Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1984 Columbus Minks

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Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mohr

Women’s American Basketball Association (1984)

Born: 1984 – WABA founding franchise
Died: November 1984 – The Minks cease operations in midseason.

Arena: Ohio State Fairgrounds Coliseum

Team Colors: Collegiate Blue & Bright Gold

Owner:

 

 

The Women’s American Basketball Association was the brainchild of  47-year old Columbus, Ohio-based sports promoter Bill Byrne.  Byrne was something of a serial sports entrepeneur.  After holding player personnel positions in the World Football League, Byrne founded the American Professional Slo-Pitch Softball League in 1977.  One year later, Byrne launched the Women’s Professional Basketball League, the first attempt at a nationwide professional basketball league for women.  The WPBL signed the sport’s top American collegians and Olympic stars such as Carol Blazejowski, Nancy Lieberman and Ann MeyersByrne stepped down as Commissioner after two seasons intending to launch his own WPBL expansion franchise, the Tampa Bay Sun.  The Sun never got off the drawing board and the league folded following its third season of play in 1981.

By March of 1984, Byrne was ready to give women’s basketball another shot, hoping to capitalize on the expected strong showing of the USA women at the 1984 Los Angeles summer Olympics.  The WABA, Byrne claimed, would avoid the mistakes of the previous league, such as playing in the winter time, when arena rental fees were higher and competition was greater against men’s basketball, hockey, football and various college sports.  The WABA would play a 22-game schedule in the summer, with 8-12 franchises operating on $300,000 annual budgets.  Player salaries would range from $5,000 to $10,000 per year.

“The pay, the arenas, the travel were all out of whack,” Byrne told George Vecsey of The New York Times, speaking about the WPBL.

But Byrne’s WABA was severely disorganized and under-capitalized from the get-go.  Plans for the summer season were quickly scrapped and the 1984 tip-off was pushed back to the fall.  Of the nine cities represented at the WABA’s college and free agent draft on April 25th, 1984, four dropped out or relocated before the season began.  The United States won the gold medal in women’s basketball in Los Angeles, but only two U.S. Olympians, Pam McGee and Lea Henry, agreed to play in the rickety-looking WABA.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mohr

“Bill Byrne was having difficulty getting owners to put up the money for all the teams,” recalled Minks player Molly Bolin. “He would not let that stop him and believed that if he got the league started, people would believe and the money would fall into place.”

The WABA debuted in early October 1984 with six teams: the Atlanta Comets, Chicago Spirit, Columbus Minks, Dallas Diamonds, Houston Shamrocks and the Virginia Wave.

The Minks set up shop alongside the league office in Byrne’s home base of Columbus, Ohio and had a distinctive throwback feel to the days of the WPBL.   In September 1984 the Minks signed Larry Jones as Head Coach.  Jones, 42, played ten seasons in the NBA and the American Basketball Association between 1964 and 1974.  Like Byrne, Jones lived in Columbus and he had worked for Byrne in the old WPBL office as that league’s Director of Player Operations and Scouting in the late 1970’s.

The Minks star player was expected to be “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin, the all-time leading scorer during the WPBL’s three-year run and a player whose striking appearance was often called upon to market her teams.  But Bolin left Columbus right before the season opener in early October in a dispute over salary and working conditions.

“<The Minks> were staying on an old army base outside Columbus,” says Bolin. “The weather had turned to freezing and we were walking about a mile to the cafeteria and to the gym, but the kicker was they would not turn on the heat in the dormitories for another couple weeks and I was letting the hot water in my shower run to warm up the room.  When some of the girls began to get sick, an owner’s wife took pity on us and moved us into a hotel in Columbus, which was a huge improvement.

“I was offered about the same amount I made my first year <in the WPBL in 1978> so I promptly thanked the coach for ending my misery in Columbus and told him I was leaving.”

Bill Byrne convinced Bolin to return to the Minks several weeks later, with the promise of a larger salary and free housing at the Byrne family home.

The WABA struck a television deal with the Satellite Programming Network, a Tulsa-based syndicator of old movies and talk shows (which later morphed into CNBC in 1989).  Bolin unearthed this rare broadcast footage from a Minks home game against the Dallas Diamonds at the Ohio State Faigrounds Coliseum and posted it on her Youtube page in 2011:

The WABA’s pre-season dysfunction predictably carried over into a disastrous regular season.  The Atlanta Comets ownership pulled out just prior to the opener.  Seven of Atlanta’s unpaid players boycotted a November home game.  The Chicago Spirit drew an estimated crowd of just 150 to their first home game.

The Minks made their home debut on October 9th, 1984, defeating the Atlanta Comets 103-98 in overtime before an announced crowd of 723.  The Minks’ second game on October 30th drew 503 fans and a November 1st match up against the Houston Shamrocks drew just 251.

On November 28th, 1984 Byrne announced that six to twelve games would be cut from the end of the WABA regular season schedule.

“Houston’s 3-15 and there’s no reason in the world to fly them <into Columbus> for $12,000 for a game that won’t affect the standings at all,” Byrne told The Associated Press.  “As far as we’re concerned, these games are being treated just like rainouts in baseball.  If a team is out of the race and has rainouts to make up that don’t affect anybody, they sometimes forget them, and that’s just what we’re doing.”

The following day, disgruntled WABA team owners led by Dallas Diamonds owner and league finance committee chaiman Ed Dubaj forced Byrne to resign.  Dubaj shuttered the league office in Columbus and immediately cancelled the remaining games of the three most financially troubled franchises – Atlanta, the Virginia Wave and the Minks.   The Minks finished their only campaign with a 12-5 record, five games short of completing their 22-game schedule.

The WABA made brave noises about returning in 1985 with a new league office in Dallas led by Dubaj, but was never heard from again after a hastily scheduled championship game between the Dallas Diamonds and Chicago Spirit in December 1984.

 

 

==Downloads==

2011 Interview with Minks star Molly Bolin
Cheryl Orcholski’s WABA Standard Player Contract

1984 Columbus Minks Roster
1984 WABA College & Free Agent Draft Choices (partial)
Columbus Minks article sources

 

==Links==

Women’s American Basketball Association Programs 

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  1. […] Christ. After graduating from Stanford in 1983, Paccione played basketball professionally with the Columbus Minks until the Women’s American Basketball Association folded in 1984. For many subsequent years […]

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