American Basketball League (1996-1998)
Born: February 7, 1996 – ABL founding franchise.
Died: December 22, 1998 – The ABL ceases operations in mid-season.
Team Colors: Black, Blue & Yellow
Owner: American Basketball League
The Colorado Xplosion were the Denver franchise in the women’s American Basketball League, which lasted for two-and-a-half seasons from 1996 to 1998. After the 1996 Olympics, two rival women’s leagues sprung up. The bootstrap ABL launched first, played in the winter time, offered the best pay, and initially signed many of the best Olympic-caliber women’s players. The NBA-backed Women’s National Basketball Association had David Stern’s marketing machine behind it, richer owners and better television and media deals. In less than three years, the WNBA and the generally challenging marketplace for women’s pro sports drove the ABL to bankruptcy in December 1998.
But it was fun while it lasted. The Xplosion were a pretty strong club. In the ABL’s inaugural season, they had the second best record in the regular season at 25-15, but were bounced in the first round of the playoff by the Richmond Rage. During their second season, the Xplosion regressed a bit, barely making the playoffs at 21-23. Once again, they lost in the first round, this time to the Long Beach Stingrays. Season three saw the Xplosion off to slow start and in last place in their division at 5-8 when the ABL abruptly shut down on December 22, 1998, having run out of money to continue operations.
Top players included two-time ABL All-Stars Debbie Black and Crystal Robinson. Black, although the shortest player in the league at 5′ 3″, was a tenacious rebounder, who ranked among the league’s top 15 total rebounders during the first two seasons. She also was the ABL’s all-time steals leader and ranked third in assists for the two full seasons the league completed. Robinson led the Xplosion in scoring both seasons was among the league’s top three-point threats.
The Xplosion player who got the most national media attention was 6′ 5″ Sylvia Crawley, who executed a blindfolded dunk at the 1998 ABL All-Star Game to win what was billed as the first ever slam dunk contest for women.
The Xplosion split their home games between McNichols Arena and the smaller Denver Coliseum in each of their season. Attendance was pretty consistent through the team’s brief run, holding a steady average of just under 4,000 per game. A February 1st, 1998 game at McNichols against the New England Blizzard set the club’s all-time mark with 13,489 fans on hand.