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1996-1998 Colorado Xplosion

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Colorado XplosionAmerican Basketball League (1996-1998)

Born: February 7, 1996 – ABL founding franchise.
Died: December 22, 1998 – The ABL ceases operations in mid-season.

Arenas:

Team Colors: Black, Blue & Yellow

Owner: American Basketball League

 

The Colorado Xplosion were the Denver franchise in the women’s American Basketball League, which lasted for two-and-a-half seasons from 1996 to 1998.  After the 1996 Olympics, two rival women’s leagues sprung up.  The bootstrap ABL launched first, played in the winter time, offered the best pay, and initially signed many of the best Olympic-caliber women’s players.  The NBA-backed Women’s National Basketball Association had David Stern’s marketing machine behind it, richer owners and better television and media deals.  In less than three years, the WNBA and the generally challenging marketplace for women’s pro sports drove the ABL to bankruptcy in December 1998.

But it was fun while it lasted.  The Xplosion were a pretty strong club.  In the ABL’s inaugural season, they had the second best record in the regular season at 25-15, but were bounced in the first round of the playoff by the Richmond Rage.  During their second season, the Xplosion regressed a bit, barely making the playoffs at 21-23.  Once again, they lost in the first round, this time to the Long Beach Stingrays.  Season three saw the Xplosion off to slow start and in last place in their division at 5-8 when the ABL abruptly shut down on December 22, 1998, having run out of money to continue operations.

Top players included two-time ABL All-Stars Debbie Black and Crystal Robinson.  Black, although the shortest player in the league at 5′ 3″, was a tenacious rebounder, who ranked among the league’s top 15 total rebounders during the first two seasons.  She also was the ABL’s all-time steals leader and ranked third in assists for the two full seasons the league completed. Robinson led the Xplosion in scoring both seasons was among the league’s top three-point threats.

The Xplosion player who got the most national media attention was 6′ 5″ Sylvia Crawley, who executed a blindfolded dunk at the 1998 ABL All-Star Game to win what was billed as the first ever slam dunk contest for women.

The Xplosion split their home games between McNichols Arena and the smaller Denver Coliseum in each of their season.  Attendance was pretty consistent through the team’s brief run, holding a steady average of just under 4,000 per game.  A February 1st, 1998 game at McNichols against the New England Blizzard set the club’s all-time mark with 13,489 fans on hand.

 

==Links==

American Basketball League Media Guides

American Basketball League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

February 9th, 2014 at 3:57 pm

1996-97 Richmond Rage

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American Basketball League (1996-1997)

Born: February 1996 – ABL founding franchise.
Died: July 21, 1997 – The Rage move to Philadelphia, PA.

Arenas:

 

Team Colors: Black, Red & Gold

Owner: American Basketball League

 

The Richmond Rage were a women’s professional basketball team that lasted for just one season in the American Basketball League.  The ABL was formed in 1995 with plans for a fall 1996 launch, hoping to draft off of the platform of the 1996 Atlanta summer Olympics and to get the jump on the WNBA, a rival startup backed by the National Basketball Association.

The Rage had a terrifically talented roster, including former University of Virginia star and Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley (guard), and forward  Adrienne Goodson of Old Dominion.  Staley and Goodson would both earn 1st Team All-ABL honors, while 6′ 4″ center Taj McWilliams was named 2nd team All-League.

One curiosity on the Rage roster was the presence of U.S. Olympic track & field legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee.  The 34-year old medaled in her fourth and final summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 just months before the American Basketball League made its debut.  Kersee was an All-Pac 10 performer at UCLA in the early 1980’s, but hadn’t played competitive basketball in over a decade when she signed with the Rage in 1996.  Kersee made 17 appearances off the bench during the 1996-97 season, but her skills had eroded and she averaged just 0.9 points per game at forward.

Despite the individual talent, the Rage didn’t really put it all together in the regular season, finishing with a modest 21-19 record.  But the Rage caught fire for the playoffs, and upset the Western Conference champion Colorado Xplosion to earn a championship series date with the ABL’s best team, the Columbus Quest.   Richmond took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, but was unable to close out the Quest.  Columbus took Games 4 & 5 on back-to-back nights on March 9th and 10th, 1997 to win the ABL’s first championship title.

Off the court, the Rage averaged 3,139 fans per game for 20 home dates split between the Richmond Coliseum and the Robins Center at the University of Richmond.  That ranked 6th out of the ABL’s 8 teams, but wasn’t far off the league average of 3,536 per game.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the ABL lost an estimated $500,000 – $600,000 operating the Rage in Richmond during its first season.

