The Youngstown (OH) Pride were two-time champions of the World Basketball League, a summer time circuit for players 6′ 5″ tall or shorter. The Pride won back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990, defeating the Calgary 88′s in the championship series in both seasons.
Future NBA regulars Mario Elie (1990) and Tim Legler (1989) both spent summers in Youngstown playing for the Pride on their way to the NBA.
The Pride were the model franchise of the league thanks to the patronage of Michael “Mickey” Monus, President of the Youngstown-based Phar-Mor discount pharmacy chain. Monus poured money into the Pride and also backstopped the precarious finances of some of the league’s shakier franchises. At his high-flying peak in 1991, Monus was even part of the ownership group working to bring a Major League Baseball expansion franchise to Denver, Colorado (the team that would ultimately become the Colorado Rockies). But in 1992, investigators discovered that Monus was funding the Pride and the WBL an elaborate embezzlement scheme , siphoning an estimated $10 million into his pet basketball league. Fallout from the scandal caused Phar-Mor to declare bankruptcy in 1992 and lay off 5,000 workers. It also destroyed the World Basketball League, whose investors (other than Monus himself) were unwittingly reliant on the proceeds of Monus’ criminal enterprise to stay afloat. The league abruptly folded on August 1, 1992 without completing its fifth season of play.
Founded in 1987, the league was originally to be known as the International Basketball Association at the time that the Flames signed on. Original owner John O’Donnell of Newport Beach also owned the Wyoming Wildcatters of the Continental Basketball Association, but he ran out of money in February 1988, turning the Wyoming club back to the CBA to prop up and causing the Flames to fold before the IBA even tipped off its debut season. In a frantic scramble of activity and re-alignment, the IBA became the World Basketball League and Fresno car dealer Edd Becker stepped up to resurrect the Flames franchise in time for the new league’s May 1988 opening. O’Donnell’s lone contribution was to sign long-time University of Kansas Head Coach (1965-1983) Ted Owens to coach the team – although Owens claimed never to receive a single paycheck from the cash-strapped owner.
The Flames lasted for one season only, finishing in 5th place in the six-team WBL with a 25-29 record. The Flames did last long enough to help launch the NBA career of former UC-Irvine guard Scott Brooks. The WBL was made to showcase 5′ 11″ guards like Brooks. Brooks joined the Philadelphia 76ers later in 1988 and went on to play 10 years in the NBA. Today he is the highly regarded Head Coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he won NBA Coach-of-the-Year honors in 2010.
Auto dealer Edd Becker claimed to lose a million dollars operating the minor league Flames in the summer of 1988. The team averaged only 1,549 fans per game (announced). As the WBL’s second season approached the following spring, Becker looked at the ledger and saw that his team had only 100 season ticket orders for the 1989 season. The community disinterest was clear and he folded the club on March 23, 1989.
The World Basketball League itself lasted until July 1992, when it folded in the middle of its fifth season.
The Jacksonville Stingrays were a doomed minor league basketball outfit that lasted for only six weeks in the World Basketball League (1988-1992) during the spring of 1992. The WBL was a summertime minor league for players 6′ 5″ tall and shorter (seriously).
WBL franchises were owned 60% by the league and - when they could be found - 40% by local investors. The Stingrays reportedly had a 14-person local investor group led by club President & CEO Terry May. Problem was, with the league as the primary stakeholder and most teams earning minimal revenue from operations, almost every franchise was ultimately reliant on the league’s financial health and cash flow to pay their own bills on time. And the Stingrays joined the league in 1992 just as the WBL’s criminal house of cards was collapsing.
Unbeknownst to the league’s other owners, league founder and owner of the Youngstown (OH) Pride franchise Mickey Monushad been systematically embezzling from his Youngstown-based discount pharmacy chain Phar-Mor for years to underwrite the World Basketball League’s losses. By 1992, Monus was on borrowed time as CEO of Phar-Mor and the stream of cash from the league office slowed to a trickle. Monus’ unwitting partners in the league demanded information about the league’s finances, but Monus assured them everything was fine. Nevertheless, cuts had to be made.
