Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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December 5, 1980 – Dallas Diamonds vs. New Jersey Gems

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Dallas Diamonds vs. New Jersey Gems
December 5, 1980
Moody Coliseum
Attendance: 2,217

 

This is a really awesome find that comes to FWIL courtesy of Tom Davis, a former assistant coach from the Houston Angels and Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981).  Tom has shared his files for the Diamonds 1980-81 season home opener against the New Jersey Gems.  Scroll to the bottom for the some fascinating downloads.

What’s special about this game is that it was the pro debut for two future members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame – Nancy Lieberman of the Diamonds and Carol Blazejowski of the Gems.  The struggling league was counting on the duo to breathe renewed life into the organization (after the similarly hyped Ann Meyers failed to do so the previous season).  Although they were both just rookies, Lieberman and Blazejowski were far and away the two highest paid players in the WPBL.

Only 2,217 fans showed up at Moody Coliseum on the campus of Southern Methodist University to see the pro debut of the Diamonds’ new superstar.  Perhaps they were justifiably skeptical.  Dallas finished in dead last place  at 7-28 the previous season without Lieberman.  As the season went on, Diamonds’ crowds grew and occasionally topped 6,000.

Carol Blazejowski was the game’s high scorer, netting 24 points on 8-22 shooting from the floor, plus a perfect 8-for-8 from the stripe.  Nancy Lieberman was nearly identical, pacing the Diamonds with 21 points.  She was 8-20 shooting and hit 5 out of 6 from the line.  Dallas took the night though, winning 102-87 thanks largely to a 34-16 run in the 2nd quarter.

The two teams would meet again in the WPBL playoff semi-finals the following spring, with Dallas coming out on top in the Best-of-3 series.  The Diamonds later lost to the Nebraska Wranglers in the league championship series in April 1981.  Those were the final games in the league’s short history.  It folded later in 1981.

The death of the WPBL ended Carol Blazejowski’s pro career after just one season.   She entered the Hall of Fame in 1994 on the strength of her legendary amateur career.  Nancy Lieberman continued to find places to play sporadically through the 1980’s and 1990’s, including a brief and ill-fated revival of the Dallas Diamonds in 1984, a stint in the men’s United States Basketball League in the mid-1980’s and finally a valedictory appearance in the first year of the WNBA in 1997 as the league’s oldest player at age 39.  By that time, “Lady Magic” was already a Hall-of-Famer, having joined Blazejowski there in the 1996 induction class.

Diamonds coach Tom Davis squirreled away the official scorer’s reports, line-up cards and press releases from this game some 30+ years ago.  You can view and download them all here…

 

==Downloads==

December 5, 1980 Dallas Diamonds Game Notes

December 5, 1980 Dallas Diamonds vs. New Jersey Gems Lineup Card

December 5, 1980 Dallas Diamonds vs. New Jersey Gems Official Scorer’s Report

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Written by AC

August 9th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

1978-1981 New Jersey Gems

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Ann Meyers New Jersey GemsWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise
Folded: Postseason 1981

Arenas:

Team Colors: Royal Blue & Jersey Orange

Owners:

 

The New Jersey Gems were one of eight founding franchises in the pioneering Women’s Professional Basketball League in the winter of 1978-79.  The WPBL was the first professional basketball league for women in the United States.  Of the eight original clubs, the Gems were one of only three to survive for all three of the league’s seasons.

New Jersey GemsThe Gems featured two of the highest paid and best known players in the early years of the women’s game – Ann Meyers and Carol Blazejowski – but never seriously contended for a league championship.  They finally made the playoffs during the WPBL’s third and final season, but were shown a quick first round exit by the league’s third great star, Nancy Lieberman and her Dallas Diamonds.

In the WPBL’s inaugural season, the Gems fielded a largely anonymous roster and were the worst team in the league with a 9-25 record.

In November 1979, new Gems owner Robert Milo signed former UCLA star Ann Meyers to a three-year contract worth $130,000.   (Average pay in the WPBL at the time was around $10,000 per season).  At the time Meyers was the closest thing to a household name in women’s basketball.  A silver medalist on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, Meyers led UCLA to a national championship as a senior in 1978.  She burst into national headlines in September 1979 when the Indiana Pacers of the NBA signed her to a rookie contract, making her the first female athlete to sign with a major American professional sports team.  Meyers was cut soon afterwards and moved into the broadcast booth for the Pacers until Milo came calling two months later.  Meyers would go on to win co-MVP honors in the WPBL in the 1979-80 season as the Gems finished 19-17, just missing the playoffs.

Carol BlazejowskiMeyers declined to return for the 1980-81 season, later telling The Christian Science Monitor that her paychecks stopped arriving in the summer of 1980.  Her pro career was over after a single MVP season.  The Gems replaced Meyers with another big name for their third season, signing former Montclair State star Carol Blazejowski to a three-year, $150,000 contract.

The Gems moved the South Mountain Arena in West Orange for the 1980-81 campaign and had their best season yet.  Blazejowski lit up the league as a rookie, leading the WPBL in scoring with 29.6 PPG.  The team finished 23-13 and made the postseason for the first time.    In the playoffs, the Gems ran into Lieberman and the Diamonds and lost 2 games to 1 in a best-of-three series.

Their Game 3 semi-final defeat in Dallas on April 6, 1981 turned out to be last game for the franchise.  The WPBL quietly faded away sometime in late 1981.  No formal announcement about the league’s fate was ever made, but the WPBL never staged a fourth season.

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Former Queens College All-American Donna Geils played for the Gems during the 1979-80 season.  Under her married name Donna Orender, she later served as President of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) from 2005 to 2010.  Former Gem Carol Blazejowski also became a high-ranking executive in the WNBA, serving as VP/General Manager and later President of the New York Liberty franchise from 1997 to 2010.

The Gems also featured identical twin forwards Faye Young and Kaye Young during the 1979-80 season.  The “Yogurt Twins”  brought much needed notoriety to the publicity-starved league by starring in a Dannon Yogurt ad campaign.  Faye Young went on to co-author Winning Basketball For Girls, a coach’s handbook which has been through numerous print editions over the years.  Kaye Young married Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and was known to Pittsburgh sports fans as Kaye Cowher.  She passed away in 2010.

 

==Slideshow==

 

==New Jersey Gems Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1978-79

1978-79 12/17/1978 vs. Chicago Hustle ?? Program
1978-79 2/18/1979 vs. Iowa Cornets L 132-88 Program
1978-79 3/25/1979 @ Iowa Cornets ?? Program

1979-80

1979-80 11/24/1979 vs. Chicago Hustle W 114-95 Program Game Notes
1979-80 3/1/1980 vs. St. Louis Streak ?? Program
1979-80 3/2/1980 vs. Dallas Diamonds W 98-80 Program Roster

1980-81

1980-81 12/5/1980 @ Dallas Diamonds L 102-87  Line-Up Card Game Notes

 

==YouTube==

Ann Meyers & Magic Johnson 7-Up commercial circa 1980

 

 

==In Memoriam==

Gems forward Kaye Young died after a battle with skin cancer on June 23, 2010.  She was 54.

 

 

==Downloads==

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

1978-79 New Jersey Gems Season Ticket Brochure

February 1980 “Gemstones” Team Newsletter

March 1980 “Gemstones” Team Newsletter

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

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