Women’s Professional Basketball League (1979-1981)
Born: 1979 – WPBL expansion franchise.
Died: Postseason 1981 – The WPBL ceases operations.
Arena: Kiel Auditorium
Owner: Vince Gennaro
The St. Louis Streak were a two-season entry in the pioneering Women’s Professional Basketball League (1979-1981), the first professional hoops league for female players. The Streak entered the WPBL as an expansion franchise during the league’s second season and played their home games at Kiel Auditorium, the former home of the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks.
The Streak’s finest player was a 28-year old first-time pro from Canada named Liz Silcott. “Liz The Whiz” had a tempestuous history with the Canadian National Team, from which she was repeatedly dropped and reinstated during the 1970’s. Silcott was viewed by many as an emotionally immature, un-coachable player and despised teammate who loathed practice and had little interest in defense. She was also, without doubt, one of the most talent players of her era. Silcott didn’t play during the first season of the WPBL in 1978-79, but signed a $6,000 contract to play for St. Louis in the 1979-80 season.
Silcott’s dreadful habits were on full display in the Streak’s training camp and she quickly came to loggerheads with the team’s fire-breathing Head Coach Larry Gillman. Gillman was a 30-year screamer from the men’s college ranks who was viewed by Streak players with a mixture of fear and loathing, according to Karra Porter, author of the definitive WPBL history, Mad Seasons.
“<Gillman> is the worst that ever lived,” former University of Maryland star Martha Hastings put it simply to Porter, describing her experience with the Streak in their first season. Others were harsher.
“Let me tell you the man had “666” written across his skull,” former Streak player Ann Platte told Porter.
Silcott went home to Canada in training camp and the Streak started their debut season 0-4 without her. Then Silcott returned in late 1979 and led the Streak on a 10-2 run, which included a league record 50-point performance at home against the Minnesota Fillies. The local press began to take notice of the team, which offered a public platform for Silcott and Gillman to continue their bickering.
By February 1980, the Streak were contenders, but coach and star were at a breaking point. Silcott, the WPBL’s leading scorer at 33.1 ppg, was shipped off to the San Francisco Pioneers for a lowly 5th round draft pick and a role player who refused to report to St. Louis. Essentially, Silcott was given away for nothing. Without Liz the Whiz, the Streak collapsed and finished in last place with a 15-21 record.
Silcott finished the season on the suspended list for the San Francisco Pioneers after exhibiting the same recurring behavioral problems in her new surroundings. She finished the 1979-80 season as the WPBL’s second leading scorer -and never played another pro season. In 1986, a former college professor spotted Silcott living in Montreal’s Dorval Airport and muttering incoherently about confronting the Prime Minister of Canada. She was later diagnosed with a long-standing psychiatric illness. According to Mad Seasons author Karra Porter, as of the mid-2000’s, Silcott lives in a group home in Canada, on medication and a disability pension and with little memory of her basketball career.
The Streak came back for a second season under Larry Gillman and fielded a team with eight rookies. The team remained uncompetitive and finished out of the playoffs with a 14-21 record. At the end of the 1980-81 season, the Streak folded along with the rest of the league.
Streak owner Vince Gennaro was a young businessman with a passion for baseball and data analytics. He became an early champion of the Sabermetrics movement in baseball. Today he is the President of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and a consultant to Major League Baseball clubs.
==Streak Games on Fun While It Lasted==
Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides
Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs