Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1982-1986 Detroit Spirits

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Continental Basketball Association (1982-1986)

Born: 1982 – CBA expansion franchise.
Died: 1986 – The Spirits relocate to Savannah, GA.


Team Colors: Red, Silver & Black



The Detroit Spirits were a minor league basketball franchise that toiled in the shadow of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons for five seasons in the mid-1980’s.  The Spirits attracted some attention at the outset of their first season in 1982-83 by signing cult basketball enigma Marvin “Bad News” Barnes.  Barnes, a former Providence College star, was the American Basketball Association’s 1974 Rookie-of-the-Year, but his subsequent pro career was dogged by erratic behavior, arrests for firearms and narcotics, and general under achievement.  Playing in the CBA was a form of penance.  Barnes’ Spirits contract was worth $5,000 for the season.  Rival big man Moses Malone, the runner-up to Barnes for ABA Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1974, had a $2.2 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1982-83.  As he had in previous stops, Barnes started missing practices and games and the Spirits eventually suspended him from the team.

The Spirits won the Continental Basketball Association championship in 1983, their first season of operation, with a final series victory over the Montana Golden Nuggets (who were coached by George Karl).  Minor league legend Tico Brown scored 60 points, a CBA playoff record, in Detroit’s Game 5 victory.

Despite the championship, Spirits owner Agustin Arbulu endured a number of headaches during his first season, including playoff games at Cobo Arena with only a few hundred fans in attendance and a bizarre episode where inmates at the Dunes Correctional Facility in Michigan somehow got hold of the Spirits long distance calling code and charged over $19,000 of long distance calls to the team account.

A return visit to the CBA championship series in 1985 resulted in a loss to the Tampa Bay Thrillers.

The Spirits started out at Cobo Arena downtown, but attendance was poor and the team moved to small cheaper venues in subsequent seasons, including Calihan Hall at the University of Detroit.

In April of 1986 the Spirits moved to Savannah, Georgia where they became known as the Savannah Spirits.


==Key Players==

  • Marvin Barnes
  • Tico Brown



Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs


Written by andycrossley

August 5th, 2013 at 2:40 am

1982-1992 Albany Patroons

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Albany PatroonsContinental Basketball Association (1982-1992)

Born: 1982 – CBA expansion franchise.
Died: 1992 – Re-branded as the Capital Region Pontiacs


Team Colors: Kelly Green & White



The Albany Patroons were long-running and very successful minor league basketball club that played 10 season in the New York capital between 1982 and 1992.  The team was wildly successful on the court, winning two Continental Basketball Association titles and becoming an incubator for NBA coaching talent.  Phil Jackson and George Karl both coached the Patroons before finding success in the NBA.  Bill Musselman, who had previous NBA bench experience, coached the Patroons to their 1988 championship and used the experience to springboard back to the NBA as head coach of the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989.

Vincent Askew Albany PatroonsThe Patroons were a hot ticket at the quirky Washington Avenue Armory throughout the 1980’s.  But the team’s fortunes declined rapidly after a move to the new Knickerbocker Arena in 1990.  The Patroons’ core following of 4,000 or so fans created an intense atmosphere in the tiny Armory, but they drowned in the 15,000-seat expanse of the new building.

Owners Joe O’Hara and Glenn Mazula sold naming rights of the team to the regional Pontiac car dealers group in 1992.  The Albany Patroons were re-branded as the “Capital Region Pontiacs” on the eve of the 1992-93.  This unpopular move, combined with the increased expenses of the new arena and the CBA’s increasing reliance on air travel, effectively killed the franchise argued local Albany sportswriter Chuck Miller.

The former Patroons/Pontiacs franchise moved to Hartford, Connecticut in 1993 and became known as the Hartford Hellcats.  The Hellcats went out of business in February 1995.




