World Basketball League (1991)
Born: 1991 – The Las Vegas Silver Streaks relocate to Nashville.
Died: Postseason 1991 – The Stars cease operations.
Arena: Nashville Municipal Auditorium (8,600)
Team Colors: Blue & Gold
Owners: Ronnie Steine et al.
“Some purists wanted to raise the baskets. These guys have shrunk the players.” - The late Jim Murray of The Los Angeles Times, writing on the World Basketball League in 1989.
The Nashville Stars were a blink-and-you-missed ‘em entry in the quirky World Basketball League, a far flung minor league loop designed for players under 6′ 5″ tall. In the WBL, everyone was “short”, fast-paced guard play dominated, nobody posted up and zone defense was legal – when anyone bothered to play defense. Eventually, the WBL collapsed in financial scandal in the middle of its fifth season, but by then the Nashville Stars had come and gone.
The Stars franchise began life as the Las Vegas Silver Streaks, playing in Sin City for the league’s first three summers from 1988 to 1990. WBL franchises were typically owned 40% by local investors – when they could be found – and 60% by the league itself, which meant they were backed by the full faith and credit and one Michael I. “Mickey” Monus, the league’s founder, sugar daddy, and President of the Phar-Mor drugstore chain. In Nashville, the WBL recruited an 11-man minority ownership group led by travel agency owner Ronnie Steine.
The Stars’ 10-man roster, featuring six former Silver Streaks, came together hastily in the spring of 1991. At 6′ 4″ and 215 pounds, forward Jamie Waller was one of the elite “big men” in the WBL. Waller led the circuit in scoring in each of the league’s first three seasons. Daren Queenan was, at the time, one of only seven players in NCAA history with over 2,700 points and 1,000 rebounds, alongside Elvin Hayes, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Danny Manning, Hank Gathers and Lionel Simmons. But he went undrafted by the NBA due to his diminutive size (6′ 3″) and small school (Lehigh). The WBL was made to showcase players like Queenan, who averaged 22.9 points per games with the Silver Streaks in 1990.
The team practiced together for only two weeks before debuting at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium against the Memphis Rockers on May 3rd, 1991. Although a consistent winner in Las Vegas, the Stars finished the 1991 campaign at 23-28 and out of the playoffs. Waller led the league in scoring for the fourth straight year, but did so as a member of the Erie (PA) Wave after the Stars shipped out their best player in a mid-season trade. Queenan earned a spot of the WBL All-League team, despite the club’s poor record.
Long-time Tennessee sports promoter Rudi Schiffer served as the Stars part-time General Manager. Schiffer worked on the launch of the North American Soccer League’s Memphis Rogues in the late 1970’s and the popular Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League, who drew crowds of 35,000 to the Liberty Bowl in the mid-1980’s. In a wide-ranging look back at his career with Fun While It Lasted in 2011, Schiffer acknowledged that the Stars were a half-hearted effort off the court:
“That was the league of 6′ 5″ guys. I had a PR firm in Memphis back then. <Former Memphis Showboats President> Steve Ehrhart was the Commissioner of the WBL. Steve knew me from the Showboats and hired me when they moved the team from Las Vegas. Me and my son Michael went up to Nashville to run the Stars. Not full time. I’d go up three times a week and then come back and run my own business. It was just an account I had. Everything was done on a shoestring.
“It was hand-to-mouth. We didn’t draw 200 people a game. Nobody cared about 6′ 5″ players in Nashville.”
The Stars folded quietly in late 1991 after one season of play. The entire WBL followed less than a year later, folding in midseason in August 1992. The league’s undoing came when investigators revealed that Mickey Monus embezzled $10 million from Phar-Mor to underwrite the league’s financial losses (i.e. the 60% of each franchise owned by the money-losing league itself). Phar-Mor was ultimately forced into bankruptcy, costing 17,000 employees their jobs. It was the Enron scandal of its era and caused the league to unravel within a matter of weeks.
Jamie Waller and Daren Queenan never made it to the NBA, but their Silver Streaks and Stars teammate Cedric Hunter did earn the briefest of call-ups with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Hunter played a single minute for the Hornets on February 16th, 1992. It turned out to be the only game – and only minute – he played in the NBA.
Former Stars President and co-owner Ronnie Steine is now a City Councilman in Nashville.