Continental Basketball Association (1987-2001)
Born: February 25, 1987 – CBA expansion franchise.
Died: February 8, 2001 – The CBA ceases operations.
The Quad City Thunder were a durable and popular minor league basketball club in the corner of Illinois and Iowa known as the Quad Cities. The Thunder played their first six seasons at historic Wharton Field House in Moline, which was home to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks of the NBA from 1946 to 1951. The Blackhawks were forebears of the modern-day Atlanta Hawks of the NBA.
Original owner Anne Potter DeLong led the effort to bring a Continental Basketball Association expansion franchise to the region in early 1987. At the time, the CBA was the Official Developmental League of the NBA, occupying a role similar to the NBA D-League today. DeLong, who owned the Thunder for nine seasons from 1987 to 1996, was one of the few female owners in professional basketball. In the early years under DeLong, who passed away in 2002, the Thunder were one of the most popular clubs in the minor leagues, averaging over 4,000 fans per game at Wharton Field House.
When Anne Potter DeLong passed away in 2002 at the age of 65, she was recalled with fondness by many former league officials and Thunder employees. Former Head Coach Dan Panaggio recalled the owner’s personal attention to the off-court struggles of Chris Childs in a 2011 Quad City Times retrospective. Childs was an undrafted minor league journeyman and an alcoholic when he came to Quad City in 1992. Childs cleaned up and helped the Thunder to their first league title in 1994. Childs debuted in the NBA later that year and went on to a nine-year career in the league, becoming the Thunder’s biggest developmental success story.
Other notable players who made the leap from Quad City to the NBA included Anthony Bowie, Kevin Gamble and Derek Strong. Jimmy King, a former member of the University of Michigan’s Fab Five, played for the Thunder in the late 1990′s and won CBA Most Valuable Player honors in 1998. Even Future Hall of Famer George “Ice Man” Gervin played a few weeks for the Thunder in late 1989 as part of an abortive comeback attempt following a cocaine overdose earlier in the year.
Mauro Panaggio and, later, his son Dan coached the Thunder for all but the final season of the Thunder’s fourteen-year run. The Thunder captured the CBA championship twice, winning in 1994 and 1998.
In 1993, the Thunder moved into the brand new $33 million Mark of the Quad Cities. DeLong sold the team in 1996 and the Thunder’s popularity declined steeply at the end of the decade, amidst the arrival of minor league hockey at the Mark and disarray in the CBA league office.
In August 1999, former NBA star Isaiah Thomas bought all of the individually owned franchises of the CBA, including the Thunder, in a disastrous $10 million acquisition. Over the course of the next 18 months, Thomas crashed the league into the side of a mountain, losing the league’s partnership with the NBA and ultimately abandoning the league into a blind trust that left teams unable to meet payroll of pay bills. The CBA folded on February 8, 2001 without managing to complete the 2000-01 season. The Thunder were offered back to former owner Jay Gellerman, but he declined to get involved and the Thunder went out of business after fourteen years. By the Thunder’s final season in the winter of 2000-01, attendance declined to fewer than 1,000 fans per game, which was the lowest figure in the league.
- Anthony Bowie
- Chris Childs
- Kevin Gamble
- George Gervin
- Jimmy King
- Derek Strong
Long-time front office staffer Fred Radunzel died of cancer of April 16, 2000 at age 45. He was General Manager of the Thunder at the time of his passing.
Former Thunder owner Annie Potter DeLong died in March 2002 at age 65.