Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1970-1972 Pittsburgh Condors

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John Brisker Pittsburgh CondorsAmerican Basketball Association (1970-1972)

Born: Summer 1970 – The Pittsburgh Pipers/Pioneers are re-branded as the Pittsburgh Condors.
Died: June 13, 1972 - The ABA disbands the Condors franchise.

Arena: Pittsburgh Civic Arena

Team Colors:

Owners: Haven Industries (represented by Don Bezahler)

 

Western Pennsylvania sports fans didn’t care much for the Pittsburgh Condors of the American Basketball Association.  But this odd little team has become a cult favorite of ABA collectors and nostalgists thanks to its short life span, deeply weird storylines and some great-looking-but-very-rare memorabilia.

Case in point: a very scarce 1970-71 Condors media guide (like the one above right) is currently selling for $500.00 on e-Bay.  That’s John Brisker on the cover pictured in sombrero and six shooters.  Brisker was a sensational scorer and also a volatile, heat-packing brawler who terrified opponents and teammates alike.  No one has seen Brisker since 1978.  The most popular theory is that he died in Uganda fighting as a mercenary for Idi Amin.

1971-72 Pittsburgh CondorsThe Condors were a continuation of the ABA’s Pittsburgh Pipers franchise, which was an equally strange operation.  The Condors were one of the ABA’s original eleven franchises in 1967.  They were the best team in the league that first season (54-24) and won the inaugural championship, thanks in large part to future Hall-of-Famer Connie Hawkins.  But after that first ABA season, Condors owner Gabe Rubin moved the franchise to Minneapolis, where another ABA club had just failed.  When the Pipers failed to generate any interest in the Twin Cities, Rubin dragged the club back to Pittsburgh, of all places, for the ABA’s third season in 1969-70. Pittsburgh fans were not in a forgiving mood.  The 1969-70 Pipers played to a near-empty Civic Arena on most nights.  Compounding matters, Hawkins had left for the NBA and the team was a terrible (29-55), a shell of its championship form two winters earlier.

In April 1970 Gabe Rubin unloaded the Pipers on a New York conglomerate named Haven Industries that ran businesses ranging from sugar refining to livery services.  Remarkably, the new owners decided to keep the team in Pittsburgh, despite the monolithic apathy of the locals.  They decided the problem was the Pipers identity and set about holding a Name The Team contest to re-brand the team.  The prize for the winning entry was $500.00 cash.

Law student Don Seymour proposed the name “Pittsburgh Pioneers”, taking 57 words to explain why.  Club officials dug Seymour’s concept and named him the winner.  Trouble was, a woman named Angela Weaver also submitted the name “Pioneers” and, unlike Seymour, she kept her submission within the 25-word limit stated in the contest rules.  And Angela Weaver’s husband was an attorney.  And besides that a small downtown Pittsburgh college already used the name Pioneers and threatened to litigate.  And so the Pipers abandoned their bungled Name The Team contest and became the “Pittsburgh Condors” for no special reason.

On the court, the new management hired former Cincinnati Royals and San Diego Rockets (NBA) head man Jack McMahon to turn around the Condors’ fortunes.  Although Brisker and Mike Lewis were named to the 1971 ABA All-Star Game, the Condors struggled to a 36-48 finish and missed the playoffs.  Attendance was terrible a 2,806 per game, a figure inflated by massive ticket giveaways, if not outright deception, according to the ABA’s premier historian Arthur Hundhausen of RememberTheABA.com.

The Condors’ second and final campaign in the winter of 1971-72 was worst still.  GM Mark Binstein canned Jack McMahon after a 4-6 start and named himself Head Coach, despite no previous experience.  Attendance plummeted further, fueling rumors that the Condors would disband or relocate while the season was still in progress.  After the New Year, the Condors started moving games all over the country rather than play to empty seats in Pittsburgh.  There were rumors the Condors could end up in Cincinnati, El Paso, New Haven or San Diego for the 1972-73 season.  Pittsburgh’s final “home” game of the 1971-72 season was played in Tucson, Arizona, of all places, on March 28, 1972.  In typical fashion, the Condors lost to the Kentucky Colonels in a high scoring shootout 134-132.  The club would never play in Pittsburgh again.

The Condors had the worst record in the ABA in 1971-72 at 25-59.  The various rumored relocations fell through and the ABA terminated the Condors franchise on June 13, 1972.

 

==Pittsburgh Condors Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other

 

==In Memoriam==

Forward John Brisker disappeared in Uganda in April 1978 and was never heard from again.  Brisker was declared legally dead in 1985.

Condors Head Coach Jack McMahon passed away at age 60 on June 11, 1989.

