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1983-1986 Bay State Bombardiers


Bay State BombardiersContinental Basketball Association (1983-1986)

Born: March 1983 – The Maine Lumberjacks relocate to Brockton, MA.
Moved: July 16, 1986 (Pensacola Tornados)


Team Colors:

Owners: John Ligums


The Bay State Bombardiers were a short-lived minor league basketball club in the Continental Basketball Association (1978-2009).  The CBA was the official developmental league of the NBA during the 1980’s and 1990’s, only one step removed but also million light years away from the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and the Forum.

The team originated in Bangor, Maine as the Maine Lumberjacks (1978-1983).  The club moved south in March 1983 when Lumberjacks investor John Ligums relocated the team to Brockton, Massachusetts, twenty minutes south of his home in the tony Boston suburb of Milton.

Steve Warshaw – Bombardiers General Manager

I saw a tiny little want ad in The Wall Street Journal and it said “challenging career in pro sports”. 

I was invited out to interview for the Deputy Commissioner position underneath Jim Drucker in the Continental Basketball Association league office.  There were two guys that I was competing against.  One was Rick Horrow, who has got a very successful sports business today.  He was Joe Robbie’s guy and was involved in the building of Joe Robbie Stadium down in Miami and had crazy credentials.  The other guy was Tom Meschery, a former NBA All-Star who ended up getting the gig.

So I didn’t get the job, but I met all twelve of the CBA owners.  I had done very well in my interview.  They told me later that I was the only guy that had told the owners to stop talking when I was trying to respond to questions.  It was a big U-shaped, “Face The Nation”-type set up.  Several of the owners were talking amongst themselves.  I was just a 23-year old kid and I don’t know what got into me, but I said “Excuse me, am I boring you guys?”  It was really arrogant and they loved it, apparently, because part of Deputy Commissioner’s job was trying to keep control of these guys.

One of the guys that liked my attitude was John Ligums, who owned the Bombardiers.  We went out to dinner and had a bunch of laughs and he offered me a job to come sell for him as the team’s business manager.


Photo courtesy of Steven Warshaw

Photo courtesy of Steven Warshaw

The Bombardiers spent one tumultuous season playing out of a high school gymnasium in Brockton.  Former ABA star Johnny Neumann was the team’s Head Coach. In June 1984, Ligums moved the Bombardiers an hour west to Worcester, Massachusetts and hired recently retired Boston Celtics star and future Hall-of-Famer Dave Cowens to replace Neumann as coach.

Steve Warshaw

A former ABA star named Johnny Neumann was the Head Coach and he had just been fired after he failed his drug test.  That actually made Sports Illustrated.  The Sports Illustrated writer asked him what happened and Johnny Neumann said “Well, I had been clean, but on the way to take the test, I got so stressed out that I smoked a joint.”

John Ligums told me he was going to hire the former Boston Celtics All-Star Dave Cowens as the new coach.  And then we moved to Worcester in a heart beat.  I might have been in Brockton for a couple of weeks before we pulled up stakes for Worcester.

So then we moved to Worcester and spent a couple of years there.  Dave Cowens lasted the first year only and it’s fair to say that John and Dave are certainly not on each other’s Christmas lists.

I think the reason there was so much strain between John and Dave Cowens was because John’s expectations were ridiculously high.  To win in the CBA, you have to have a player personnel network that’s crazy good.  You really have to know where to get players.  And with Dave, well, there’s no way he should have known how to do that.  He didn’t have any experience at the time.  The CBA was a very specialized player market.  Dave was just really focused on the coaching and he didn’t have the horses to win and to dominate in the playoffs.  So that’s why the friction occurred between John and Dave.  Unrealistic expectations by the owner and a rookie coach, who was a great coach, but didn’t have the player personnel chops to unearth the talent.


Photo Courtesy of Steven Warshaw

Photo Courtesy of Steven Warshaw

Though Worcester had the brand new Worcester Centrum, as 13,000 seat downtown arena opened in 1982 at a cost of $25 million, the Bombardiers were unable to work out a lease to play there.  Instead the team played at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, an historic Depression-era bandbox with a Kimball console organ.

Steve Warshaw:

We tried to go into the Centrum, but the GM at the time wanted no part of it.  He didn’t even want to let us play a game of the month there, or even one game.  I remember I even brought Cowens to the meeting and that didn’t help.  I thought, Jesus, I’ve got Dave Cowens here and you won’t even try one game with us.  That’s just hubris.  We do one night with Cowens and he could bring in all of his Celtics buddies, but this guy wouldn’t hear of it.  It was just a really foolish attitude by the management of the Centrum at that point, so, no, we never played a game there.


Bay State Bombardiers ProgramStill, the Bombardiers did have so outstanding minor league players. And the team found its stride on the court during its third season in the winter of 1985-86.  Cowens was replaced by Mauro Panaggio, a minor league basketball warhorse who went on to become the CBA’s winningest all-time coach.  The Bombardiers went 30-18 and advanced to the CBA’s playoff semi-finals, where they lost to the eventual champions, the Tampa Bay Thrillers.  It would be the team’s final season in Worcester.

