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1978-79 Tucson Gunners

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Tucson GunnersWestern Basketball Association (1978-79)

Born: 1978 – WBA expansion franchise
Folded: 1979

Arena: Tucson Community Center

Team Colors:

Owners: Davis Burk, et al.

WBA Champions: 1979


The Tucson Gunners were a One-Year Wonder in the minor-league Western Basketball Association. The Gunners, like the rest of the league, operated for just one season during the winter of 1978-79. The WBA stretched from Tucson in the south up through California, Utah and Nevada to Montana and Washington in the north. The league attracted a number of out-of-work pros who lost jobs with the closure of the American Basketball Association in 1976, along with training camp cuts from the NBA.

The Gunners shared winter dates at the Tucson Community Center with the Tucson Rustlers hockey team. Like the Gunners, the Rustlers would also fold after just one season.

The Gunners were managed by former Detroit Pistons head coach Herb Brown. Brown assembled the best squad in the league. The Gunners topped the standings with a 32-16 regular season record. Top players included former ABA regular Al Smith and rookie guard Gerald Henderson. Henderson was a 3rd round draft pick of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs in 1978 who failed to stick in training camp.

The Gunners met the Reno Bighorns in the WBA championship series in late March 1979. The series came down to a deciding game 7 in Tucson on April 2, 1979. Smith and Henderson combined for 45 points as Tucson vanquished Reno 104-90.

It proved to be the team’s final contest. The Gunners folded a few months later, along with the other six WBA clubs. Gerald Henderson used his showcase in Tucson to make the Boston Celtics in 1979. He would go on to win 3 NBA titles over the course of a 13-year NBA career before retiring in 1992.



Taking a Gamble on the Future“, Curry Kirkpatrick, Sports Illustrated, February 12, 1979

Western Basketball Association Programs


Written by Drew Crossley

March 22nd, 2017 at 2:01 am

1978-79 Washington Lumberjacks

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Western Basketball Association (1978-1979)

Born: August 1978 – WBA founding franchise
Folded: Summer 1979


Team Colors: Columbia Blue & Pine Green

Owner: Columbia Pacific Resources, Inc. / Michael McDermott


The Western Basketball Association was a one-year effort to create a Western counterpart & competitor to the country’s top minor basketball league, the Pennsylvania-based Continental Basketball Association (CBA).  The WBA began play in the fall of 1978 with seven teams in Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Washington.  A wealth of talent was available to support the creation of a new “Triple-A” caliber league thanks to the end of the ABA-NBA war two years earlier, which ended with the demise of the American Basketball Association and the loss of dozens of jobs at the Major League level of the sport.

The Washington Lumberjacks were based in the Tri-Cities region (Kennewick, Pasco & Richland) of Washington state.  The team could boast of a handful of former NBA regulars, including former University of Washington guard Louie Nelson and ABA/NBA journeyman Bird Averitt.

Kevin Veleke – Lumberjacks Business Manager

Marketing the club was not easy.  We had to create interest in professional basketball in light of the fact high school basketball back in the ’70’s was king.  Local high school games were sell outs and we could only get so-called off days for our games – holidays, Sundays, midweek and my favorite: Super Bowl Sunday 1979.

The WBA was more professional than the Continental Basketball Association … due to having good coaches and good facilities except for a team or two that played in high school gyms like the Lumberjacks.  Because the league was so spread out, teams had to travel by air.  This was very expensive and probably was the undoing of some of the franchises.


1978-79 Washington Lumberjacks Pocket ScheduleThe Lumberjacks averaged a little over a 1,000 fans playing in high school gyms in Richland and Pasco.  In January 1979, the team re-scheduled six home games for the more professional Spokane Coliseum, located 150 miles to the north.  Spokane was under consideration for a future WBA franchise (presumably a relocated Lumberjacks teams).   But attendance at the Spokane games was poor, hovering around 500 per game.

The Lumberjacks finished the 1978-79 season in second place with a 29-19 record, but lost in the opening round of the playoffs.  Washington center Jeff Cook was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.  Cook and forward Walter Jordan were named First Team All League.

After the season, the Western Basketall Association and the CBA announced plans for a merger to form a nationwide United Basketball Association.  But then all of the WBA franchises folded during the summer of 1979, rendering the plan moot.



2011 Fun While It Lasted interview with former Lumberjacks business manager Kevin Veleke.



Western Basketball Association Programs



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