Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘WBL’ tag

1988 Chicago Express

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World Basketball League (1988)

Born: 1987 – International Basketball Association founding franchise.
Died: December 8, 1988 – The Express relocate to Springfield, IL.

Arena: Rosemont Horizon (16,644)

Team Colors: Scarlet Red, Royal Blue & White

Owner: Barry Fox

 

Can you launch a minor league basketball in Chicago on the shoulders of Michael Jordan’s big brother Larry?  Apparently not, as the Chicago Express of the World Basketball League lasted just one summer, playing to acres of empty seats at the suburban Rosemont Horizon in 1988.

Larry Jordan, out of North Carolina A&T, was likely the biggest “name” on the Express, but certainly not the team’s best player.  That title went to Chicago product Alfredrick Hughes, a free shooting former star at Loyola of Chicago and former 1st round pick (1985) of the San Antonio Spurs.  Hughes was a classic tweener – too short at 6′ 5″ to make it in the NBA as a power forward, but a dominant minor league, especially in the WBL, which was restricted to players 6′ 5″ and under.  In the World Basketball League, Alfredrick Hughes was a literal and figurative giant.

Jim Les was another notable player, a guard out of Bradley University in Peoria.  Les was named to the All-WBL team in 1988 and earned a spot with the Utah Jazz in the fall of 1988-89, where he appeared in 82 games.  Les eventually played parts of seven season in the NBA from 1988 to 1995.

The Head Coach of the Express was former Northwestern University coach Rich Falk.  Falk resigned late in the season and was replaced by Assistant Coach Walt Perrin.

The Express’ first game was on May 19, 1988 against the Youngstown Pride at the Rosemont Horizon.  The game drew a decent announced crowd of 5,250 and the Express treated fans to a 115-102 victory, led by Hughes with a game high 25 points and 11 boards.

The crowds quickly evaporated though.  By the end of June, team owner Barry Fox resorted to massive free ticket giveaways, which produced the Express’ two largest crowds of the season, but failed to generate much in the way of return customers.  For the season, the Express averaged fewer than 2,000 fans in the 16,000-seat Horizon.  Late in the year, the Express moved a game to the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield, Illinois and drew over 4,000 fans, leading to speculation that the team would move there permanently for the 1989 season.

The Express finished the 1988 season at 27-27 and earned the WBL’s fourth and final playoff spot.  After defeating the Calgary 88’s in a semi-final game, the Express played the Las Vegas Silver Streaks in the World Basketball League championship game on September 9, 1988.  The Silver Streaks won 102-95.

In December 1988, Express owner Barry Fox made the rumors official and moved the team to Springfield, Illinois.  The club competed there for two more seasons as the Illinois Express before folding at the end of the 1990 season.   The WBL folded in 1992 midway through its fifth season.

 

 

==Express Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1988 5/19/1988 vs. Youngstown Pride W 115-102 Program Rosters

 

==Links==

World Basketball League Media Guides

World Basketball League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

January 1st, 2014 at 3:48 pm

1992 Jacksonville Stingrays

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World Basketball League (1992)

Born: December 1991 – WBL expansion franchise.
Died: June 15, 1992 – The Stingrays cease operations in midseason.

Arena: Jacksonville Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owner: Terry May et al. & World Basketball League

 

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 Monus had 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.

 

==Jacksonville Stingrays Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1992

1992 6/3/1992 @ Calgary 88's ??  Program Game Notes

 

 

==Downloads==

Justia case summary: United States of America vs. Michael I. Monus

2012 interview with former WBL Director of Public Relations Director Jimmy Oldham

1992 Newsweek Mickey Monus Profile

1992 Business Week Profile of Mickey Monus

 

==Links==

World Basketball League Media Guides

World Basketball League Programs

###

 

Written by andycrossley

July 23rd, 2013 at 1:14 pm

1990-1991 Memphis Rockers

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World Basketball League (1990-1991)

Born: 1990 – WBL expansion franchise.
Died: Postseason 1991 – The Rockers cease operations.

Arena: Mid-South Coliseum (11,200)

Team Colors: Purple & Silver

Owners: Billy Dunavant, et al.

 

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.

 

==Memphis Rockers Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1990

1990 5/12/1990 vs. Illinois Express ?? Program

1991

1991 6/4/1991 @ Calgary 88's ?? Program

 

==Downloads & Links==

2012 interview with former WBL Director of Public Relations Jimmy Oldham

Justia case summary: United States of America vs. Michael I. Monus

1992 Newsweek Mickey Monus Profile
1992 Business Week Profile of Mickey Monus

 

==Links==

World Basketball League Media Guides

World Basketball League Programs

###

Written by andycrossley

August 26th, 2012 at 2:47 am

1989 Worcester Counts

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Worcester CountsWorld Basketball League (1989)

Born: November 1988 – WBL expansion franchise.
Died: 1989 – The Counts cease operations.

Arena: Worcester Centrum (13,800)

Team Colors: Burgundy, Royal Blue & White

Owner: Robert W. Shoemaker, III et al.

 

 

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:

Worcester Counts“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 Worcester 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.

 

==Worcester Counts Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1989 5/10/1989 vs. Youngstown Pride ?? Program Game Notes
1989 5/20/1989 vs. Las Vegas Silver Streaks ?? Program Game Notes
1989 6/7/1989 vs. Youngstown Pride ?? Program
1989 7/17/1989 vs. Calgary 88's ?? Program

 

==YouTube==

1989 Worcester Counts 1:00 local radio spot.

 

==Downloads==

1989 Worcester Counts Roster

2012 interview with Counts PR Director Rob Ekno

 

==Links==

World Basketball League Media Guides

World Basketball League Programs

###

Written by andycrossley

April 15th, 2012 at 2:51 am

1991 Nashville Stars

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World Basketball League (1991)

Born: 1991 – The Las Vegas Silver Streaks relocate to Nashville.
Died: Postseason 1991 – The Stars cease operations.

Arena: Nashville Municipal Auditorium (8,600)

Team Colors: Blue & Gold

Owners: Ronnie Steine et al.

 

“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.

Former Stars President and co-owner Ronnie Steine is now a City Councilman in Nashville.

 

 

==Downloads==

2012 interview with former WBL Director of Public Relations Jimmy Oldham

 

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Written by andycrossley

February 14th, 2012 at 2:57 pm