The ABL was a single-entity organization, which meant that all teams and player contracts were owned centrally by the league.  In July 1997, with ticket sales for the second season lagging in Richmond and the league in dire need of more alluring media markets for sponsors and television partners, the ABL moved the Rage franchise to Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Rage never regained the form of their first season in Virginia, falling to last place in 1997-98 with a 13-31 record.  The league’s third season in 1998-99 was cut off abruptly when the ABL shut down three days before Christmas in 1998 and later declared bankruptcy.

 

==Key Players==

  • Adrienne Goodson
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee
  • Taj McWilliams
  • Dawn Staley

 

 ==Links==

American Basketball League Media Guides

American Basketball League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

September 16th, 2013 at 2:37 am

1996-1998 Seattle Reign

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American Basketball League (1996-1998)

Born: 1996 – ABL founding franchise.
Died: December 22, 1998 – The ABL ceases operations in midseason.

Arena: Mercer Arena (4,509)

Team Colors: Black, Goldenrod, Crimson & Forest Green

Owner: American Basketball League

 

The Seattle Reign were a cleverly named women’s professional basketball team that competed for two-and-a-half seasons in the American Basketball League (1996-1998).  The Reign had a modest but dedicated fan base that consistently filled the 4,500-seat Mercer Arena to three quarters of capacity, creating a better atmosphere than many ABL clubs that played in oversized buildings.  The Reign also played occasional home dates at KeyArena, home of the NBA’s Seattle Sonics.

The ABL was founded in late 1995 with the aim of capitalizing on the expected strong performance of the United States women’s basketball team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  The NBA was backing a rival start-up – the WNBA – which would fill dates at NBA arenas during the slow summer months and wouldn’t start until 1997.   As expected, the Americans won Gold in Atlanta.  Thanks to an earlier start in October 1996 and more generous salaries and benefits, the ABL initially lured the majority of the Olympic champions to their league.

The Reign used their 1st round draft pick in 1996 to select 29-year old Venus Lacy, a 6′ 4″ center on the U.S. Olympic team.  Lacy signed with the ABL and was expected to be the Reign’s dominant presence.  Instead, she had a cursed campaign that included an arthroscopic knee surgery in midseason, followed less than two months later by a serious car accident which ended her season.  Lacy was shipped to the ABL’s Long Beach Stingrays expansion franchise after the season and was never a major factor for the Reign.  Seattle finished the ABL’s inaugural season 17-23 and out of the playoffs.

Prior to the ABL’s second season in 1997-98, the Reign added two outstanding rookies to the roster.  Kate Starbird came out of Stanford University as the all-time leading scorer for that powerhouse program and as the Naismith Award winner as the nation’s College Player-of-the-Year.  Starbird also had Washington state ties as a graduate of Lakes High School in Lakewood.  The 22-year old’s three-year ABL deal came with a base salary of $150,000 plus perhaps another $100,000 in endorsements, which The Seattle Times speculated was the richest contract in the women’s game at the time.

6′ 1″ forward Shalonda Enis out of the University of Alabama was less heralded than Starbird, but ended up more impactful, finishing 5th in the ABL in scoring (18.0 ppg) and winning league Rookie-of-the-Year honors.

Despite the arrival of Enis and Starbird, the Reign finished last in the Western Conference at 15-29.

The Reign returned for a third season in October 1998, but by this time the ABL was financially hobbled by extravagant salaries, lack of sponsor & television interest, and competition from the far wealthier (but lower paying) WNBA.  The Reign played only 15 games of the 1997-98 season before the ABL ran out of money and closed its doors on December 22, 1998.

The Reign played 49 regular season home dates during their two-and-a-half year history and averaged 3,374 fans per game over that time.  During the Reign’s debut season in 1996-97 they sold 1,155 season tickets according to The Seattle Times.

Professional women’s basketball returned to Seattle in 2000 with the arrival of the Seattle Storm expansion team in the WNBA.  The Storm have since won two WNBA championships in 2004 and 2010.

In 2013, Seattle’s new entry in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) gave new life to the “Reign” nickname, adopting the identity of Seattle Reign FC.  Reign FC owner Bill Predmore acknowledged that the name was in part a tribute to the original Reign basketball team.

 

==Key Players==

 

 

==Links==

American Basketball League Media Guides

American Basketball League Programs

###

Written by andycrossley

August 8th, 2013 at 3:18 am

1996-1998 Portland Power

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American Basketball League (1996-1998)

Born: 1996 – ABL founding franchise.
Died: December 22, 1998 – The ABL ceases operations in midseason.