On June 15, 1992 WBL Commissioner John Geletka announced that the Stingrays and the league’s other Florida-based franchise, the Florida Jades of Boca Raton, would disband immediately. Both teams had played just 19 games of the planned 46-game schedule. The Stingrays were 5-14 at the time of the shutdown and averaging a reported 579 fans per game for eight home dates in the 10,000-seat Jacksonville Coliseum.
Just over a month later, Monus’ scheme was finally uncovered by his fellow Phar-Mor executives. He was fired and later sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Phar-Mor went bankrupt causing the loss of 17,000 jobs – it was Enron before Enron. The news also caused the immediately collapse of what was left of the World Basketball League, which folded on August 1, 1992 without completing its fifth and final season.
The Illinois Express was a short-lived minor league basketball team in the funky World Basketball League (1988-1992). The WBL’s great gimmick was that all players had to 6′ 5″ tall or shorter, with the idea that this would lead to a fast-paced, guard heavy, run n’ gun style of play.
The franchise started out as the Chicago Express during the WBL’s first season in the summer of 1988. While in Chicago, the roster included Larry Jordan, older brother of Bulls superstar Michael. That was hardly enough to draw fans to the suburban Rosemont Horizon, where the Express toiled before paltry crowds of less than 2,000 spectators per game. Late in the season, Express owner Barry Fox took a game on the road to Springfield, Illinois’ Prairie Capital Convention Center and 4,400 fans showed up. A few months later, Fox announced the Express would move permanently to Springfield for the 1989 season.
Long-time ABA and NBA veteran Dave Robisch, who had local ties as a 1967 graduate of Springfield High School, was hired on as the Express’ head coach.
The Express had one of the best players in the World Basketball League in Alfredrick Hughes. Hughes finished 2nd in the nation in scoring at Loyola College of Chicago in 1985 and was the first round draft pick (#14 overall) of the San Antonio Spurs later that spring His NBA career lasted only a single season, but he became one of the top itinerant minor leaguers of the late 1980′s and early 90′s. Hughes was named to the All-WBL team in 1989 and 1990 for Illinois.
“Alfredrick couldn’t get a sniff in the NBA because he was 6′ 5″ tall and played with his back to the goal,” former WBL Director of Public Relations Jimmy Oldhamrecalled to FWIL in 2012. “A lot of people when they took a look at him questioned whether he was really under 6′ 5″. He was probably right there on that edge and we might have given him the benefit of the doubt saying he was really under the height limit.”
The Express played two seasons in Springfield, shutting down after the 1990 season. The WBL itself folded two years later in 1992.
Inaugural game program for the short-lived Memphis Rockers franchise (1990-1991) of the defunct World Basketball League (1988-1992). The WBL was an oddball minor league basketball loop that played during the summer time and banned players above 6′ 5″ in height. Franchises stretched across Canada and the U.S. from Saskatchewan to Boca Raton and each season also included games against imported touring teams from Europe and the Soviet Union.
WBL franchises were owned 60% by the league itself, with the other 40% sold off to local investors (when the WBL could find such people, which was hit and miss). In the case of the Rockers, cotton baron Billy Dunavant partnered with a group of five prominent black businessmen to buy the local stake in the fall of 1989. The expansion franchise was valued at $1 million, with Dunavant putting up $200,000 for a 20% stake and the group of Calvin Anderson, Pat Carter, Claude English, George Jones and Harold Shaw Sr. putting up $200,000 for their 20%. The money was chicken feed for Dunavant, at least, who previously owned the popular Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League from 1984 to 1986 and was actively courting an NFL expansion franchise for Memphis at the time the Rockers were formed.
On the basketball operations side, the Rockers organization was led by Head Coach & General Manager Tom Nissalke, a journeyman ABA and NBA Head Coach, who served in that role with seven organizations from 1971 to 1984. Nissalke was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 1977 while with the Houston Rockets.
During the Rockers’ first season in 1990, the team signed two local favorites from Memphis State in guard Andre Turner and forward Vincent Askew. The pair helped lead the MSU Tigers to the NCAA Final Four in 1985. Other notables included the former Notre Dame star, Sports Illustrated cover boy, and Los Angeles Lakers 1st round pick David Rivers (1991) and the immortal House Guest (1991), a member of the All-Name Team who led an otherwise brief and undistinguished minor league career.
Though the Rockers would last just two seasons at Memphis’ Mid-South Coliseum before folding in late 1991, the low-budget club ($150,000 annual salary cap, according to Black Enterprise) developed two overlooked players who went on to success in the NBA. One was Askew, who leveraged his time in the WBL and his status as a two-time MVP in the winter-time Continental Basketball Association into a journeyman NBA career during the 1990′s. Most notable was John Starks, a 6′ 3″ guard out of Oklahoma State who played for the Rockers in 1990. Starks latched on with the New York Knicks later that year and starred in the NBA for more than a decade, earning an All-Star nod with the Knickerbockers in 1994.
Starks was arguably the biggest star to emerge during the short, wacky life World Basketball League. The league itself lasted less than a year after the Rockers gave up the ghost in late 1991. The WBL fell apart during its fifth season, after league founder and Youngstown Pride owner Mickey Monus was caught embezzling money – upwards of $10 million – from his Phar-Mor discount pharmacy chain to prop up his money losing basketball hobby. The league folded in August 1992 without completing the season.
The WBL was a minor league by design and had an unusual gimmick – all players had to be 6′ 4″ or shorter. It was a high scoring, fast breaking league designed to showcase guards. The league played a summer time schedule, allowing its players to seek employment year-round, going overseas or playing in the Continental Basketball Association during the fall and winter.
The WBL, in short (ha ha), was made for guys like Jamie Waller, the great scoring star of the Silver Streaks. Waller was a 6′ 4″ 215-pound guard out of Virginia Union, drafted in the 2nd round of the NBA draft by the New Jersey Nets in 1987. Waller’s NBA career lasted just 91 minutes during the 1987-88 season, but in the WBL he was a legend. He led the league in scoring during all three seasons the Silver Streaks played from 1988 to 1990, and for a fourth time in 1991.
Other notables on the Silver Streaks included a trio of former UNLV stars: Freddie Banks, Anthony Jones and Mark Wade. The Streaks played their home games at UNLV’s home court, the Thomas & Mack Center.
Operated as a league-run franchise for its first two seasons, the WBL sold a minority 40% stake in the team to California pay-per-view entrepreneur Rick Kulis in early 1990 for $200,000. The move wasn’t enough to save the Silver Streaks in Las Vegas and the club closed up shop after a third and final season in 1990. The WBL shipped the carcass of the franchise, along with key players such as Waller, to Nashville, Tennessee in 1991 for a single season as the Nashville Stars.
The Stars folded quietly at the end of 1991. The World Basketball League shut down in August 1992 in the middle of its fifth season in the wake of an embezzlement scandal involving league founder Mickey Monus. It turned out that Monus pumped upwards of $10 million in funds stolen from his Phar-Mor discount pharmacy chain into operations of the money-losing WBL.
My God…I remember watching this team on SportsChannel New England when I was in the eighth grade. By “watching” I mean clicking over to catch a few minutes of World Basketball League action during the commercial breaks on Dear John or Head of the Class.
There were two things about the Worcester Counts and the World Basketball League that intrigued me. The first was that the ball they played with was awesome. It was a bright white globe with all of the continents of the world painted on in maroon. (Years later former WBL PR Director Jimmy Oldham told me the league only had 2-3 of these balls and they were shipped around the country for use on SportsChannel games).
The second was that the Counts had Keith Smart. I wasn’t a huge hoops fan, but I vividly remembered watching Smart hit “The Shot”for the University of Indiana in the 1987 NCAA Championship game to beat Syracuse with only four seconds left.
At 13 years old, it made an impression on me that Smart could go from the pinnacle of the college basketball world to playing minor league ball in a nearly empty Worcester Centrum in just over 24 months.
7,056 fans turned out for the Counts first game at the Centrum on May 10th, 1989. According to former Counts PR man Rob Ekno, the big crowd was the result of his frantic, last-minute efforts to paper Worcester with free tickets:
“The guy who owned the Counts, his name was Rob Shoemaker. He was a Harvard Business School graduate. So, presumably well-versed in business. He was promised by the World Basketball League that he was going to make “X” amount of dollars and there would be “X” amount of attendance and so on. When I got to meet Rob, he told me the league said to him that he could expect about 6,000 or 7,000 people a game.
