Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game
February 9, 1981
Albuquerque Civic Auditorium
Women’s Basketball League Programs
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