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Strange but true: Mavericks 'kidnap' Willie Somerset

The local team accused of kidnapping a player from another state? It's another strange but true Houston sports story.

HOUSTON — While trying to find great basketball talent, Houston's had to compete with the Lakers, 76ers and…the Miners from Scranton, Pa.?

Its November 1967, and Houston's pro basketball team, the last-place Mavericks of the ABA, have interest in a tiny guard named Willie Somerset, playing within a lower level, the Eastern Basketball League.

The Mavericks call up Somerset’s team, the Scranton Miners, wondering if he’s available. Somerset is one of the league’s highest paid players, making a whopping $175 a game.

Soon, Somerset’s a Houston Maverick.

Here's where things get messy: The Miners never knew he left. They claim the Mavs, after that initial call about buying Somerset’s contract, now refuse to talk to them.

A Scranton newspaper calls the move a “kidnapping.” The Miners owner flies to Houston to file a federal lawsuit, seeking $120,000 in damages – about $1 million today – a suit he’s certain he’ll win.

Somerset is then benched by a restraining order, served minutes before a game.

But the lawsuit Scranton believes is a slam dunk? In Houston, it’s dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Six months later, though, the case is settled in Pennsylvania.

Was it worth the trouble? Yes. Somerset becomes a fan favorite, averaging more than 21 points a game for the Mavs, while making $10,000 more than before.

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