 

==Links==

Pittsburgh Condors on RememberTheABA.com

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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Written by andycrossley

August 3rd, 2014 at 2:13 pm

1978-1979 Baltimore Metros

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Baltimore MetrosContinental Basketball Association (1978-1979)

Born: 1978 – The Washington Metros relocate to Baltimore, MD.
Died: January 1979 – The Metros relocate to Utica, NY in midseason.

Arena: UMBC Fieldhouse (4,000)

Team Colors:

Owner: Fred Keller

 

Doomed, totally forgotten minor league basketball effort that flamed out in Baltimore after a couple of months in early 1979.   The Baltimore Metros formed a year earlier in Washington, D.C. in the Eastern Basketball Association.  The Metros were terrible in the EBA (5 wins against 26 losses) and team owner Fred Keller moved the club to the University of Maryland Baltimore County Fieldhouse for the 1978-79 season.   The EBA also re-branded itself as the Continental Basketball Association that year.

Keller hired ABA and NBA veteran Larry Cannon to coach the team.  Cannon, the #5 overall pick in the 1969 NBA draft, got the team off to a 9-5 start.  But that wasn’t good enough for Keller, who fired him in December and took the coaching reigns himself.  By January, the club was out of money and Keller was looking to unload it.  The CBA threatened to revoke the franchise for unpaid bills.  In late January, the Metros abruptly left town and set up shop in Utica, New York, changing their name to the “Mohawk Valley Thunderbirds” in midseason.  That didn’t work out either and the Metros/Thunderbirds eventually went out of business without finishing the 1978-79 regular season.

 

==Baltimore Metros Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
10/27/1978 vs. Rochester Zeniths ?? Program Roster

 

==Links==

Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs

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Written by andycrossley

July 4th, 2014 at 1:48 am

1985-1986 Wildwood Aces

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Wildwood AcesUnited States Basketball League (1985-1986)

Born: 1985 – USBL founding franchise.
Died: 1987 – The Aces relocate to Philadelphia, PA.

Arena: Wildwood Convention Hall

Team Colors:

Owners: Peter Bonastia & Robert Worton

 

The Wildwood Aces were one of seven founding franchises in the United States Basketball League in the summer of 1985.  The USBL started out as a low-level minor league loop in New England, New York and New Jersey, but in later seasons expanded as far afield as Kansas.

The New Jersey-based Aces finished dead last in the seven-team USBL in 1985 with a 6-18 record.  In 1986, under new head coach Lefty Ervin, the Aces improved to 2nd place with a 23-10 record.  According to The Philadelphia Inquirer the Wildwood Aces averaged between 400 and 500 fans per game at Convention Hall during the 1986 season.

The Aces’ top name was former Villanova star Stewart Granger, a former 1st round pick of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers in 1983.

Prior to the 1987 season, owner Peter Bonastia, a Northern New Jersey real estate developer, moved the Aces to Philadelphia.

 

Wildwood Aces

 

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Written by andycrossley

May 11th, 2014 at 1:01 am

1997-1999 Corpus Christi Sharks

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Southwest Basketball League (1997-1999)

Born: October 16, 1997 - SWBL founding franchise.
Died: 1999 – The Sharks relocate to Sugarland, Texas.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Charles E. Johnson

 

The Corpus Christi Sharks were part of an obscure, fly-by-night operation called the Southwest Basketball League which operated in Texas and Louisiana for parts of four seasons between 1997 and 2001.  The SWBL was introduced to the press and the public just three weeks before tip off of the first game in November 1997, leaving no time for the six founding clubs to make any sort of impact in their communities.

The Sharks were owned by league founder and Commissioner Charles Johnson, a former NBA agent. The league intended to play a 40-game schedule in 1997-98, but Johnson shut it down after just 14 games amidst a flurry of bounced paychecks in late December 1997.  The Sharks were the best team in the league at the time with an 11-3 record, but few would have noticed.  The team averaged just over 1,000 fans at Memorial Coliseum, which was the best figure in the league.

Surprisingly, the Sharks and the league regrouped for a second season in early 1999.  The Sharks downgraded from the city-owned Memorial Coliseum to a local high school gymnasium.  One of Charles Johnson’s former clients, the former Houston Rockets guard Robert Reid, coached the Sharks during their second and final season.  Reid would suit up for the team’s final home game at age 43 and score 4 points.  Crowds dwindled to little more than friends and family at Ray High School and the Sharks quietly moved to Sugarland, Texas prior to the Southwest Basketball League’s third season in the winter of 1999-00.

The SWBL teetered along in obscurity until 2001 and then disappeared.

 

==Downloads==

1997-98 Corpus Christi Sharks Program

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1978-1981 Minnesota Fillies

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Minnesota FilliesWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981)

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

Arenas:

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.

Minnesota FilliesThe 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.

 

==Minnesota 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

 

==Downloads==

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

 

 

==Links==

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

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