Steve Warshaw:

We had probably one of the greatest players in the history of the CBA.  A guy named “Awesome” Joe Dawson.  He was clearly our John Henry, our mythical 6’ 5” CBA god.  But Joe could never make it in the bigs because he was a tweener.  Joe played football and basketball at Southern Mississippi.  He used to train with Walter Payton.  He was a really interesting character.

He was just an absolute gentleman and yet on the court he was absolutely vicious.  Vicious body, big sharp elbows, and tough.  I mean, no one messed with Joe Dawson.  There were a lot of brawls and nobody would go near this guy.

We also had some wild guys like Kevin Williams, the former St. John’s point guard who played in the NBA for a bunch of teams.  He was actually a really nice guy, Kevin, but he was also a city kid from a very tough part of New York City.  He was a brawler.  Kevin started a couple of big brawls in the CBA.  He also led our team in scoring.  Kevin Williams was probably the best player I ever saw in the CBA.

Michael Adams Bay State BombardiersMichael Adams, in my opinion, was the most marketable, fantastic CBA All-Star and the league really didn’t do anything with him.  It was ridiculous.

His agents Frank Catapano and Larry Fleisher came to me.  They worked on Michael together and represented him.  I remember Frank said to me “Listen, I’ll let you beat me up in the salary negotiation so you look good in your boss’ eyes. I‘ll just need one favor”  We signed Michael for $450 a week.  That’s what this future NBA All-Star was making in the minors.

Anyway, Frank says, “The only thing I’d ask you to do is call the NBA GM’s for me every Friday when there’s a point guard that goes down to injury and let them know about Michael.”  He gave me a list of all their phone numbers.  I thought that was the greatest offer I’d ever gotten.  I was a 24-year old in the minors and I got to talk to NBA GM’s every week and send them stats.

Michael was just a great kid.  We’re the same age almost.  We would actually go out dancing together at the Best Western in Worcester.  I was the same age of a lot of these players, so it was a lot of fun for me.

Michael Adams was the most telegenic, the most interesting, thoughtful, caring guy that I knew in the CBA.  The media loved him.  He also got it done on the court.  This guy was a phenomenal talent.  His speed was even more obvious in the CBA.  His first step was just so good.  He absolutely dominated.  It was a pleasure to see and he didn’t last in the CBA too long.  He played for us for one season and then he stuck in the NBA for good after that, becoming an NBA All-Star in the process.


Like so many CBA franchises – the league churned through dozens of cities in the 1980’s and 90’s – the Bombardiers struggled financially in Worcester. John Ligums sold the Bombardiers to Pensacola, Florida interests in July 1986. The nomadic franchise became the Pensacola Tornados (1986-1991) and later played in Birmingham (AL), Rochester (MN) and Harrisburg (PA) before finally folding in 1995.

Steve Warshaw:

We did as well as we could in Worcester for two years.  It just couldn’t work in Worcester.  It didn’t have its own television station.  It didn’t have it’s own identity.  It was always sort of in the penumbra of Boston and the Celtics were the kings there.  They were always winning, winning, winning and the people in Worcester thought of themselves as a Boston suburb.  Worcester is not a great sports city.  Or rather it’s not a great minor league city, I should say.

I remember Jim Drucker, the CBA Commissioner, came to me at the end of the second year and said “Can you squeeze any more blood out of this stone?”

And I said “Nope.  Time to sell it and get the hell out of here.”

But having said that, we are hoping to pull of a 30-year reunion for the Bombardiers someday soon!



Pro basketball returned to Worcester in 1989 with the Worcester Counts, who lasted just one season in the World Basketball LeagueYou can read the story of the Counts here.




==Bay State Bombardiers Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other


1984-85 2/12/1985 vs. Detroit Spirits W 136-128 Program


1985-86 1/18/1986 vs. Maine Windjammers W 128-106 Program
1985-86 1/24/1986 vs. Albany Patroons W 115-108   Ticket


==Key Figures==



2013 FWiL Interview with former Bombardiers GM Steven Warshaw



Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs


1978-1983 – Maine Lumberjacks


Continental Basketball Association (1978-1983)

Born: 1978 – CBA expansion franchise.
Moved: March 1983 (Bay State Bombardiers)


Team Colors: Kelly Green & White


The Maine Lumberjacks were a minor league basketball club based out of Bangor, Maine from 1978 to 1983.  The club originated as an expansion franchise in the Continental Basketball Association in the fall of 1978.  The CBA grew out of the old Eastern Basketball Association (1946-1978), which had been a Pennsylvania-based bus league for decades.  The Lumberjacks joined the league as part of a nationwide expansion and re-branding.  During their 5-year run in the CBA the Lumberjacks roamed from coast to coast, traveling as far as Montana, Hawaii, Alaska and Alberta, Canada for games.

The ‘Jacks played most of their games at the Bangor Auditorium but typically played a handful of dates each year at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center during the team’s first few seasons.  The club’s uniforms were modeled on the design of the Seattle Supersonics jerseys during the same era.

