Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1978-1981 Minnesota Fillies

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Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1981 – The WPBL ceases operations.


Team Colors:

Owner: Gordon Nevers


The Minnesota Fillies were one of eight founding franchises in the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1978, which was the first pro hoops league for women in the United States.  The Fillies were one of only three clubs, along with the Chicago Hustle and New Jersey Gems, that managed to survive for all three seasons of the WPBL’s existence from 1978 to 1981.

The Fillies made their debut on December 15, 1978 losing to the Iowa Cornets 103-81 at the Met Center in Bloomington before an announced crowd of 4,102.  That first season was marred by a revolving door of head coaches.  Three different women and two men coached the Fillies through training camp and a 34-game regular season schedule.  The coaches included team owner Gordon Nevers, a former mortician with no previous basketball experience. The Fillies finished the 1978-79 season with a 17-17 record and missed the playoffs.

The Fillies finest season was their second one.  Nevers hired former University of Minnesota star Terry Kunze to coach the team and the Fillies responded with a 22-12 record.  They defeated the New Orleans Pride in the playoff quarterfinals, setting up a best-of-three series with their arch rivals, the Iowa Cornets, in the semis in March 1980.  The Fillies blew out the Cornets in Game One by a 108-87 margin, but Iowa won the next two games and ended the Fillies’ run.

The Fillies third and final season in the winter of 1980-81 was marred by the financial problems of owner Gordon Nevers and the league itself.  The club left the Met Center in favor of the smaller, older Minneapolis Auditorium, which was better suited to the typical Fillies’ crowd of around 1,000 people a night.  Missed payrolls culminated in a March 21, 1981 protest by Terry Kunze and eight Fillies players prior to a game in Chicago.  The disgruntled team members walked off the court just before tipoff and refused to return.  The game was cancelled and awarded to Chicago via forfeit, dropping the Fillies record to a league-worst 7-25.  WBL Commissioner Sherwin Fischer suspended Kunze and the eight players indefinitely.

The Fillies finished out the season using replacement players.  The Faux-Fillies lost their first game by 48 points and finished the season 7-28.

Whether or not Nevers and his partners could have or would have re-capitalized the team for another season became a moot point when the rest of the Women’s Professional Basketball League folded before a fourth season could be staged.


==Fillies Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1978-79 1/12/1979  vs. New York Stars  W 96-90 Program
1978-79 2/16/1979 vs. Houston Angels L 105-95 Program
1979-80 12/4/1979 @ Dallas Diamonds W 102-91 Program



1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure




Full of Heart in an Empty House“, Sarah Pileggi, Sports Illustrated, March 10, 1980

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs


1961-1969 Trenton Colonials

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Eastern Professional Basketball League (1961-1969)

Born: 1961
Died: 1969 – The Colonials cease operations.

Arena: Trenton High School

Team Colors:

Owner: Marshal Fink


The Trenton Colonials were a minor league basketball team that played for eight seasons in the Eastern Professional Basketball League.  The EPBL was the highest level of pro basketball beneath the NBA and the fledgling American Basketball Association during the 1960′s.  Most of the clubs were clustered in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Deleware and Connecticut during the years the Colonials competed in the league.

The Colonials were usually also-rans in the Eastern League.  Their finest season came in 1963-64 when they advanced to the league championship series and lost in a two-game sweep to the Camden Bullets.

The Colonials folded following the 1968-69 campaign.  The city got a new Eastern League club in 1970 known as the Trenton Pat Pavers.  They last only two seasons before going out of business in 1972.


==Colonials Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1965-66 12/5/1965  vs. Harrisburg Patriots ?? Program
1967-68 3/16/1968 @ Wilkes-Barre Barons ?? Program




Eastern Professional Basketball League Programs


Written by andycrossley

April 5th, 2014 at 5:06 pm

September 27, 1972 – Utah Stars vs. Phoenix Suns

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Utah Stars vs. Phoenix Suns
NBA-ABA Preseason Exhibition
September 27, 1972
The Salt Palace
Attendance: 7,759

American Basketball Associations Programs
42 pages


Sharp game program from an interleague preseason exhibition between the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.  These exhibition summits weren’t as unusual as you might think.  Between 1971 and 1975 the rival leagues met 155 times, according to Arthur Hundhausen at  In fact, there were four interleague exhibitions on this September evening in 1972 alone.

This game at the Salt Palace in Utah was the first half of a home-and-home series that saw the Stars travel to Phoenix for a rematch two nights later.  Phoenix got the better of Utah in both games, starting with a 128-102 victory in this game.  Suns guards Charlie Scott and Dick Van Arsdale led all scorers with 20 points apiece. Ron Boone, Larry Jones and Willie Wise each scored 17 for the Stars in the losing effort.

The main attraction was Phoenix big man Connie Hawkins, pictured on the cover of the evening’s game program.  Thanks to very flimsy implications of point shaving early in Hawkins’ college career at the University of Iowa, the power forward was effectively blackballed from the NCAA and, later, the NBA for most of the 1960′s.  He spent the decade playing for the Harlem Globetrotters and for whatever pro leagues popped up to challenge the NBA.  In 1968 Hawkins signed with the fledgling ABA, helped the Pittsburgh Pipers win the league’s first championship and was named Most Valuable Player.  After settling his legal battle with the NBA in 1969, he was awarded a $1.3 million settlement and left the ABA to join the expansion Phoenix Suns, where he became a perennial All-Star.  Hawkins played 28 minutes in this exhibition, scoring 11 points and dishing out 5 assists.

Two nights later, the Stars travelled to Phoenix and lost the rematch 129-122.   One interesting footnote about the Phoenix game: the first half of the game was played by ABA rules (including the 3-point shot, which the NBA didn’t use at the time) and the red, white & blue ABA ball.  The second half was played by NBA rules and with the senior league’s orange ball.   I’m not sure if this same rules split was used in the Salt Lake City game.



History of ABA-NBA Exhibitions on


Written by andycrossley

March 23rd, 2014 at 2:40 pm

February 9, 1981 – Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game

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Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game
February 9, 1981
Albuquerque Civic Auditorium
Attendance: 3,378

Women’s Basketball League Programs
8 pages


Very rare game program from the third and final All-Star Game staged by the Women’s Basketball League (1978-1981).  The WBL was the first nationwide professional sports league for women and this game showcased many of sport’s early legends including Carol Blazejowski, Molly Bolin, Nancy Lieberman, Inge Nissen and Rosie Walker.

Unfortunately, the WBL was on its last legs by this point.  A month earlier the New England Gulls franchise dissolved in midseason – the fourth time a league member failed to complete their schedule in the past two years.  Both of the league’s championship series finalists from the previous season folded prior to the season.  And the WBL’s most popular franchise, the Chicago Hustle, was pegging their future on a stock offering to the public.

Albuquerque, New Mexico played host to this exhibition, but it wasn’t a league city.  The All-Star Game came to the city thanks to the lobbying efforts of disgraced former University of New Mexico basketball coach Norm Ellenberger.  Ellenberger was exploring the viability of bringing a WBL expansion franchise to Albuquerque for the 1981-82 season.  The WBL’s interest in Ellenberger in 1981 was curious and perhaps a further indication of the league’s growing desperation.  Ellenberger was still operating under the dark clouds of “Lobogate”, the 1979 fraudulent transcript scandal that cost him his job and placed the Lobos’ basketball program on NCAA probation.  Ellenberger was investigated by the FBI and by state authorities in New Mexico.  Five months after this game he was convicted on 21 counts of fraud and filing false travel vouchers in state court.  The convictions were overturned in 1983 and Ellenberger’s record expunged and he later returned to coach in the pros.  But it’s telling that the WBL would consider looking past his very public legal troubles in 1981 if he could provide the league with a badly needed expansion fee.

The West All-Stars dominated the game 125-92.  Molly Bolin of the San Francisco Pioneers was the MVP with a game high 25 points.  Blazejowski and Lieberman pumped in 20 apiece for the West.  The tallest player in the league, 6′ 5″ center Inge Nissen of the Chicago Hustle led the East with 23 points.  The Monday evening crowd of 3,378 was the largest for any of the three All-Star Games staged by the WBL during its short existence.

The final Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game was also marked by tragedy.  Three days earlier the Nebraska Wranglers played their final game before the All-Star Break.  After the game, Wranglers player Connie Kunzmann met a local named Lance Tibke in an Omaha bar.  The pair drove off into the night together.  Soon afterwards, Tibke stabbed Kunzmann, fractured her skull and threw her into the Missouri River.  But no one knew this just yet.  Kunzmann failed to show for practice the next day, drawing an out-of-character fine.  Wranglers Head Coach Steve Kirk traveled to New Mexico as the coach of the East Conference All-Stars and repeatedly called back to Omaha for updates on his player, who was officially declared missing on Sunday, February 8, 1981.

