Continental Basketball Association (1985-1994)
Born: July 11, 1985 – The Louisville Catbirds relocate to La Crosse, WI.
Died: May 6, 1994 – The Catbirds relocate to Pittsburgh, PA.
Arena: La Crosse Center (6,091)
Team Colors: Grey, Black & Burnt Orange
The La Crosse Catbirds were a very popular minor league basketball franchise in western Wisconsin during the late 1980’s and early 90’s. At the time, the Continental Basketball Association was the official developmental league of the NBA and CBA players were just one call away from a coveted 10-day contract with an injury-riddled NBA club.
The Catbirds arrived in July 1985, after local Pepsi bottler Norman Gillette and three business partners purchased and relocated the CBA’s Louisville Catbirds. The greater La Crosse community of approximately 350,000 residents immediately took to the Catbirds and helped the team break the CBA’s single season attendance record during their debut season of 1985-86. The Catbirds would lead the CBA in attendance for each of their first five seasons.
The novelty began to wear off in the early 1990’s and during their final season in Wisconsin, the Catbirds ranked 9th among the CBA’s 16 clubs in attendance during the 1993-94 season. After nine seasons in La Crosse, Gillette and partner D.B. Reinhart sold the club. At the time of the sale, no other franchise in CBA history had lasted as long as the Catbirds in one city under the same ownership. In nine years, the team had only one losing season.
The Catbirds didn’t send any notable players on to long careers in the NBA, but they did help to launch the career of Head Coach Flip Saunders. The Catbirds won two CBA championships (1990 and 1992) under Saunders. One year after the Catbirds left town, Saunders debuted in the NBA as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995. He would coach the T-Wolves for ten seasons, including back-to-back 50-win campaigns. Saunders later coached the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards as well during a 17-year NBA coaching career.
After one winter without pro basketball, La Crosse got a new CBA expansion franchise in the autumn of 1996. The La Crosse Bobcats played five seasons between 1996 and 2001.
- Flip Saunders
Former Catbirds owner D.B. Reinhart passed away on April 13, 1996 at age 75.
Reinhart’s business partner in the Catbirds Norman Gillette, Sr. passed away three months later on July 12, 1996 at age 90.