World Basketball League (1991-1992)
Born: February 7, 1991 – WBL expansion franchise.
Died: June 15, 1992 – The Jades fold in midseason.
Arena: FAU Arena (4,439)
Team Colors: Blue & Green
- 1991: Gary Rice, Delray Brooks, Eric Newsome, WBL
- 1992: Steve Tebon, Bruce Armstrong, WBL
The Florida Jades were dreamt up by a pair of disgruntled minor league basketball players in a Saskatoon motel room, took their name from a cheap men’s cologne, and ultimately became a sideshow to one of the largest corporate frauds in United States history. Not too shabby for a club that lasted barely sixteen months from start to finish.
24-year old Delray Brooks and 25-year old Eric Newsome came up with the idea of owning their own basketball franchise in the summer of 1990, while both men played for the Erie (PA) Wave of the World Basketball League. The WBL was a summertime minor league basketball circuit with a peculiar gimmick – all players had to be 6′ 5″ or shorter.
“Being players ourselves, I think we have an understanding of what makes a successful franchise,” Brooks told Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum. “The players are the cornerstone. You can’t cater to them, but you have to have an understanding of their problems. That’s what was lacking in some of our other experiences in the league.”
WBL league rules called for each franchise to be owned 60% by the league and 40% by local ownership, ostensibly to maintain stability in the league and prevent disenchanted local investors from unilaterally folding their clubs. Effectively, this placed financial control of each of the WBL’s nine franchises in the hands of Michael “Mickey” Monus, league founder and President of the Ohio-based Phar-Mor discount pharmacy chain.
Moving beyond just idle talk, Brooks and Newsome turned to Newsome’s father, a Vice President at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Buy-in for a WBL expansion franchise in 1991 was $500,000. Using the elder Newsome’s contacts, the pair of young and insolvent minor league ballers found a local businessman, Gary Rice, to fund their $200,000 stake for 40% interest in the team. Rice owned a cosmetics distribution company in Georgia. The team would take their name – the Florida Jades – from “Jade East”, a discount brand of men’s cologne marketed by Rice. The WBL formally introduced the Jades at a press conference in a Boca Raton Holiday Inn on February 7th, 1991. Brooks and Newsome would both serve as Vice Presidents of the Jades…and taxi squad players.
On the court, the Jades put together a strong team for their debut season. Under Head Coach Matt Creamer, the club went 30-21, finishing second in the WBL’s Southern Division. The Jades defeated the Memphis Rockers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the eventual champion Dayton Wings in the league semi-finals.
Newsome, tasked with the business operations of the Jades, told The Boca Raton Daily News that he hoped the club would draw 2,500 to 3,000 fans per game to the Florida Atlantic University’s 4,500 gymnasium. Season tickets ranged from $200 to $285 for the Jades’ 27 home games in the spring and summer of 1991. Actual attendance was significantly less, with the Jades frequently announcing crowds of fewer than a thousand at FAU.
When the Jades returned for the 1992 season, Rice was gone, along with his proteges Brooks and Newsome. The league increased its ownership stake in the Jades to 80%, as it had in another troubled franchise, the Erie Wave. Less than a month before the 1992 season tipped off, WBL Commissioner John Geletka travelled to Florida to introduce the Jades’ new management team. Geletka also worked as a sports agent and the new investors included one of his clients, New England Patriots All-Pro tackle Bruce Armstrong. Local triathlon and road race promoter Steve Tebon of Exclusive Sports Marketing took the remaining 10% stake and served as the club’s managing partner, encouraged by Monus’ reputation and the rapid growth of Phar-Mor.
The Jades off court woes continued under the new regime. The club only sold a reported 300 season tickets. Renovations at FAU forced the Jades to play 15 of their first 19 games away, at one point spending 22 straight days on the road. Only 900 or so fans turned out for the 1992 home opener against the Winnipeg Thunder. In a bizarre twist, Delray Brooks, the Jades’ founder and deposed Vice President of Basketball Operations, returned to the court and earned a roster spot our of training camp.
On June 15th, 1992 the WBL shut down both of its Florida clubs in midseason, eliminating the Jacksonville Stingrays along with the Jades. A WBL source told The Boca Raton News that the Jades operation lost $300,000 during May and June before the league turned out the lights. But the full story was rather more complicated.
As 80% owner, Mickey Monus was responsible for most of the Jades financial burden. But the Phar-Mor offices were increasingly unresponsive to the Jades and other WBL franchises as they desperately tried to get their bills paid. Jades minority partner Steve Tebon reported that of $700,000 promised by the league office to operate and promote the team, only $80,000 materalized. In late July 1992, one month after the Jades folded, Phar-Mor opened its 300th store. Days later Monus was ousted when company officials discovered Monus and his CFO were maintaining two sets of books, claiming rapid growth and profits while Phar-Mor was actually generating huge losses and falling far behind in payments to its suppliers. Among other crimes, Monus had embezzled close to $10 million from Phar-Mor over four years to underwrite the operating losses of the WBL and its franchises. The entire financial underpinning of the WBL was revealed to be a criminal enterprise, with the local investors and front office managers in the role of unwitting participants. On August 1st, 1992, the World Basketball League folded in the midst of its fifth season, days after the exposure of its patron. Monus’ shocking downfall also cost the jobs of 17,000 Phar-Mor employees – the seemingly robust chain was forced into bankruptcy – and nearly sank the fledgling Colorado Rockies expansion franchise in Major League Baseball, in which Monus was a major investor.
Guard Tracy Moore of the Jades averaged 25.2 point per game in 1991 en rooute to WBL Player-of-the-Year honors. Moore, undrafted out of the University of Tulsa, used the WBL as a springboard to the NBA, where he appeared in 119 games over 5 seasons from 1991-1997.
Mickey Monus served 10 years in federal prison for his financial crimes.