==Albany Patroons Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other


1984-85 3/18/1985 @ Toronto Tornados L 117-105 Program Roster


1985-86 1/24/1986 @ Bay State Bombardiers L 115-108   Ticket
1985-86 3/15/1986 vs. Tampa Bay Thrillers L 109-107 Program


1987-88 1/29/1988 vs. Charleston Gunners W 83-69 Program
1987-88 1/30/1988 vs. Rockford Lightning L 108-107 Program
1987-88 2/2/1988 vs. Charleston Gunners W 125-102 Program


1988-89 3/2/1989 vs. Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets ?? Program
1988-89 3/4/1989 vs. Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets L 94-91 Program


==Key Figures==

  • Mario Elie
  • Phil Jackson (Head Coach)
  • George Karl (Head Coach)




Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs


1995-1996 San Diego Wildcards

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Continental Basketball Association (1995-1996)

Born: July 1995 – The Mexico City Aztecas relocate to San Diego, CA.
Died: January 5, 1996 – The Wildcards cease operations in midseason.

Arena: San Diego Sports Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: Doug Logan


San Diego, California is not a wise location to start a professional basketball franchise.   The city has already lost three major league basketball clubs, which has got to be the record, right?   The NBA’s San Diego Rockets (1967-1971) and San Diego Clippers (1978-1984) barely made themselves at home before packing up and heading to greener pastures.  The American Basketball Association washed out in the 1970’s with the San Diego Conquistadors/Sails (1972-1975).

The San Diego Wildcards were a minor league club, part of the Continental Basketball Association.  At the time, the CBA played the role that the D-League does today, operating as a developmental league one-step below the NBA.  The immediate goal of most CBA players was to score a 10-day contract with an NBA club on a club with a short-term need.  The immediate goal of most CBA owners was to find a buyer who might just take this thing off their hands.

The CBA tried to cultivate an air of mainstream respectability, but the truth was that it remained a ramshackle operation during the era of its NBA partnership in the 1980’s and 1990’s – the “Cockroach Basketball Association” as former CBA coach Charley Rosen put it (fondly).  Franchises shifted non-stop and it wasn’t unheard of for teams to go belly-up in the middle of a season.   The Wildcards franchise was shopworn even by CBA standards.  It began as an expansion team in Detroit in 1982 and wandered through the hands of numerous owners in Savannah, Tulsa, Fargo and even Mexico City before rolling into San Diego in July of 1995.

Wildcards owner Doug Logan acquired the franchise from reclusive minor league mogul Horn Chen in the spring of 1994.  At the time, Logan worked for the largest concert promoter in Mexico and was trying to assemble a pro sports division in Mexico City that would include a CBA franchise and an Arena Football team.  The CBA franchise, the Aztecas lasted only one season and the Arena Football club never got off the ground.  By mid-1995, the Mexico effort was dead.   Logan hauled what was left of the Aztecas across the border to San Diego and set up shop for the 1995-96 CBA season.

Logan didn’t have the financial resources to underwrite or properly promote the franchise himself.  And all of the sudden he had new competition for his attention.  At the same time the Wildcards were getting off the ground in San Diego in late 1995, Logan was hired as the start-up Commissioner of Major League Soccer.

San Diegans had zero interest in CBA basketball or the promise of heated rivalries with Quad City, Illinois or Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Logan persuaded long-time CBA coach Mauro Panaggio to come out of retirement and coach the team.  Panaggio had a great track record in the CBA, but couldn’t get much out of this bunch of Wildcards.   The team got out to a 4-17 start.  By early January, less than two months into the season, the club was $500,000 in debt and averaging only 1,612 fans per game in the 14,000-seat San Diego Sports Arena.  A scheduled January 5th home game against the Shreveport Crawdads had a pre-sale of five tickets (!) not including season ticket holders.  At this point it was clear there was no future and Logan pulled the plug after two months.  His Logan Sports Enterprises went into bankruptcy a few months later.

Logan would serve as Commissioner of Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999 and later as CEO of USA Track & Field from 2008 to 2010.

The Wildcards name and ghastly logo (above right) were inspired by a sponsorship deal with the nearby Viejas Casino & Turf Club, whose logo appeared on the team jerseys.



Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs


==Additional Sources==

“The Wildcards couldn’t draw, so they just fold”, The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 6, 1996

“Wildcards left no assets, lots of unpaid bills”, Mark Zeigler, The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 12, 1997


Written by andycrossley

July 4th, 2013 at 12:55 am

1958-1981 Allentown Jets / Lehigh Valley Jets

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Eastern Basketball Association (1958-1978)
Continental Basketball Association (1978-1981)

Born: 1958 – The Wilmington Jets relocate to Allentown.
August 4, 1981 – The Jets cease operations.


