American Basketball League (1996-1997)
Born: February 1996 – ABL founding franchise.
Died: July 21, 1997 – The Rage move to Philadelphia, PA.
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.
- Adrienne Goodson
- Jackie Joyner-Kersee
- Taj McWilliams
- Dawn Staley