“To cut down on travel expenses and stuff, the Counts and the World Basketball League set up the schedule with back-to-back games. A team would fly in from Youngstown, Ohio, for example, and they would play us at the Worcester Centrum on Friday night and then play again on Saturday night.
“I told <Rob> “Listen, this is Worcester. You’re in the middle of Massachusetts. People either go to Cape Cod on the weekend or they go to Misquamicut State Beach down in Rhode Island, or wherever. Not a whole lot of people stay around Worcester on the weekend. You’re playing your games on Friday and Saturday nights – back-to-back games against the same exact team that people don’t know anything about. I know that this league promised you certain things, but I’m just giving you my experience from the Arena Football League and I don’t believe you’re going to get the attendance you are expecting.
“Shoemaker put his trust in the league, of course, because he had already sunk his money into the team and he didn’t want to think he was investing in a failure.
“So it was about a week-and-a-half before the first game and the gentleman who was the Director of the Centrum called me into his office and said “Look, you gotta help us out here. There’s only about 2,000 tickets sold.” I said “I’ve been trying to tell these guys that all along, but no one is listening to my experience here.” So I went out and in ten days I hit every business, every school, every charity…everybody who would take a hundred, two hundred, four hundred tickets to give away. And if you look at the attendance for the first night, it was a full house.
“But then the second game dropped way off and from there it was down to a 1,000 people a game after that.”
Perhaps Worcester fans simply weren’t interested in the WBL’s perplexing line-up of opponents, which included geographically irrelevant “rivals” from places like Youngstown, Ohio and Calgary, along with European tomato cans like the Estonian National Team and Computerij of Holland. Since the WBL had only five franchises, league officials imported the (terrible) clubs from Europe to pad out the schedule. During the summer of 1989 the Europeans posted a collective record of 1 win and 49 losses against the five WBL clubs.
“We did have Keith Smart. All the guys were great guys,” recalled Ekno. “They all had dreams, obviously, of playing in the NBA. The whole premise of the WBL was that you had to be 6’ 5” and under. It was all about the passing and the speed. You didn’t see a whole lot of slam dunking and if you did, it was of the more spectacular, fast break variety. The idea was to get the ball up and down the court as quickly as possible, get it in the hoop and play a little defense.
“We had Norm Van Lier, the former Chicago Bulls star, who was the assistant coach. Norm was promised an apartment and all this other stuff but it never came through for whatever reason. So Norm and I ended up being roommates for the summer. That was an interesting experience for sure. I learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes workings of pro and college basketball from Norm. He would have been the dominant personality on that team.
“We also had a gentleman named Keith Gatlin and he was actually Len Bias’ roommate when Bias OD’d and died. So that was quite the learning experience from him as well.”
The Counts folded shortly after the 1989 season ended. The WBL hung on for three more years, but folded in 1992 when league investors learned that league founder Mickey Monus was underwriting the league’s substantial losses by embezzling millions of dollars from his Phar-Mor discount pharmacy chain.
Keith Smart played a decade in the American minor leagues and in the Phillipines. Today he is the Head Coach of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
“Some purists wanted to raise the baskets. These guys have shrunk the players.” - The late Jim Murray of The Los Angeles Times, writing on the World Basketball League in 1989.
The Nashville Stars were a blink-and-you-missed ‘em entry in the quirky World Basketball League, a far flung minor league loop designed for players under 6′ 5″ tall. In the WBL, everyone was “short”, fast-paced guard play dominated, nobody posted up and zone defense was legal – when anyone bothered to play defense. Eventually, the WBL collapsed in financial scandal in the middle of its fifth season, but by then the Nashville Stars had come and gone.
The Stars franchise began life as the Las Vegas Silver Streaks, playing in Sin City for the league’s first three summers from 1988 to 1990. WBL franchises were typically owned 40% by local investors – when they could be found – and 60% by the league itself, which meant they were backed by the full faith and credit and one Michael I. “Mickey” Monus, the league’s founder, sugar daddy, and President of the Phar-Mor drugstore chain. In Nashville, the WBL recruited an 11-man minority ownership group led by travel agency owner Ronnie Steine.
