire time. His shooting average went from the low .400s to .500 by 1975. And all the while, he continued to make All-Star teams. Alas, the good times always come to end.
In an ironically horrible twist, the American Basketball Association ceased operations in the bicentennial year of 1976. The Kentucky Colonels were not one of the four franchises integrated into the NBA. In the dispersal draft, Dampier was whisked away by the San Antonio Spurs (one of the lucky four). Dampier was utilized as the backup point guard for his three seasons with San Antonio as the Spurs proved to be one of the better Eastern Conference teams and fell a game short of making the 1979 NBA finals. By that point, Louie was used only for cameo appearances and at age 34 called it quits.
The very next season, 1980, the NBA finally introduced the 3-point line. It’s a bit of a shame Dampier couldn’t have been the first to make a 3-point shot in that league (the honor belongs to Chris Ford), but then again, Louie may very well be Mr. ABA. He was one of only 6 players to play during every ABA season. He’s the league’s all-time leader in the following categories:
- Points – 13,726
- Assists – 4,044
- Games – 728
- Minutes Played – 27,770
- Field Goals Made – 5290
- Field Goals Attempted – 12047
- 3-Pointers Made – 794
- 3-Pointers Attempted – 2217
He’s also 11th in FTs made, 15th in FT%, 7th in MPG, 19th in PPG and 4th in APG. The stumpy 6’0″, 170-pound guard did quite well for himself in the ABA. And for better or worse, he was a harbinger of the three-point revolution and his long-range deadliness was fully feared at the time:
“Don’t let him or Darel Carrier go to the right corner. Both are deadly from there. Have to pick up early or he’ll let loose a three-point attempt.”
Gregg Popovich would have loved this guy. You should too.