Team Colors: Royal Blue & White



Long-time minor league basketball entry in the Eastern Professional Basketball League, later known as the Eastern Basketball Association.  The Allentown Jets were a minor league basketball powerhouse in the 1960’s and 1970’s, winning eight championships between 1962 and 1976.  During these years, the Jets had a special but informal relationship with the New York Knicks of the NBA.  The Knicks used the Jets as a training ground for prospects and high draft picks such as Tom Riker, Mike Riordan and Harthorne Wingo which helped fuel Allentown’s success in the Eastern league.

For most of the Jets’ history, the EPBL/EBA was a local bus league based in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and neighboring states.  In 1977, the EBA added an expansion team in Anchorage, Alaska (Allentown was actually their closest rival).  The following year, the league re-branded itself as the Continental Basketball Association and began to expand aggressively across the continent.  The lower-budget Pennsylvania teams gradually died off over the next few seasons.

The Jets changed their name to the Lehigh Valley Jets for their final two seasons in the winters of 1979-80 and 1980-81.  The club folded in 1981 after 23 seasons in the Lehigh Valley region.


 ==Allentown Jets Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1967-68 4/6/1968 vs. Wilmington Blue Bombers W 132-111 Program
1971-72 1/15/1972 vs. Trenton Pat Pavers ?? Program
1972-73 12/16/1972 vs. Hamilton Pat Pavers ?? Program Roster
1972-73 2/10/1973 vs. Hartford Capitols ?? Program
1972-73 2/24/1973 vs. Scranton Apollos ?? Program Roster
1978-79 11/12/1978 vs. Wilkes-Barre Barons ?? Program
1978-79 11/19/1978 @ Rochester Zeniths ?? Program Game Notes



1971 Sports Illustrated profile: “Toughing It Out Around The Purgatory League”

Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs




Written by andycrossley

April 26th, 2013 at 3:37 am

1992-1994 Fargo-Moorhead Fever

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Continental Basketball Association (1992-1994)

Born: 1992 – The Tulsa Zone relocate to Fargo, North Dakota.
Died: May 1994 – The Fever relocate to Mexico City (Mexico City Aztecas).

Arena: Fargodome (8,100)

Colors: Teal & Black

Owners: Horn Chen, Ray Compton & Bob Salyers

The Fargo-Moorhead Fever were a well-traveled Continental Basketball Association franchise that stopped for two seasons at the Fargodome in North Dakota.  (The Fever also claimed neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota as a host community).

The franchise started out as the Detroit Spirits in 1982 and later wandered to Savannah, Georgia and Tulsa, Oklahoma.  In June 1991, when the club was known as the Tulsa Fast Breakers, the team was acquired by reclusive Chicago-based sports investor Horn Chen and two business partners.  Chen’s other investments have included numerous minor league hockey and baseball teams and the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League.  He was also the founder of the Central Hockey League.  After one final year of operation in Tulsa, Chen and his partners moved the club to Fargo for the 1992-93 CBA season.  Chen is mostly non-communicative with the media and public – in typical fashion, he is the only owner whose picture did not appear in the Fever yearbook.

The CBA was the Official Developmental League of the NBA at the time.  Like most CBA clubs, the Fever employed a roster of overlooked free agents and washed out draft picks looking for a shot at (or return to)  the NBA.  The CBA sent dozen of players each season to the NBA, typically on short-term 10-day contracts to fill-in for injured or suspended players.

A few former NBA 1st round picks suited up for the Fever including Roy Marble (#23 overall, Atlanta Hawks, 1989), Bernard Thompson (#19 overall, Portland Trailblazers, 1984) and Leon Wood (#10 overall, Philadelphia 76ers, 1984).

In May 1994, the Fever franchise was sold to OCESA, a concert promotion and facility management company in Mexico, run by Doug Logan.  OCESA moved the franchise to Mexico City for the 1994-95 season, where it was known as the Mexico City Aztecas.  The Aztecas lasted only one season south of the border before moving back to the United States.  Logan later became the first Commissioner of Major League Soccer.

Fargo-Moorhead got a new minor league basketball team in 1995 – the Fargo-Moorhead Beez.  The Beez played from 1995 to 2002 before folding.

Written by andycrossley

January 21st, 2013 at 4:03 am