The Stars’ 10-man roster, featuring six former Silver Streaks, came together hastily in the spring of 1991. At 6′ 4″ and 215 pounds, forward Jamie Waller was one of the elite “big men” in the WBL. Waller led the circuit in scoring in each of the league’s first three seasons. Daren Queenan was, at the time, one of only seven players in NCAA history with over 2,700 points and 1,000 rebounds, alongside Elvin Hayes, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Danny Manning, Hank Gathers and Lionel Simmons. But he went undrafted by the NBA due to his diminutive size (6′ 3″) and small school (Lehigh). The WBL was made to showcase players like Queenan, who averaged 22.9 points per games with the Silver Streaks in 1990.
The team practiced together for only two weeks before debuting at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium against the Memphis Rockers on May 3rd, 1991. Although a consistent winner in Las Vegas, the Stars finished the 1991 campaign at 23-28 and out of the playoffs. Waller led the league in scoring for the fourth straight year, but did so as a member of the Erie (PA) Wave after the Stars shipped out their best player in a mid-season trade. Queenan earned a spot of the WBL All-League team, despite the club’s poor record.
Long-time Tennessee sports promoter Rudi Schiffer served as the Stars part-time General Manager. Schiffer worked on the launch of the North American Soccer League’s Memphis Rogues in the late 1970′s and the popular Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League, who drew crowds of 35,000 to the Liberty Bowl in the mid-1980′s. In a wide-ranging look back at his career with Fun While It Lasted in 2011, Schiffer acknowledged that the Stars were a half-hearted effort off the court:
“That was the league of 6′ 5″ guys. I had a PR firm in Memphis back then. <Former Memphis Showboats President> Steve Ehrhart was the Commissioner of the WBL. Steve knew me from the Showboats and hired me when they moved the team from Las Vegas. Me and my son Michael went up to Nashville to run the Stars. Not full time. I’d go up three times a week and then come back and run my own business. It was just an account I had. Everything was done on a shoestring.
“It was hand-to-mouth. We didn’t draw 200 people a game. Nobody cared about 6′ 5″ players in Nashville.”
The Stars folded quietly in late 1991 after one season of play. The entire WBL followed less than a year later, folding in midseason in August 1992. The league’s undoing came when investigators revealed that Mickey Monus embezzled $10 million from Phar-Mor to underwrite the league’s financial losses (i.e. the 60% of each franchise owned by the money-losing league itself). Phar-Mor was ultimately forced into bankruptcy, costing 17,000 employees their jobs. It was the Enron scandal of its era and caused the league to unravel within a matter of weeks.
Jamie Waller and Daren Queenan never made it to the NBA, but their Silver Streaks and Stars teammate Cedric Hunter did earn the briefest of call-ups with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Hunter played a single minute for the Hornets on February 16th, 1992. It turned out to be the only game – and only minute – he played in the NBA.
Erie received a WBL expansion entry in early 1990, just 67 days before tip-off of the franchise’s first game. The three-year old World Basketball League had several unique features that separated it from other basketball leagues. Players could be no taller than 6′ 5″ tall. The league played an untraditional May-August summer schedule, allowing minor leaguers from the winter Continental Basketball Association to ply their trade year round. Although the league had only seven franchises in 1990, they stretched across North America from Saskatchewan to Las Vegas to Memphis. To fill out the schedule, the WBL various imported clubs from Western Europe and the Soviet Union, which were not subject to the height limit. These games counted in the standings, but were basically an automatic win. WBL teams routinely pummeled the lumbering foreign clubs, who collectively lost 51 out of the 56 international games played in 1990.
The WBL business model called for the league to hold a 60% equity interest in each club, with local ownership holding the other 40%. During the 1990 season, Erie’s local investor was a car dealer named George Turner. Turner caught the basketball bug as a season ticket holder with the WBL’s nearby Youngstown Pride, located only 100 miles away and considered the league’s model franchise.
The Wave debuted at Erie’s Tullio Arena on May 17th, 1990 against the Calgary 88′s before an estimated crowd of 4,500. Attendance withered thereafter, as did the team’s performance on the court. The 1990 Wave finished in last place with a 12-34 record and posted an announced average attendance of 2,270 per game.
