In 1967, two years removed from a stellar collegiate basketball and baseball career at Oregon State, Jim Jarvis passed on the opportunity to try out for a few American Basketball Association teams in the professional league’s maiden season.
He went back to Corvallis for graduate work, but by November his wife could tell he was unhappy. He missed basketball. So he wrote a letter to all 11 ABA teams. A few days later, Pittsburgh Pipers coach Vince Cazzetta — who had coached Seattle University against Jarvis’ Oregon State teams — called Jarvis and said he needed a guard.
“He said, ‘I can’t promise anything, but I remember you playing and I’m pretty sure you’d make the team,’” Jarvis recalled. “‘When can you be here?’
“I said, ‘how about tomorrow?’ So I was on a plane the next day flying back there and was in a Piper uniform playing in a league game that next night.”
What followed for Jarvis was a run to the first ABA championship as a backup guard on a Pipers team that featured future Hall of Famer and New York City playground legend Connie Hawkins. Jarvis — who would later in life sell real estate in Bend for some 30 years — and other members of that 1967-68 Pipers team earlier this month convened in Pittsburgh for a 50th anniversary reunion of the championship squad.
Perhaps remembered best for its bright red-white-and-blue-striped ball, the ABA existed only from 1967 to 1976 before its merger with the NBA. But the league produced several stars, like Hawkins and later Julius Erving, who would go on to become NBA legends.
Jarvis, who moved back to Corvallis from Bend about a dozen years ago, said he delighted in the opportunity to relive the memories of that championship season from long ago.
“As far as seeing the other guys, 50 years is a long time,” said Jarvis, 75, in a recent phone interview. “In the season, it’s a different situation because you’re practicing and playing games, and you don’t often get into a real deep relationship with guys.
“But it was funny,” he added, referring to the reunion, “we just all hit it off like we left yesterday.”
Jarvis noted that four of the five starters from the team have died, including Hawkins last October. At one point during the reunion, each player took the podium to talk about what he has done with his life since their playing days.
“That was interesting to see the different sides of people and what they’ve done with their life,” Jarvis said.
The Pipers defeated the New Orleans Buccaneers in seven games in the inaugural ABA finals, winning Game 7 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena 122-113. The team averaged 3,200 fans that season but drew close to 12,000 for that final game, according to Jarvis.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 170-pound Jarvis averaged 5.2 points and 13 minutes per game for the Pipers in that championship season, according to www.basketball-reference.com. Hawkins led the ABA in scoring that year (26.8 ppg) and was the MVP of the league and the playoffs.
“There were some really, really great players,” Jarvis said of the ABA. “There were a lot of players in the league who went on to the NBA. Several years later, when the ABA merged with the NBA (in 1976), that first All-Star game, 40 percent of the (NBA) All-Stars had been ABA players. So that shows you the depth of the league and the quality of the players.”
Jarvis recalled taking a bus to games and practices in Pittsburgh because he did not have a car. His wife, Lynn, would walk with their two young children to the grocery store. He was not making a lot of money, but he was making a lot of memories with the Pipers.
“They really were great memories,” Jarvis said. “We had a good time. We traveled just like the NBA did and we stayed in nice places. Hawkins was maybe making $20,000, and that’s about that the NBA stars were making. My first year I made $6,000.”
Despite their first-year success, the Pittsburgh Pipers moved to Minnesota the next season, and Jarvis played 11 games for them before getting traded to the Los Angeles Stars. According to www.basketball-reference.com, he averaged seven points per game for the Stars, who were coached by former Boston Celtics legend — and Jarvis’ boyhood hero — Bill Sharman.
After that season, Jarvis retired from pro basketball, and he returned to Oregon State to get his master’s degree. He was the head basketball coach at Spokane Falls Community College in Washington for three years, then moved on to become head coach at the University of Idaho for four seasons. In 1978, the Jarvis family moved to Bend, where Jim got into the real estate business and Lynn was a practicing attorney.
Jim and Lynn have four grown children and nine grandchildren. One daughter, Jeanne Mendazona, lives in Redmond and is the mother of George Mendazona, who was a multisport star — much like grandfather Jim — at Ridgeview High School. George is a member of the Oregon State baseball team but is on a medical redshirt this season.
Jarvis was a multisport standout at Roseburg High School before moving on to Oregon State. As a college sophomore in 1963, he helped the Slats Gill-led Beavers reach the Final Four. He was an All-American as a senior and also played baseball for Oregon State. Jarvis had a brief stint in the minor leagues as an infielder before switching his focus to basketball. He passed on tryouts with other ABA teams — the Anaheim Amigos, Oakland Oaks and Denver Rockets — before getting his opportunity with the Pipers.
Jarvis said he got a phone call out of the blue from Hawkins about 15 years ago, when Jarvis was still living in Bend.
“He said he ran into somebody at the airport from Oregon and they asked if he knew me,” Jarvis recalled. “He just called to see how I was doing and tell me that he respected me as a player and as a person. I thought that was a huge reach out.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,