On the early morning of February 10, 1981, a few hours after the All-Star Game, Tibke walked into a Nebraska police station and confessed to Kunzmann’s murder.  Her body wasn’t found for another six weeks.  Tibke was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison, but only served nine before his parole in 1990.

Norm Ellenberger never got his Albuquerque expansion franchise.  The Women’s Basketball league folded in late 1981 without launching a fourth season.   Ellenberger later became head coach of a men’s minor league basketball team – the Albuquerque Silvers of the Continental Basketball Association – who played out of the Civic Auditorium for two years in the mid-1980′s.



1981 Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game Program

1981 WBL East All-Stars Roster

1981 WBL West All-Stars Roster


Written by andycrossley

March 21st, 2014 at 4:37 pm

1992-1994 Rochester Renegade(s)

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Continental Basketball Association (1992-1994)

Born: May 1992 - The Birmingham Bandits relocate to Rochester, MN.
Died: May 24, 1994 – The Rochester Renegades relocate to Harrisburg, PA.

Arena: Mayo Civic Center

Team Colors:

Owner: Tom McMillan


The third time was not the charm for Alabama businessman Tom McMillan, who experienced little but heartburn and red ink after buying into the minor league Continental Basketball Association in the summer of 1989.  McMillan purchased the Pensacola Tornados that year and operated the club in Florida for two more seasons before soft attendance compelled him to move CBA franchise closer to home for the 1991-92 campaign.

But McMillan’s re-named Birmingham Bandits played in an outdate state fairgrounds neighborhood in a rough neighborhood and were a big loser at the box office.  Barely a year after moving from Florida, McMillan was looking for yet another new home and he found one when a group of investors from Rochester, Minnesota offered to take on 30% of the team if he moved his CBA franchise to the small southeastern Minnesota city.  It was a dubious proposition.  The CBA had already tried and failed in Rochester just a few years earlier, when the Rochester Flyers (1987-1989) folded up shop after only two seasons.

In Minnesota the team took on the name Rochester Renegade (yes, singular) and adopted a feathered cap and sabre for its new logo, apparently taking after the legend of Robin Hood.  Maybe this was a clever inside joke among McMillan and his new local investors: by now McMillan had to know that owning a CBA team was a swift and efficient way for the rich to be liberated of their wealth.

Under Head Coach Ron Ekker the 1992-93 Rochester Renegade were historically awful.  The team finished 6-50, which was the worst record in the 47-year history of the league.  As bad as they fared in the standings though, the 1992-93 Renegade team featured several players would later make it to (or get back to) the National Basketball Association, including Elliott Perry, Tony Farmer and Ronnie Grandison (pictured on the team’s 1992-93 program, above right).

McMillan’s local partners quickly backed away from the artistic and financial catastrophe unfolding at Rochester’s Mayo Civic Center, leaving McMillan holding the bag by himself as an absentee owner.  He decided to give the team one more shot in Rochester.  For the 1993-94 season, the team added an “s” to their name and became the more conventional-sounding Rochester Renegades.

McMillan paid former Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Bill Musselman $175,000 – a fortune in CBA money – to come in and turn around his team on the court.  In addition to his NBA experience, the hyper-intense Musselman was a legend in the CBA.  During the mid-1980′s he won four straight league championships from 1985 to 1988 as coach of the Tampa Bay Thrillers and Albany Patroons franchises.

Musselman worked his magic again, re-making the 6-50 Rochester team of the year before into a 31-25 playoff club.  Ronnie Grandison returned for a second season and was named the CBA’s Most Valuable Player.  But despite a big increase in percentage terms, Rochester’s ticket sales of 2,200 per game were still among the worst in the league and McMillan lost a reported half million dollars during the 1993-94 season. Late in the year he began talking with potential buyers in St. Paul, Massachusetts and Mississippi.

Finally, after five seasons and three cities, Tom McMillan unloaded his sinking CBA investment at the fire sale price of $350,000 to a real estate broker from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in May 1994.  The Renegade moved East and became the Harrisburg Hammerheads for the 1994-95 CBA season.  The real estate man quickly ran out of money and the franchise went out of business in February 1995 without managing to complete the season in Harrisburg.


==In Memoriam==

Former Stingers Head Coach Bill Musselman died on May 5, 2000 of heart and kidney failure after a series of ailments.  He was 59.



Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs




Written by andycrossley

March 9th, 2014 at 3:24 pm