Arena: Memorial Coliseum (10,934)

Team Colors: Blue, Green & Orange

Owner: American Basketball League

 

The Portland Power were an entry in the American Basketball League (1996-1998), which was an early rival to the NBA-backed Women’s National Basketball Association in the race to launch a major women’s professional league on the coattails of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

The ABL got out of the box first in the winter of 1996-97 and beat out the WNBA to sign a majority of the 1996 Gold Medal winners from the United States Olympic Team.  These included Oregon native Katy Steding (pictured on the Power’s inaugural season media guide, above right) who was assigned to the Power.

Portland’s best player, however, and one of the most dominant in the ABL’s brief history, was 6′ 2″ center Natalie Williams.  Williams is the daughter of former NBA player Nate Williams and was a two-sport All-America at UCLA in basketball and volleyball.  Williams won the ABL’s Most Valuable Player award during the 1997-98 season, when she led the league in scoring and rebounding and finished fourth in blocks.

Following her MVP campaign, Williams exercised a clause in her ABL contract to request a trade to the Long Beach Stingrays franchise for the 1998-99 season, in order to be closer to her Southern California home.  The ABL was a single-entity league and all players were under contract to the league rather than individual franchises.  At first the move appeared to severely hobble the Power, who had improved from the worst team in the ABL in 1996-97 to conference champions in 1997-98.  But the Stingrays turned out to be in brutal financial condition and the league contracted the team during the summer of the 1998.  With the Southern California franchise out of the picture, Williams returned to Portland for a third season.

The ABL itself was running out of money, despite the contraction of the weak Long Beach and Atlanta Glory franchises during the summer of 1998 and across the board pay cuts for league employees.  The ABL managed to get a third season underway in November 1998 and the league was counting on the potential of an NBA player lockout that fall to bring new media and fan attention to the league.   It didn’t happen and by December the league was out of cash.  Portland was atop the Western Conference with a 9-4 record when the ABL suddenly went out of business three days before Christmas on December 22, 1998.  The league later declared bankruptcy, leaving the WNBA as the winner of the women’s basketball wars of the mid-1990’s.

Professional women’s basketball briefly returned to Portland in 2000 with the formation of the WNBA’s Portland Fire franchise, backed by Portland Trailblazers owner Paul Allen.  Like the Power, the Portland Fire lasted only three seasons folding after the 2002 season.

 

==Key Players==

 

 

==Downloads==

1996-97 Portland Power Roster – as of October 1996

1998-99 Portland Power Roster – as of October 1998

 

 

==Links==

American Basketball League Media Guides

American Basketball League Programs

###

Written by andycrossley

August 8th, 2013 at 2:18 am

1997-1998 Philadelphia Rage

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American Basketball League (1997-1998)

Born: July 21, 1997 – The Richmond Rage relocate to Philadelphia, PA.
Died: December 22, 1998 – The ABL ceases operations in midseason.

Arenas:

Team Colors: Black, Red & Gold

Owner: American Basketball League

 

The Philadelphia Rage were a women’s professional basketball team that operated for a season-and-a-half in the American Basketball League.  The franchise started out in Virginia as the Richmond Rage during the ABL’s 1996-97 inaugural season and advanced to the 1997 ABL Championship Series, losing to the Columbus Quest.

In July 1997 the Rage relocated to Philadelphia due to poor ticket sales and the small size of the media market in Richmond.  In their first season in Philly, the Rage split their games between the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania and the brand new 10,000-seat Apollo at Temple University.   Attendance in Philadelphia was notably lousy.  During the 1997-98 season, Philadelphia ranked 8th out of the ABL’s 9 teams with average crowds of 3,238 for 22 home dates.  For the aborted 1998-99 season, when the Rage played solely at the Apollo, attendance was far and away the weakest in the league, with only 1,495 per game showing up for six dates.

The 1997-98 Rage club was terrible on the court, despite the presence of three women’s game legends on the roster in Adrienne Goodson, Taj McWilliams and Philly native Dawn Staley.  The Rage finished in last place in their division with a 13-31 record.

As the 1998-99 season began, the Rage seemed poised to turn things around, despite the loss of Dawn Staley, who jumped to the ABL’s much stronger rival, the Women’s National Basketball Association, during the offseason.   Hall-of-Famer Anne Donovan was the new coach and had the Rage off to a 9-5 start before the league ran out of money just before Christmas.   The league had kept the true severity of its financial pressures quiet and many players, fans and employees were caught off guard when the ABL abruptly closed its doors on December 22, 1998.

 

==Key Figures==

  • Anne Donovan (Head Coach)
  • Teresa Edwards
  • Adrienne Goodson
  • Taj McWilliams
  • Dawn Staley

 

==In Memoriam==

Rage guard Katrina Price died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on January 18, 1998, less than a month after the ABL folded.  She was 23.

 

==Links==

American Basketball League Media Guides

American Basketball League Programs

###

Written by andycrossley

August 8th, 2013 at 1:24 am