George Turner declined to renew his financial support at the end of the 1990 season. The WBL failed to find new local ownership to replace Turner. When the Wave returned for the 1991 season, they were wards of the league office and its primary patron, WBL founder and Youngstown Pride owner Michael “Mickey” Monus, the President of the Youngstown-based Phar-Mor discount pharmacy chain. The 1991 Wave won 18 games against 33 losses, once again posting the worst record in the WBL.
The Wheels came off for the WBL during its fifth season in 1992. The league’s Canadian expansion of the past few years proved quite successful, as clubs in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Halifax drew strong crowds. It was the American franchises – many of whom, like Erie, did not have functional local ownership, – that were bleeding the league dry. On June 15th, 1992 the WBL shuttered both of its poorly attended Florida clubs, the Florida Jades and the Jacksonville Stingrays, in midseason. The remaining clubs found the league office – which owned 60% of the equity in their franchises – unresponsive as bills mounted and went unpaid. The trail of financial problems led directly to the league’s founder and sugar daddy, Mickey Monus and his crumbling house of cards at Phar-Mor.
On July 20th, 1992 the cash-poor World Basketball League shut down the Erie Wave with 13 games remaining on the regular season schedule. The Wave had a record of 12-26 at the time. Attendance for the 1992 season at Tullio Arena averaged just 1,077 fans per game, compared to a league-wide announced average of 3,194.
In late July 1992, several days after the Wave folded, Phar-Mor opened its 300th store. Days later Monus was ousted when company officials discovered Monus and his CFO were maintaining two sets of books, claiming rapid growth and profits while Phar-Mor was actually generating huge losses and falling far behind in payments to its suppliers. Among other crimes, Monus had embezzled close to $10 million from Phar-Mor over four years to underwrite the operating losses of the WBL and its franchises. The entire financial underpinning of the WBL was revealed to be a criminal enterprise, with the local investors and front office managers in the role of unwitting participants. On August 1st, 1992, the World Basketball League folded in the midst of its fifth season, days after the downfall of its patron. Monus’ downfall also cost the jobs of 17,000 Phar-Mor employees – the seemingly robust chain was forced into bankruptcy – and nearly sank the fledgling Colorado Rockies expansion franchise in Major League Baseball, in which Monus was a major investor.
One of the best Wave players was Jamie Waller, a 1987 2nd round draft pick of the New Jersey Nets. Waller led the WBL in scoring in four consecutive seasons from 1988-1991. Waller began the 1991 season with the Nashville Stars and joined Erie midway through, finishing the season with a 26.3 points per game scoring average. Waller was dealt to the Youngstown Pride prior to the 1992 season.
In 2008, professional basketball returned to Erie after a sixteen year absence when the NBA D-League placed the Erie Bayhawks expansion franchise at Tullio Arena. The D-League is the official development league of the National Basketball Association (and has no height limits).
The Florida Jades were dreamt up by a pair of disgruntled minor league basketball players in a Saskatoon motel room, took their name from a cheap men’s cologne, and ultimately became a sideshow to one of the largest corporate frauds in United States history. Not too shabby for a club that lasted barely sixteen months from start to finish.
24-year old Delray Brooks and 25-year old Eric Newsome came up with the idea of owning their own basketball franchise in the summer of 1990, while both men played for the Erie (PA) Wave of the World Basketball League. The WBL was a summertime minor league basketball circuit with a peculiar gimmick – all players had to be 6′ 5″ or shorter.
“Being players ourselves, I think we have an understanding of what makes a successful franchise,” Brooks told Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum. “The players are the cornerstone. You can’t cater to them, but you have to have an understanding of their problems. That’s what was lacking in some of our other experiences in the league.”
WBL league rules called for each franchise to be owned 60% by the league and 40% by local ownership, ostensibly to maintain stability in the league and prevent disenchanted local investors from unilaterally folding their clubs. Effectively, this placed financial control of each of the WBL’s nine franchises in the hands of Michael “Mickey” Monus, league founder and President of the Ohio-based Phar-Mor discount pharmacy chain.
