Continental Basketball Association (1986-1990)
Born: May 6, 1986 – The Kansas City Sizzlers relocate to Topeka, KS.
Moved: May 1990 (Yakima Sun Kings)
Arena: Landon Arena (8,134)
Team Colors: Red & Black
Dance Team: The Flames
CBA Championships: None
The Topeka Sizzlers are one of those largely forgotten minor league organizations where the litigation lasts far longer than the team ever did. The minor league basketball club arrived in Topeka from Kansas City in the fall of 1986. Surprisingly, the Sizzlers would be the Kansas state capital’s first professional sports team of any stripe in a quarter century, since the demise of the Topeka Reds of Class B minor league baseball in 1961.
The man who brought the Sizzlers to town was Kansas City travel agency owner Bernie Glannon. Glannon paid $500,000 for his Continental Basketball Association (CBA) expansion franchise in 1985 and plunked the team down in KC, hoping to fill the pro basketball void left by the departure of the NBA’s Kansas City Kings to Sacramento a few months earlier. At the time, the CBA was the Official Developmental League of the NBA and the league’s players were typically low-round draft picks and other training camp casualties of NBA clubs. Glannon’s Kansas City Sizzlers lasted only a single season and lost a reported $200,000 – $300,000. Glannon moved the club to Topeka on May 6th, 1986.
The Sizzlers were a hit that first season in Topeka in the winter of 1986-87. The team drew an announced average of 3,534 – strong by CBA standards – highlighted by an all-time CBA record crowd of 8,917 for a March 7, 1987 game against the Wisconsin Flyers.
Early on the Sizzlers put together some compelling signings, including three veterans of the University of Kansas’ 1986 Final Four team: Cedric Hunter, Ron Kellogg and Calvin Thompson. When the Sizzlers opened their second in Topeka in November 1987, it was with a bizarre back court duo that attracted media attention from across the country. 41-year old Jo Jo White was a former Kansas Jayhawks star and 7-time NBA All-Star with the Boston Celtics. White was seven years removed from his last pro game and 21 years older than his back court mate Lloyd Daniels.
Daniels was a New York City legend, considered by many the greatest talent to come out of the city since Lew Alcindor. But he read at a third grade level, attended five different high schools, and was kicked out of Jerry Tarkanian’s infamous UNLV program without ever playing a college game for cocaine problems. If Daniels couldn’t play for a guy like Tarkanian, he wasn’t going to play college ball anywhere. Daniels signed as a pro with Topeka in the fall of 1988 but he didn’t last long. The Sizzlers kicked him off the team in February 1988 for being out of shape and failing to attend drug rehab. White, meanwhile, re-retired after 26 days in December 1987, realizing his 41-year old legs could no longer keep up in the fast paced CBA.
The novelty of CBA basketball wore off quickly for Topekans. Attendance dropped nearly 50% for the Sizzlers’ second season. On the eve of the team’s third season in November 1988, Glannon sold an 80% controlling interest in the team to Jim & Bonnie Garrett, owners of a string of Topeka-area McDonald’s franchises for a reported $485,000. Under the Garretts’ management, attendance continued to plummet down to 1,606 per game in 1988-89 at the Landon Arena at the Kansas Expocentre.
At some point the Garretts decided that Glannon sold them a bill of goods and stopped making the installment payments on their purchase of the Sizzlers. Glannon filed suit in the spring of 1989 and the team entered its final season in the winter of 1989-90 under the cloud of litigation. Crowds at the Expocentre rarely cracked quadruple digits and the team was abysmal, finishing the campaign at 10-46 with the disgruntled Garretts only funding seven players on the active roster. Before the season ended, the Garretts announced the Sizzlers would not return for a fifth season. In May 1990 they sold the team to Bob Wilson for $550,000. Wilson moved the franchise to Washington state where the club was reborn as the Yakima Sun Kings (1990-2008).
Meanwhile, Glannon and the Garretts were just getting started suing each other. Their various lawsuits, involuntary bankruptcy petitions and appeals over the sale of the Topeka Sizzlers ran through the entire decade of the 1990’s and into the early 21st century. Occasional business journal coverage suggested Glannon generally got the best of it in the courtroom, although few outside the two families still remembered what they were fighting about.
Bernard Glannon died on his 73rd birthday in November 2008.
Lloyd Daniels played all over the world in the 15-year+ pro career that began in Topeka and took him to New Zealand, Portugal, Turkey, France, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Greece, China and Italy, along with every minor league circuit in North America. Daniels also enjoyed a journeyman career in the NBA between 1992 and 1998, often on the 10-day contracts typically offered to CBA players needed to fill short-term roster openings.