The Philadelphia Fox were an exceptionally short-lived entry in the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) in the fall of 1979.
The WBL debuted in December 1978 and was the first serious attempt at establishing a nationwide professional women’s sports league, although women were playing professionally in a pair of co-ed leagues at the time – World Team Tennis and the International Volleyball Association. Eight franchises took part in the inaugural season in the winter of 1978-79, primarily in Midwestern cities, along with New York, New Jersey and Houston. The Houston Angels won the first WBL championship in May 1979.
That summer, the WBL embarked on aggressive coast-to-coast expansion, growing to 14 members through the addition of clubs in Anaheim, Dallas, New Orleans, Saint Louis, San Francisco, Washington and Philadelphia. The Philadelphia franchise took part in the WBL’s college draft on June 12th, 1979 although it appears that the expansion club did not yet have ownership at this stage.
The WBL’s 1979-80 expansion clubs came at a price tag of $100,000 per club, up from $50,000 for the league’s charter franchises a year before. According to Karra Porter’s terrific 2006 book Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women’s Professional Basketball League, the WBL finally found a buyer for the Philadelphia Fox on September 28, 1979, less than two months before tip off. New York businessman Eric Kraus put down $20,000 of the $100,000 fee, with the remaining balance due only after the league itself secured an additional $250,000 in start-up financing. The league never found the remaining investors and Kraus seemingly never put up the rest of the franchise fee. Years later, WBL Commissioner Bill Byrne later told Karra Porter that he financed the Fox’s operations, such as they were, on his personal credit cards.
Recently retired NBA journeyman Dave Wohl served as Head Coach/General Manager of the Fox, who featured two local Philadelphia products in guard Faye Lawrence of Temple and forward Chris Zabel of St. Joseph’s. The club debuted on the road on November 17th, 1979 against the defending champion Houston Angels. Six nights later, the Fox played their first home game at the antiquated Philadelphia Civic Center against the St. Louis Streak. Few people noticed. According to contemporary press accounts, the first three Fox home games at the Civic Center attracted fewer than 1,000 fans in total.
On December 1st, 1979, the WBL formally revoked Kraus’ ownership and assumed operations of the Fox franchise. Kraus, for his part, insisted he still owned the club. Regardless, no one seemed to be putting in any money. The WBL failed to meet the Fox payroll on December 15th and then postponed the Fox’s December 20th road game in Milwaukee. On December 21st, 1979, the WBL announced the midseason shutdown of the Philadelphia Fox along with the Washington Metros, another flailing expansion club with a roster full of unpaid players.
The Fox’s existence lasted just 10 matches over 32 days of the 1979-80 WBL season. The team finished with a 2-8 record. Fox players were submitted to a dispersal draft among the league’s 12 remaining team on December 21st, 1979. The debacle severely damaged the credibility of the WBL, already struggling to be taken seriously by media and investors as a women’s sport. The WBL completed a third season in the winter and spring of 1980-81, which was also marred by the midseason shutdown of a club, before folding quietly in early 1982.