Moving beyond just idle talk, Brooks and Newsome turned to Newsome’s father, a Vice President at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Buy-in for a WBL expansion franchise in 1991 was $500,000. Using the elder Newsome’s contacts, the pair of young and insolvent minor league ballers found a local businessman, Gary Rice, to fund their $200,000 stake for 40% interest in the team. Rice owned a cosmetics distribution company in Georgia. The team would take their name – the Florida Jades – from “Jade East”, a discount brand of men’s cologne marketed by Rice. The WBL formally introduced the Jades at a press conference in a Boca Raton Holiday Inn on February 7th, 1991. Brooks and Newsome would both serve as Vice Presidents of the Jades…and taxi squad players.
On the court, the Jades put together a strong team for their debut season. Under Head Coach Matt Creamer, the club went 30-21, finishing second in the WBL’s Southern Division. The Jades defeated the Memphis Rockers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the eventual champion Dayton Wings in the league semi-finals.
Newsome, tasked with the business operations of the Jades, told The Boca Raton Daily News that he hoped the club would draw 2,500 to 3,000 fans per game to the Florida Atlantic University’s 4,500 gymnasium. Season tickets ranged from $200 to $285 for the Jades’ 27 home games in the spring and summer of 1991. Actual attendance was significantly less, with the Jades frequently announcing crowds of fewer than a thousand at FAU.
When the Jades returned for the 1992 season, Rice was gone, along with his proteges Brooks and Newsome. The league increased its ownership stake in the Jades to 80%, as it had in another troubled franchise, the Erie Wave. Less than a month before the 1992 season tipped off, WBL Commissioner John Geletka travelled to Florida to introduce the Jades’ new management team. Geletka also worked as a sports agent and the new investors included one of his clients, New England Patriots All-Pro tackle Bruce Armstrong. Local triathlon and road race promoter Steve Tebon of Exclusive Sports Marketing took the remaining 10% stake and served as the club’s managing partner, encouraged by Monus’ reputation and the rapid growth of Phar-Mor.
The Jades off court woes continued under the new regime. The club only sold a reported 300 season tickets. Renovations at FAU forced the Jades to play 15 of their first 19 games away, at one point spending 22 straight days on the road. Only 900 or so fans turned out for the 1992 home opener against the Winnipeg Thunder. In a bizarre twist, Delray Brooks, the Jades’ founder and deposed Vice President of Basketball Operations, returned to the court and earned a roster spot our of training camp.
On June 15th, 1992 the WBL shut down both of its Florida clubs in midseason, eliminating the Jacksonville Stingrays along with the Jades. A WBL source told The Boca Raton News that the Jades operation lost $300,000 during May and June before the league turned out the lights. But the full story was rather more complicated.
As 80% owner, Mickey Monus was responsible for most of the Jades financial burden. But the Phar-Mor offices were increasingly unresponsive to the Jades and other WBL franchises as they desperately tried to get their bills paid. Jades minority partner Steve Tebon reported that of $700,000 promised by the league office to operate and promote the team, only $80,000 materalized. In late July 1992, one month after the Jades folded, Phar-Mor opened its 300th store. Days later Monus was ousted when company officials discovered Monus and his CFO were maintaining two sets of books, claiming rapid growth and profits while Phar-Mor was actually generating huge losses and falling far behind in payments to its suppliers. Among other crimes, Monus had embezzled close to $10 million from Phar-Mor over four years to underwrite the operating losses of the WBL and its franchises. The entire financial underpinning of the WBL was revealed to be a criminal enterprise, with the local investors and front office managers in the role of unwitting participants. On August 1st, 1992, the World Basketball League folded in the midst of its fifth season, days after the exposure of its patron. Monus’ shocking downfall also cost the jobs of 17,000 Phar-Mor employees – the seemingly robust chain was forced into bankruptcy – and nearly sank the fledgling Colorado Rockies expansion franchise in Major League Baseball, in which Monus was a major investor.
Guard Tracy Moore of the Jades averaged 25.2 point per game in 1991 en rooute to WBL Player-of-the-Year honors. Moore, undrafted out of the University of Tulsa, used the WBL as a springboard to the NBA, where he appeared in 119 games over 5 seasons from 1991-1997.
Mickey Monus served 10 years in federal prison for his financial crimes.