On the court, the Lumberjacks were a perennial loser.  Their best record came in the team’s final season of 1982-83 when the managed to scratch out a .500 record at 22-22.

To the extent the Lumberjacks are remembered today outside the state of Maine, it is for their association with cult basketball legend Billy Ray Bates, pictured above on the cover of the team’s final yearbook from the 1982-83 season.  Bates was the son of sharecroppers from Kosciuko, Mississippi.  A 6’4, 220-pound slam dunk artist, Bates attended Kentucky State University and was selected by the Houston Rockets in the 3rd round of the 1978 draft.  After getting cut in pre-season by the Rockets, Bates landed in Bangor to salvage what remained of his pro career.

Bates won the CBA’s Rookie-of-the-Year award with the ‘Jacks in 1979 and also conquered the league’s slam dunk contest at the 1979 All-Star Game, played in the middle of a blizzard in Rochester, New York.  Rochester was also the site of a classic Bates moment a month earlier, during a match against the Rochester Zeniths.  Incensed over a traveling call, Bates whipped the basketball at the head of the referee, knocking the man briefly unconscious.  In today’s world, sending an official to dreamland would likely earn a season-long suspension.  CBA Commissioner Jim Drucker suspended Bates for one game.

Midway through a second spectacular season in Maine, Bates got a call-up to the  Portland Trail Blazers in February 1980.  Bates was one of the first CBA players to earn a 10-day contract to the NBA and certainly the first to make an impact.  During the 1980’s and 1990’s the 10-day short term contract would become the Holy Grail to the ballplayers grinding it out in the CBA, dealing with the terrible pay, endless bus trips, crummy facilities and empty stands.  Bates made the most of his.

Expected to be no more than a lawn ornament on the Trail Blazers bench under Head Coach Jack Ramsay, Bates instead pushed his way into the lineup and then carried the Blazers on his back into the 1980 NBA playoffs.  In Portland’s first round series loss to the Seattle Supersonics, the minor league import averaged an astonishing 25.0 points per game.  (The next year he was even better, averaging 28.3 in the postseason).   A cult hero was born.  Nike posters soon followed.  In 2012, Seattle Times writer Steve Kelley compared the mania surrounding Bates to the Lin-sanity phenomenon surrounding Jeremy Lin’s similar rise from obscurity with the New York Knicks.

Bates couldn’t make it last.  Most accounts of Bates’ NBA years portray him as a hard-partying but wide-eyed rural bumpkin who quickly succumbed to the moral hazards of sudden fame.  Bates was an alcoholic and a cocaine user, vices which drove him out of the NBA by 1983.

Bates moved on to the Philipines in 1983, where he became the legend known as “Black Superman”, dominating the Philippine Basketball Association and living like the Sultan of Brunei for most of the 1980’s.  You can read the whole crazy tragic saga of Bates in the Philippines on Deadspin here.  He later played in Switzerland, Mexico and Uruguay before returning the America in the 1990’s.

By the late 1990’s, Bates was destitute and living in New Jersey.  He robbed a service station at knife point in 1998 served five years in prison.  In 2011, Bates returned to the Philippines, where he is still an icon, for induction into the PBA Hall of Fame.  He briefly leveraged the attention to get a front office position with a club and a sneaker endorsement deal, but resumed drinking and lost his job and money again.  In December 2012, Bates appeared on a popular talk show in the Philippines to plead for financial assistance.  I thought about linking the video here, but really it is too sad and voyeuristic.  You can find it with a Google search if your looking for a grim experience.

One last note about that Lumberjacks Yearbook pictured at the top of the post.  The young man who wrote the cover story on Billy Ray Bates was Jay Ramsdell.  Ramsdell was a ninth grader who attached himself to the Lumberjacks when they came to town in 1978, running game stats and other chores.  At the time he wrote this article, he had just graduated high school.  Ramsdell loved the CBA and became attached to the league office around this time (1982/83).  Incredibly, he became Commissioner of the league in 1988 at the age of 24 – the youngest Commissioner in American pro sports history for any half-reputable league.

Tragically, Ramsdell lost his life one year later in the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa.  Ramsdell and Deputy Commissioner Jerry Schemmel were en route to the CBA’s annual draft.  Schemmel survived the crash.  Ramsdell was among the 112 who perished.  The CBA”s championship trophy was re-named in Ramsdell’s honor in 1989.

After five seasons of play, the Lumberjacks left Bangor for Brockton, Massachusetts in March 1983.  The club was re-named the Bay State Bombardiers (1983-1986).

The Lumberjacks cheerleading squad was known as the “Lumberjills”.




==Maine Lumberjacks Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other


1981-82 12/26/1981 @ Rochester Zeniths ?? Program Game Notes


1982-83 12/1/1982 vs. Albany Patroons L 132-116 Program
1982-83 12/10/1982 vs. Rochester Zeniths ?? Program
1982-83 12/12/1982 vs. Rochester Zeniths L 128-118 Program
1982-83 1/7/1983 vs. Lancaster Lightning ?? Program


==Key Players==

  • Billy Ray Bates



1982-83 Continental Basketball Association Magazine (Program Insert)



Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs