Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1980)
Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise.
Died: Summer 1980 – The Stars cease operations.
Team Colors: Royal Blue & Silver
Owner: Ed Reisdorf & Terry Reisdorf
The New York Stars were one of the earliest women’s professional basketball teams in the United States, formed in 1978 with the inception of the Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981). Although the Stars would exist for just two years, the team enjoyed a number of highlights, including a league championship, doubleheaders with the New York Knicks in the Madison Square Garden, and a pair of striking twins who were cast in national advertising campaigns.
The Stars played their first season in the winter of 1978-79 on the campus of Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. Iona’s Mulcahy Center (known today as the Hynes Athletic Center) was tiny, holding less than 3,000 fans. But this was sufficient for the first year of the WPBL, where most clubs struggled to draw more than 1,500 fans per game.
The Stars were a strong club during their first year, finishing 19-15 before losing to the eventual champion Houston Angels in the 1979 playoff semi-finals. Local product Althea Gwynn, a 6′ 2″ center out of Queens College, was New York’s best player, leading the circuit in rebounding and finishing third in scoring with 23.2 points per game.
To the extent that the media took an interest in the Stars and the WPBL, they largely ignored the league’s emerging black stars like Gwynn, in favor of a handful of telegenic blonde players, including Iowa’s Molly Bolin, Chicago’s Janie Fincher and, especially, Kaye and Faye Young, identical 5′ 11″ twins out of North Carolina State who played for the Stars from 1978 to 1980. The Young sisters were even cast in a nationwide Dannon Yogurt ad campaign – one of the earliest first endorsement deals in women’s pro basketball.
The Stars lost $350,000 playing in the obscurity of New Rochelle in 1978-79. For the club’s second season, the Stars upped their profile by moving to Manhattan and signing former New York Knicks star Dean Meminger as Head Coach.
“With rental costs of $300,000, we don’t expect to make money,” Stars President Ed Reisdorf told Sports Illustrated in 1979. “but the Garden is the sports Mecca of New York and the world. We are no longer a secret.”
The Stars played all of their 1979-80 games in the Garden, splitting time between the Main Arena (typically as the matinee half of doubleheaders with the Knicks) and the more appropriately sized Felt Forum for most stand along matches.
The Stars were even strong under Meminger, posting a league-best record of 28-7 in 1979-80. The Stars defeated the Iowa Cornets in the WPBL championship series in April 1980, but these would prove to be the final games the Stars franchise ever played. The club went shut down during the 1980 off-season and did not defend their title in the WPBL’s third and final season in the winter of 1980-81.
The WPBL itself folded in late 1981, unable to launch a fourth season.
Kaye Young married her college sweetheart from North Carolina State University, NFL linebacker Bill Cowher, in 1981. She was better known as Kaye Cowher to Pittsburgh Steelers fans during her husband’s Super Bowl-winning tenure as Head Coach of the Black & Gold. Sadly, Kaye Cowher passed away from skin cancer in 2010 at the age of 54.
Seventeen years after the demise of the New York Stars, women’s professional basketball returned to Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1997 with the formation of the NBA-backed Women’s National Basketball Association and the arrival of the New York Liberty franchise.
==Stars Games on Fun While It Lasted==
|1978-79||12/17/1978||@ Iowa Cornets||L 99-87||Program|
|1978-79||1/12/1979||@ Minnesota Fillies||L 96-90||Program|